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 Post subject: O Meien: Zone Press Park
Post #1 Posted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 9:03 am 
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O Meien: Zone Press Park, trans., R. J. Terry
The Heart of Go Discovery Series, Vol. 6
Hinoki Press (2007)

252 pages, average binding and paper quality, numerous typos.

My rating: A or D (depending on what you want from a go book!)

O Meien has one of the more unusual playing styles in contemporary go, and it is admirable that he has achieved considerable success with it in his career (winning the Honinbo twice, the Oza once and a number of smaller titles). He has also been involved in a number of strange title match incidents: the legendary ladder misreading in the first game of the 2000 Honinbo, and was the beneficiary of Cho Chikun’s lapse in the 2002 Oza when Cho forgot about the byo yomi countdown. He is also a very popular TV commentator. So far as it reflects O’s unusual style and penchant for the unexpected, this book does not disappoint.

If you want a go book that contains clear advice on how to play well expressed in neatly hierarchised principles and formulae, all backed with concrete proofs and variations, then you are NOT going to like this book. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a book that will challenge you into thinking hard about strategy from a different angle and that will encourage you to be creative (not so easy these days), then this could well be the book that opens up a new world of go for you.

The book is based on a conceit: O is being entertained by two ghostwriters from the Nihon Kiin’s publishing department, who attempt to keep him entertained in a variety of restaurants, and who try to finagle the secrets of Zone Press strategy from him, which is not easy as he is distinctly more interested in food, drinking and going out to sing karaoke! What is the point of this in a go book? The short answer is simply “humour”. The longer answer is that, perhaps, there is some kind of elaborate metaphor about strategy in there: after all, O always manages to get the larger share of the delicacies. It is very funny in places - I particularly enjoyed the pay-off at the end, in which the tables are turned.

So, what is a Zone Press? I would argue that the “Zone” is three concepts in one: as far as I understand it, a Zone is something like a “sphere of influence” but can also mean a “territorial framework” or “large-scale moyo”. It is an area created by a player’s stones working together which might eventually become territory, and in which it is possible to “fight favourably”. You want to be playing from the wider side in order to create for yourself big zones. It seems to me, also, that a Zone can be a large area that is created by stones of both colours - and the control of this will be for dispute.

However, it is hard to be too prescriptive here: O himself says that “I do not understand” is the starting point of Zone Press, and he makes a distinction between the finite elements of the game (things you can read and evaluate precisely, such as L&D, semeai and yose) and infinite elements (things you simply cannot be precise about and so have to rely to some extent on “feeling”). O gives a wonderful metaphor in which a lamb finds itself chased by through misty mountains a wolf and has a choice of two escape routes: there is one in which the road ahead is visible up to a point, while in the other the mist completely engulfs the way ahead. Zone Press thinking is like leaping into the mist, challenging the wolf to catch you if he can. The way things will turn out, in other words, can be very hard to predict. O himself opines that “it’s no good if one understands everything right away”. Essentially, this is a book that challenges you to think for yourself as much as it teaches you in the traditional sense. But he is not being lazy or hazy, either: when you can read a situation, then “one must read” and it’s “best to start reading at the place where it’s possible for one to read”.

A Press means when one Zone pushes into or interacts with another, or perhaps when the player who “amasses most of a zone ‘pushes’ his opponent to the lesser part”. Hajin Lee (Haylee) reviewed the book on her Youtube channel, and felt that basically “Zone” and “Press” correspond to “area” (as in prospective territory) and “fighting”, respectively, but in my opinion that’s an oversimplification. You probably could re-express many of O’s ideas in more conventional language, but there is no doubt that reading this book will have you coming up with ideas that simply don’t suggest themselves when following the Classical theory, what I like to call the “Cathedral Building Approach”, in which you lay foundations (corners), build the nave, quire and transepts (enclosures and sides) and then finish off with lovely pinnacles (centre). The trouble with the Cathedral Building style is that there are always ruffians hanging around with catapults, axes and hammers, who are going to try and demolish your work. With Zone Press, you can find a way to put suffocating pressure onto your adversary from the word go.

