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 Post subject: How to approach a tesuji problem book?
Post #1 Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:42 pm 
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I just got Get Strong at Tesuji for my birthday, and after looking at the first few problems I think this book is going to be very good for me. The answers to the intermediate problems are non-obvious to me even though they are supposedly below my rank; I think I have a number of blind spots that will be addressed by working through the book. I'm curious, though, as to how I should approach the problems. With a life and death book I can read until I am reasonably certain I have the correct answer. In this book, the groups are often unsettled even after the correct moves have been played. I can certainly try to find the best move, but I don't feel like I have a way of verifying my solution besides looking at the answer.

Should I spend a long time reading until I am fairly certain my answer is correct? Should I compare my intuitive answer to the correct one to help uncover my blind spots? What do you think is the best way to use a collection of tesuji problems in general and this book in particular?


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Post #2 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 2:12 am 
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IMO, you should give yourself a time limit for each problem. Maybe 5 minutes. Also, after thinking about a problem for a while you might try playing through variations on the board or on a computer.

Tesuji problems often have a goal, which is fairly obvious, and you can judge results against that goal. In this regard see this discussion of a tesuji problem on SL. https://senseis.xmp.net/?SegoeTesujiProblem1

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Post #3 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 2:30 am 
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This is a very interesting question. I'm not sure that I've even seen it raised before in such a direct way, although I suspect most of us have subconsciously wrestled with the dilemma before as we tried to hack our way out of the jungle.

Dare I say that I think the difficulty may stem from this phrase: "With a life and death book I can read until I am reasonably certain I have the correct answer."

What this tells me is that you may not be looking at a L&D problem in the best way. It seems that you start with a given task, let's say to kill Black. You try some moves and at the end you say, "I have killed Black (I think)."

What I think you should be getting out of a successful L&D problem is not the glow of satisfaction from solving a puzzle but what you get when you can say, "Aha, I have just learned a new technique." The glow of satisfaction should be from adding a tool to your tool chest.

This may sound obvious, but in practice is much, much harder than you might suppose.

To learn a technique you need ideally to see it many times and in various contexts. Unfortunately, there are surprisingly few problems available (low thousands?) and these cover a wide range of techniques. That means that a particular technique might appear in a very few cases, spread among many often hard-to-procure books. To make matters worse, compilers of problem books tend to offer entertaining puzzles rather than useful techniques. The result is that you will see a lot of ishinoshita and flower sixes - chimeras in game terms - which is rather like adding to your tool-box a pen-knife with an attachment for getting stones out of horses' hooves. And you're a city boy not a cowboy!

In "Gateway To All Marvels" I tried to address this by taking advantage of the relatively large number of problems there and categorising the techniques used in each. I devised useful names such as "elbow lock" and "caterpillar." Maybe more important, I provided an index.

But that still didn't overcome the problem of needing large numbers of the problems with the same technique. The 17th century Meijin Inoue Inseki seems to have been the only person who really attempted to unblock this drain, and I published his work as "Today We Have a Splendid Feast." Regrettably the bulk of his book has been lost, so we have only a few techniques (but what we do have he managed to make entertaining as well as didactic). The only comparable thing I have seen was a Chinese series (tiny in both senses) which presented a very small collection of e.g. "crane standing on one leg" problems. I encountered just a couple of books in this series in LA or San Francisco Chinatowns and can't remember whether the series emanated from Taiwan, Hong Kong or mainland China, but tchan may have more details. Even so, while the idea was good, the number of problems was still far too limited. I did try once to put together a bigger collection, but despite having many books to refer to, I struggled to get remotely near the numbers I think are needed.

So we are stuck with a situation where we know we need to practise game-applicable L&D but we don't really have the resources to do that properly.

I'm inclined, however, to say that while tesuji study faces the same difficulties, we are a mite better off, simply because situations where tesujis are called for are much more common in games than life & death situations. The techniques are usually short and discrete. Another of the difficulties with L&D compilations is that problems are deliberately made hard by combining more than one technique. Which is fair in the sense that L&D in games can easily combine techniques, but tesujis tend to be unitechnical.

