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Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go (Beginner and Elementary Go Books) Paperback – May, 1996
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Many Go books promise to explain the fundamentals: here is one that really keeps its promise. Kageyama's subjects are connectivity, good and bad shape, the way stones should 'move', the difference between territory and spheres of influence, how to use thickness and walls, how to train yourself to read, where to start looking in a life-and-death problems - matters so fundamental that other writers miss them completely. He also points out the right ways to study - how to study josekis, for example. "What changed me from an amateur into a professional was getting a really firm grip on the fundamentals," writes Kageyama. The essence of 7 years an amateur and 22 years professional playing experience are distilled into these pages and they are filled with advice that all Go players will find practical.
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I would say about 75% of this book is just focusing on its diagrams and examples. The diagrams are well done and the book uses them effectively. I was almost always able to simply read the book and didn't get out a board to look at a position unless I wanted to study it more in depth. Around 5% is an overview of topics without diagrams - such as talking about what a "proper move" is - but it will always quickly get back to examples. I learn well from this kind of teaching - quick discussion and then examples of how it applies - so this book was great for me. And the other 20% is exposition, stories about Kageyama's experiences as a professional and teacher, and general thoughts on go and life. I really enjoy these parts because it is nice to not only take a break from study but to see what it is like to be a pro and how this has impacted Kageyama's life and view of go.
Who should read it?
I want to say "every go player" but that's not really fair. I think the target audience is moderate to high level amateurs.
If you at least 10 kyu, and willing to learn, I think you can get a lot out of this book. If you are a really determined 15k I think you can also get plenty from this book. Lower than 15k might be hard because some of the problems are difficult and require reading out 10+ moves. It will require the patience and humility to actually struggle through. I had to fight to solve some of these problems as a single digit kyu player. So perhaps first looking at other books like the Elementary Go Series would be better for players below about 12k and then picking this book up when you reach SDK.
Dan players may not find everything useful, but I also would be surprised if any but the strongest players got nothing out of this book. The author uses examples from amateur dan games to demonstrate how amateurs miss important moves because they don't stick to the fundamentals. If you are a dan player that has never read this book I think it would be safe for me to still recommend it.
A good attitude is important for this book. You need to be willing to look critically at your own play. But if you go into this book with the understanding that none of the content is beneath you then I can't imagine you won't get stronger.
Here is a quote from Chapter 8 “Good Shape and Bad” regarding the first situation analyzed in the chapter:
Dia1. Black 1 and 3 are the attach-and-extend joseki, from which White 4 is an unheard-of departure, a terrible move, an idiotic blunder. Black’s answer should be on the board in an instant, without hesitation. Dia2. 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.
And that is the entirety of the analysis for the first situation presented in the chapter. The next sentence moves to another position. There is a lot of this in the book and you are going to spend some time reading segments like this.
The tone is casual and the author's voice is hilarious, with diatribes and anecdotes that make it feel like you have not just a book but a real Go mentor at your side, ribbing you and helping you get better through brutal honesty and supernatural patience.
Most go books are laborious things, strictly for those seriously seeking improvement. This volume is entirely different than that. I think there is no better pocketbook that so pleasantly combines reading for pleasure and getting stronger at Go. Thank you, Toshiro Kageyama!
Forget about most efficient use of study time. This book is worth reading for entertainment value alone, and you'll learn some things, too. Kageyama-san very much comes across as the Go version of the street smart veteran coaching the young hot shot. Some of his instructions are hilarious as well as insightful and show that he really had fun distilling his years of experience to write this book.
For example, there is this dialogue with an imaginary student:
Hearken ye who play [xx] just because it is joseki, and learn its true meaning.
"Why bother. The move is the same whether you know what it means or not."
Yes, but that is why you don't improve. Try playing moves you understand for a change. For one thing, it will make the game twice as interesting.
(BTW, this is exactly what a chess coach told me 30 years ago about that game.)
Then this, as he tries to convince that something which is obvious to a player of his rank is actually obvious:
'Are White 2 to 8 really so bad for Black?' I can hear the question coming so here is my answer. 'Bad? Preposterous would be a better word. Look at Black's compressed position. Look at White's outer influence. Fall in love with that thick white wall. Realize how good White's result is. If you can not understand this, lay the position out on the go board every morning as soon as you get up and chant the words, "White's thickness is superior." '
His advice about how to think about the game is priceless, especially his 'coach's advice' to get a firm grasp on the fundamentals. I'll probably be reading this book yearly for my entire go career.