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Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go

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Many Go books promise to explains the fundamentals; here is one that really keeps its promise. Kageyama's subjects are connectivity, good and bad shape, the way stones should 'move', the difference between territory and spheres of influence, how to use thickness and walls, how to train yourself to read, where to start looking in a life-and-death problem - matters so fundamental that other writers miss them completely. He also points out the right way to study - how to study joseki, for example. 'What changed me from an amateur into a professional was getting a really firm grip on the fundamentals,' writes Kageyama. The essence of seven years of amateur and twenty-two years of professional playing experience are distilled into these pages, and they are filled with advice that everyone will find practical.

268 pages, Paperback

First published July 1, 1978

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Toshiro Kageyama

3 books1 follower

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews
Profile Image for David.
Author 17 books333 followers
April 24, 2012



Dia. 2. Black blocks at 1, of course. There is no need for him to wonder what White may do afterward. Given a chance like this, only a feeble-minded player would be uncertain where to play - 'not this point, not here either, perhaps I should leave the position as it is.' Black's hand should be trembling with eagerness to play 1. He should be overcome with emotion.



Toshiro Kageyama doesn't mince words. Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go may be visualized as Kageyama-sensei leaning over your go board and smacking the back of your head every time you make a stupid move. (Actually, he seems like quite a nice, if crusty, gentleman; he probably didn't smack people.) This book is neither a tutorial nor a dry textbook laying out go problems and josekis and handholding the student through their solutions. Another way to think of this book is Kageyama pointing at a particularly clever move and saying "Look at that! Isn't that awesome?" He loves go and he wants you to love go, too. But he wants you to stop being such a lazy dumbass about it.

I first read this book way, way back when I was first learning go (in college) and it did nothing for me. Don't be fooled by the title into thinking that "Fundamentals" means "Basics." This book is written for low-ranking kyu players, but ones who have already been playing for a while; Kageyama assumes you don't need any go terminology explained and that you have played enough go that when he says "Have you ever found yourself in this situation?" the reader will nod and say, "Yeah, that looks familiar."

As a (very slightly) more experienced player now, I was able to understand a lot more, but I still couldn't "get" a lot of it. Kageyama's explanations were clear enough, but I definitely got the feeling that fine points that he expected to be intuitive and obvious were... not. So I'll revisit this when I am a better player.

It's definitely worth reading for a low-ranking player. The chapters are:


Ladders and Nets
Cutting and Connecting
The Stones Go Walking
The Struggle to Get Ahead
Territory and Spheres of Influence
Life and Death
How to Study Joseki
Good Shape and Bad
Proper and Improper Moves
Tesuji: the Snap-Back; Shortage of Liberties; the Spiral Ladder; the Placement; the Attachment; Under the Stones
Endgame Pointers


He inserts many personal anecdotes, from watching movies at the theater as a child to lecturing on NHK-TV, and ends the book with a detailed review of one of his own professional games, when as a young, low-ranking professional, he scored an upset victory against the Meijin (one of the best go players in the world at the time). Can't blame him for savoring a game like that! Going over his moves just highlights how much I don't understand; I could kind of follow what each player was doing, but it was nothing like my own games. Many of the moves seemed to radiate invisible lines of force affecting stones halfway across the board in ways I could not comprehend; even though Kageyama explains each move, it's like he's a physicist giving a dumbed-down explanation of string theory to an elementary school science class.

