Tuesday, January 10, 2006

First Impressions: Dictionary of Basic Joseki

In my previous post's comment section, reader JMP noted how Janice Kim's first three volumes of Learn To Play Go had a lot of breadth but lacked depth.

Please note that I consider Ms. Kim's books to be excellent learning materials (else I would not have recommended Vol. 1 in my 2005 Holiday Gift Guide); I just disagree with that text box that implies that a typical reader would be 12k in strength after reading the first three volumes and having "a little experience". In my humble opinion, 25k-to-20k (as measured on CyberOro, IGS or KGS) would be a more realistic measure of achieved strength.

Anyway, today I'd like to give you my first impressions of three other books that are narrow in scope but go very deep.

Dictionary of Basic Joseki: Volumes 1-3

Ever a sucker for bargains, I bought all three volumes of Yoshio Ishida's Dictionary of Basic Joseki at Kinokuniya back in late September. Each was priced at just $12 (40% off their normal price of $20). Back then, I had absolutely no idea how or even if I would use them.

In fact, my first thought was, "These must be underpriced because nobody wants to buy them."

Well, I'm finding a lot of use for them now. Ishida does a wonderfully in-depth job of explaining joseki, including:
  • What variations can arise
  • How some variations may be used from a whole-board perspective
  • Why one variation may be preferred over the other and why you may not want to play the variation or the joseki
  • Whether one may lose sente by following a variation and, in some cases, how to retain sente
  • Which variations are slack or aggressive
  • Why the stones must be played
  • What critical points for either color arise as the shapes evolve
  • What weaknesses exist that can be exploited
  • What countermeasures and tesuji can be applied to the shapes
I've only read about 30% of his write-ups on two common joseki (that's less than 1% of the total content of all three volumes) but I'm finding his writings to be very helpful in the study of shape, life-and-death and tesuji.

I've been using the dictionaries in conjuction with my other Go books; almost always taking one the basic books and one of the dictionary volumes with me when I sit down for a good read. On more than one occasion, I wound-up spending more of my time reading the dictionary. I get caught-up wondering what develops with each variation and the "why" behind each move.

Regular Go books will often mention a simple variation of a joseki and (sometimes) note just a few critical points to watch out for. As a result, you wind-up lost or stupefied when your opponent chooses to not follow the variation that has been presented.

Thrice in actual games, Ishida's write-ups helped me immediately recognize when my opponents' departures created exploitable openings; giving insight on where to play, in what direction, and what tesuji can be used. This has given me more confidence in applying (and in choosing not to apply) the two joseki that I've been studying to date.

Overall, the books impress me as good references when you truly want to understand what make these moves optimal and time-tested. I think that qualifies them for the study (as opposed to memorization) of joseki, and helps guard against "joseki poisoning" which Go Seigen warns of in his book, A Way of Play for the 21st Century.

Certainly, joseki are only part of one's arsenal. Whether they are worth studying in the lower kyus is the subject of much debate; but Toshiro Kageyama himself, 7P and author of the bestseller Lessons In The Fundamentals of Go, considered the proper study of joseki as "one of the first steps in getting stronger".

For me, joseki are an interesting area to explore and a great jumping point to other areas of Go; particularly when using Ishida's dictionary. Perhaps they may not be the express route to shodan (tesuji probably claims that distinction), but they certainly qualify for the scenic route.

My impulsive $36 purchase is looking like an even better bargain today. I don't know if Kinokuniya is still selling these at just $12 each but keep your eye out for them if you should visit one of their bookstores.

A free alternative to consider would be Kogo's Joseki Dictionary. This is a large SGF which can be read using a tool like Drago (my preferred SGF utility). I didn't find it as thorough in explaining the whys and hows of each joseki and it notably lacks the enlightening quality of Ishida's writing; but, for those of you on a budget, it's an option you may not want to pass-up.


I learned that Fridgeplay in the UK had released a 9x9 magnetic Go board suitable for refrigerator surface play (or anywhere else you can stick it to). My understanding is that it was developed with the assistance of the British Go Association and instructor Peter Wendes. The cost is about £10 (US$18).

Fridgeplay sells its products in the US but I haven't seen this set anywhere locally. You can find them sometimes on eBay but you may also be able to order them directly from Mr. Wendes.

I'm sure the 9x9 grid will be satisfying for some. It's ideal for introducing newcomers to the game as can be seen in most of the workshop photos from ZenMachine (turn down your audio, this site has background music).

For myself, I only wish that they had expanded the grid to 19x19.


At 3:36 PM, January 11, 2006, Anonymous ZenChess said...

Hi, I have been reading your journal for a little while, it's pretty cool.

