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Go problem books

I haven’t had much to write about books lately, for a couple of main reasons: I’m trying to get all the way through Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music in 2010, which is close to 4000 pages long, and I got sucked back into the game of Go (I’m using the Korean word, baduk, for the tag since that seems to be the standard search term – “Go” is pretty terrible for obvious reasons).

I got to my current level (AGA 4 kyu) largely by reading lots of instructional books, which is pretty much the main way I like to learn (which is also true of chess or math or science), as opposed to playing a lot or doing lots of exercises. But I’ve become convinced that the way to really improve is to actually do a lot of problems, and in both chess and Go that’s what I’ve been concentrating on lately. So here are some of the Go problem books I’ve used in the past and present and what I think of them.

Graded Go Problems for Beginners (4 volumes). When I am forced to give only one recommendation for problem books, this is it. It’s a super collection of all sorts of problems, although by the later books it concentrates a bit overmuch on life and death, which gets a little tedious. Volume 1 starts at the very beginning (e.g., capturing stones in atari), so if you have any experience at all you probably want to start with Volume 2, which is still pretty basic but even I still spend an hour reviewing it every once in a while (like when I’m returning to the game after a break). Volume 4 is probably useful all the way to 1 dan level.

One Thousand and One Life-and-Death Problems. Exactly what it says. Starts out around 10k level, probably close to 1d level by the end (I’m only on problem 534 so far so who knows!). They can get a bit samey after a while but doing life and death problems is the single best way to improve your reading skill.

Get Strong at Tesuji. A good collection of tactical problems from ranging from very easy to 1d level. One nice thing is that a lot of them are mainly about making good shape rather than more obviously concrete goals like living or killing or separating or connecting. So you’ll learn how to place your stones effectively and flexibly in the first place, which will put you ahead of the game when the actual living and killing problems come up.

Lee Chang Ho’s Selected Life and Death Go Problems (李昌镐精讲围棋死活). Tons of people raved about this series of six Chinese books so I had to pick them up. The nice thing about problem books is that it doesn’t matter a lot if you don’t know the language (which I don’t); the diagrams have most of the information. Anyway, these problems are indeed great; they feel interesting in a way that some other collections don’t, and they build on each other nicely. Volume 1 is probably tractable at 10k, I pretty much hit a wall in Volume 4, and Volume 6 is probably suitable for dan players.

Lee Chang Ho’s Selected Tesuji Go Problems (李昌镐精讲围棋手筋). Naturally I had to pick up his tesuji series as well. This had gotten less stellar reviews, but I like it just as much. The problems are simpler, but that’s good; this is basically a giant practical compendium of all the standard techniques you should have in your fingers during the middle game, so it’s more for, say, reminding you that if you’re trying to connect two groups you should think about clamping the opponent stone sitting between them than it is for practicing intense reading. I’m only in Volume 3 so I don’t know how hard it gets, but I’d say you could get a lot out of this at 10k.

Cho Hun-Hyeon’s Lectures on Go Techniques and Lectures on the Opening. So far two out of three books have been translated in the former series and just one of the latter. These are really super. At least in Volume 1 of each series, the problems are very simple, but 1) even I only get them 90% right and it should really be 100%, and 2) he goes into detailed explanations about why alternative moves are bad, in a way that is incredibly useful when you’re learning and don’t have good shape intuition yet. Lectures on Go Techniques Volume 1 is about simple joseki (although it doesn’t really feel that way; it’s more about “applied fundamental principles”) while Volume 2 takes that knowledge a little further into the middlegame. Lectures on the Opening is more about opening principles, which you likely have picked up somewhere else but are always useful to review.

But again, if you want to start with just one book, I still would go for the relevant volume of Graded Go Problems for Beginners and take it from there.