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 Post subject: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #1 Posted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 4:53 pm 
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Robert was kind enough to give me the opportunity to read and review his book, "Tactical Reading". Here is my review:

My initial impression of the book content - as well as Robert's prompt delivery - was positive. Shortly after I had started reading the electronic copy of the book, I received a hard copy in the mail.

Book Construction
One of the first things I checked was the binding: it was high quality. Contrary to some other go books that I have (e.g. Yilun Yang's Ingenious Life & Death books), the binding is sturdy. The typesetting was of high quality. All-in-all, the book is put together in a very professional manner. The only thing I found odd about the construction of the book was that the title along the spine of the book appears to be upside-down compared to most of the other English books that I have. This is minor, but it was a bit odd to me.

Book Content
I'm not aware of any other book that covers the theory behind reading. "Tactical Reading" is split into two main sections: (1) Reading Theory; (2) Problems. There's also a brief introduction section at the start of the book.

I will start off by saying that the problems are very good. I'm around KGS 1d at the moment, and I enjoyed them. At my level, the problems require a bit of thought, and even if you are not KGS 1d, you can follow the principles in the book to obtain a solution. Robert mentions in the introduction that the non-full board positions are his own creations (with some of the full board positions being taken from games on KGS).

What is unique about "Tactical Reading" compared to other problem books is the section on "Reading Theory". At first, I was somewhat skeptical of the book, because I believe that problems are necessary to improve one's reading ability. I was happy to read in the introduction of the book, however, that Robert also expresses the importance of practicing reading the reading principles outlined in the book.

What I Liked
I've never read any of Robert's books before, but if I were to sum up the content of the "Reading Theory" section of the book in one word, I'd say that it is "accurate". Robert outlines a systematic method for reading, which is applicable to any situation that you might find on the go board. He explains the idea of obtaining an aim for a given player, and also explains the concept of direction in reading - when to go forward, when to go backward, what information to propogate, and when to consider a new candidate move. Robert also outlines a simplified form of reading, which can sometimes be helpful, known as "Test Reading", where only a threshold number of moves are considered.

And of course, as I mentioned above, I enjoyed the problems. I think that the problems were an excellent addition to the book, providing a good way to practice the reading theory outlined in the earlier sections of the book.

Critical Feedback
While I do feel that Robert's method for reading is accurate, in a sense, it is somewhat obvious. For anyone that has experience in doing go problems, the systematic process of selecting candidate moves, exploring them, propogating information as to whether a given branch succeeds, etc., are all familiar. Furthermore, having studied breadth-first search and depth-first search myself as a computer science student, Robert's formal definitions of this process didn't seem to provide new ideas that I wasn't already familiar with.

In particular, the process of systematically iterating through candidate moves and exploring them is already something I knew how to do. But key to this process is selecting what Robert refers to as "interesting next moves". But very little is said to describe how to identify "interesting next moves". Secondly, in discussing terminal positions, the book explains that "non-obvious" statuses should be explored. "Obviously inferior" moves are also ignored for the sake of simplification. In my opinion, the process of systematic iteration and propogating of information is the "obvious" part of reading. Ideally, I would have preferred to have additional discussion on how to actually identify which moves are "interesting"... And perhaps how to clearly see whether or not a status is "non-obvious".

What is "interesting" or "obvious" can be better understood by practicing reading, but nonetheless, these concepts are key to Robert's algorithm for reading.

Overall Impressions
Overall, I am impressed with Robert's thorough explanation of reading. I think what he's written is very accurate. The problems are very good. I don't think that the section on theory provides much new information that experienced go players don't already know. So in a sense, I think that the problems he provides are more useful toward improvement than the section on reading theory.

That being said, reading Robert's section on theory was actually helpful to me, even though I thought that it was obvious. Namely, it's an excellent reminder for me when I am "stuck" on a go problem: even if the problem seems impossible to solve, the solution is there. I can systematically find it using the method Robert defines.

Sometimes a problem seems impossible, but it is always solvable when you go back to the basics. Robert's book outlines these basics (even though the process in itself is basic).

---

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Name: Brian Kirby
Strength: ~KGS 1d

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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #2 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 1:51 am 
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The problem with problems is that they are usually not realistic in composition and in approach. What I mean by that that when you solve a problem, you are aware that it is a problem, and that a solutiion exists. In theory, you can read out move by move until you solve it. Or you can apply some theoretical principles until you solve it - as a shortcut. What you say about "interesting" and "obvious" moves seems to be such shortcut.

In real games, when confronted with specific positions, you often have no clue if a solution exists or not. You can read out sequences for a while, but at some point you need to stop and move on or the game might take forever. This is the aspect which interests me the most in thic context - how to know when to stop, short of letting the clock run out.

Does the book help answer this question in any way?

Other than this, the question you raise are also very interesting, and something I have been pondering ever since looking at the preview of this book. How do you tell an "interesting" or "obvious" move? It seems to me that without any specific method you must rely on skill and experience to make this distinction. And if you have enough experience and skill to tell, can you still benefit from the approach described in the book?

PS>
For the record, I have not read the book, just skimmed through the preview sections posted on RJ's website. I was very intrigued, I have to say. The above questions are something I find really interesting. I wonder if you, or RJ, or anybody else has any insight?

