Sunday, May 07, 2006

Searching for books that truly improve one's skill

Games of Berkeley seems to have stocked-up on magnetic gobans.

I visited Games of Berkeley last weekend and must have spent an hour-and-a-half sitting on the floor in front of the four shelves of Go books. I was going through book after book from Kiseido and Yutopian, trying to find some worthy new additions to my library. It was a little frustrating but I couldn't find anything that I felt was a "must have" addition; even for future reading.

Books are one learning method that I and many other Go players turn to for a variety of reasons. Four common ones are:
  • Lack of time for more frequent play (i.e. to learn by experience)
  • Lack of disposable income for formal lessons
  • Irregularly available times for study
  • Living too far away from a Go club

Admittedly, books alone will not improve one's game but they are one of the most available methods for tapping into the minds of stronger players. They are repositories of knowledge and unlocking their potential depends heavily upon the efforts of the reader.

I feel that I'm searching for magic bullets within books; something that might boost me quickly by two or three stones. One that might have done that was Opening Theory Made Easy by Otake Hideo. I recall reading that book and thinking, "So that's what I'm doing wrong!" Of course, I was in the mid-20 kyus on KGS back then so perhaps a little insight was all that I needed to dramatically increase my strength.

By chance, I struck-up a conversation with a chess player who was perusing the more numerous books of his game. He was attending a nearby chess tournament and was taking a break. He was in his early 20's and was formerly among the top-fifty US players in the Under-18 category.

"See all these chess books from this publisher?" he said as he gestured to one tightly-packed shelf of glossy Everyman books. "They're mostly ineffective."

"You won't learn much from them," he continued. "Publishers like these make money from the obsessive-compulsive nature of many chess players who acquire more books than they actually read. They publish a new book almost every month."

His remarks left me a little perturbed and were similar to what I had been told by many senior Go players; that not all of the books out there can really make a dramatic difference in improvement, and that just a small selection are truly worth studying.

Interestingly, there are a few books which are mentioned repeatedly, and recommended above all else. There's a possibility that even Go conversations might suffer from the metaphorical echo-chamber effect so I've decided to explore two series of these for myself.

Assuming all goes well, I should have, by the middle of this week, two sets of books that are oft suggested as "absolute must-haves" for serious Go students.
I acquired the first set from a veteran Go player who no longer needed them. The second set was ordered directly from Japan via

I'll soon see if there's real steak behind the sizzle.

Visiting Davis

ChiyoMama had to attend a seminar at UC Davis this weekend so ChiyoChan and I tagged along to turn it into a weekend outing. Downtown Davis is a lovely and very pedestrian-friendly place to shop, dine and tour and I would recommend it to anyone who happens to be travelling down the I-80 corridor. Steve's Pizza makes an impressive Philly Cheesesteak sandwich.

Davis happens to be home to the Davis/Sacramento Go Club but they have no meetings over the weekend. Perhaps, one day in the near future, I might head over there for one of their tournaments.

Fuseki Quiz 4/20

This time, it is White to play. I chose "C".

Scoring of Last Weekend's Fuseki Quiz 3/20
  • A = 8
  • B = 6
  • C = 2
  • D = 4
  • E = 10, This point is important because White is strong in the lower right corner. If White is allowed to invade at R10, she will take the initiative by pressing the lower three Black stones; forcing Black to defend while giving her influence throughout the whole board.


At 1:41 AM, May 08, 2006, Anonymous Paul said...

Interesting idea, although I've found that the echo chamber effect can be lessened via the net because of the removal of the barrier of physical location from joining a group, and thus you can get many more physically-bound communities all partially joining (one or two from each often) into larger, more diverse, online communities, thus presenting an interesting mix.

Anyway, enough of that, if your interested in books to raise your skill (although I can hardly talk as one of great skill) I've often enjoyed Kiseido's series Graded Go Problems for beginners having worked through the first two and am now onto the third (and I recommend starting from the beginning, they aren't too costly and these are good hard problems that get harder with each volume).

The joy of books is that they're not too large, and fairly light (each will easily fit in a briefcase or backpack) and thus you can always have the one you're working on on your person. That removes the excuse of not having enough time to work on problems as I often find while waiting for a bus, sitting on one, during an RSI break (take them if your job involves typing, 5 minutes an hour, you'll thank me later), over lunch, on a train, whatever you can ponder them. Even if you just do one or so.

Also you can have the joy of pondering the really good (read nasty) ones at other times. I find it good practice to hold one in your head if you can't work out the answer and then mentally work through it, that means you can also attack it whilst doing the washing up, or other situations that normally cause dampness in books or occupy your hands.

I will admit the most frustrating thing about books such as those is when you read things like "There is only one solution to this" and instantly think "Feh! I can see three good possibilities." and sure enough reading them out you'll never find a second one, damn 9-dans are quite frustrating to us mere mortals like that :)

Anyway, I find those books really helped drag my rank over the 20kyu hill, and that was back when I was playing two evenings a week at a Go club (sadly I don't get that chance anymore and I feel my skills rotting) not because they explicitly taught theory (I've found thats best learnt from stonger players in post-mortems and teaching games) but because they force you to read out real looking problems and find the solutions, which tends to help with the local situation in games (although the whole board thinking thing still eludes me, I sometimes think I've got it, then other games I blunder, and when I look back I wonder where my timing and knowledge went, but then I'm currently reading "Direction of Play" to help improve that, so we shall see eh?).

Anyway its early, enough ramble, more breakfast. Hope it was useful.

At 6:41 PM, May 09, 2006, Anonymous Krystal said...

Maybe I need to get my eyes checked or something, but I counted the lines on that magnetic board in the picture (the one on the left) three times, and each time I counted that it was a 15x15 board! What a strange size! Am I seeing things, or do they actually sell that? :)


At 10:15 PM, May 09, 2006, Anonymous xed_over said...

a couple of years ago, I purchased the magnetic travel set (center, in your picture).

save your money.

the board is only 15x15 and the stones are too small to pick up, even with small fingers.

At 2:58 AM, May 10, 2006, Anonymous Gregorio said...

it is a gomoku board (it is played in 15x15). and the position in the photo is clearly from a game of gomoku :-)

At 10:20 AM, May 10, 2006, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello Paul!

Good to hear from you again! I myself am working through the GGPB series and occasionally dabbling into Kajiwara's "Direction of Play".

I will probably find myself more dependent on books in the months to come owing to a possible change in career circumstances. I shall probably know more by tomorrow.

Hello Krystal, xed_over and Gregorio!

Yes. It does seem that it's a Go-Moku (五目) board.

With regards to portable magnetic gobans, I've felt that my Myung-In set is a good size in that the "stones" can still be held with two fingers.

Both Samarkand and Yutopian carry sets from Myung-In and Hanil Badook.

At 12:48 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger JMP said...

My streak probably comes to an end here (if only I could play go as well as I solve go problems). Anyway, not much time for explanations but I think I will go with C also.


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