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From Beginner to Shodan
Which books to read to become an expert go player

Two Essential Books for the Beginner
For the person who seriously wants to learn to play go and eventually to become a strong player, getting a firm grasp on the rules along with the basic tactics and strategies of the game is important. The following two books will set the beginner on the right path to becoming a dan-level (expert) player.

*K50: Go — A Complete Introduction to the Game

Go is normally played on a 19x19 grid. This can be overwhelming for the beginner who trying to work out a strategy over a playing field of 361 points. But this book is unique in that it introduces the basic rules and concepts with four games played on 9x9 boards. Through these games the reader quickly learns how territory is formed, how to determine the final score, how to capture stones, what are the conditions for a group of stones to live and not be captured, and how to fight a ko. The remainder of the book covers the basic opening principles and tactics. Interspersed between chapters are short essays on the history of the game, professional tournaments in Japan, China, Korea, and the western world, go equipment, computer go, and other topics.

*K46: Graded Go Problems for Beginners, Volume One

This book should be read in conjunction with Go — A Complete Introduction to the Game. The 239 problems in this book will drill the reader on all the tactics introduced in that book, such as capturing stones, ladders, snapbacks, life and death, capturing races, etc. After reading these two books, the reader will have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of the game.

Other books recommended for the beginner:
*K47-K49: Graded Go Problems for Beginners, Volumes Two to Four

In order to solidify the lessons learned in Volume One of this series, it is strongly recommend that Volume Two be studied. For the ambitious beginners, they will want to study Volumes Three and Four. However, these two books should be studied together with books on the opening, the middle game, and the endgame.

The Three Stages of Go

A game of go goes through three main stages: the opening, the middle game, and the endgame. Within each of these stages, there are numerous topics that need to be mastered.

1. The Opening
The opening consists of two main topics: fuseki and joseki. The fuseki is the stage in which the players stake out their spheres of influence, usually occupying the corners, then playing along the sides. Sharp skirmishes, called josekis, can suddenly arise when a player attacks one of their opponent's corner stone. There is also the subtopic of handicap go that includes handicap fusekis and handicap joseki. It is advisable that the novice player study handicap openings concurrently with even-game openings.

The Two Best Introductions to Handicap Go

*K82: Handicap-Go Strategy and the Sanrensei Opening

Most of the games beginners usually play are with handicaps against stronger players. They usually start out with a nine-stone handicap and, as they improve and the handicap is reduced, they will eventually find themselves playing games without handicaps. The most important thing that beginners learn by playing handicap games is how to use their star-point (4-4 point) stones. This means that their main focus must be on building thick positions, then turning the influence of these positions into territory. In the opening stage, a player must not be overly concerned about territory. In the end, territory is the natural result of thick influential positions. The natural way to make the transition from handicap games to even games is to learn the Sanrensei opening and to adopt it, at least initially, in all of your games. Many of the patterns that appear in handicap games can also be used in this opening. Moreover, the basic strategy of playing for outside influence used in handicap games is the same strategy a player uses in the Sanrensei opening.

*K16: Handicap Go

Chapter One presents 20 strategic principles of handicap go. Chapter Two introduces the reader to a sure-win strategy for a five-stone handicap.
Reviewed by BenGoZen at
"A fantastic book on handicap go."

Even-Game Fuseki

K36: Opening Theory Made Easy

This book has been praised as the best introductory book on opening theory (fuseki). Starting with corner enclosures and extensions along the sides, it presents 20 principles that will give you a firm understanding of opening strategy.
Reviewed by BenGoZen at
". . . a classic that I will re-read over and over again."

Even-Game Joseki
There are thousands of josekis, so it is unreasonable to expect the novice player, or even a dan-level player to memorize even a fraction of them. However, there are a few basic ones that arise in many of the games you will be playing. If you have read Go--A Complete Introduction to the Game, described above, you will find a few josekis presented in Chapter Five on opening strategy that you should commit to memory.

*K31: The Second Book of Go

You will also find many basic josekis in Chapter One and Three of this book. These should serve as a first introduction to joseki. The second chapter of this book is also an excellent introduction to playing with a nine-stone handicap. The remaining chapters will give you an overview of the various stategies and tactics of go.

