Cosmic Go: A Guide to Four-Stone Handicap Games, by Sangit Chatterjee and Yang Huiren. Kiseido K69; 1999.

Conflict-of-interest note: I know the authors from the Massachusetts Go Association; in particular, I learned a lot from my lessons with Mr. Yang.

This book is a bit hard to categorize: it's either a book on handicap go or a book on joseki. To be specific, it's a book on playing handicap go as black at four stones, with an uncompromising, influence-oriented style. (It's supposed to be reminiscent of Takemiya's style, hence the title.) In particular, when white plays a one space low approach to your star-point stones (as white will do almost all of the time), the book urges you to play the three-space high pincer (i.e. the pincer on the adjacent star point). White will then typically do another approach move on the other side of your corner stone.

Thus, after an introductory chapter, the book has four chapters on joseki that could arise from the above situation. There are two twenty-page chapters on one-space low and high second approach moves, and two ten-page chapters on two-space low and high second approach moves. And here, too, there is a twist: black frequently wants to attach to one of the approach moves, but professional opinions on which approach move to attach to have changed over the last decade, so these days attaching to the weak stone is frequently preferred, rather than attaching to the strong move. Thus, the book spends much of these chapters discussing this; they also discuss most of the other possibilities, but occasionally refer you to the Dictionary of Basic Joseki for details of other possibilities.

There then follows a section of problems that is more than 100 pages long (so more than half the total length of the book). And there are problems with this section. The main one is that the layout makes it very difficult to really treat it as a usual problem book, because the problems and answers are right next to each other. Even having a piece of paper to cover up the answers won't always help: sometimes the text of the answer appears before the diagram of the problem! Also, the problems are typically multipart (so you have a series of problems, each of which takes up where the previous one left off); often the later problems are really full-board problems, but they only show you part of the board in the problem. Not a huge difficulty, once you're aware of the situation, since you can find the full-board position from earlier diagrams, but not great either.

So, whether for the above reasons or because of my own state of mind, I had a hard time concentrating on the problems. They cover an awful lot of ground, though; I expect the authors had lots of stuff that they wanted to say, and this was their way of including as much of it as they could into the book. It's not the choice that I would have made while writing it: I would have preferred more justification and in-depth discussion in general, so more long examples and fewer short examples. (This is an issue that I have with most discussions of thickness: there are lots of books telling you how to get it, and giving examples of influence/territory tradeoffs that are fair or good for one side or another, and with some theoretical discussion of what to do with influence and some stylized examples. But I really would like to see examples of games taken up to the start of the endgame with a dicussion of how influence affected the game through the middle game, with lots of alternate possibilities, etc.) On the other hand, it's entirely possible that, after trying out their techniques, I'll run into situatons that are discussed in the problems, and be glad that they included as many situations as they could. (In fact, that's already happened to me once!)

At any rate, I like the book enough that I'm currently doing what it suggests in my handicap games where appropriate. And, honestly, I don't know how much more I would really learn if there were more discussion: influence is probably one of those things that you have to take on faith as a good thing, and try to work with in your game, even if you can't exactly see how it is going to help you; ultimately, you have to learn these things by doing. I'm also glad that this book is making these newer joseki available to western readers.

The authors have started a series on three-stone handicap games called Galactic Go.

Note: this book is not an English translation of the book by Takemiya that is published in French as Le Go cosmique.

cover pic

david carlton <>

Last modified: Sun Aug 10 20:55:11 PDT 2003