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 Post subject: First Fundamentals: First Impressions
Post #1 Posted: Sat Aug 18, 2012 7:01 pm 
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This isn't a review (I may post one in a few months when I know better how effective the study was), just my first impressions after spending some time with Robert's latest work.

I believe "First Fundamentals" is an important book. It contains a huge amount of material in form of bite-sized pieces, though those bits are like highly concentrated energy food and more nutritious than the more voluminous Go-educational meals that are often recommended to players who this book is intended for. It's a good format because the student can pick a principle and read the relevant paragraphs that follow the heading within just a few minutes, then study the examples and apply the newly learned ideas immediately. The principles are all to the point, there's little fluff here, though it's nevertheless "readable" and doesn't put you to sleep.

The advantage is that you don't need to (and really shouldn't) read the entire book in a couple sessions, and can instead learn about a principle and then go and play a bunch of games before tackling the next section. Robert always struck me more as a heavily theory-focused person (which had initially discouraged me from looking into his works as I'm more of a practical-minded person who quickly loses focus when reading dry explanations and complex, boring excursions), but First Fundamentals is definitely a very praxis-oriented, "hands on" book whose format resonates unexpectedly well with me.

I was surprised at the unusually large number of examples in the book (I'd estimate that there are at least 4-5 diagrams per page on average), and it's not chiefly the "this is how you do it" kind, but the majority of diagrams show how to not do something. This is interesting because many of the examples shown don't appear (to the target audience) necessarily as wrong (which is why we like to repeat our mistakes all the time!), so they stimulate a critical review of one's own feelings on positions and how we instinctively (but inefficiently) respond to them.

I've already found various positions where I stared at a "wrong" diagram and thought "But this is riiiiight!!!", and then dove into trying to understand why it in fact wasn't "riiiight". Those kinds of situations really help me to learn and alter my established pattern and errors. Noteworthy is that the examples often feel real: the stuff you experience in DDK and SDK games, which makes them tangible and easy to relate to, without seeming artificial, contrived or isolated from the context of every day matches.

I am unsure who the book is best suited for, especially after only spending a few hours with it. I believe it covers a fairly wide range of "ranks", partly because of the scope, partly because kyu players up to at least mid SDKs have such wildly varying knowledge bases. I'd say it's one of those books that grow with the reader and that yield new insights from every re-read, because what you can take from it depends on what you already know. I can't really judge suitability for people stronger than 6'ish kyu because I'm just not there, but there's been plenty of stuff that I felt was a little advanced, so closer-to-dan players can probably benefit as well. I feel that it makes an excellent "second" book, or maybe a third one, and I believe for a DDK it fits in perfectly after "Opening Theory Made Easy" (and is not a replacement for it, in my opinion). For SDKs, it's good at any point.

Unrelated to the content, Robert delivered the book (and the PDF, which came free with the physical copy and was e-mailed literally an hour after sending the payment) promptly. Even the "shipping cost free" variant within Germany was better and more securely packaged than what you normally get even if you do pay for extra packaging (when you order the extra secure option, it probably comes in a 10 times larger box and an armful of packaging materials!). He also signed it on request, which added a nice touch from a collecting point of view.

So, in summary, my first impression of First Fundamentals is surprisingly good and I would recommend it to people who like to really work with a book, not just skim it or read it through and then move on to the next. The content/price ratio is exceptional and you really do get something for the money. I'll also say that the book has made me more curious about Robert's other works and his qualities as a teacher. It's very different from the impression that some posts occasionally give (those stickler-style arguments about rules ... :razz: )!

In short, First Fundamentals is good stuff. :)


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Post #2 Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 12:16 am 
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Mivo wrote:
I am unsure who the book is best suited for


This is not answered easily because part of the principles is particularly useful for beginners (e.g., the 95% guideline "Avoid the empty triangle.") and will be known by every stronger player, while part of the principles is useful for but not already generally known by everybody (e.g. "Maximise territory when defending its border.", a principle I wish I had learnt already as a beginner but actually learnt only as a 5 dan simply because I did not see or find it earlier).

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Post #3 Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:24 am 
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Thank you, Mivo, very nicely written from the viewpoint of a reader who’s more practice-oriented than theory-oriented, exactly the kind of stuff I’d wanted to know about the book!

This is definitely the next Go book I’ll purchase, and doing it ASAP, thanks again.

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Last edited by Bonobo on Sun Aug 19, 2012 2:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post #4 Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 8:26 am 
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What a thorough and helpful review. Question: have you seen the Second Book of Go? To what extent does First Fundamentals dominate SBG as a book to recommend to new players?