I use that odd word to make a point. The way to approach a tesuji is to start by saying (in a game) something unary like "I want too escape" or "I want to cut through" or "I want to capture those stones". We then reach into our tool-box to see whether we have a tool for the job.

So the issue becomes one simply of stocking the tool-box. We don't do this by just solving problems. We do it by learning techniques. In my opinion, by far the best book for learning tesuji techniques is the Fujisawa set (Slate & Shell) because it tells you what each tesuji is used for. The Go Seigen/Segoe collection appeals to many but I believe it is inferior as regards quickly achieving the best-stocked and well-ordered tool-box.

If you accept that view, the issue further boils down to knowing how you know a technique. This is where the word tesuji offers a clue.

Obviously the best clue is from the purpose of the tesuji - I wanted to cut; did I cut? Yes, success; No, fail? But you may find times when, say, you can cut in two or more ways - which is best? I think the most useful approach there is to recognise what tesuji means. It is used in various ways, of course, but the core parts are te (move) and suji (flow). So the technique that you want to instil should leave you with a feeling that your moves have flowed like water straight to the sea. If your attempted solution hits a cataract or goes off in a tributary you can probably assume there was a better way.

I therefore think the ideal way to handle tesuji study is to get and grow a large collection of positions, study them in terms of purpose and technique rather than trying to pass a test with a score 10 out of 10, add your own names for each technique, and keep indexing your collection with these names.

Whether you wrack your brains for ages or think for a bit then look at the solution is probably a personal choice, but there are certainly pros who back the latter method. The important thing is to spend enough time looking hard at the problem so that all the salient points (shapes, weaknesses, etc) register in your brain. Then when you look at the solution, all the various aspects have hooks in your brain to latch on to. The difficulty with that approach, of course, is that you need to keep looking at similar problems for reinforcement (i.e. spreading out the brain-wracking work), and we get back to the lack of resources I've already highlighted. But that's more manageable with tesujis than with L&D.


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 Post subject: Re: How to approach a tesuji problem book?
Post #4 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:29 am 
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A lot of the problems in Get Strong At Tesuji are really shape problems; in these cases the problem is more to recognize what shape is best than to calculate a tactical sequence. The value in those problems comes from learning natural shapes to aim for (a simple example that comes up there a lot is to hane at both sides of two stones). For a bunch of these results, we Westerners would appreciate a couple of pages of sample variations showing why the resulting shape is so good, or at least a brief description of its benefits (for the example I gave, the answer is simple: liberty shortage!). Get Strong At Tesuji generally doesn't have that, so you have to take it on faith, try to derive it yourself, or ask a stronger player. I think it is a very useful book even if you just take everything on faith.

I agree with you that if you are already 3k but a lot of the material here is new to you, it will be very valuable, since you probably have some empty spaces in your 3k toolbox that it will fill.

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Post #5 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:12 am 
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John Fairbairn wrote:
In "Gateway To All Marvels" I tried to address this by taking advantage of the relatively large number of problems there and categorising the techniques used in each. I devised useful names such as "elbow lock" and "caterpillar." Maybe more important, I provided an index.


May I say that I applaud this wholeheartedly. :D

Quote:
To learn a technique you need ideally to see it many times and in various contexts.


Perhaps John and I mean something slightly different by technique. Anyway, I am perhaps more sanguine than he is. Let me talk about concepts. Many go concepts are situation-action pairs. For example, take the basic concept of capture. The situation is a group of opposing stones with only one liberty, the action is filling that liberty. You don't need to see a lot of different examples to get the idea. :) Another basic concept is that of a throw-in sacrifice that takes away a possible liberty of the opposing stones, the throw-in being the action. Many tesuji are described as the action, such as hane; learning the concepts often means learning the situations in which the action is appropriate. Hane at the head of two stones, for instance.

