Masterpieces of Handicap Go, trans. Robert McGuigan. Two Volumes. Slate & Shell; 2001

This is two volumes of handicap games. They (with one exception) have a Japanese pro playing white; the black player varies, but a typical scenario has the black player a future top pro before he turned professional. (In particular, the players are playing at an appropriate handicap: they're not staged pro-pro handicap games.) The games are taken from various Japanese sources (with the same one exception); all but four of them appeared earlier in the American Go Journal, though they were apparently reset and reformatted for publication in book form, with new diagrams added. (I haven't compared this version with the original version, but they do feel more like book commentaries than magazine commentaries.)

I didn't have high hopes for these volumes before I started reading them. It's nothing against the volumes: I just don't usually want to read commented handicap games. Either black plays badly (if it's a normal handicap game) or black plays unnaturally well for a handicap game (if it's staged); either white plays in a way that takes account of the handicap (in which case you see overplays) or white sticks with honte moves (which isn't so bad, but not really representative). Any way, you lose.

But, despite that, I found myself enjoying the first few game commentaries. I enjoyed them in a similar manner to the way that I enjoyed Cho's 2 dan games: there were times when black made a mistake, and I thought "that's exactly what I would do in that situation", and the commentary clearly explained why that was wrong and what a better alternative was. That kind of thing is, of course, highly dependent on the individual reader: there were lots of mistakes that weren't nearly as striking to me (either because I wouldn't have made that mistake, or I don't know what I would have done, or the situation was too complicated, or the commentary wasn't very good). But when it works, it works.

On the other hand, there was an unexpected (though predictable in retrospect) down side to some of the commentaries as well. The games are taken from many different Japanese sources. Some of them are good: lots of the games are taken from Kobayashi Ryu Hissho Oki Go, by Kobayashi Koichi with Nakayama Noriyuki, and on the whole I liked the commentary in those ones, for example. But some of the commentaries really aren't very good: for example, I thought that the commentaries taken from Kido were usually much worse than the commentaries taken from books.

Now that I'm done with the books, my basic feeling is that they're about what you'd expect from a collection of commented handicap games taken from multiple sources, but on the whole I'm somewhat more favorably inclined than I was to start with. Yes, they're handicap games, so they're not what you should play through if you want to get the best moves into your fingers; yes, the quality is uneven. But there were some notable moments of clarity for me, and there were also a few board positions that were repeated often enough in different games that they seem to be sticking in my head.

(August 2001)

david carlton <>

Last modified: Sun Aug 10 20:57:41 PDT 2003