In keeping with my developing habit of reading go books on the road, I brought Abe Yoshiteru’s Step Up to A Higher Level: Test for Intermediate Level with me on my recent cross-country extravaganza. It was lucky too; I travelled on a sleeper for the first time and learned first-hand how misleading the name ‘sleeper’ is when you’re in the open section with the reclining seats. I sat amidst some semi-professional football team that stayed up all night celebrating some recent victory and talking about girlfriends. No sleep was to be had, but there was ample time for go problems.
As a collection of problems, I think this book fills a nice niche. The problems are all clustered supposedly at the 8-7 kyu level, although I found most sections quite easy. I had the most difficulty with the opening section and found a few blind spots in the endgame chapter; the capturing, tesuji and life-and-death chapters seemed as if they were aimed at perhaps 10-9 kyu players. (Of course, maybe this reflects more about the imbalances in my own knowledge than the balancing of the book.)
My biggest reservation about this book was the language. I felt that the English translation was not always very clear and the sentences were often quite strange. I’m not sure if the translator was a non-native English speaker or was trying for some sort of literal translation; if the latter, my feeling is that the author would have been better served by a more natural, relaxed use of English.
I also prefer it when authors use Japenese/Korean/Chinese terms when appropriate if referring to a specific technical term. As far as I know, there are no universally agreed upon English terms for many go terms. “Net” and “ladder” and “knight’s move” are all clear to me as they couldn’t possibly mean anything else, but “skillful finesse” has confused me on a number of occasions, especially when I was a weaker player. I now assume “skillful finesse” means “tesuji”, but there have been occasions when I’ve thought that maybe it meant “sabaki” or something else that I could imagine having to do with skilfulness and finesse. Even if I have to look up what the words mean, I think it’s useful when non-English words are used as they clearly indicate that we’re talking about a specific concept rather than some wooly English something which may map to something one finds in non-English books or may just be an author’s way of phrasing his or her own thoughts. I’m sure this will become less of a problem as I grow in strength and am able to tell from the context what people are talking about, but for now, I find it easier to read and study when I can clearly map the words and phrases I encounter in a new book to the words and phrases I’ve already encountered.
There were a few occasions in Step Up when I felt that I had to battle with the English a bit and try to second-guess what the original Japanese word might have been. This translation already uses some common imported words (hane and atari, for example) and glosses nirensei and sanrensei in the editor’s notes (though I don’t remember them appearing in the text itself – certainly, they weren’t used frequently). Because of the slightly odd way in which some of the sentences were constructed, there were several occasions when I wasn’t sure whether the wording was just a bit strange or if the text was attempting to make reference to some specific concept.
So yes. In the final ‘Playing Strength Analysis’ ranking, I ended up with a score of 128 which put me in between the ’7 kyu’ and ‘Over 6 kyu’ category. Opening and endgame did me in. Otake Hideo, see you soon!