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Go for Beginners

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Go is an ancient, subtly beautiful game of territory. But with its nearly endless possibilities and challenges, it is more than just another game; it is a way of life for tens of millions of players throughout the world. Embodying four thousand years of Oriental thought and culture, go is the oldest game in the world still played in its original form.

Go is the kind of game that one can learn in a day--and spend a lifetime perfecting. It is more art than science: in order to surround and capture the opponent's territory, one needs intuition, flexibility, and acute perception combined with a sharp analytical mind. Each player is a partner in an exercise of coexistence; each player needs the other for self-enlightenment and for enjoyment. But then, too, go is a game whose strategy has been compared to the tactics of guerilla warfare. Go can be all things to all people; it is simple, elegant, and unexpectedly beautiful.

This book contains an introduction; a brief example game; a clear, leisurely explanation of the rules; and illustrations of the simplest techniques of good play and of some easy and some more difficult problems the player will encounter. The appendixes include a concise list of rules, a glossary of technical terms, and a list of international and American go organizations. Among go players, Go for Beginners is known as the best beginner's book available.

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1972

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Kaoru Iwamoto

29 books6 followers

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5 stars
65 (22%)
4 stars
131 (46%)
3 stars
73 (25%)
2 stars
12 (4%)
1 star
3 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Joe.
178 reviews93 followers
May 25, 2019
Chess presents clear battle-lines; with advances and fortifications defined by movement and proximity. By contrast, Go is the board-game equivalent of a Rorschach Test, with black and white stones flowing like monochromatic water into pools and fissures. Deciphering who's ahead in chess is typically a matter of counting the pieces, with some dispensation for sharp attacks and ambitious pawns. Discerning the leader in a Go match not only requires a ten-fold accounting job, but also a keen analysis of many small pattern and how they link together.

So the puzzles presented in Go for Beginners sometimes felt like they were testing my intuition more than my calculation. And when my intuition proved correct, I felt more gratified than what a puzzle of mental brute-force might offer. But when my guess strayed off the mark by ten intersections, it felt like those little stones formed an impenetrable wall; for where do you turn when your intuition fails? The back-of-chapter solutions come with some analysis, but sometimes this consists of a list of the followup moves as opaque in their reasoning as the first move in the sequence.

But while understanding Go proved equal parts frustrating and fascinating, the culture behind the game is a treat. Read Go for Beginners to discover a delightfully-designed system of rank and handicap (dan and kyu.) Read Go for Beginners to see the strength of having two 'eyes' (empty spaces that provide protection to your stones.) Read it to witness the contradiction of Ko (a situation of endless capture and recapture) and to feel the hostile beauty of the phrase 'me ari me nashi' ('I have one eye and you have none!')

Edited 5/25/19
Profile Image for David.
Author 17 books333 followers
May 3, 2012
This is a go classic, written by Kaoru Iwamoto, who has kind of an interesting history. He was one of the players of the famous "atomic bomb game" that took place in the outskirts of Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. Apparently he devoted much of his later career to spreading go to the West, which is why this is one of the most well-known go books in English.

Iwamoto doesn't write with the same "personality" as Toshiro Kageyama in Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go. He doesn't want to scare beginners away. However, the amount of content in this book might be a little overwhelming for the true beginner. In its slim 148 pages, Iwamoto goes from explaining the rules and basic principles of play to some fairly sophisticated examples of life-and-death problems and joseki, and then provides a complete analysis of two of his own games. Nothing too advanced, but it's kind of like taking all of Janice Kim's Learn to Play Go series and stuffing it into one little book.

If you want just one book to start learning to play go, Go for Beginners would be a good choice. For more gradual book-learning, covering the same material but in much more detail and step-by-step, I would recommend Janice Kim's series as a starting point.
Profile Image for Sebastian.
122 reviews9 followers
September 11, 2013
Only for ambitious beginners.

There are gentler books for beginners out there, such as the excellent volume one in the Learn to Play Go series by Janice Kim and Soo-hyun Jeong. Whether this book by Iwamoto is right for you or not will depend on how hard you want to work. If you are brand new to the game and need someone to walk you step by step through all the basics with clear explanations and simple examples, this is not for you.

Iwamoto starts by talking to those that have never played go before. He explains the rules of the game and the objective. Instead of going through the rules one by one in an orderly fashion, he uses a sample game to illustrate them. Whether this is the right approach or not will depend on the way in which each reader learns best. Those that like to learn hands on will love this way of teaching. There are some comments by the author when going through this first sample game that will make no sense whatsoever to a true beginners, such as threats to the structure.

