ReviewEasy Learning Joseki
, by Robert Jasiek
Review by Joel Gluth
TL;DR: Highly recommended for SDK, made me objectively stronger. But best digested over time.Background
After hitting a progression plateau recently, I took stock of my weaknesses and realised I was bad at pretty much everything in Go. Therefore pretty much any study I undertook was likely to help. Indeed, reading the first half of Life and Death
immediately gained me a stone or so. I purchased a couple of other Fundamentals books... and then the opportunity to obtain a review copy of Easy Learning Joseki came up. I had not intended to study joseki for a little while yet (I was 9k and got by with maybe half a dozen of the really common ones and a nose for blood) and indeed was heading for Tesuji
and then perhaps Attack and Defence
but, since anything I study at the moment seems to help, why not?
Indeed, a quick speed read through the book looked very promising. Its basic structure is of a short chapter describing a single idea related to joseki (sometimes a few of these are grouped together), followed by one or more joseki that demonstrate the ideas, including usually a few main lines of variation for each. Overall there are 52 concept chapters and 72 joseki.
Although the joseki are ordered by concept, there is a handy diagrammatic index at the back of the book, allowing positional
lookup. Given my somewhat ad-hoc approach to digesting the book (see below), I find this extremely useful!
At six points in the book, there are problem series referring to the preceding material.
The conceptual chapters are each short - as readers familiar with Jasiek's style will guess, they try to systematically break joseki into things that can be (to varying degrees) objectively assessed and in some cases measured, with worked examples. Topics that I vaguely knew existed and suspected were important, but had never gone over formally, such as:
Connection (why, and how)
How to Build Territory and Eyespace
How to Use Influence
How (and later when) to Sacrifice
What is Flexibility?
How to Recognise a Fair Result
This last was a big one for me going in - I understand that joseki are sequences that lead to locally "fair" results for both players, and that the idea is to try and steer them in a direction where locally fair leads to globally advantageous. But I really have little idea what locally fair means, or how to measure it. Let alone how to offer it to my opponent with wider strategy in mind.Aesthetic Considerations
The book (like First Fundamentals
) is attractively laid out, with nice areas of whitespace. The diagrams are clear and the typesetting doesn't have noticeable glitches. It's also nicely bound on good stock, though it doesn't lay flat when open.
Jasiek's prose is straightforward and unambiguous. It is, however, quite dry. One of my weaknesses as a studier is that my mind tends to wander, and so books like Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go
that have an engaging, chatty style, engage my attention better. This is not one of those books! However, the solution I arrived at was to physically play through each diagram as it is encountered in the text. This broke up the prose into very short sections that (as seems to be normal for
the author) are direct and single-concept. This helped me a lot with retention, and I started to get that "warm fuzzy feeling of Go" that other people have slightly derided Kageyama over, but I find necessary to help me learn anything.Studying
At my level (weak SDK), I have so many weaknesses that I really need help with the basics. And although this is billed as an introductory book appropriate to kyu players, I will admit that I got more out of parts of it than others.
This is not to say that I don't need the other stuff! But I am going to play some more and do some other study, then come back and re-read the book again. I actually had this happen with the same author's First Fundamentals
, and also suspect it will happen with Kageyama. The bits that stick are the bits that immediately address things I recognise in my games, the rest can kind of elude me. So I read things multiple times.
I think this is a problem endemic to books that are written on fundamental subjects, and also aimed at a range of strengths (Easy Learning Joseki
is aimed at kyu-to-low-dan players). They key is not to get frustrated with my lack of absorption, but to occasionally revisit and find that more things make direct sense to me from things that I have encountered since. This means that even after two read-throughs, I have ended up with a working collection of only maybe
20 or 30 of the joseki from this book, because they are in the sections that directly helped me with problems I was having in my play. I also come back to it when someone plays a joseki I don't know in a correspondence game. It is interesting to compare between the detailed explanations in the book, and the many more variations in Josekipedia. It also gives me an entree into the sections I found previously inaccessible.
One big advantage that Easy learning Joseki
has is that it often shows, with examples, why moves within sequences (and even the order of moves) are necessary. This was a really big thing for me - my ability to spot an urgent move in a local area (joseki or otherwise) was woeful, and now it is definitely less woeful.
Actually this is true of follow-ups as well. The book has lots of examples of follow-up sequences played out that definitely rewarded physically following. Partly this was good for applying to the joseki in question, but also because I still lack so much knowledge of "natural" sequences and shape moves that I gained a lot indirectly.
However, one thing I would say is that although I felt like I was acquiring concepts (and my improvement has borne this out), the problem sets largely defeated me to some degree or other. This is merely a sign that I haven't taken it all on board, and need to go back. The problems themselves were interesting and realistic (to me).Results
In the course of reading the book, I have not played as many games as I would like - I've completed maybe two (or three?) dozen ranked 19x19 games, and a small handful of live games. However, I feel that my improvement has been dramatic (I have gained three stones in rank during that time, and done no other study), and can basically be attributed to the parts of the book regarding:
What is a Direction?
What is Stability?
How to Build Territory and Eyespace
What Shapes Are Strong?
Why to Create Possibilities (this was an eye-opener for me!)
What is a Weak Important Group?
For these sections (and their associated joseki) alone, this book has been extremely worthwhile.
I'd also like to draw attention to the common remark of "study joseki and lose two stones". I now feel like I get this. My problem was not "hey I know this new joseki and I'm going to use it everywhere" but the follow-ups that I now knew to lurk, so played inappropriately just to show that I knew them.Further Thoughts
Going in, I really was interested in the idea of "fairness", and I think I have come out only a little wiser. This is not a shortcoming of the book! Rather I found that my mind glazed over a little bit. Thinking about counting influence stones vs territory and trying to recognise a fair result, across the many different things each player in a joseki is trying to achieve, was interesting, but ultimately did not feel as relevant (yet!) as understanding when to extend or make life immediately.
Jasiek is a rigorous guy and has a theoretical framework built up around how to evaluate go play. While it's interesting to be exposed to even a small part of it at my level, so far I haven't got much out of it - partly this is because I am not
a very rigorous guy, but partly I suspect it's just because my problems are still huge and fundamental, and I want things that will help me fix them. However, just as I have found with even the concepts I have acquired so far, persistence pays off. I'll play some more and come back in a few months and read through them again.
At some point I am going to actually drill all of the joseki in the book. And I have practiced by repetition quite a few of them, especially those that have turned up in games. Which brings me to:
Although it runs somewhat counter to the book's process, which is one of successively more-advanced concepts behind "why we play joseki" (which vaguely sorts the joseki by complexity), I'd also like to see each joseki with a measure of how often it gets played. It's difficult to establish "I should absolutely know this by heart and its variations because everybody will drag me into it" from "this is an even result and it demonstrates the concept".
To a player of Jasiek's level, and indeed the level of someone who has a handle of all the concepts of this book to a deep degree, all of these are probably canon and must-know. But in my meagre couple-of-hundred games and 6k level, I definitely never see most of them (yet). Perhaps knowing them all would, on its own, drag me above my current level! But this seems to just not be how I want to go about my learning. As they say, de gustibus non est disputandum but Robert might say it's not about taste - and I'm probably not disciplined enough to improve at the optimum rate.Conclusion
This book requires diligence in order to get the most out of it. The dry prose and sometimes numerical concepts are challenging, though (I guess) also appropriate! Players like me who run on the Warm Fuzzy Feeling of Go should, however, not be discouraged. It has a lot of practical assistance to offer anyone who is not merely learning joseki, but starting to learn about
joseki. Also? In the end, I genuinely enjoyed it.
[edit: added my real name]