K41-K42: The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki, Volumes 1 and 2

As you gain experience playing games, you will regularly be puzzled when unexpected joseki moves arise in your games. By referring to these two volumes at such times, your repertoire of joseki will gradually increase.

*K86: Opening and Middle-Game Problems for the Kyu player

New josekis are being created all the time and even some of the basic ones are regularly being discarded or improved upon. An example is the early invasion at the 3-3 point against a stone on the 4-4 point. To make this invasion on the fifth move or before the fuseki has been played out was almost unheard of until the AI program AlphaGo started playing this way. This early invasion strategy is now commonly played in professional go. The appendix of this book provides an exhaustive analysis of the variations that arise from these joseki.

2. The Middle Game

Two Outstanding Books on Life and Death
The fighting in the middle game is where victory or defeat is usually decided. The player who can accurately read ahead more moves than his opponent will usually come out the winner. The tried-and-true way to develop this ability is by solving life-and-death problems. Here are two essential life-and-death problem books that every kyu player should study:

*K84: The Basics of Life and Death

Part One is a systematic introduction to life and death. It starts out by presenting all the basic eye spaces. It then shows how three basic tesujis (the hane, the placement, and the throw-in) are used to reduce the eye space of a group to one eye. Part Two presents 177 basic positions. This is not a random collection of life-and-death problems. Rather, it is a systematic collection of positions that arise from josekis and common middle-game skirmishes in the corners and along the sides where the life or death of a group must be determined. This makes it a invaluable reference book.

*K72: 1001 Life and Death Problems

Practice is essential for mastering the tesujis of killing groups or rescuing them, but the practice go players get from their games is limited. However, the life-and-death problems in this book provides a vast variety of tesujis, and the practice you will get by solving these problems will keep your go sense sharp and in top form. Practice also means repetition. If you have to find the same kind of tesuji in similar patterns over and over, spotting that tesuji in a game will become instinctive.
The 1001 life-and-death problems in this book provide ample material for months or even years of problem-solving practice. The problems are not hard; they range from very easy to moderately difficult. A dan player should be able to solve most of them within a minute, sometimes on sight, but it may take a bit longer for kyu-level players. Even if you are a dan player, solving these problem will keep your reading ability sharp and give you that competitive edge you need to win your games.
Reviewed by BenGoZen at
"A new and refreshing approach to teaching life and death."

Other recommended books on life and death
*K58: Get Strong at Life and Death

*K13: Life and Death

From the Graded Go Problems for Dan Players series, some really challenging problems.
K61: 300 Life and Death Problems, 5-kyu to 3-dan

K64: 300 Life and Death Problems, 4-dan to 7-dan

Two Outstanding Books on Tesuji
Tesujis are skillful moves that accomplish some clear tactical objective, such as capturing stones, killing or rescuing a group, linking up your stones or separating your opponent's stones, making good shape, etc. Depending on how they are classified, there are almost 50 different kinds of moves that make up tesujis. If you aspire to raise your fighting technique to the level of shodan, mastery of these tesujis is mandatory. For an understanding of how tesuji is related to intuition, please read The Interplay of Intuition and Brute-Force Analysis in Go. Here are two essential tesuji books that every kyu player should study:

*K85: A Survey of the Basic Tesujis

The perfect book to introduce the novice player to the full range of tesuji. In 38 chapters, it presents 43 different tesujis. Each chapter is devoted to a specific tesuji. After a tesuji is presented and explained, numerous problems follow, showing the various ways the tesuji can be applied. Working through these problems will internalize these tesujis and you will begin to find these same tesujis in your games.

*K74: 501 Tesuji Problems

This book is the ideal follow-up to A Survey of the Basic Tesujis. The tesujis are presented in random order, so the readers must find the appropriate tesuji, just as they would in their own games.