Lest you think that building Zones simply means creating the most gigantic imaginable spaces between your stones, you will find that it is possible for stones to be too far apart to create a Zone. Instead, O says that “to achieve the Number One Merit” (whatever that means!?) and to be “slightly bigger than the opponent is fine”. In this connexion, you will find it helpful to read the Centre Point and the Overlap Point.

An interesting way in which Zone Press strategy is developed is in the concept of “Chained Presses”. The chapter about this shows how a press conducted from one part of the board may result in a player setting up new Zones and eventually achieving territory in a distant part of the board. The way O talks about this gives a sense of flow - and it ties in with a remark about his style that I read elsewhere: his games often contain “floating moyos” - the moyo he builds at first somehow migrates to another part of the board by the end!

If Zone Press sounds like a rather broad theory (no pun intended), it is useful to look at the actual game examples carefully. You will see that O uses kikashi and probes and other local tactics to reinforce his grand, cosmic-style strategies. You don't get to be a top player without being exceptionally good at the concrete stuff. In other words, you need to know Classical theory and technique before you can start making up your own theories.

O also gives a little bit of advice about handling the white stones - he advocates a more patient and restrained strategy than for Black.

Here are some diagrams that made a bit of an impression on me:

Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$c Black's failure
$$ ---------------------------------------
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . . . . . . . . . . . X . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . 1 . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . O . . . . . . . . . . . . X . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . , . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . . . . . . . . . . . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . X . . . , . . . O . , . . . |
$$ | . . O . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ ---------------------------------------[/go]


Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$c Black succeeds
$$ ---------------------------------------
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . . . . . 2 . . . . . X . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . . . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . O . . . . . . . . . . . . X . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . , . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . . . . . . . . . 3 . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . X . . . , . . . O . , . . . |
$$ | . . O . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ ---------------------------------------[/go]


In the first diagram, Black's first is called a "dazzling good big point", but that allowing the White combined extension and checking move of 2 is a failure. Of course, Classical theory would say that Black is failing to play at the vital point for making a base. But why is this so urgent?

In the second diagram, we can see that White takes the dazzling big point, but in return Black not only gets his base, but also sets up a magnificent "zone" from the bottom of the board into the middle and right of it.

But what I really found interesting were the follow-up diagrams:

Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$c Black's failure - White's influence is much bigger than Black's
$$ ---------------------------------------
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . . . . . . . . . . . X . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . 1 . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . O . . . . . . ? ? ? ? ? ? X . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . , . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . X . . . , . . . O . , . . . |
$$ | . . O . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ ---------------------------------------[/go]


Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$c Black succeeds - his influence is much bigger than White's
$$ ---------------------------------------
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . . . . . 2 . . . . . X . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . . . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . O ? ? ? ? ? ? ? . . . . . X . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . . . . . , . . . . . , . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . O . ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? 3 . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . , . X . . . , . . . O . , . . . |
$$ | . . O . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . X . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ | . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
$$ ---------------------------------------[/go]


The first diagram shows how White ends up way ahead in terms of influence over the board (gets a bigger Zone) when she is allowed to take the vital point; the second shows how Black is the one who is rewarded when he takes the vital, base-making move. This shows why you can't just sacrifice stones willy-nilly - sometimes you're not just giving up the stone(s), but also control of large parts of the board.

To summarise, I would recommend this book to fairly advanced players (3k and above). I would add the further caveat that you have to be prepared to read your own meanings into quite a bit of it. I got the impression, while reading it, that O Meien fancies himself as a bit of a philosopher, and sometimes that was irritating to me, and sometimes it was amusing, and sometimes it was stimulating. You won't get the kind of clear-cut advice that the majority of go books give. I would not recommend this book to anybody weaker than 3k, as it would probably just be confusing. Therefore, depending on what you want and what you expect and what you need, I would give this book both an A and a D. The A is for its originality, humour and for offering a thinking system that could indeed offer a lot of enjoyment; the D is for being difficult to understand, rather roundabout, and for occasionally backfiring completely. So, for some readers this book will be "Oh! Meien" and for others I'm afraid that it will be "No, Meien".

