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 Post subject: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki, I"
Post #1 Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 11:40 am 
Oza

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First a disclaimer. I got my copy free from John Power. But I was not asked to write a review. This review is mainly the result of my own frustration that more reviews (and advertising outlets) are not available generally.

This eagerly awaited book, compiled under the supervision of Meijin and Honinbo Takao Shinji, is a complete reworking of Ishida Yoshio's 1975 Dictionary of Basic Joseki. It is also in a new format: the same large size as Go World and the yearbooks, with two columns on almost all its 288 pages. It is beautifully laid out and printed on very pleasing paper. Physically, it will be a joy to study from this book. Many people on L19 stress the desirability of being able to lay a book out flat. FWIW on my copy, the book stays open on its own between about pages 90 and 180, and at other page openings it needs just the slightest touch or a feather of a paperweight to keep it open. It's too early to say for certain how that other bête noire of L19ers - the binding - will fare, but in some 40 years of using Ishi Press/Kiseido books I've only had one binding go on me (and, oddly enough, that was a volume of the Ishida dictionary). It is a paperback, of course (with a very attractive cover), but this is a niche market after all.

You will also be getting an authoritative text, not just in the guise of Takao or even the expert editing team, but in the sense of a totally accurate translation in mellifluous prose with proper British/Australian spelling (although I blinked at "Black ataries at 1"). Don't underestimate this - you'd be shocked at how different the Japanese and English are in some go books. The reason for the quality is, of course, that the hand at the tiller belongs to John Power. You should also credit him for the superb layout.

John has also done the go world a big service by harmonising his technical terms with what has become accepted on SL or L19. The significance of this I'll come to later.

"I already have Ishida's book. Do I need this one?" Questions like that will be inevitable. While perhaps "need" is an exaggeration, the answer is yes, yes and yes.

The first yes is because the book is up to date. This is not just a case of new moves but of new evaluations. Actually, many of the new moves are not really new. For example, the move "m" on page 72 (Dia. 1) is described as a "recent innovation" but goes back over a century if you look at a database. However, it is accurate enough if you notice that the move is now very frequent in 2011, and of course if you take (as you probably should) the combination of "move + evaluation" as the criterion, the feel of a move today can be very different from days of yore.

The second yes is because the comments on each joseki are very different. This is genuinely a complete re-write. As it happens, I think the Takao comments are better than the Ishida comments - better structured, more avoidance of verbiage such as "If Black plays 1, White plays 2", and a more modern feel to strategic comments. But the Ishida comments usually say something about the position that is missing in the Takao version, so if you have Ishida already, don't be tempted to throw it out. Although the Ishida book is superseded in many details, it is still worth using.

Among the reasons I think Takao is better structured (for the modern age) is that it accepts that not all josekis are limited to one corner, and so we have a separate, admittedly brief, section on a joseki set within the Chinese fuseki. One major structural change - you can decide for yourself if it's good or bad - is that Ishida was replete with whole-board examples from actual games. These are dispensed with in Takao. I think that's a sensible move. It is so easy now to call up many more examples from a database, with the bonus also that you can play the whole game out. I don't know whether that was actually the thinking involved (after all, use of a database by the editors might have resulted in fewer claims to novelty) but for the western audience I think it's the right step whatever the reason.

The third yes will be a little more controversial. I imagine quite a few L19ers gnashing their teeth at having to wait for Volume 2, because that's where today's ubiquitous 4-4 openings will be covered (this Volume 1 covers only 3-4 point openings; Vol. 2 will also have 5-3, 5-4 and 3-3). 4-4 openings are, however, rather different from ordinary josekis. The star-point stone at once involves the centre more directly than other openings (which has strategic implications) and is much more prone to brief initial josekis with just two to six moves before play switches elsewhere. Subsequent moves are therefore more involved with the rest of the board. I think it makes sense, therefore, to start with more corner-oriented (and still very common) josekis as here. Given the current state of play internationally, I suspect such a volume as this might only appear in Japanese, where more heed is paid to traditional josekis, but that's something that should be welcomed, and of course a new text after nearly forty years is manna from heaven.