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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #3 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 2:44 am 
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The book's problems vary in having none, one or several correct first moves. The reader does not know in advance. I consider it important to train this variety also occurring in real games.

Tactical Reading is a topic broader than can be covered in one book. I had to make some compromise by a) omitting most advanced (high dan) level theory, b) not treating all of the lowest (beginner) level theory with precision and c) postponing strategic reading and dynamic (i.e., flexible aims) reading for later books.

(b) means that there is no precise distinction of relevant versus irrelant next moves (such that are "interesting" versus "obvious failures / obviously inferior"), and similarly for terminal positions with / without the reading aim already being obviously fulfilled. For one thing, I do not know a general characterisation of this distinction; from a different view, this distinction is so basic that one should learn it early. OTOH, the distinction is not always clear and then one would appreciate a general characterisation of the distinction. The book provides the principle "In case of doubt, consider each interesting next move". So if one does not know if a particular candidate of a next move is worth reading or obvious, one must read it. A case of doubt commands verification by reading.

Kirby's review speaks of this distinction as "key" to the book's reading theory. It is "a key" besides other keys. The clearer the distinction can be made when reading the choice for the next move, the fewer candidates of next moves must be verified by reading because the more candidates can be skipped as obvious.

Although the book's theory does not provide a general characterisation for this distinction, it offers some detailed discussion in some examples. The answers to the more difficult problems also show variations for every "a case of doubt" next move and avoid pretending such move candidates to be obvious.

However, Kirby has hit a spot of the book's theory where possibly it could be improved. I take this as a motivation to address the basic level distinction between "interesting" and "obvious" in much greater detail in a book on tactical reading for beginners, which belongs to my (too long) list of books I want to write.

There has been another reason for avoiding a precise theory of such a distinction. I expect such theory to be a long and complicated description of many cases. While theory in such detail can be useful for dans, I trust the kyu and low dan players' ability to improve their understanding of the fuzzy concepts "interesting" versus "obvious" because "obvious" is only what players do perceive as obvious. If a player does not, then it is not obvious to him - and then he must read also the non-obvious candidate and go with his reading more deeply beyond the not-yet obviously-fulfilled and therefore not-yet terminal position.

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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #4 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 2:53 am 
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I haven't read the book but I've touched upon an example of the side discussion here, at my study journal.

A systematic approach will help uncovering the interesting and turn it into something obvious over time. I found that observation interesting, but it might be obvious for those who already theorized about it.


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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #5 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 4:03 am 
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Thanks for the review Kirby. I've bought a copy but haven't had time to read more than the first few pages. The impression I got from what I have read of Robert's book is similar to your review.

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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #6 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 4:13 am 
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Bantari wrote:
In real games, when confronted with specific positions, you often have no clue if a solution exists or not. You can read out sequences for a while, but at some point you need to stop and move on or the game might take forever. This is the aspect which interests me the most in thic context - how to know when to stop, short of letting the clock run out.


I guess, you stop when you have an answer. But better spend a couple of minutes now (when the position appears) than to return after every other move doubting your calculations every time.

If you are short on time, I always make an assumption along the lines of: Does the group strike me as killable? And do I win the game, when I can kill it? I guess depending on the complexity of the position only experience will help you here.

Though in general, I consider every shape I cannot kill within five minutes of calculation as alive. That's also my experience after solving a lot of problems ^^

The whole point in doing a lot of problems or even following principles in reading them out is - in my opinion - to build up experience so that you can break down real board positions into familiar shapes and know whether or not you have some sort of play against them. So ideally you don't have to read a lot but recognise the shapes and just confirm the usual moves.

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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #7 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 4:22 am 
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SoDesuNe wrote:
The whole point in doing a lot of problems or even following principles in reading them out is - in my opinion - to build up experience so that you can break down real board positions into familiar shapes and know whether or not you have some sort of play against them. So ideally you don't have to read a lot but recognise the shapes and just confirm the usual moves.

:razz:

Inoue Dôsetsu Inseki wrote:
"The more you understand Yang (i.e. sequences) the more you will have to study Yin (i.e. arrangement of stones = SHAPE)."

:bow:

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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #8 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 5:24 am 
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SoDesuNe wrote:
so that you can break down real board positions into familiar shapes and know whether or not you have some sort of play against them.


Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this (or reduction to familiar techniques) works. For a few problems, it works. For shapes in general, it often fails. E.g., very similar shapes can have very different correct sequences. The more advanced a problem becomes the more likely there are lots of interesting next moves and it becomes guesswork which of such "tesujis" is right for the particular shape.

Quote:
just confirm the usual moves.


Confirming is good, but there can be more than "just the usual moves"...

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Shapes or techniques can sometimes be useful --- if --- applicable and there is no simpler applicable reading theory.

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 Post subject: Re: Tactical Reading - Review by Kirby
Post #9 Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 9:35 am 
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RobertJasiek wrote:
E.g., very similar shapes can have very different correct sequences. The more advanced a problem becomes the more likely there are lots of interesting next moves and it becomes guesswork which of such "tesujis" is right for the particular shape.


Of course, that's why I said, you need to build up experience.

Not all L-groups have the same shape but those who do, can be killed with the same (usual) moves. (Locally that is,... In case someone tries to take this further and constructs a dead-L-group-winning-a-Semeai-against-a-surronding-group-problem ; ) )

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