After that initial explanation, the author walks us through captures and he does a thorough job with this. Nevertheless, we once again see that he is not really willing to keep it truly simple for long. When he explains ko he jumps right into a ko fight and starts talking about using ko threats. Once again, this will take some work to understand for a beginner. During his explanation on endgame, the example presented is on a 19x19 board and there are 10+ moves per diagram.

Same as other beginner books, this one has exercises at the end of the sections, but these are not only geared towards determining if the reader understood the basics, since they typically push a little further with challenging situations. The second part of the book goes into topics that other authors leave for a "second book" tackling topics such as loose ladders, sacrifices to gain sente, enclosures and extensions from a strategic perspective, invasions and thickness.

I hope at this point it is clear that this is a book for those that are looking for more than just a clear explanation to go out and play their first hundred games of go. This book will push you and challenge you to work hard in order to improve and start the journey to leave the beginner ranks. Therefore, whether it's the right book for you or not will depend on what you are looking for.
Profile Image for Michael.
285 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2019
Great intro to the game. Read this first maybe 20 years ago? 15? Haven't played the game in a while but wanted to try it again, so quickly reread this.
Profile Image for Drew Shealy.
33 reviews
December 31, 2020
A bit aggressive for a “for beginners” book. After a very quick intro, it jumps right into drawn out examples of specific patterns of play, which leaves a beginnerish player wondering if I missed a few chapters in the middle. Guess I’ll keep losing to my phone until I get it.
Profile Image for Enoch Page.
30 reviews2 followers
April 17, 2012
I have read this little book since I bought it new soon after it originally was published. It took me years to comprehend its value while I missed many opportunities to dedicate myself to mastering the ancient game of Go. For more than twenty years I presumed that I knew the game but my rudimentary knowledge failed to advance until I tried to use this book again. I am not the reader I once was due to disability, but I need not stand on the sidelines. I can take my time with this book. Less than a single page per week or month can forge your game progress. Simple explanations use graphic anologies to create mental pictures of ideas and Go suggestions that to the novice may seem too complex to grasp. The images of Go play found in this book may seem abstract and off-putting, but do not be dissuaded. The author shows you a Go problem, the best and worst way to solve that problem and offers you chances to practice the subtle point you just learned. Children should be taught Go in Pre-school. Elders can keep their minds more active playing this game than playing poker, whist, spades or Mah Jong. Having a peper copy of this book by your side with a Go board in front of you allows you to practice and gain insight into some basic strategies one must know to advance as a Go game player. Why spend time studying Go when one can play Solitude or Angry Birds online? Well, if you can not set aside your gadgets, the cheapness of this book enables you to buy digital Go programs for your smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Like chess, you can make a Go move anytime you want if playing your machine. This freedom to play at will helps me to keep playing Go even when my concentration loses focus. Or if your mind is so sharp that it works like a steel trap, then you quickly will graduate from the Kyu-level of assistance offered in this book. You can play as fast as you like and your knowledge of the game will advance as fast as you can read more advanced books of ths quality, and as much as you spend time practicing your Go skills with shodan and dan level players who dominate this game that de-emphasizes the concept of competittion. Buy it. Read it. Master the game of Go.
3 reviews
September 12, 2018
An excellent introduction to the classic game of go. It's a bit dated in its style but it's a perfectly workable first book for a novice. It's not a long book but there is a lot packed in there. The rules of the game are presented by walking the reader through an example game, which is a nice touch. The second part of the book is a thorough overview of tactics and strategy. Many of the exercises I think are a bit too difficult for a raw beginner, but it is worth spending time going over them anyway.
Profile Image for Delanie.
342 reviews2 followers
March 15, 2020
For a book for beginners, the chapters were laid out in a very strange way. I had to jump back and forth trying to figure out the game and any advice the book was trying to give. This might work as a book for intermediate to expert level players.
Profile Image for Leon Altherr.
32 reviews19 followers
March 28, 2020
Has taught me the basic terms of Go and most of the beginner techniques. I will work on my tsumegos and furikawari and then get back to the later chapters of this book which were a little more advanced.
Profile Image for Bowen Yan.
19 reviews2 followers
July 18, 2019
A nice overview of Go, but not really for complete beginners.
Profile Image for Eric.
350 reviews5 followers
December 12, 2022
A clear and concise introduction to Go that gets players on their way. A good way to learn the game and some interesting classic puzzles.
Profile Image for Killer of Dreams.
179 reviews13 followers
August 31, 2019
I feel that “Go for Beginners” has explained all the basic concepts in Go, yet I am more disappointed in the game than the book. Many of the concepts, mostly in the second part, require extensive exposure, which made sense. Reading through the example games is hard since I had had little exposure to analyzing Go games.