Other recommended books on Tesuji:
From the Elementary Go Series, an excellent introduction to tesuji.
*K12: Tesuji

From the Graded Go Problems for Dan Players series, some really challenging problems.
K61: 300 Tesuji Problems, 5-kyu to 3-dan

K64: 300 Tesuji Problems, 4-dan to 7-dan

Two Important Books on Middle-Game Fighting
Middle-game fighting is all about indentifying weak groups, then attacking them. This is how strong players secure territory — find a weak group, then attack it, forcing it to run away. While that group is escaping and struggling to make eyes, the attacker will be securing territory or building influence. Here are two essential books on this topic that every kyu player should study:

*K88: Attacking and Defending Weak Groups

In the nine chapters that are the core of this book, all the various techniques of attacking are presented. Among the topics discussed are the creation of weak groups, in which direction to attack, leaning attacks, and splitting attacks. After a detailed exposition of each technique, a number of problems, taken from positions in professional games, illustrate how pros apply these techniques. The tenth chapter presents additional problems whose solutions draw upon the techniques studied in the preceding nine chapters.

K67: 256 Opening and Middle Game Problems

In the skirmishes that erupt in the opening, it quite often happens that a group is left without eye shape. If left unattended, it can come under a severe attack. Making eye shape for such groups takes precedence over all other moves. Omitting the reinforcement of a weak group is what often leads to a lost game. This is the idea encapsulated in the go proverb "Urgent moves before big moves."
This is the theme that runs through the problems in this book. The first 90 problems are relatively easy, as they are multiple choice. But by pondering them and eventually looking at the correct answers, you will learn many important principles and techniques of the opening and middle game. The problems in the later part of the book become progressively harder.

Two Essential Books on Shape
The way the stones of a local group are configured determines whether they are working together efficiently in making eye shape (good shape) or are just a clump or a string of stones struggling to make two eyes (bad shape). One of the implications of the go proverb "Urgent moves before big moves." is the urgency of making good shape for a weak group. Knowing how to make good shape or forcing your opponent into making bad shape is an essential technique when attacking or defending in the opening and the middle-game. Here are two essential books related to shape that every kyu player should study:

*K73: Making Good Shape

This book provides an extensive theoretical introduction to shape. It begins with the efficient placement of stones, then goes on to illustrates the various techniques for making good shape. Finally, it provides its readers practical experience by presenting 245 problems that will enable them to hone their skills for finding the shape move for their stones in their games.
Reviewed by BenGoZen at
"Gives players fantastic exposure to new concepts and ideas regarding shape."

*K87: Sabaki — The Art of Settling Stones

When invading an opponent's sphere of influence, the invader will be at a disadvantage. What the invader must do is to settle his stones as quickly as possible by making good shape. This book surveys the various techniques used to accomplish this and provides 122 practical problems.

The Definitive Book on Ko

*K76: All About Ko

Ko is a difficult subject to master, but this book simplifies it by breaking it down into 19 short and easily digestible chapters. Each chapter concentrates on one particular aspect of ko, with ample examples, so that the reader fully understands the concept being studied. The last part of this book contains 122 problems, which start with easy ones and gradually become more difficult.
Reviewed by BenGoZen at
"Best explanation for determining the value of a ko that I've seen thus far."

3. The Endgame
The endgame is the part of the game that players tend to ignore. One of the reasons is that the endgame involves difficult calculations that are mentally exhausting. This can't be helped, as go is not an easy game to play well. However, if you are willing to put in the hard work, you will rewarded with an increase in your winning percentage by enabling you to eke out a few points in close games. It will also make you smarter because, just as the body becomes stronger through exercise, the mind becomes stronger when you continuously try to make complicated calculations. These two essential books on the endgame will make your task of mastering the endgame easier.

*K15: The Endgame

This book is a basic introduction to the endgame. It includes such elementary topics as the proper way to count territories, the interplay between sente and gote, and endgame tesujis. Included are 29 full-board problems taken from professional games. In each problem you are given a choice of up to five possible endgame moves. In the answer section, all these moves are compared to show why the correct move is superior to the others.

*K57: Get Strong at the Endgame

There are three important topics in the endgame that this book covers.
1. It present the most common endgame tesujis in 120 problems. Knowing these tesujis will enable you to eke out crucial points in a close game.
2. It shows you how to calculate the value of 101 basic endgame moves that arise from josekis and skirmishes along the sides.
3. The book ends with 28 problems on 11x11 boards, illustrating the interplay between different-valued endgame moves in realistic situations. Studying these problems will help you understand when to forgo sente moves for gote ones and when to go on the initiative with a sente move.

* Books marked with an asterisk are also available in digital form from SmartGo at