I was already familiar with the concept of the throw-in sacrifice to take away a liberty when I saw, in the solution to a problem, a throw-in sacrifice that did not immediately take away a liberty, but did so in combination with another play. All it took was that one example for me to get the idea. :) OC, overlearning is good, and different contexts may provide different situations to which an action applies, and therefore new, but related concepts. But to learn each concept you may not need many examples. :)

One problem with problem books is that they rarely say much, if anything, about the concepts embodied in the problems. The problem to which the throw-in was the first play in the solution said not a word about the concept. When that is not done, it may take many, many examples before the reader "gets it". And the reader cannot always articulate what it is that he has got. ;) That is one reason why John's categorization of techniques is so valuable, as are Cassandra's commentaries on life and death problems. :D

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Post #6 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:01 am 
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While we're on the subject, let me take the opportunity to commend the Jump Level Up series (I assume the preceding Level Up books are similar) for teaching by presenting a technique and then giving a dozen examples of it. It is indeed a lot easier to pick up knowledge that way than by getting a continual random sampling of techniques.

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Post #7 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 11:46 am 
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For life and death problems, the pro advice is very clear: one should work on the problem in their head until 100% confident they solved it.
Tesuji problems may be harder to approach the same way, because the goal can be less well defined. But you get the idea.

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Post #8 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 12:48 pm 
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alphaville wrote:
For life and death problems, the pro advice is very clear: one should work on the problem in their head until 100% confident they solved it.
Tesuji problems may be harder to approach the same way, because the goal can be less well defined. But you get the idea.


I totally disagree.

Many Japanese life and death and tsumego books clearly state that it is ok to look at the answers if you can't solve it within a reasonable time. Many say when you get to the end, reread.
In fact I have rarely encountered the advice you give except from insei. That mindset is irrelevant to the majority of amateurs who would like to get stronger but have no intention or expectation of becoming pro.
And in case you think such advice in books is written by ghost writers, let me say I have heard pros say this. It is ok to look at the answers. Repetition is far more important that busting a gut trying to work out the solution.


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Post #9 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 2:47 pm 
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I'm not going to learn any new techniques from looking at a solution to a life and death problem. I do problems to improve my reading, and looking at the solution of a problem I didn't solve doesn't help me.

That being said, time limits are useful. If I can't solve a problem in, say, 10 minutes, it might be too difficult for me. But instead of looking at the solution, I'd rather try an easier problem and come back later.

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Post #10 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:06 pm 
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Kirby wrote:
I'm not going to learn any new techniques from looking at a solution to a life and death problem. I do problems to improve my reading, and looking at the solution of a problem I didn't solve doesn't help me.

That being said, time limits are useful. If I can't solve a problem in, say, 10 minutes, it might be too difficult for me. But instead of looking at the solution, I'd rather try an easier problem and come back later.


If the problem set is organized well, I can learn a new technique by looking at a solution. The key is whether subsequent problems give me the opportunity to try the technique in other situations where it does and doesn't work to reinforce what I have already seen.

That said, my issue with the tesuji book isn't an inability to read the possible variations, it's difficulty selecting local tactical goals and judging the outcomes.

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Post #11 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:31 pm 
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I don't mean to be aggressive, but could you give an example of a technique that you RECENTLY learned, specifically by looking at the solution? I mean, I used to learn that way too, a long time ago (snapback, under the stones, belly attachment, tombstone, etc.).

But at some point for me, life and death problems aren't about finding the special technique I'd never seen before. They are about systematically iterating to find a solution.

So I'm curious to know if you're actually learning a new technique, or just exercising something you've already seen before.

That being said, I have the same problem with you in regard to tesuji.

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Post #12 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:44 pm 
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jeromie wrote:
That said, my issue with the tesuji book isn't an inability to read the possible variations, it's difficulty selecting local tactical goals and judging the outcomes.


John Fairbairn wrote:
In my opinion, by far the best book for learning tesuji techniques is the Fujisawa set (Slate & Shell) because it tells you what each tesuji is used for.


Sounds like good advice to me. :)

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Post #13 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:04 pm 
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Kirby wrote:
I don't mean to be aggressive, but could you give an example of a technique that you RECENTLY learned, specifically by looking at the solution? I mean, I used to learn that way too, a long time ago (snapback, under the stones, belly attachment, tombstone, etc.).

But at some point for me, life and death problems aren't about finding the special technique I'd never seen before. They are about systematically iterating to find a solution.

So I'm curious to know if you're actually learning a new technique, or just exercising something you've already seen before.

That being said, I have the same problem with you in regard to tesuji.