The book is not specially cheap (about US$55 or 40 euros, I think). That puts it in a higher bracket than the other major joseki book of recent times (Robert Jasiek's). The ideal would be to have both books (and a database) but I expect many people would, initially at least, only want one and want to know which want to get first. I would say that the costlier Takao's 21st Century wins hands down. It is rather bigger, it is more authoritative, it is much better to read (native speaker level, of course) but there is another factor alluded to above. The Takao book is even more firmly than Ishida within the tradition of talking about go that has evolved recently in the west. If you read Takao, you are going to be part of the mainstream that reads Go World, Slate & Shell books, Sensei's Library, national go journals, and of course L19. In short you will be sharing a common language.

That is not to denigrate Jasiek's book, but there you will be faced with terms like n-territory and mobility that hardly anyone else uses. Since the Takao book relates to "basic" joseki, belonging to the mainstream seems a sensible way to start. Nevertheless, you will see in Takao bland statements such as "Black can be satisfied" without telling you why. Jasiek's approach does offer a way of understanding why, and I would recommend it still as a back-up purchase.

One final point: many people urge avoiding learning josekis. Such warnings against rote-learning, memorisation and lack of spontaneity do apply, but you still need to see the basic patterns, and in Takao (or Ishida) you will see more than anywhere else. Also, the Takao book in particular avoids very long lines (remember the "basic" in the title), and so the temptation to memorise them barely exists. This, too, is part of the reason I like its structure. Also, the excellent English prose makes relating the diagrams to the lucid text such a smooth, enjoyable process that you will hardly notice the moves burrowing into your brain circuits.

In short: very highly recommended.


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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #2 Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:58 pm 
Tengen

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Layout, paper and printing are more pleasing than in the German edition. Both editions have relatively small diagrams though; less text for bigger sized diagrams would have done the book good. Of course, it is hard to do it right when the task is translation from Japanese with its more space efficient "character" system.

I have not bought the book because it offers too little new diagram contents compared to my knowledge by heart. If you have not aquired a solid variations knowledge yet, then some dictionary is needed (together with other books about fundamentals and strategy) and this book - when the volumes will be completed - might as well replace the function of the Ishida. Neither (nor any other joseki dictionary so far) offers a particularly helpful structure though; just the ordinary sorting by coordinates, which is good for quick reference of randomly seen variations but hard for learning.

John, when you call Takao's book more authoritative, there is little to compare: It is a variations dictionary while my vol. 2 is a strategy guide. Mine misses most of the variations while his misses most of the strategic advice. So either book is of course more authoritative in its field.

You consider using the mainstream terminology an advantage while I consider it an obstacle to faster understanding. E.g., mainstream misses terms like "accepting a sacrifice", "board division line", "direct connection", "important group" [used as a term with a clear, specific meaning], "count" [as a positional value] etc. Mainstream should welcome such progress instead of carving limits of insufficient vocabulary in stone.

In particular, it is a great mistake not to use "mobility" - a simple concept with powerful application.

Mentioning my "n-territory" as a bit obscure is so easy, isn't it? Actually it is regularly used in endgame calculations but a term was missing and people (incl. Saijo 9p) were having a very hard time describing how to estimate territory at all. Actually in practice 0-territory and 1-territory suffice and other words for them might be "100% territory" and "50% territory". What is new is that I show how to apply it to moyos in the middle game.

There is "atari", "pre-atari" and "atari after two approach plays" (yes, there are problems where that move type is the solution for the first move). In general, that is - how I call it - n-atari (i.e. atari after n approach moves). We also have n-move approach kos (my abbreviation: n-ko). And we have capturing races with n shared liberties.

So there is much reason to abandon fear about a simple parameter n when the same player is assumed to make that many successive local plays. Mainstream terminology still cultivates that fear instead of overcoming it. Joseki dictionaries thus still fail to distinguish 0-connected from 1-connected (e.g., thickness walls). It can answer though why worse shape groups still occur in some josekis: when, as a compensation, their connection is better (the opponent needs 1 attacking play more to endanger the connection).


