Understanding How to Play Go, by Yuan Zhou. Slate & Shell; 2000.

This book is subtitled "An AGA 7-dan explains some of his games", and it consists of seven commented games of the author. The commentariess are quite detailed: the book averages to 30 pages per game, with two figures per page (possibly with some small explanatory diagrams per page as well); most figures cover between one and three moves. So the explanations are much more detailed than any other game commentaries available in English that I can think of. (Though The 1971 Honinbo Tournament and Appreciating Famous Games can be quite detailed in spots.)

When I first looked at the book, I thought that that level of detail was all well and good, but I had misgivings about spending time reading through amateur games: of course the players are extremely strong amateurs, but might their games nonetheless not give me bad habits that I wouldn't get from going through professional games? In retrospect, however, I'm not worried about that at all. For one thing, the author went through all of the games with a professional (as well as with his opponent), so serious errors in play are pointed out.

But, more importantly, that really isn't the point of such a detailed commentary as this. If you want to get professionals' moves into your fingers, this isn't the book you should be reading: instead, play through as many games as possible by the best players you can find. But the virtue of a book like this is that you see what the players are thinking about at every move of the game. So the actual moves, while frequently much better than the moves that I would play in such a situation, are to some extent beside the point: what is much more important is the thinking process that goes into the moves. The players are thinking about issues that I wouldn't even consider; if I started thinking about such issues on a regular basis, I'd become a much better player (and the game would become an even richer one for me), even if the actual decisions that I made weren't always correct (because of flaws in my reading ability or positional judgment). And a book like this is a great way to get an insight into such deeper thinking; it's a very nice complement to other sources of game commentaries that are currently available in English.

david carlton <carlton@bactrian.org>

Last modified: Sun Aug 10 20:58:34 PDT 2003