I have no problem with you questioning me. :)

I don't think I could name a specific technique I've learned recently, because as John noted few problem books are organized in that manner. What I do find is that I'm more likely to notice the shape point and/or salient features of a problem if I've seen a similar one before.

In Get Strong at Tesuji, several of the early problems deal with leaving a weakness in your opponent's shape. After I understood that, it was a little easier to see features that might be important in the next problem. In Graded Go Problems for Beginners volume 4, there is a group of problems that deal with a shortage of liberties because a first line stone is in atari. It's easier to notice that when you do several problems in a row with the same theme.

In any large life and death problem, it's impossible to exhaustively try all the possibilities. You must know where to look, and I feel like the more problems I do, the more likely I am to try the right point first.

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Post #14 Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:59 pm 
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jeromie wrote:
In any large life and death problem, it's impossible to exhaustively try all the possibilities. You must know where to look, and I feel like the more problems I do, the more likely I am to try the right point first.


Agree. I just don't think that I see many "brand new" shapes looking at solutions.

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Post #15 Posted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 2:22 am 
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Quote:
I just don't think that I see many "brand new" shapes looking at solutions.


I don't think you are supposed to be looking for brand new shapes. You are striving to acquire new techniques which build up into the sort of knowledge that lets you make guided searches. Shapes are just the context, and you are supposed to learn to analyse them for weak points rather than memorise them. Even where you do memorise a shape (e.g. an L-group in the corner) what you are really memorising is its weakness (it'd dead).

If you don't implement a guided search and just look at a problem in a hair-shirt kind of way, trying brute-force searches, you soon run into the difficulty that the human brain is not just good at that. Even in pros. Some people even add a cilice to the hair-shirt and refuse to look at hints. But hints are a way of guiding a search - a good thing.

Techniques don't guide searches of themselves. They provide short-cuts while doing searches, but they have to be built up into a body of knowledge.

Bill suggested I might be using technique in a different way from him. I don't know what he's getting at, but let me try to clarify by calling upon Socrates and Plato and the great Fujisawa Hideyuki.

The Greeks distinguished techne and episteme. Techne was craftsmanship, typically done with the hands. Episteme was the body of knowledge that lay behind that, typically using the brain. Socrates was an intellectual snob and preferred the episteme. Hence we get the elevation (snobbery?) of brain work over manual work. Plato added to the mix by pointing out that the yobs had knowledge, too, but theirs was doxa - an inferior common-or-garden kind of knowledge, and not the high-falutin' kind that understands pink elephants (sorry, shadows) walking up the walls of caves.

Now take this problem from Fujisawa. White to play This too is going to turn into an elephant.



The doxa is Variation 1: OMG he might capture my stones I must save them I don't care about the cost I'll put it on my credit card I'll worry about it later. Phew! Saved them!

There is actually some knowledge behind that. But we can do better. We can invest a little now and look forward to the future instead of worrying about it. Variation 2. We see here the technique of the squeeze, which ends up in the shape of an elephant's head. Probably everyone here "knows" this technique, but the higher knowledge, the episteme, is what really matters. Pause and think about it before reading on.

What Fujisawa points out (in a context of using the technique or techne of threatening ko, with a sub-technique of a throw-in - two techniques in a problem usually means high kyu/low dan, three means high-dan) is that it takes two moves to win a ko. Which is what gives you time to squeeze efficiently. White is thus able to turn a fractured shape into a shape with some strength. This is the episteme.

He actually teaches more than that. Some people say you don't need the text for tsumego/tesuji books, but if you look at his text carefully you'll note that he ends up by saying White gets outside influence (not thickness - I'm sure AlphaGo would approve of the distinction).

Now it is my contention that with all this annoying rambling on about ancient Greeks and elephants, this position and what it teaches has now firmly lodged in your brain - aaargh, a brainworm instead of an earworm. Furthermore, the steps show it is a reliable result. I don't believe staring at a problem and doing brute-force search can lead to the same reliable result, except by luck.

In fact doing a problem by practising systematic but inevitably finite reading may just be a case of practising bad habits. I'm not a fan of logic, but if we apply it here: if a problem is proving hard to solve it is obvious that you don't know the technique. So you have to either use brute force or learn the technique. Learning the technique (nb not the shape) not only marries better with how the human brain works, but it can also be applied for free in analogous situations (which, as I understand it, is why the human brain works the way it does).