I'm also starting to study go (i've actually been playing very, very sparsly since 1998, but I never studied or played much)

I'm currently ranked 22k on kgs it will be interesting to see if I can beat your rank :P

At 5:43 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello zenchess! If you've achieved a solid 22k and can play regularly, I imagine that you wouldn't have that great a difficulty reaching 19k within a month or even a couple of weeks.

Improvement can be hard to predict, though. Some folks progress rapidly and others don't. A few seem to have a natural talent for the game. Everyone also has different life circumstances which affect how much time they can dedicate to playing and improving.

As a couple of senior Go players had advised me, "Just love what you're studying, make the destination a secondary priority, and enjoy the ride."

At 9:21 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Adam said...

Heya, ChiyoDad.

I've got "38 Basic Joseki" and will be starting on it after I finish my current read, so I've been watching your joseki study with some interest.

I also have been mystified about the correct play to follow departure from the accepted joseki, and am glad to hear that the Dictionary has helped you there.

I wonder if you (or anyone else reading) have seen "Punishing and Correcting Joseki Mistakes" (Mingjiu Jiang / Adam Miller)? I spotted it on the AGA book list and thought that with a title like that it might be a good one for beginning to learn to use joseki more effectively in-game.


I mostly have come to believe that I simply need to increase the quality of the rest of my game before joseki become part of my regular play. But that increase may come indirectly through study elsewhere, or directly through joseki study. Most likely it will come from some combination of the two.


At 9:05 AM, January 13, 2006, Anonymous erislover said...

Kogo's is certainly free, but it is very limited in scope as you mention. I think one of my plans is going to be to get a joseki book and start making a modified Kogos for my own use. I vastly prefer move-by-move playout and tree views that computer viewers have over books that only have numbered diagrams.

But I know very, very little about joseki and it certainly hasn't held me back perceptibly. Especially the torturous 3-4 point joseki, gods how I hate all of them. First rule in playing me: pick a 3-4 point. ;) hahaha...

At 9:16 AM, January 13, 2006, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello Adam! I have 38 Basic Joseki myself. I use it to investigate a new joseki when I first encounter it (as suggested by Barry Phease), and then I branch-off into the dictionary to explore its variations.

I've used it to explore the tsuke-nobi (a staple for high handicap games) and the inside attachment to the low 3-4 keima approach. The latter can get complicated as may branch out into the nadare (aka avalanche) joseki.

I had read about Punishing and Correcting Joseki Mistakes but I don't know much about its contents. I feel however that Ishida's dictionary does a pretty good job of pointing out the pitfalls if a key point is not played. What I haven't seen in Ishida's text is any method for correcting or compensating for a joseki mistake. That's probably out-of-scope for his dictionary.

I myself have been advised by strong amateurs (at a ratio of 4-to-1) to not bother with joseki. Much of this may be because most beginners memorize only the common variations and play them without understanding.

Such was the case back in September when Gilles Arcas, the author of Drago, pointed out to me the value of a joseki in his comment to one of my games. I did not know how to resist when my opponent made a mistake.

It was that particular game, incidentally, that really pushed my curiousity about joseki.

The opinion that I've formed to date is that joseki are interesting positions to study, just like life-and-death. But while some life-and-death problems can be scaled to suit lower kyu-level players, joseki remain as higher level moves which require greater explanation and analysis. If one can therefore understand the value of each move in a joseki, then isn't one also broadening one's understanding of other aspects of Go?

Situations for the application of tesuji occur more frequently. That's part of the reason that Haruyama and Nagahara made tesuji the second chapter of the first edition of their book, Basic Techniques of Go (before Bozulich re-edited the book and brought handicap strategies and joseki to the fore).

As I alluded to in my post, I don't think that studying joseki will help me get strong faster but I firmly believe these studies will improve my overall strength in the long run.

At 9:54 AM, January 13, 2006, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello erislover! (I'm trying to get into the habit of responding to more of my comments. I've been very slack in that regard lately but I can at least blame work and the flu.)

I think I'm beginning to understand why the nadare (avalanche) was named such. Even worse is the taisha. Ishida himself only explores the simpler branches of the latter. I imagine you could write a whole book on it.

You probably won't see me touching that joseki for a long while.

At 8:26 PM, January 13, 2006, Anonymous xed_over said...

Hello Chiyodad,

As a mid kyu player myself, I found your review of Ishida's dictionaries very informative, as are all of your reviews.

Since you mention here that you also own Davies' book, I'm wondering how you would compare the two works. For your learning, do you find one work better than the other in any way?

