A Way of Play for the 21st Century, by Go Seigen. Whole Board Press; 1999.

This is a book by Go Seigen on the opening: it takes twenty-eight games through the opening and into the middle game, with many variations.

I don't think I've enjoyed another go book that I've read in the last few years as much as this one. As soon as I finished reading it, I immediately started reading it again; as soon as I got home from the go club last week, I rushed to this book to see what light it might shed on the game that I just played. I've been spending a lot of time struggling with issues related to the opening over the last few years, and this book looks like it might be a key to helping me over my problems.

Why do I like it so much? Part of the answer is that it fills a gap in the English-language go literature about the opening. There are introductory books, there are joseki books, there are books on specific fuseki, there are books on choosing the right joseki in a context, and there's The Direction of Play (which is, not coincidentally, another of my favorite go books). So there are lots of books that will teach you about specific aspects of the openings. This book is quite different: rather than teaching you about an aspect of the opening, it shows you a top professional thinking about the opening. So there's not the didactic thrust present in most other books: if there's something specific that you want to learn about, this isn't the book for you, but if you're not sure exactly what you need to learn about the opening, or if you're not even sure what one could learn about the opening, you might find a book like this more profitable, because it doesn't close off possible questions by its design.

And it takes you well beyond the opening. In the last review I wrote, I lamented the fact that discussions of thickness/influence told you how to build up thickness, but didn't take their examples far enough to show you what concrete benefits that thickness would have. And then this book appeared like manna from the heavens, answering exactly that problem: the games are taken well into the middle game, far enough so that you can see in some detail how most of the territory is going to be sketched up, and certainly far enough that you've seen the game affected multiple times by thickness that's already on the board. And there are a fair number of alternate paths, too, so you can often see how the game would have proceeded in the absence of a certain bit of thickness.

In addition, the book is recent enough that there are several moves in the opening that appear frequently in the book that I wasn't familiar with, or moves that I was familiar with but don't play nearly as often as they occur here. For example, if I have a star point stone and my opponent plays an approach move that I don't want to pincer, I almost always play a one point jump; but in the games here, playing a knight's move (i.e. on the third line instead of the fourth line) seems at least as common, and there are a few games with an iron pillar instead as well. While the early Ishi Press books are great, there's a lot that's happened since them, and it's nice to see go books being published these days in which the games look more like modern professional games.

Having said the above, I wouldn't recommend this book to absolutely everybody; I suspect it's only really suitable for people around 5k (AGA) on up, and probably the stronger players will get more out of it than weaker players. (I'm about an AGA 1k, for what it's worth.)

Whole Board Press was formed to publish this book; their web page, at http://www.wholeboard.com/, gives more information about the book, including ordering information.

david carlton <carlton@bactrian.org>

Last modified: Sun Aug 10 20:48:22 PDT 2003