Go Proverbs, by David Mitchell. Slate & Shell; 2001.

This is a brief (62 page) book of proverbs. It has 9 proverbs on life and death and 13 proverbs on shape and strategy. It was originally published by The Go Press in 1980; the Slate & Shell reprint is unchanged. (I assume, though I don't know for sure, that The Go Press existed only to publish this book.)

I don't recommend this book. The life and death section seems to me like a somewhat labored presentation of a few arbitrary key points in life and death; it would be far, far better to read, say, Life and Death than this book. Their examples in that section are needlessly complicated: for example, the last example in "There is death in the hane" works out a fairly long sequence showing that only one of the two hanes in the problem works. This is a reasonable point to make here, but it could have been made just as effectively with a sequence shorter than fourteen moves. Similarly, "If you don't know shicho, don't play go" ends with one of those ridiculous ladder problems that circles around the board two full times before ending: it's perfectly possible to play go successfully without being able to read out a ladder like that. And is "There is damezumari at the bamboo joint" really an important proverb? (Certainly it isn't what I'd pick as my only proverb on bamboo joints.)

The other section starts out with lots of proverbs on tesuji. Here, too, you'd do much better just reading a book on the subject (like Tesuji). The life and death/tesuji breakdown isn't particularly clear: why is "If you don't know shicho, don't play go" a life and death proverb whereas "Don't disturb symmetry" isn't? And "Connect with good shape" seems too vague to me to be a proverb. But later proverbs in this section that are more targeted for middle-game fighting are better, like "Keima attacks; ikken tobi defends" or "If you have six groups one is dead". These are both specific, easy to remember rules of thumb, which is what I want out of a proverb. (As would be "Ikken tobi is rarely a bad move" if it were catchier; I learned it as "The one-point jump is never wrong", which flows off the tongue much more smoothly.)

As you may have noticed from the above examples of proverbs, this book uses Japanese terminology a lot, in situations where there are now well-accepted English equivalents. They do include a glossary, but I still found it a bit jarring even though I'm quite familiar with the Japanese terms that were used.

Having said that, I wouldn't complain about the book if it had just come out: it was published in 1980, there weren't any other proverbs books in print, and in fact there were only about a quarter or a fifth as many go books in print in English at all. (And I don't know how widely available the books were in Britain, where this was originally published.) Also, the English translations for Japanese terms weren't nearly as well-established back then. But Yutopian's Proverbs is now available, and does a much better job of covering the subject. So, if you want proverbs, read that one instead.

(August 2001)

david carlton <carlton@bactrian.org>

Last modified: Sun Aug 10 20:57:48 PDT 2003