How to Play Handicap Go, by Yuan Zhou. Slate & Shell; 2002.

This is a collection of commented handicap games by the author of Understanding How to Play Go. It contains 8 games taken from games that the author played as white in handicapped AGA-rated tournaments; the author entered the tournaments as a 7 dan or 8 dan, and gave his opponents between 3 and 7 stones. There's also a briefly-commented 9th game between kyu-level players.

I didn't have high hopes for this book before I opened it; books on handicap go don't normally excite me too much. But I'd forgotten how lavish the commentaries were in the author's previous book, and this book is no exception. There's a diagram every five stones, on average, and diagrams covering only two or three stones aren't at all uncommon. So you really get to see what's going on at every stage of the way; in particular, not only do you see when black makes a mistake, but you also see when black gets it right.

This book also differs from traditional handicap go books in another way. Most handicap go books want to teach you some general principles that, while important in all games, are particularly important in handicap go: the importance of developing thickness is one example, as is keeping your opponent's groups separated. And of course these issues are mentioned in this book, too, though not as much as one might expect from the title. But when I play handicap games as black myself, they often turn on other issues, like whether or not I spend enough time looking after my own groups; the result of that is that the discussion in many handicap books doesn't always sound like it's painting an accurate picture of my own games.

That was not at all the case in these books, however: the games all felt very true-to-life. They contained the big mistakes by black, where black doesn't realize that his stones are under attack instead of attacking, and loses (or almost loses) a group; the little mistakes by black, where black makes an overly defensive play instead of taking the big point elsewhere, or tries to attack white but does so in a completely ineffective way; the times where black actually gets it right, harassing white's groups and making territory; and all the other little scenarios that make up the drama of a handicap game. I'm agnostic on the issue of whether or not that's useful for didactic purposes, but I certainly enjoyed reading such well-commented games that seemed so much like my own.

david carlton <>

Last modified: Sun Aug 10 20:58:37 PDT 2003