"Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go" by Toshiro Kageyama

The book starts with a promise: "If you want to get stronger, read this book". Well, I guess it's not exactly a promise (that would have been: "If you read this book, you'll get stronger"), but it is pretty close.

This book is very dear to me; I think it's a combination of the fact that it was one of the first Go books I read, and of the style it is written in. Kageyama is calling himself "the amateur professional" - because, unlike the typical pro, he has spent a long time as an amateur. That is to our advantage, because he knows very well how the amateur mind works.

Kageyama really cares about sending his message to the reader, he is a talented writer and he really loves Go - a very fortunate mix.

Kageyama is a severe teacher - he doesn't spare us of remarks like this:

"Black 1 and 3 are wrong. Do they look natural to you? Then you will have to reverse your thought process one hundred eighty degrees if you ever want to play correctly."

Or like the following:

"If you cannot 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.'"

About people who 'cannot be bothered to read', and then get discouraged and give up Go without trying too hard, Kageyama says, sadly:

"Sorry wretches, through choice they have abandoned the most interesting and enjoyable of all games."

About professionals vs amateurs:

[...] a long tradition of intellectual combat have distilled the professional into something an amateur can never hope to become. A professional has undergone elite training in competition from childhood; he has learned to view every other person as an opponent to be beaten down and crushed."

On improving at Go, he says:

"No doubt the first requirement for becoming strong at Go is to like it, like it more than food and drink, and a second requirement is the desire to learn. A third requirement is to study it, using proper methods, patiently, little by little, without cramming. [...] Rome was not built in one day. It may not take years of devoted study to the exclusion of everything else, but it does take effort piled upon effort to become strong at go. The only ones who fall by the wayside are those, be they gifted or otherwise, who forget the word 'effort'."

And the proper methods of studying Go is what Kageyama is teaching us in this wonderful book.

The book covers a lot of topics, from basic capturing methods (Chapter 1, "Ladders and Nets"), to "Cutting and Connecting" (Chapter 2), to a collection of common patterns (Chapter 3: "The Stones Go Walking" - I have to confess I think this is a strange name, but I guess it means the natural flow of the game) , to "The Struggle to Get Ahead" (which explains a lot of what we see but many times don't understand in the professional Go)), to "Territory and Spheres of Influence" (Chapter 5), "Life and Death" (Chapter 6), "How to Study Joseki" (Chapter 7), "Good Shape and Bad" (Chapter 8), "Proper and Improper Moves" (Chapter 9), "Tesuji" (Chapter 10), "Endgame Pointers" (Chapter 11).

Some highlights from the book

Here are the most important things from the book:

In chapter 2 ("Cutting and Connecting"), dia 24 (on page 51 in my edition): the game with 9 stones handicap where black is happily letting white surround him everywhere is a real gem. It is a "don't do this" kind of example, and there is a lot to meditate on and learn from. It shows the typical negative attitude in Go.

The whole chapter 5 ("Territory and Spheres of Influence") is super valuable. It teaches how we shouldn't attach ourselves too much to a moyo, because it will likely be invaded, but also how to take advantage of that. This is really a fundamental concept that beginners get wrong: not differentiating between a territory and a moyo. Also, starting with dia 17 in this chapter there are 3 whole-board problems, each at some critical moment in the game. They are all about using thickness, a fundamental concept that is very-very important to understand. Make sure you study these 3 problems and answers in depth.

From the "Life and Death" chapter: dia 11 and dia 12, while not tsume-go problems, touch on a very common pattern in handicap Go: make sure you study it carefully, and not just for the sake of this particular pattern, but to understand the thinking process behind it. Basically, it says (in my own words): run into the center, separate the enemy stones, don't let yourself be surrounded - don't let it become a tsume-go with your life at stake.

Dia 1 in chapter 11, which is about endgame, is concentrating in one whole-board example what is most important to focus on the endgame, but can be extrapolated to the whole game in fact: don't just follow the opponent's last move and defend everywhere, but do equal damage to his own dear territory.

Another book by Kageyama

The only other English translated book by Kageyama, which I also enjoyed a lot, is Kage's Secret Chronicles of Handicap Go.