Cho Chikun’s Go: A Complete Introduction to the Game is the best book for the absolute Go novice. However, Cho can only cover the very basics of the game. The reader would probably have complete understanding to the rules and basic techniques of Go as well as an appreciation of the game, but there are more things about the fundamentals of Go than one book can cover. Since a book is too short for a more comprehensive introduction to Go, Janice Kim and Jeong Soo-hyun made an introductory series.
The Learn to Play Go Series consists of five books. From Volume I to Volume V, Kim and Soo-hyun will guide beginners to their first steps in the world of Go.
This review will focus on Volume 1: A Master’s Guide to the Ultimate Game.
Who should read it?
The title says it is a “Master’s Guideline,” but a master guideline to the game of Go is more appropriate. However, I think “Master’s Guideline” also fits because beginners and Masters alike follow the same rules and fundamentals when playing Go.
According to the book’s back cover, the book is suitable for beginners up to 15 gup or kyu (for those familiar to the Japanese ranking system). Besides teaching readers on how to play Go from zero, it also provides as a good review of fundamentals for those already familiar to the game. I like best that it is “suitable for children” and “demystifying for adults.”
What can I learn from it?
If you have read Cho’s introductory book, you cannot get much else from this book because it covers the same topics.
The book has two parts: Fundamentals and Basic Techniques. Part I has eight chapters that discuss Go rules and its gameplay, capturing stones, connecting and cutting stones, the concept of suicide, basic life and death, ko, territory, and a sample game. Part II has six chapters that discuss techniques on capturing, connecting, life and death, capturing races, ko, and endgame and counting territories. In short, it contains what an absolute beginner must learn.
I also learned from this book that players should sit facing the shorter side of the board and older players should sit facing the door (They said it is because the older players are safer in case an attacker comes through the door. Sounds like a game of Go was more exciting in the old days). There is also an illustration on how to hold a Go stone properly. Remember, hold stones chopsticks style between the middle finger and forefinger, middle finger on top. Trust me, proper handling of stones increases your apparent Go strength.
Like Cho’s book, Learn to Play Go Volume I also has essays between some of the chapters. Since Learn to Play Go is a more recent book, it covers more topic about the history and global situation of Go. It has a short essay about Pandanet or the Internet Go Server, my favourite Go server, and proper etiquette during a game. Just beware of the essay on the history of Go as Peter Shotwell already lists as one common misconception in Go’s history that someone invented the game to cure someone’s son of “stupidity.”
Why is it great?
The book works like a textbook. There is a “Test It Yourself” after every chapter. These short tests and their accompanying answers compliment the lessons you learn after every chapter. Surely, you can better retains your newfound knowledge if you test it immediately.
How can it improve my knowledge and gameplay of go?
For the absolute beginner, as I have said before, starting from something rather than zero in your journey to the world of Go helps a lot. For those reviewing their Go fundamentals, this book, with its format, can help you better remember everything you need to learn or relearn. Probably, you can expect to play a few games and achieve somewhere between 20 and 15 kyu, but that is not a promise.