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Beginning Go Paperback – February 15, 2008
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Thank you for writing such a wonderful book.
Jeff Long (no relation!)
Asheville, North Carolina
The Short Reveiw:
The short of it is, if you're a beginning Go player and you are looking for your first book on the game of Go, this book is horrible. Of the few Go books for beginners that I've read (or at the very least flipped through), I've found Learn to Play Go: A Master's Guide to the Ultimate Game (Volume I) (Learn to Play Go Series) to be the best one. I'll tell you why in the longer review.
Now here's the Long Review:
This book fails at achieving its aim, and I'll tell you why. But first, a little bit about my situation. The first seed of the idea of Go came for me while walking through Thornes' Market in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts. I think it was around the mid 90's. I saw a group of people playing in the common space outside of A2Z, the science, learning and game store. The look of the game alone was immediately intriguing to me. The look of the board and formations of stones were beautiful in their own right. Within the next couple of years I got some form of a Go set and my first book. At that point the internet was still developing as a place for commerce, so I went to the local bookstore Beyond Words and found the only book they had on the game of Go. It was called Go and Go-Moku, it was a book originally written in 1934 by the chess master Edward Lasker. Apparently he was one of the early advocates of Go in the United States. Maybe it was good for the time it was published in, but I found it to be somewhat dense. I don't think I ever finished the entire book. As a first book on Go I found it to be kind of tedious to pick through. I was able to pick up the basic rules and concepts though, and armed with that knowledge I eventually found my way to internet Go as it was back then within Yahoo Games.
Over the next ten years or so I played Go on and off. Usually on Yahoo and not in person because whenever it was suggested to buddies who I played Chess with at the time, it was always voted down in favor of a game of Chess. When I did play online though, I was lacking some of the fundamental knowledge. I kept getting cut apart towards the end of games and didn't have much ability to see what groups of stones were alive and which weren't; and where my territories could be invaded, and where they couldn't.
That brings us up to today. Within the last few months I've been seriously hooked by Go. For no real reason I decided to check into the world of Go via the internet, and when I did, I really got sucked in. There was now a readily available wealth of information online. Website after website with problems, tutorials, games, resources, club finders, and physical Go equipment. I came across KGS and IGS. Two online go servers that you can download free client software for. At any given time there's a countless number of people from all over the world on one server or the other who are there to play a game of Go.
After sifting through the online resources, playing a number of games on the two Go servers, and joining the Western Massachusetts Go Club, I decided that I wanted to get a few books about Go that I could study. My level of Go knowledge is good enough to have played several dozen 19X19 games within the last two months. My current ranking on KGS is 19 Kyu. So I already knew how to play the game, but I decided that I wanted to get a Go book that was aimed towards a complete beginner, just to make sure that my foundation was solid. I went to the Barnes and Noble in Holyoke, Massachusetts and purchased two books aimed towards the first time player, Beginning Go, and Learn To Play Go - Volume 1.
I've read both of them since then and I've found Beginning Go to be a horrible book. It fails to achieve what it aims to do, and that is, to clearly and simply convey the basics of the game of Go to somebody who doesn't know anything about it. At least I'm assuming that's what it's trying to do based on the title "Beginning Go". As I was reading it I was imagining what it would be like to read it having no prior knowledge of the game. In that regard it failed. At the same time I was experiencing it as someone who already knew the game and wanted a simple and quick review of the basic fundamentals. And in this regard it also failed.
Why did it fail? The authors are not able to clearly present the basics of Go because their larger knowledge of the game gets in the way. Throughout the book they routinely sketch out principles of the game in a foggy and abstract way that fails to assume that the reader knows nothing about the game, which is the key assumption that an author needs to make when writing a book like this. In my opinion, the combination of diagrams and captions that they used did not clearly illuminate the concepts. As somebody with a fair amount of Go knowledge I was able to deduce what they were trying to convey, but it was a little bit like working out algebra problems, always having to deduce the missing number.
When you read the Table of contents, it seems like a new and helpful structure for presenting the basics, but when the basics are so poorly explained it doesn't matter. In an unconventional move the authors attempt to explain the ending of the game early on in the book. The reason they site, is that beginning Go players are commonly frustrated by not understanding when the game is "over". Now I know that that is a real problem in the world of Go, since it was one that I faced when I first started playing. But the reason it's a problem is not because it's not explained early enough in a book, but because it generally isn't explained clearly or concisely.
Throughout the book are exercises to help you grasp the concepts. They consist of a diagram with a question posed underneath it. These are bad for several reasons. First, the answer that the authors are looking for is frequently mysterious. A diagram is presented and you have to guess what the authors are looking for because the question is so unclear. It would be like saying "A guy walks into a bar, what happens?", and then expecting that somebody could give you the right answer. Having a decent Go knowledge, I was able to figure out what they were looking for but it more often than not took a lot of deduction. And I think I spent more time trying to deduce what they were looking for, then I did figuring out the actual solution to the problem. Secondly the authors seem to like to present concepts at the beginning of a chapter, and then take a big leap in thinking for some of the exercises at the end of the chapter, and then console you with something along the lines of "I know it's hard". But it doesn't have to be hard. If the presentation through diagrams progressed more gradually and logically it wouldn't be hard. And finally, in a few cases the exercises were just wrong.
One thing I did find interesting was the presentation of the three major scoring methods. Most books go with a method based on the Japanese system. But to see the other methods was nice to get a broader perspective of what the object of the game really is. So I have to give the authors credit there.
Overall I found Beginning Go to be unclear, and frustrating.
If you've never played Go and you're looking for your first book, or if you have played Go and you're looking to review the fundamentals, I recommend Learn to Play Go: A Master's Guide to the Ultimate Game (Volume I) (Learn to Play Go Series). Not only does it gradually and logically progress in a natural fashion, but it also lays out the rules and basic fundamentals of the game in a very clear and concise manner. It covers all the facets of any given principle and won't leave you wondering. The exercises presented to reinforce the concepts are well crafted, and the answer that is being looked for is evident. Now that doesn't mean that the exercises are too easy, it just means that what the authors are looking for in terms of an answer is clear.
Without writing a full review of Learn to Play Go: A Master's Guide to the Ultimate Game (Volume I) (Learn to Play Go Series) here, I'll just say that it's everything that Beginning Go is not.
I just read Jason Carpenter's [one star] review here at Amazon. His experience with this book mirrors mine. I give "Beginning Go" two stars. I believe "Beginning Go" could be used alongside another beginners book with more success.
but slowly I am (with the help of this book), grasping the fundamentals of the game. Anyone learning the game ought to buy this book, I have read several books for beginners of the Game of Go and by far tis is the best one I have encountered!