I purchased 38 Basic Joseki over a year ago when I was about the level you are now, and I was not very impressed with the work at the time, in spite of the fact that it is the 2nd volume of an elementry series. I just figured that I wasn't at a level where I could appreciate it yet.

Given your review of Ishida's work, I'm giving Davies' 38 Basic Joseki a second look before adding Ishida's dictionaries to my wish list.

At 11:00 PM, January 13, 2006, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello xed_over! Knowing what I know today, I might have forgone buying 38 Basic Joseki and instead bought Ishida's 3-volume dictionary. I say "might" because there are instances where I don't want to go that deep in studying a joseki and its branches yet. The former is easy to read but it can be unsatisfying. The latter is deep but it can be overwhelming.

Let's do a comparison on one joseki.

Kosugi/Davies dedicate seven pages to the inside attachment, nadare and o-nadare joseki (Section 4). This is enough to expound upon the general purpose of this joseki, give an idea as to what circumstances it could be applied, demonstrate the most common variation(s), and identify some of the key points.

By contrast, Ishida dedicates sixty-eight pages (in smaller print) to these (Chapters 3-4, Part 4, Vol.2). Ishida's local analysis of the nadare and o-nadare include moves that cover almost a quarter of the board.

Interestingly, Kosugi/Davies do not even include the tsuke-nobi joseki which is usually the first one that beginners would learn if they were playing a lot of 6 to 9 stone handicap games.

For now, I refer to Kosugi/Davies for a quick overview and then go to Ishida when I am ready to spend more time investigating the why and why not behind the stone placements.

At 7:56 PM, January 14, 2006, Anonymous hdoong said...

Hi Chiyodad,

Great post on Ishida's joseki dictionary and your comments on studying joseki. Besides Kageyama, Rin Kaiho in his booklet "Come up to Shodan" also mentioned the importance of mastering joseki, quote, "As you draw closer to shodan, you'll find it necessary to master joseki. By that, I don't mean to memorize them, but to grasp their intent."

I am the sort that likes to study books, so naturally I began to study joseki even when I first started to learn Go. I did not conciously drop the study of joseki as I progressed but like you, I always have a book to read. I find that enhances my enjoyment of the game and made the journey more fun. No doubts, some people who does not study anything at all can surpass me and pronounce that there is no need to study but for me at least, not reading and studying Go books takes that much of the enjoyment away.

Re Ishida's dictionary, yes, it goes really deep in the analysis of the joseki and explains well. I use that dictionary together with my other books (Jungsuk in our Time and some chinese materials) and enter the positions and brief comments into Kogo's dictionary as I find going through the variations using the computer faster and easier to look up (I use SmartGo as my usual sgf editor). It is also a process for me to digest the materials as well, so is good for my learning.

The progress of this, however, is rather slow due to my other commitments and whenever I have time for Go, I spend them mostly in reviewing recent pro games (I get a package of about 30-40 new pro games everyweek from Go4Go.net). Any other extra time I have, I spend on problems. I do not play a lot online but mostly use my time at the club to solidify my skills. I spend most time on joseki studies when I encounter a new joseki (or variations) in my actual game and wished to pursue the joseki further, and most of the time, the fruit of such efforts is really sweet!

This is remarkably different compared to when I first started to learn Go where I spend quite some time "studying" joseki (because joseki books are very tempting) but now do not seem to remember what I have studied. Maybe the natural joseki moves that I play nowadays are a result of such studies.

At 8:23 PM, January 15, 2006, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello hdoong! It's always great to hear from you and read Go insights from your blog.

When you speak about no longer being able to remember what you had studied, I can't help but recall Kageyama's statement that joseki are not to be memorized but to be created. I've read about joseki continuing to evolve and it will be interesting to see what future generations think about today's time-tested moves.

While I have no preference for learning methods, by books or by person-to-person lessons, I find myself heavily dependent on the former because of a lack of discretionary time. As such, I continue looking for the best way to learn from written materials.

Speaking for myself, however, I strongly agree that my enjoyment of the game would be diminished without books.

I would be most eager to someday hear your opinions of Jungsuk In Our Time.

At 5:23 PM, January 19, 2006, Anonymous Phelan said...

Fridge Go sounds like a very good idea! :D
Pity they don't make 19x19 boards.

At 12:06 PM, November 10, 2007, Blogger Hiead said...

Hi! I've been following your blog, and recently have been going through its archives (sorry for commenting an age-old post), but WOW! $36 for the three? Looking at Amazon, the first one is going for about $150 at least! You really got a good bargain there. :) Wish we had similar stores in Ohio.

At 1:45 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello hiead,

I got lucky but Kiseido still seems to have these books for $20 each.


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