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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #3 Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 9:05 pm 
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I'll have to wait a few more months to save enough to shell out $55 dollars for this. Otherwise it looks so damn attractive from everything I've seen so far. Thanks for the review, John.

Also, this is off-topic, but it's been bugging me. It's a real shame that John (Power) doesn't do those reports on the English Nihon Ki-in website anymore. Has he been doing anything in that field lately? I really loved his writing and would read more of it. Does he have a blog?

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #4 Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 2:15 am 
Oza

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Quote:
Also, this is off-topic, but it's been bugging me. It's a real shame that John (Power) doesn't do those reports on the English Nihon Ki-in website anymore. Has he been doing anything in that field lately? I really loved his writing and would read more of it. Does he have a blog?


That was a Nihon Ki-in decision. Their publications/media section has been hit by the downturn just as much as the English book market so they felt they needed to re-adjust.

John is busy as he is still in full-time employment. Though he has future go projects in mind, I haven't heard him mention a blog.

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Post #5 Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 2:59 am 
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John Fairbairn wrote:
John is busy as he is still in full-time employment.
John, do you know if his full-time job is related to Go (e.g. translation of Takao's Vol. 2) or independent of Go? Thanks.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #6 Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 4:09 am 
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John, do you know if his full-time job is related to Go (e.g. translation of Takao's Vol. 2) or independent of Go? Thanks.


He's an academic, entirely separate from go.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #7 Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 4:45 am 
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John, when you call Takao's book more authoritative, there is little to compare: It is a variations dictionary while my vol. 2 is a strategy guide. Mine misses most of the variations while his misses most of the strategic advice. So either book is of course more authoritative in its field.


Takao is a 9-dan, a Meijin and a Honinbo. While there are some idiots on this forum who believe that is inferior to a Korean ex-insei, I'd say it is still a teensy weensy bit stronger than a European 5-dan.

The result is that if Takao says "Black 1 is good" and doesn't explain why, but you say "Black 1 is bad" and do explain why, my first inclination is not to believe you but to assume there is some flaw in your reasoning or method. However dedicated to lists you may be, you can't include every factor and at some point judgement comes into weighing one factor against another. Ultimately you are only authoritative about your own book or method. Takao (for me) is far more authoritative about go and strategy. That seems worth saying not to snipe at you but because, and also to correct your biased statement, Takao's book is more than a variations dictionary. It is also, and reads like, a good general study book (though, yet again, it can indeed be enhanced with some admixture of your ideas in some areas).


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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #8 Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 5:55 am 
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Of course, 9p is a stronger player than 5d:) This does not imply stronger teaching though. Strong teaching provides explanations and reasons. Playing strength is not acquired by belief (in the 9p's strength) but by understanding.

Are there examples where Takao approves a move that I criticise? As a teacher, I teach of which I am sure and do not teach of which I am unsure. I expect every reasonable book writer to follow the same approach. Therefore finding agreement in different books should be the standard case.

Rather there are differences in nuances like "This variation is joseki." versus "This is not joseki but a variation equivalent to joseki." Given that popularity of josekis follows fashion, such is to be expected.

A case of professionals really having an advantage is new joseki variations discovered by professionals because they have faster access to that.

First of all, variations should be evaluated with a very broad and open mind because their evaluation depends very strongly on positional context. Many suboptimal variations on the almost empty board become suitable in a fitting context.

If Takao were more authoritative about teaching strategy, then he ought to have shown that in his book. He has not.

Every book can be abused as a general study book. It is how I read 38 Basic Joseki and the Ishida. Takao's can be abused likewise. I say abused because it requires very much extra time and effort by the reader to extract general information from moves in diagrams or the comments. From what I recall from looking maybe 20 minutes into the book, Takao's comments are as dry and unsorted with respect to general go theory information as Ishida's. My experience with the Ishida was: read it thrice and you get about one third of the general study in my books 1 + 2 plus recall many of the not too difficult variations. This does not make any of those traditional dictionaries "good general study books" but mainly lets them be sources for finding and learning variations "by heart".