This is a go classic, and one that's meant to be read slowly and then reread.
Profile Image for it me.
24 reviews7 followers
July 2, 2018
Likely the only book on improving at Go which can also be enjoyably read by someone who doesn't care about the game.
This is far from just a collection of diagrams and technical explanations. Using his Japan of the 1970s for analogies, Kageyama shows you the importance of fundamentals in all areas of the game. He admonished you for being such a scrub and tries his best to open your amateurish mind to the beauty of professional class moves.
It's an often very funny book that deserves its fame in the world of Go.
Profile Image for Isaac Rains.
9 reviews
May 9, 2019
I learned a lot about how to play Go from this book, even though many of the lessons went over my head, but I can't imagine a more entertaining instructional book for the game of Go than this one. Kageyama must have been a real character, as this book is filled with personality, jokes, and tricks. Certain passages had me laughing out loud, and people nearby were very confused when I tried to explain how funny this book about the game of Go is. I'll certainly be rereading this one at some point.
Profile Image for Charles Frayne.
11 reviews1 follower
August 29, 2015
Many of the finer points of this book went over my head. I can't quite see when a two-space extension and a three-space extension are totally different moves. But Kageyama puts it best when he says "Experts can finesse their way out, bunglers can bungle their way out, but everybody should break through white's enclosure somehow." This book covers the fundamental concepts that will help you think about Go, even if details and specific applications still elude you, and it does an excellent job. Whether you're a single digit kyu or a novice, Kageyama has some insights to offer you, and his conversational and clear style make this book an easy read.

(This book does assume you know the rules of go and some basic terms like "atari" "hane" etc. So if you're a complete novice, you might want to start elsewhere.)
Profile Image for Chloe Moon.
54 reviews7 followers
February 2, 2014
This and Ishigure's "In the Beginning" were my first Go books. I read this as a 15-20k. It was far beyond my ability to understand, but I did learn from it. It's a very entertaining read. Kageyama has a great attitude about him, and hops from topic to topic in a lightfooted manner.

I've reread it around 10k and got a lot more out of it, but it was still beyond me. 5k now, I anticipate that when I return to it as a 1d, it will still be beyond me, and I will continue to learn from it!
Profile Image for Jamus Sumner.
17 reviews1 follower
April 15, 2009
Of all the books on Go I've ever come across, I've learned more from Kageyama than I have from any other source. I've read this book three or four times now and each time I gain new understanding. Absolutely invaluable source for anyone looking to get stronger.
64 reviews2 followers
August 2, 2020
Honestly, this is one of the best books I've ever read. I can't help but think of it not as a book about playing Go, but rather as a book about how to live. I recommend learning Go just to be able to read and understand this book.
December 4, 2022
Context - read through the book at ~11 kyu.

Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go is an ambitious book, with advice for pretty much any stage in a game, with an emphasis on real and realistic board positions that I appreciated. Most diagrams are accompanied not just by the correct follow-up sequence, but at least one incorrect sequence to help the reader understand why the answer is that way and not the other way. This is enough detail that I could play through some other variations myself to study further. Each section also includes a teeny bit of chatter to break up the study with some amusing stories related to the author's Go experiences.

The book's strong chapters, the ones that I came away with more, were the more concrete and specific chapters - those on tesuji, endgame and ladders and nets, covering approximately 30% of the book. In these chapters, there are examples, problems, and solutions, along with sufficient commentary explaining the though process for finding the correct solutions.

The weaker chapters, to me, were those on more vague concepts and higher-level strategy such as connecting and cutting and shape. In these chapters, I came away with just a little, as many of the positions were explained by declaring the wrong position obviously wrong or too amateurish or improper without any further details. Perhaps the ambition to cover so much material led to not much detail in each section; or perhaps the intended audience is stronger than I am and these things are clear when given just one or two variations, but I did not take away much useful information from a solid half of the book. Not nothing, mind you, but some vague concepts and no confidence to correctly apply those concepts in-game.
Profile Image for Zachary Littrell.
443 reviews1 follower
July 15, 2018
Kageyama was a crusty old man, but with a dry-as-toast sense of humor. He's just about everything you expect and want from a Go teacher: he rambles about baseball, squeezes in references to long-dead samurai, and playfully badgers his pupils for being dumb enough to make bad moves.

This is the perfect must-read book on Go, except for one thing: it sure ain't for beginners. Kageyama himself explains his mildly wonky definition of who is a 'beginner.' He assumes you're already familiar with joseki, tesuji, sente, gote, and about a dozen other Japanese terms an absolute beginner would not recognize from 'konnichiwa.'

