Well, what can one possibly say about Toshiro Kageyama’s Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go?
After reading Teach Yourself Go and Go For Beginners, I asked the resident 4-dan what would be a good next step. I don’t think I managed to get the entire sentence out when Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go was in my hands. If I ask for a recommendation on which Go book to read next, 9 times out of 10, he’ll say, ‘When was the last time you read Kageyama?’. When reviewing games, phrases like ‘What would Kageyama say about this?’ and ‘If you’d remembered your Kageyama…’ are not uncommon.
I love this book. I love Kageyama. He’s the kind of author that makes you fall in love with whatever it is he’s talking about. I wish I could invite him to dinner and make him some apple pie. He could sell me any number of dodgy bridges, I tell you what. (I am sure Kageyama would never sell dodgy bridges, however!)
On the first reading, I could not visualise the ladder I was meant to be able to visualise in Chapter 1 – no way, no how. Frankly, I had more of a chance of climbing Mount Everest blindfolded. Actually, quite a bit that went whizzing right past my head on the first reading, but with a book like this, it doesn’t matter.
There is so much discussion, that no matter what level you are, you’re bound to get at least something from every chapter. Even if you get struck by the inadequacy demons, the prose is so engaging that it carries you forward.
I’ve heard some people say that Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go is overrated and that they didn’t feel there was as much substance as people make out. I suppose I’m not strong enough to argue with some of them, but I suspect that if I ever make it to dan-level play, I’ll be back here, continuing to sing his praises.
If I had to guess, I’d wonder if this weren’t partially a reaction to the almost evangelical feelings some have for the book. Maybe people who sing its praises so extremely make others inherently skeptical.
I’d also wonder if it is a response to the somewhat different style of the book. The pages aren’t dizzyingly full of diagrams and technical facts. Kageyama doesn’t batter patterns and moves into your head. There are only a handful of problems. What he does is much different: he discusses the game with you. It feels like he is there with you, personally trying to help you develop your understanding of the game as a whole. He tries to get across an overall way of thinking about and studying Go, rather than getting bogged down in the details of what one should do in this or that set of of specific circumstances.
I’ve heard people criticise it because they say Kageyama gets off track sometimes, and that there is too much discussion of unrelated things. I would say, true, Kageyama sometimes tells a little story or goes on about something or another for a bit, but I love that! It makes the book engaging, and allows Kageyama’s personality to shine through.
Sometimes, it feels as if he’s in your living room, having a chat. His love for the game screams through the printed text so loudly, reading it makes one long to see Go through his eyes. When I read Kageyama, I feel fully engaged and end up having any number of conversations with him in my head. (Actually, should I admit this?)
This is the Go book that gets loaned out the most. A third copy has just been obtained for the house, as the other two are currently making the rounds and it never hurts to have another one kicking about.
Well, here I am, just starting to dip in again, and looking forward to the road ahead. When I told the resident 4-dan that I was rereading Kageyama for the second time, he looked at me as if I had just sprouted green antennae and said with a pretty good Vizzini accent, “You made it to 8 kyu without reading Kageyama more than once? Inconceivable!” Okay, maybe I have left it a bit too long!
I am hoping that a proper read will help me out of my current rut. I have high hopes – Kageyama seems to know exactly where I’m coming from:
Although it depends on the individual, in my experience you will encounter four barriers: at 12-13 kyu, at 8-9 kyu, at 4-5 kyu, and at 1-2 kyu. You are at a barrier where your strength ceases to rise and you find yourself playing for gun, as an exchange of ideas – any opponent will do. Studying books gets you nowhere….This condition is unbearable, yet how many go players find themselves in it? Almost all? If so, it would be a crime just to let them go on as they are, and that is why I am writing this book….
Oh, with Kageyama on my side, surely improvement is possible!