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Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go

Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go - Toshiro Kageyama, James Davies image

Dia. 2. Black blocks at 1, of course. There is no need for him to wonder what White may do afterward. Given a chance like this, only a feeble-minded player would be uncertain where to play - 'not this point, not here either, perhaps I should leave the position as it is.' Black's hand should be trembling with eagerness to play 1. He should be overcome with emotion.

Toshiro Kageyama doesn't mince words. Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go may be visualized as Kageyama-sensei leaning over your go board and smacking the back of your head every time you make a stupid move. (Actually, he seems like quite a nice, if crusty, gentleman; he probably didn't smack people.) This book is neither a tutorial nor a dry textbook laying out go problems and josekis and handholding the student through their solutions. Another way to think of this book is Kageyama pointing at a particularly clever move and saying "Look at that! Isn't that awesome?" He loves go and he wants you to love go, too. But he wants you to stop being such a lazy dumbass about it.

I first read this book way, way back when I was first learning go (in college) and it did nothing for me. Don't be fooled by the title into thinking that "Fundamentals" means "Basics." This book is written for low-ranking kyu players, but ones who have already been playing for a while; Kageyama assumes you don't need any go terminology explained and that you have played enough go that when he says "Have you ever found yourself in this situation?" the reader will nod and say, "Yeah, that looks familiar."

As a (very slightly) more experienced player now, I was able to understand a lot more, but I still couldn't "get" a lot of it. Kageyama's explanations were clear enough, but I definitely got the feeling that fine points that he expected to be intuitive and obvious were... not. So I'll revisit this when I am a better player.

It's definitely worth reading for a low-ranking player. The chapters are:

  1. Ladders and Nets
  2. Cutting and Connecting
  3. The Stones Go Walking
  4. The Struggle to Get Ahead
  5. Territory and Spheres of Influence
  6. Life and Death
  7. How to Study Joseki
  8. Good Shape and Bad
  9. Proper and Improper Moves
  10. Tesuji: the Snap-Back; Shortage of Liberties; the Spiral Ladder; the Placement; the Attachment; Under the Stones
  11. Endgame Pointers

He inserts many personal anecdotes, from watching movies at the theater as a child to lecturing on NHK-TV, and ends the book with a detailed review of one of his own professional games, when as a young, low-ranking professional, he scored an upset victory against the Meijin (one of the best go players in the world at the time). Can't blame him for savoring a game like that! Going over his moves just highlights how much I don't understand; I could kind of follow what each player was doing, but it was nothing like my own games. Many of the moves seemed to radiate invisible lines of force affecting stones halfway across the board in ways I could not comprehend; even though Kageyama explains each move, it's like he's a physicist giving a dumbed-down explanation of string theory to an elementary school science class.

This is a go classic, and one that's meant to be read slowly and then reread.