What this book is for are people who have already put in their hundred(s) of games of go, and have now hit a wall and need a hand getting their ass over it. Will it still appeal to beginners (or even people not actually that interested in playing Go)? Maybe! At worst, you get to read a professional's passion for the game. And to be honest, this isn't a book you just read once and 'get it.' I reckon I'll need to come back again and again and say, "Oh, ok. Now I see what the hell he was going on about!"

Plus, it was nice that Kageyama added commentary on his own victory over the Meijin at the time, Rin Kaiho. A good teacher shows he has struggles, aspirations, doubts, and goals, too. And his biggest goal is to just play a good game of go and appreciate the game's simple beauties.

And to watch baseball games and movies in cheapo theaters, when he has the time.
Profile Image for Philip.
201 reviews5 followers
November 4, 2019
Für einen Kyu-Spieler im forderen Mittel ist dieses Buch der absolute Thriller. Und trotzdem glaube ich dem Autor, dass auch fortgeschrittene Spieler ab dem 1dan noch eine interessante und lehrreiche Zurückbesinnung aus dieser Lektüre erfahren können.

Was mit harmlosen Einstiegs-Strategien und Mustern beginnt, die selbst ein ungebildeter Spieler wie ich zu Stande bringt, ohne darauf hingewiesen worden zu sein, führt den Weg langsam Tiefer in die vermeindlich einfachen Gebiete der höheren Grundlagen. In gewisser Weise bauen die Kapitel sogar auf einander auf, und man kann den nächsten Schritt nicht ohne den vorherigen gehen.

Die letzten Kapitel lagen dann aber doch über meinem Vermögen. Mir schwirrt der Kopf wenn ich versuche in einer Partie Go alle Grundlagen zu berücksichtigen, und dabei noch auf die gegebene Situation zu achten! Ich gestehe als Leser also meine Niederlage gegenüber dem Buch, dass ich nicht alle Übungen gut und gründlich hatte lösen können.

Aber ich habe sehr viel daraus gelernt und bin einen Schritt näher daran, das Go-Spiel zu begreifen.

Eine dringende Empfehlung an alle interessierten dieses meisterhaften Spiels!
Profile Image for Valentyn Danylchuk.
228 reviews3 followers
October 31, 2018
Perhaps I did not pick up all the insights at my level. The main value for me is the inspiring, persuasive way the author drives the simple principles, like reading ahead with due diligence, or staying true to proper moves. He explains that the main difference between a pro and an amateur is the mind discipline. Pro player acts on 100% confidence, resulting from studying and analysis, without any rushed moves or wishful thinking. Adopting this mindset, even with small knowledge to start, is the best way to improve.
Profile Image for Adrien Lemaire.
16 reviews3 followers
April 26, 2018
Excellent book that I had bought many years ago and never took the time to read, because I preferred playing than studying the game.

Made me want to play Go again, but unfortunately I won't find the time for that hobby. Still, the exercises inside the book were an excellent refresher and quite stimulating. I recommend for all levels up to shodan.
Profile Image for Jon Varner.
63 reviews3 followers
March 24, 2022
I can see why this remains so popular. Written with a unique and endearing sense of humor, this is surprisingly engaging for an instruction manual. The consistent theme is that the value of studying joseki and tesuji is not in building encyclopedic knowledge but in understanding why they are the best moves.
Profile Image for Hieu Dang.
12 reviews8 followers
June 13, 2019
Văn phong hài hước, dễ đọc. Tuy là sách cơ bản nhưng vẫn nên đọc nhiều lần. Mỗi lần đọc lại sẽ có một góc nhìn khác, ngấm theo một kiểu khác.
January 15, 2022
Very interesting book, but I find the author is often using a dismissive and rude tone in his comments and explanations.
Profile Image for Jason.
2 reviews
September 20, 2018
My favorite thing about this book is the style. It talks directly to the reader as if the reader were questioning what they were being taught. And this is great because the information can sometimes seem so simple that you do find yourself questioning it.