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Post #5 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 7:19 am 
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The Second Book of Go is a mixture of early beginner knowledge (e.g., opening moves), some not so early beginner knowledge (e.g., tesuji), rather immaterial knowledge (handicap strategy) and knowledge above the heads of the typical readership (semeai theory). For obvious reasons, I have not read the book, only looked through it a couple of times and forgot details of the contents. So I do not recall how early or "advanced" a reader is expected to be.

OTOH, my overall impression on the book has always been: useful, but only a first taster for everything. The book concept is to treat the traditionally considered noteworthy aspects of the game (opening, josekis, fight, tesuji, life+death, shape, endgame, ko - to list the relevant topics of chapter headings) as if this were sufficient to teach a beginner. However, although everybody needs to know about all those topics, they do not make a sufficient knowledge teaching for beginners.

First Fundamentals has a partly complementary approach: it presumes basic knowledge such as in the Second Book of Go and teaches (except for yet more problem and reading practice, as by Graded Go Problems) everything then still missing for surpassing beginner level: all the important mistakes that the beginners make and explanations why these are mistakes and with which principles they are avoided.

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Post #6 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 8:39 am 
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Thanks so much for answering my question, Robert. However, I was actually asking Mivo. You must understand that the signal-to-noise ratio in your frequent encomia to your own work is quite low.

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Post #7 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:00 am 
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jts wrote:
Thanks so much for answering my question, Robert. However, I was actually asking Mivo.


And one is to divine this exactly how? Also, this is a discussion forum, not a private booth.

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Post #8 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:06 am 
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jts, I've both in front of me.

I think both are good and useful books. SBoG is a lot more wordy, FF is a lot more diagram based. I think this distinction in itself lends each book to different learning styles. Not that SBoG lacks diagrams or anything! But if you're a visual learner, like me, then FF is attractive. That said, they cover different things. You don't find tesujis in FF meaning you need a supplemental text, but equally you aren't drilled through so many diagrams as in FF. One thing I found interesting about FF, is that many of the diagrams I look at the wrong move and think "yeah, I'd never play that now" but some of them look like perfectly legitimate plays to me and this as a didactic tool is very good for hammering home your mistakes. This move is a mistake, it looks good to you, there is a problem then.

I'd have to go through both carefully to give you a proper comparison, but the above are my initial thoughts from skimming through both. I hope that helps a bit.


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Post #9 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:08 am 
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hanekomu wrote:
jts wrote:
Thanks so much for answering my question, Robert. However, I was actually asking Mivo.


And one is to divine this exactly how?


It's pretty clear actually from the sentence. Might not be that obvious to a non-native speaker though.

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Post #10 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:29 am 
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jts wrote:
However, I was actually asking Mivo. You must understand that the signal-to-noise ratio in your frequent encomia to your own work is quite low.


Well, I waited 11 days to see if there would be other replies. Since none came, I have thought that trying to suggest some opinion would be better than none. Luckily, now more replies appear to be motivated:)

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Post #11 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:32 am 
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hanekomu wrote:
jts wrote:
Thanks so much for answering my question, Robert. However, I was actually asking Mivo.


And one is to divine this exactly how? Also, this is a discussion forum, not a private booth.

Maybe he should pick up haruspicy? Anyway, RJ can flog his wares wherever he likes, whether the portents are auspicious or not. I wasn't trying to ban him from my booth (?), but to let Mivo know, should he return to this thread, that I would still appreciate an answer to my question.

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Post #12 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:39 am 
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Boidhre wrote:
jts, I've both in front of me.

I think both are good and useful books. SBoG is a lot more wordy, FF is a lot more diagram based. I think this distinction in itself lends each book to different learning styles. Not that SBoG lacks diagrams or anything! But if you're a visual learner, like me, then FF is attractive. That said, they cover different things. You don't find tesujis in FF meaning you need a supplemental text, but equally you aren't drilled through so many diagrams as in FF. One thing I found interesting about FF, is that many of the diagrams I look at the wrong move and think "yeah, I'd never play that now" but some of them look like perfectly legitimate plays to me and this as a didactic tool is very good for hammering home your mistakes. This move is a mistake, it looks good to you, there is a problem then.

I'd have to go through both carefully to give you a proper comparison, but the above are my initial thoughts from skimming through both. I hope that helps a bit.

That's interesting, Boidhre. You refer frequently to "drilling" and "hammering home" w.r.t. First Fundamentals - do you mean this literally in the sense that there is less explanation and more drills (similar to Graded Go Problems for Beginners, perhaps), or is it something else about the visual style you are referring to?

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Post #13 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:47 am 
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jts wrote:
Boidhre wrote:
jts, I've both in front of me.