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #9 Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 6:25 am 
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Robert, I sense there are two strands running: Jasiek the book and Jasiek the ego. However much we all enjoy your attempts to prove you are the world's greatest teacher, I think you'd find it more valuable to let the book do the talking. Points you repeatedly overlook are that your own way of study or looking at other people's materials is apparently not shared by many other people, that what you describe as understanding is usually just a detailed description (something very different) and not everything is reducible to a list. Trying therefore to hype your book through your own prism instead of letting people discover it on their own terms seems likely to be counterproductive. I read your book on my own terms and, as I've said, there were things that I either enjoyed or was impressed with. It had no effect on my view of you as a person or a teacher, and I think that's the way it should be.

If this perchance is really about your frustration at slow sales or lack of recognition, you wouldn't be the first to have vastly overestimated the size of the western go market or its interest in what people write. Best just to accept it and take the long view.

A gentle reminder: this is a thread about Takao's book. I gave your book its own thread.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #10 Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 6:41 am 
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There is not a single "the greatest teacher" but different teachers are the greatest in different aspects of teaching. Being the greatest in playing strength or the greatest in generalised concepts are two such different aspects.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #11 Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 1:10 am 
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I bought the book as it came out and can recommend it very much. I can only underline what has already been beautifully layed out by John F.

@Robert: Good job at derailing the thread.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #12 Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 2:04 am 
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p2501 wrote:
Good job at derailing the thread.


The alternatives are: A thread initiator does not add anything with off-topic potential. Any follower immediately starts a new thread whenever something has off-topic potential. Forum discussion experience shows that discussion does not work like that: If threads are split heavily, then discussion dies too easily because new thread replies are often ignored. If they were not ignored that often, then I would not mind to start new threads.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #13 Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 2:26 am 
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What a poor excuse to hide your obviously intentionally placed discussion about your book.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #14 Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 2:50 am 
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p2501 wrote:
What a poor excuse to hide your obviously intentionally placed discussion about your book.


Consider who derails the thread more: I with replies to John's initial comparison of Takao's and my books or you and John ("A gentle reminder") with meta-discussion about who might derail the thread. If you do not like topic changes, then do not meta-discuss by trying to restrict speech of those that discuss and do not invent an emotional side track ("poor excuse")! Can we end meta-discussion now and should I not better ignore your attempt to provoke more with "your obviously intentionally placed discussion about your book", like I already ignored quite some of John's remarks with too clear off-topic potential?

Forum discussion does not work like A says something about B, then B is painted as off-topic so that B may say less than A. Forum discussion works the best when both A and B express their opinion freely and neither is blamed for doing so.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #15 Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:29 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #16 Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 2:42 pm 
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Maybe we should move this discussion about Takao's book over to the thread about Robert's book. :twisted:

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #17 Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:11 am 
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I don't think it's off-topic for Robert to defend his book in a thread explicitly comparing his book to another. The posts do sound a bit defensive, but I suppose it's hard not to feel that way about one's own work. I will say that I don't think John's initial comparison was particularly negative towards it, essentially saying "both books are good but I think Takao's is better."

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Post #18 Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:01 am 
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emeraldemon wrote:
I don't think it's off-topic for Robert to defend his book in a thread explicitly comparing his book to another. The posts do sound a bit defensive, but I suppose it's hard not to feel that way about one's own work. I will say that I don't think John's initial comparison was particularly negative towards it, essentially saying "both books are good but I think Takao's is better."

Given the difference in the scope of the two books, the credentials of the authors, and the publishing apparatus behind them, I took JF to be praising with faint damnation.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #19 Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:45 am 
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jts wrote:
Given the difference in the scope of the two books,


That would be hard to measure, but maybe you mean the difference in contents topics?

Quote:
the credentials of the authors,


Top performer when applying classical go theory versus top performer in researching formalized go theory.

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 Post subject: Re: Review of "The 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki,
Post #20 Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:52 am 
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RobertJasiek wrote:

Top performer when applying classical go theory versus top performer in researching formalized go theory.

We know that someone is "Top performer when applying classical go theory" because of his/her success in playing go. How do we know that someone is "top performer in researching formalized go theory"?

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