I would say about 75% of this book is just focusing on its diagrams and examples. The diagrams are well done and the book uses them effectively. I was almost always able to simply read the book and didn't get out a board to look at a position unless I wanted to study it more in depth. Around 5% is an overview of topics without diagrams - such as talking about what a "proper move" is - but it will always quickly get back to examples. I learn well from this kind of teaching - quick discussion and then examples of how it applies - so this book was great for me. And the other 20% is exposition, stories about Kageyama's experiences as a professional and teacher, and general thoughts on go and life. I really enjoy these parts because it is nice to not only take a break from study but to see what it is like to be a pro and how this has impacted Kageyama's life and view of go.

The first chapter of the book discusses ladders and nets. I will admit, I was skeptical. The first day I was taught go I was shown how a ladder works. Yet I am finding more and more that reading ladders is absolutely essential to playing go well. And the same is true for nets. If the net doesn't actually work then it is going to just make your position crumble, so being able to read nets is also essential for effective play.

The second chapter is about cutting and connecting. Again, so simple... but so absolutely important.

And the book goes on like this. It presents a simple topic and shows you the fundamentals. Topics like life and death, joseki, proper moves, tesuji, and, finally, end-game. It discusses none of these in amazing depth with the exception of the tesuji chapter. (That one covers 6 different types of tesuji giving multiple examples over the course of 50 pages.) But it does cover each to a point that it gives you a grasp of the fundamentals. I believe the length of the tesuji chapter is directly related to how much you need to know about tesujis to handle them in your own games.

And really that is what makes this book so great. Nothing in here is theoretical. Every single topic is directly related to something that will come up at least every other game if not every game. It is practical without getting bogged down in too many details.

There are also two sections where the book pauses for Kageyama to discuss his own experiences as a pro. The first is an interlude where he talks about his experience teaching go on TV in Japan. The second is the last chapter where he gives a commentary on his win over the then current Meijin, Rin Kaiho, in the semi-final of the Prime Minister's Cup. Both are very enjoyable and reasonably informative. I found his musings on teaching to be a nice break from the sometimes difficult content and it is always amazing to read a professional's commentary on their own game to see what they are thinking about.

I have no complaints about this book. I find its pacing and structure to be excellent. The content is practical and just challenging enough to be interesting while never going far over the head of someone who has experience with go. The style is fantastic and drives home the necessity of humility when examining ones play. How ever can you grow as a player if you aren't willing to admit that you are making mistakes? I don't see how you can grow if you say things like: "I don't want to be bothered to read!" or "Studying ladders and endgame is beneath me!"

The stories are entertaining. The diagrams are easy to read. The content is valuable. I can't think of a single thing I didn't like. It is not a book for absolute beginners - single digit kyu players are probably the target audience - but I believe players of ranks from 15ish kyu up to amateur dans can find something of value.
13 reviews1 follower
Read
November 27, 2012
Regardless of what the title might suggest, this is not a beginner's flavored book. If you still get vertigo at the sight of an empty 19x19 board, then you're better off with - hell, I don't know! This is the first book about Go I've read, so I cannot suggest anything other than playing 100 games, or something, and pick this one up when you're above 15kyu, or something. Kageyama is not teaching the fundamentals of Go, but rather the value and importance of such fundamentals. He's preaching at all the advanced amateurs who start to choose more convoluted moves over the fundamental ones, just because they feel that's what stronger players do. "Don't do that", is what Kageyama says in this book.

And he says it with a great voice, a passionate, emotionally driven voice. You got to love when he writes stuff like "What? Incredible! That would be the acme of bad shape. If White plays 'b', Black ataries him with 'c'. Kindly spare me the gruesome sight", or "Given a chance like this, only a feeble-minded player would be uncertain where to play - `not this point, not here either, perhaps I should leave the position as it is.' Black's hand should be trembling with eagerness to play. He should be overcome with emotion." So the prose is excellent. How about the lessons? They flow quite nicely - most lessons flow quite nicely, anyway. Truth is some of the examples surpassed me completely, and Kageyama won't hold your hand every step of the way. At times, all you get from him is "you should see why diagram 6 is better than diagram 7", and sometimes I can't see that, and sometimes I tell him "Hey, Toshiro (I'm on first name basis with him), I can't see why 6 is better", just to have him answering "Then print both diagrams and look at them every morning, until one day you pop out of bed and say 'Wow!, diagram 6 is better!'" Great guy, he is.