If I can turn now to the claim that pros advise thinking about a problem till you solve it, Richard Hunter has eloquently answered that and I share his experience of what they actually say in their books. What I think has happened is that a misunderstanding has arisen. Pros do often tell you to solve a problem 100% but what they mean (mostly if not always) is to ensure you have looked at all the variations. I'm sure all of us here have been guilty of doing a problem, finding a right answer, smugly looking at the solution, only to see that, yes we were right, but the defender actually had a different resource than the one we looked at and if he had played that we are not so sure wed know how to kill him... But looking at all the variations doesn't mean brute force search. It means applying more than one technique. And one episteme - don't get bitten in the bum. If you've been to Ephesus you may recall that the Episteme statue in the library has his head knocked off - but his bum's intact!


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Post #16 Posted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 2:55 am 
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I thought that the idea of lie and death or tesuji problems was to read the answers first, then to see if you remembered them. Certainly, when I was looking at opening books, I read the patterns first, then I tried to remember them. The understanding and misunderstanding can come along with practical application.

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Post #17 Posted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 6:10 am 
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Maybe I used the wrong wording, John. I should have said "technique" instead of shape. But technique can also be acquired from solving problems, as opposed to looking at the answers. Staring at a problem for a long time can get you nowhere, I agree. But that just means the problem is too difficult.

I don't know all of the tidbits that pros say, but I speak from experience when I say that I get little value from looking at a solution when I haven't solved the problem. The feeling is, "ok, black's placement here, followed by hane here was the solution, but i just didn't get it."

Solutions do have value to me, and that is to confirm that my solution is correct. When I have carefully "solved" a problem, and then see that the solution includes a line I hadn't considered, THEN it's something meaningful to me.

If I do 100 problems, the techniques used to solve them usually aren't that new. But the practice is useful to really reenforce the "techniques" into my brain.

So to be clear, I believe that the "guided search" to which you refer, can best be acquired through solving such a problem yourself.

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Post #18 Posted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 8:50 pm 
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I've actually done better in the problem book than my initial trajectory indicated. I've worked through the first 6 pages (36 problems), and I'm getting about 5/6 on each page completely correct without looking at the solution. This includes the few *** problems I've seen, so I think the book is about the right level for me after all. :-)

I've tried to think in terms of techniques and/or blind spots in strategic goals that I might be missing that caused a few of the problems to give me difficulty.

I think the single biggest concept that I've taken away so far is: whenever possible, leave weaknesses in your opponent's shape even if you can't exploit them immediately and let him/her worry about how/if/when to fix them. I could have told you that before working through these problems, of course, but working through this collection is revealing that that is not always my first instinct.

A lot of the problems are really joseki problems, too. I like having them presented to me as a tesuji problem rather than an attempt to memorize the joseki; I feel I'm more likely to memorize the moves that way.

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Post #19 Posted: Wed Sep 27, 2017 5:21 am 
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One aspect about L&D problems, which might be further helpful, is not only identifying "the" solution but also the refutations for the other "reasonable looking" moves which turn out to be not the solution. In a given L&D problem two first moves may both seem to work on a first glance, however on a second glance one of the two moves has some disadvantage, e.g. the opponent can set up some tricky ko, or one move ends in sente and the other in gote etc. All these tiny nuances can be decisive in a game with the right timing. Especially important: If you look at the solution and find that it's different than yours, you should prove for yourself why your "solution" does not work.

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Post #20 Posted: Wed Sep 27, 2017 9:12 am 
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Quote:
The difficulty (...) is that you need to keep looking at similar problems for reinforcement (i.e. spreading out the brain-wracking work), and we get back to the lack of resources


For people with limited time, such as most of us, the limited resources are not much of a problem. I can regularly return to the same problem and try solving it again. The fact that it is similar to itself is more important than it being equal to itself. In other words: I'm not so much able to solve it again because I've seen the exact position but because I'm reminded of the same technique.

For Life & Death, there is Hitachi's series online, which I've never even finished once and it's still growing.
For tesuji, you will find quite a few with Gogameguru and over time I've been able to return and be baffled multiple times by the same problem.

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