I think both are good and useful books. SBoG is a lot more wordy, FF is a lot more diagram based. I think this distinction in itself lends each book to different learning styles. Not that SBoG lacks diagrams or anything! But if you're a visual learner, like me, then FF is attractive. That said, they cover different things. You don't find tesujis in FF meaning you need a supplemental text, but equally you aren't drilled through so many diagrams as in FF. One thing I found interesting about FF, is that many of the diagrams I look at the wrong move and think "yeah, I'd never play that now" but some of them look like perfectly legitimate plays to me and this as a didactic tool is very good for hammering home your mistakes. This move is a mistake, it looks good to you, there is a problem then.

I'd have to go through both carefully to give you a proper comparison, but the above are my initial thoughts from skimming through both. I hope that helps a bit.

That's interesting, Boidhre. You refer frequently to "drilling" and "hammering home" w.r.t. First Fundamentals - do you mean this literally in the sense that there is less explanation and more drills (similar to Graded Go Problems for Beginners, perhaps), or is it something else about the visual style you are referring to?


You get a principle, then many diagrams showing the wrong move being made followed by a diagram showing "a" (I don't think the claim is made that it is "the") good move being made. This is repeated a couple of times for each principle/sub-principle. So it amounts to visual drills. Which is a good didactic technique for some people to be fair to Robert, though it might not be to everyone's tastes*. There isn't much text at all, the diagrams do the talking. This would be why I'd only recommend this book to someone after "their first 100 games." But once you've a fair few games under your belt then I think the diagrams will make a lot of sense to you.

*This is somewhat similar to the problem drills found in Speed Baduk which also follows a principle/drills idea, except it goes: principle, example, problems 1-6 based on the principle in question (e.g. snapback or whatever) going from very easy to somewhat challenging for the level the book is aimed at.


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Post #14 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:54 am 
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Btw, how is possible to get a PDF version? I bought a printed copy at EGC but no procedure for a PDF copy which is a great value as I traveled light on road with a tablet.

Thanks.

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Post #15 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 11:00 am 
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virgo wrote:
how is possible to get a PDF version?


Please send me an email with your license number (on the label of page 2)!

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Post #16 Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 11:18 am 
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Actually, I forgot: in terms of difficulty of the text, I'm a DDK with around 200 games played and I'm not having any problems so far understanding what is being said in each diagram. It seems to be pretty well aimed at 10-15k I think in terms of difficulty. Not that a 20k would necessarily have trouble with it or anything, just people a few stones around me now would have no problems understanding it for certain.


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Post #17 Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:18 pm 
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jts wrote:
What a thorough and helpful review. Question: have you seen the Second Book of Go? To what extent does First Fundamentals dominate SBG as a book to recommend to new players?


Sorry for the late response. My plane of life has gotten a bit in turbulences lately, so that kept me on my toes (or rather, on the belly).

The SBG, well, I never actually liked it very much, but I'm not sure I read it at the right time. To me, it seemed too unfocused, too little material for most topics to be really useful. FF is more "focused" (a lot more material, too), but the difficulty is also quite varied, so it's hard to say for who it really is exactly.

Basically, SBG is like a plate of food samples and teasers, and FF is a box of high energy food pellets. Both will nourish you in some form, but neither are really comparable, cover the same ground or even aim at the same target group. SBG is an intro book, FF is a work book. The material/price ratio of FF is definitely significantly better.

I think if I had to recommend a few books to beginners, I'd suggest that web course (whatever it is called!) or one of the first books, then a problem collection and Opening Theory Made Easy (I really like that book), and then First Fundamentals. FF stays with you a long time, so it's a bit like A&D, I guess (not saying they are the same -- just in terms of how much you can milk them).


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Post #18 Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:04 pm 
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Thanks Mivo and Boidhre, your reviews, however short they may be, have told me exactly what I’d have wanted to read about such a book.

I’ve just ordered the First Fundamentals, and I tell you, I am very curious. And I’m especially curious in what way it may change the way I teach the kids at the regular Go workshop that I instruct at the local school!

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Post #19 Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:25 pm 
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Bonobo wrote:
I’ve just ordered the First Fundamentals, and I tell you, I am very curious. And I’m especially curious in what way it may change the way I teach the kids at the regular Go workshop that I instruct at the local school!


I think you'll be happy with the book. :) The biggest difference to most other books is how many "this is wrong!" diagrams it has, which I find really helpful as it stimulates one's own thinking, because your brain immediately starts to work out why the diagram is wrong or why the suggested moves are superior. I think I'm just the type of learner who prefers "active studying", and FF is an excellent companion for that. It's not for everyone, though.


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Post #20 Posted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 9:51 am 
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Thanks, mivo, your first impressions are very useful.

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