I feel Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go is one of those books to which one comes back every once in a while. I bet I'll dive at it again when I'm two or three k-letters better, finding in it stuff it surpassed me before, and I don't think that will stop until I'm 9dan... 9dan... ah... ah ah ah... AH AH AH AH AH AH AH!!!!!
8 reviews1 follower
May 8, 2013
This is a very good book. As others have noted it's not a good first book. It explores fundamental concepts, not the rules and mechanics of the game. You should have no doubt what a legal move is, and fully understand Ko & Seki, know how to kill the basic shapes that are either dead or alive depending on who has sente.

One thing I would like to point out is that the chapter on ladders is in many ways the most important, and is NOT to be skipped by any reader of any level. It is easily a helpful chapter even for a 4kyu (as I was when I read it). However, taking it to heart earlier would certainly be beneficial. It does provide a method for learning to read ladders, but more importantly it points out that the reason most people fail at reading ladders is that they don't **actually read** out the ladders, they just guess. He does a good job of explaining exactly what reading it out really entails. In many ways the chapter is more about one's attitude, and that in the end is the key point. Almost everyone who learned to play go in the west did so casually and without good instruction from a serious player, and consequently their advance is usually held back as much by their attitude as anything else.

Kageyama on the other hand does not mince words as others have noted. He tells you in no uncertain terms what the correct attitude is... and that is very helpful, if you are willing to listen to his advice.

The last chapter is probably the most fun, where he explains how he managed to win a game against the top professional of his day, including how he prepared for the game in advance.
Profile Image for Alan.
5 reviews3 followers
June 18, 2007
Not really a beginner's book, but an excellent "second" go book -- excellent to go back to once you've started to figure out how go works. It really does deal with the basics, but at a fairly high level; at least it seems high to this weak player -- probably about 20-18 kyu right now. Although some books hold your hand a little more and might be a little clearer or more organized, I credit this book in particular with my recent improvement. Kageyama has a very engaging, conversational and straight-shooting prose style, often flatly writing things like: "Anyone who does not answer the peep in figure 59 should have his head examined." "Such lazy people do not deserve to play go." and so on. (those are paraphrases from memory) It sounds harsh, but it's part of his dry sense of humor, and besides, what he says is true. This forceful and authoritative style makes his pronouncements stick: they will pop into your head in the middle of your next game ("Answer the peep, you idiot!") unlike the standard bland, impersonal style of most other go authors. I can't recommend this book highly enough, but don't bother buying it until you've read some good beginner's books (the "Learn to Play Go" series, "Graded Go Problems for Beginners") and played a lot of games.
Profile Image for Hruotland.
151 reviews9 followers
June 19, 2016
Ich kann nicht beurteilen, ob die Go-Lektionen hilfreich sind, gehe aber mal davon aus.

Trotzdem gibt es einen Stern Abzug:
— Das Buch wurde zweimal übersetzt, die deutsche Fassung ist eine Übersetzung der englischen, nicht des japanischen Originals. Kein gutes Zeichen, auch wenn die Go-Einsichten den Prozess überstehen
— Das Kapitel »Leben und Tod« fängt damit an, dass Japan es nicht überleben würde, wenn der kalte Krieg zwischen USA und UdSSR zum Atomkrieg würde. Lektion: Wenn man über ein eigentlich zeitloses Thema wie Go schreibt, sollte man Bezüge zur Zeitgeschichte vermeiden, sonst wirkt das ganze Werk schnell veraltet.
— Der Anhang geht etwa so: Wollen Sie hören, wie ich mal den zweitbesten Spieler Japans besiegt habe? Nein? Pech! Ich erzähl’s trotzdem.
— Gestört hat mich auch, dass die kurzen Kapitel wie »Gute und schlechte Form« aus genau einem Abschnitt bestehen, der genau so heißt, wie das Kapitel. Ein guter Redakteur hätte darauf bestanden, diese redundante Gliederungsebene wegzulassen. Inhaltsverzeichnis und Hauptteil sind sich nicht einig, ob es »Kapitel 8« oder »Kapitel VIII« heißt.
8 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2007
This book is an amazing aid for the intermediate level go player, and very readable, to boot.