Now, here's something "special": I read the book over the last two days. I tried to apply what I could of its ideas while streaming live. No bags of sand were involved. Here's what happened:

I'm trying to edit the video, so please skip the first ten minutes if it's still just the title screen and music (and the sound of me eating my lunch in a hurry before getting started):


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Last edited by Tami on Wed Sep 05, 2018 1:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

This post by Tami was liked by 4 people: Leon, Marcel Grünauer, Monadology, sorin
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 Post subject: Re: O Meien: Zone Press Park
Post #2 Posted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 10:32 am 
Oza

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Tami

I find O Meien stylistically an irritating and sometimes awful writer, and Zone Press Park for me plumbed the depths.

Part of the problem was that (as I understand it) the zone press concept comes from basketball. I don't like or understand basketball. I did ask an American enthusiast to explain it all but my eyes glazed over in seconds.

To make matters worse, I have a memory that O actually thought he was borrowing the concept from soccer, and so I got the strong impression he didn't really understand basketball, zones or soccer. Maybe it was NFL, but any which way these are not games that are part of the lifeblood of Japan (or Taiwan). O's foundations therefore seemed wobbly to me.

This is all just by way of a preamble to my question, which is: did you get the sporting allusions and could you thereby make sense of the go positions in those terms?

To others in the US: can you explain the book in sporting terms? Like Tami's A and D extremes, I've found that people either love or hate this book - no in-betweens. I suspect that may be connected with whether the sporting allusions mean anything to you.

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 Post subject: Re: O Meien: Zone Press Park
Post #3 Posted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 10:51 am 
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Hi John,

I've heard of a "full court press", and that I know comes from basketball. No idea if zone presses can occur in association football, though.

I'm sorry you didn't like the book very much. The truth is that if he were to explain himself in clear and concise terms, I suspect the book might end up reducing to a pamphlet. On the other hand, the way it is, it can be fun, it can be funny and it can be thought-provoking. But it's very much a YMMV situation.

And, no, I didn't really think about the sports allusions. I just tried to follow the examples and the prose and read what I could into them. Perhaps I totally and utterly got the wrong end of the stick - but the experience reminds me somewhat of being an undergraduate. One moves away from textbooks that tell you what to think, and you have to look at source material for yourself and engage with scholars on your own terms, etc., and sometimes you come up with gold, sometimes you come up with pure brown (and not the delicious Newcastle sort). I liked it as a go book that gave me no choice but to try and interpret it, even at the risk of being hopelessly wrong. I can see how other people might have less enthusiasm for such.

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Post #4 Posted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 12:48 pm 
Gosei

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Here is a brief description of "zone defense" in basketball: Zone defense is different from man-to-man defense in that, instead of guarding a particular player, each zone defender is responsible for guarding an area of the floor, or "zone", and any offensive player that comes into that area. Zone defenders move their position on the floor in relationship to where the ball moves.

I haven't read O's book and, based on what I seen written about it I doubt I will ever read it. However, the above description of zone defense also doesn't seem to relate to Go strategy.

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Post #5 Posted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 1:12 pm 
Judan

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Tami, is there a missing black stone at f4 in your first diagram (and continuations from)? That would make the discussion on those diagrams make more sense, and mean black didn't pass.

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 Post subject: Re: O Meien: Zone Press Park
Post #6 Posted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 1:40 pm 
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Uberdude wrote:
Tami, is there a missing black stone at f4 in your first diagram (and continuations from)? That would make the discussion on those diagrams make more sense, and mean black didn't pass.


Thanks for spotting that! It's corrected now. :tmbup:

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Post #7 Posted: Thu Sep 06, 2018 2:58 pm 
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Hello, thank you for the review of this wonderful book.
It's the most entertaining go book I read and O Meien's charm and humor are irresistible.
One might not get stronger from reading this book, but one certainly wont get bored.

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