I made the mistake of playing Go without reading the second part. I read about through the first part of the book, “The Rules of Go”, and decided that reading forty-seven pages should be enough to try out a few games and win one. I went through ten straight losses before decided that I should read through the rest of the book. I am not sure how successful I will be now that I have read through the second part now, but I will update the review with my progress.

A point of minor criticism: the book states, near the end of part one, that you ready to begin playing Go yet there is the “Rules of Go” at the end of the book. Not sure if that was the best placement since the beginning of the “Rules of Go” section explained passing and handicaps, which would have been beneficial when I began to play Go online after reading part one.

Overall, I am disappointed with the game of Go. I feel that it will take multiple rereads of this book to have fully understood the basic steps.

Update July 17, 2019
Having finished the book for a second time, I have new insights. I was annoyed while reading the book for a second time. The first section, forty-seven pages, were what I would consider beginner content; explaining the rules and some intricacies. The second part titled "Elementary Tactics and Strategy" went over my head with the author repeating that the reader should memorize formations that seemed complex for a reader who had played around twenty-two games (I had finished twenty-two games when I finished reading the second part of the book). Kaoru Iwamoto should have stressed the need to improve through playing games because I am having difficulty incorporating and understanding what I have learned. This may be a result of the need to stop my reading and memorize these sections, but I am disappointed in the need for that. I guess that is the result of a dense beginner's book.

Since having read the book the first time, I have won three games and lost eleven games, an improvement from my zero wins and ten losses record prior to finishing the book.

August 31, 2019
To add to the previous update, the two star rating will remain because of the necessity of the first chapter and the example games. The middle fifty pages of "Elementary Tactics and Strategy" gave me a one star rating distaste upon my second reading of the book. These ratings average out to around two stars, when rounded up.

I must remind myself not to lower this book's rating to one star just because I hate losing in Go. Go is a beautiful game and reading this book, isolated from the frustration of losing, is a pleasant reading (except reading the elementary concepts). As a reference book, it retains a two star rating because it helps me in understanding Go.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Hamdanil.
143 reviews12 followers
April 13, 2016
A decent beginner book on Go (for me having played for a couple of weeks). Many useful concept and tactics which you probably could not come up with learning on your own. The writer is an expert player, and though for most part he writes in simple, friendly language intended for beginners, I don't necessarily understand all the concept he explains, especially analysis of two professional games at the end. Also, contain a lot of Japanese terms, which were explained in the first mention and in the appendix.
36 reviews3 followers
January 20, 2018
This was my first go book, and so I owe it a lot for starting off a long time love affair. I've since looked at many other beginners go books, and still think this is excellent. The Learn to Play Go series is also very good, and will take someone on a gentler progression than this single volume. But this is cheaper, and shorter. It has a little less hand-holding, which can be either good, or bad.
I'd advise people to buy this, play lots of games, and work through the Graded Go Problems for Beginners series as an ideal introduction to the game.
Profile Image for Coryke.
71 reviews6 followers
February 15, 2011
This is a very dense read. Do not let the small page count dissuade you from reading this very valuable introduction to the game of go. Concepts are explained clearly and simply. Examples are plentiful and challenging. This is a book to which I will return frequently. See especially Iwamoto's explanations on ko fights (pp. 28-34) and eyes (pp. 38-40). These explanations strike a great balance of clarity and challenge.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 6 books592 followers
September 26, 2010
I had dabbled in Go previously, but after reading this book it became clear why I had always been decimated. That is, my background is entirely in chess, and I tried to play Go with a chess strategy. This was a very eye-opening book and I can see an inkling of why so many say that it is a beautiful game. I must explore more.
18 reviews
March 18, 2009
A slim beginners guide to Go with an explanation of the rules, example games with commentary and some elementary tactics. The text is dense with ideas, so this will definitely need re-reading at some point.
14 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2013
This book is good but not an easy read. I had to take out my go board and played along while reading. I only read the first part though. This is a book that I hope to finally finished reading one day. It's a gem, but needs work and persistence.
4 reviews
July 9, 2020
Nowhere does the author state how to play Go. The rules, the aim, what are they? Not for beginners. Abandoned.
4 reviews
March 3, 2014
A good introduction to beginner Go plays. Expect technical explanations with good images.
May 31, 2012
The best introduction to the Go. Covers everything you need to start playing. For further reading I recommend The Second Book of Go by Richard Bozulich.
Profile Image for Jenna.
3,429 reviews38 followers
May 25, 2014
A tad overwhelming and perhaps it would have been less so if I had a Go board next to me. I may reread Hikaru no Go and try to actually pay attention to the rules, instead....
Profile Image for Andrés.
44 reviews1 follower
August 8, 2017
I'm not an expert on go and this is the first go book I've ever read. But I've read dozens and dozens of rule books for board games and this book certainly works for me.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

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