Kageyama-sensei was easily as gifted a writer as he was a go player, and his sarcastic, chatty style will have you laughing out loud or cringing as one of his barbed comments hits close to home - not that it's a bad thing.

It's more valuable as a tool to teach you how to look critically at your own go and accept your weaknesses than as an instructional book, but that said, it is still a very useful book. My one problem with it is that it covers a lot in very broad strokes, and as a result, it cannot give an in-depth coverage of each of the topics in it.

A 15k player may find it a bit advanced, but keep pushing through it. Right now, I'm 5k, and I still come away from it with lessons. A 15k player won't take the same thing away from it that a 5k player would - but Kageyama has a talent for writing to a large audience. A 15k will take good lessons for a 15k from this book, while a 5k player will take good lessons for that level.
Profile Image for Pete Schwamb.
3 reviews
August 5, 2011
It's hard to say what I like best about this book. The style is very entertaining; it's like hanging out with an incredibly wise and goofy old man. The humor and sarcasm is no distraction from the lessons, either, but rather serve to underscore the points he's making.

I'm looking forward to re-reading it again. I've already re-read several chapters, and feel like my game has benefited each time I've opened it up.

It's maybe not the first book you should buy about go, but once you understand the basic rules and have a number of games under your belt, and are ready to start improving your game, this book will be well worth your time.
5 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2010
Packed with valuable information about the game of go, and unique for its readability and focus on "approach" to the game, rather than specific skills. Broken up with anecdotes about the author's life as a professional go player, Lessons in the Fundamentals feels like recreational reading at times. Nonetheless, taking Kageyama's lessons to heart will definitely improve your game, at pretty much any level of play.

If you want to improve your game, but don't necessarily know how to go about it, this is an excellent book to read - and you will have fun reading it.
16 reviews2 followers
March 23, 2012
This is a truly amazing book for the intermediate player. Kageyama's style is wonderfully conversational and imminently funny. Of course, that would be worthless if the book weren't full of fascinating strategic and tactical insights. From the go books I've read, most are either short on depth or overly abstruse. While Lessons does occasionally descend into too-deep analysis of sequences, it generally strikes a good balance between clarifying difficult concepts and considering the concrete implications of those ideas on the board. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Frank.
352 reviews
November 30, 2013
Some quotes to give you the flavor of Kageyama's useful yet personal style:

from p.31: ...when there are two ways to capture with one move, the firmer way is correct.
from p.67: The real meaning of 'getting ahead' is 'bending around the enemy's leading edge.'
from p.166: If you do not feel the same tightening in your chest as when you close your eyes and picture the face of a lover, you do not love good shape enough.
from p.204: Read it; it won't read itself.
36 reviews3 followers
April 20, 2018
I've read this quite a number of times now. It's the first book I reached for when returning to the game after a long break. Gives some good insight in to how you should approach the game and how you should be thinking while playing. Also gives a very brief overview of what the important topics to study further are, and how to approach that study.
I don't spend a great deal of time reading go books; I prefer to play, review games and solve problems, but the time spent with this is well worth it.
Profile Image for Howard.
252 reviews18 followers
December 1, 2020
Fantastic! Written in a very personal style that is easy to identify with rather that scholarly or formal. It even had me laughing out loud a couple of times.

It takes the view that fundamentals are worth going over again and again, sort of like spring training in baseball. No matter how long a player has been a pro, they always start with fundamentals. All other skills proceed from them.

I know that I will be reading this book again and again for my own "spring training" any time of the year. This book is valuable to players of all skill levels. I highly recommend it!
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