Tactical Reading

Review by the Author

General Specification

Introduction

Strategy, tactics and judgement are the major aspects of Go skill. Tactics rely on reading and prior knowledge. Reading is the process of imagining tactical sequences of well chosen moves. Prior knowledge abbreviates current reading by relying on the results of earlier reading. Since unguided tactical reading can be arbitrarily complex, we need means of simplification: reading principles and methods, techniques and prior shape knowledge.

This book uses the holistic approach of providing a generally applicable explanation of reading: the emphasised reading principles and methods apply to all, or a great fraction of all, problems occurring in one's actual games. The book tells us in general how to read and how to solve problems correctly and efficiently. The answers to the problems provide a detailed explanation of the thinking when reading sequences and making decisions.

Besides an introductory overview on the theory, a short conclusion and an index of keywords and techniques, the book consists of two parts: theory (95 pages) and problems (153 pages).

Theory

The chapter of theory of tactical reading explains the basics, simplifications and two methods.

The basics include the following topics: aims, imagining sequences, choice, iteration, correct reading and essential status knowledge. Teaching relies on principles, general explanations and examples. Most of the principles are short, therefore easy to learn and remember, and always applicable (e. g., ignore obvious failures and obviously inferior moves). A few other principles are frequently worth considering (e.g., ordering moves by perceived likelihood of success) or applicable only under special circumstances (e.g., in the case of a symmetric shape). Every principle is accompanied by circa three, often simple, examples.

The topic 'aims' discusses the opponent's complementary aim, formulating good aims, secondary aims, verification of a one-sided status and intentional sacrifices. The subchapter of imagining sequences describes shortly how to imagine them and how to construct meaningful sequences. The theory of choice, correct reading and essential status knowledge is so basic and important that one wonders why almost all kyu players do not apply it; they get their ultimately clear reminder to adopt and always apply the related principles.

Due to the complexity of unguided reading, reading theory must provide such kinds of great simplifications that maintain the correctness of solutions. Besides what has been mentioned before, the book provides, in particular, the following additional kinds of such simplifications: successful choice of the next move, good purpose, interesting moves, sequences of obvious moves, reversion, prior knowledge and important moves. Every related principle is very powerful and efficiently discards many superfluous variations.

Besides the swift, but rarely applicable, method of 'test reading', the major method is called 'regular reading'. This fundamental method applies to every problem of tactical reading and is what every player is, or should be, using. Furthermore, the method incorporates the major principles of simplification. Despite the central importance of regular reading, its accurate description remained a mystery and the author needed to invest meticulous effort to write it down correctly. The reader gets several chances to understand regular reading well. Before the method itself is stated, the basic theory chapters introduce every single aspect, and iteration of sequences and follow-up variations is explained in theory and with detailed examples. Then the meaning of each of the method's aspects is discussed carefully, examples explain them and extraordinarily detailed examples demonstrate the application of regular reading and the thinking of related decision-making.

Problems

The book contains 100 problems, of which almost all are newly invented, on the topics of important moves (10 problems), connection and cut (27), block (10), capture and prevented capture (42), miscellaneous (11). These are the most basic, by far most frequent and therefore most important topics of tactical reading. The capture topic includes simple captures of cutting strings as well as life and death problems. The problem diagrams have a big size to ease the reading exercise. A chapter starts with its problem diagrams and concludes with the separate answers. In each chapter, the problems are sorted by increasing difficulty so that the reader learns his current limit and is trained for the more difficult problems.

61 problems have at most 5 (typically 3) answer diagrams and explanations on 29 pages while the 39 most difficult problems have at least 6 (and up to 64) answer diagrams on 104 pages. This balance gives the reader both enough reasonably easy problems to become familiar with reading and enough intermediate (and a few advanced) problems to learn well also more demanding reading.

Players from 13 kyu to 3 dan find suitable problems, which resemble problems occurring in real games. The problem tasks include next move problems, establishing connection, cut, life or death, and verifying the status of connection or life. Occasionally, playing elsewhere, sente or endgame play a role.

The problems show the variety of reading skill necessary in one's games: there can be one or several correct first moves - or none. Reading must verify the latter by refuting each interesting first move. This can be more difficult than finding some successful first move. Since the reader does not know in advance whether a successful move exists, his reading must be particularly careful.

The problems apply the theory of regular reading and its simplifications so that the reader perceives how well he has already learnt and understood the theory. The answers are as detailed as necessary; they include all relevant variations (whether successful or failing) and all the necessary decision-making for every branching position! The explanations distinguish the mandatory from the superfluous sequences. Most diagrams show non-branching sequences with a few moves. When a variation proceeds after a branching position, the move numbering is consistent by continuing with the next move number.

All these aspects ease following the diagram sequences, understanding where reading branches and subsequent variations begin and recognising the reader's related reading mistakes. He understands when further exploration of non-essential variations may be interrupted by proceeding with the essential sequences.

Every answer begins with a reference list of the used key methods, simplifications and techniques and, if the problem has not already specified it, the aim to be verified by reading. Every answer to a more complicated problem also has an initial overview, a conclusion and a summary of techniques and sometimes simplifications. The latter discusses the extent to which techniques have been relevant for solving the problem; more often than not techniques play an only marginal role while the major effort of solving the problem consists of regular reading and its inherent simplifications and decision-making. The answers to the few most difficult problems provide summarising, very condensed tables of move decisions as another aid, whose reading is optional but can help some readers.

Comparison to Other Books

Despite the central importance of tactics, generally applicable theory of reading and its means of simplification, there has been no English book (and the author has never seen any book) devoting itself entirely to the topic of tactical reading and teaching general theory of simplifying reading. Maybe this is so because writing a book on the theory of reading is a very demanding task. There have been only the too short introductory chapters in Tesuji (Davies) and First Fundamentals (Jasiek). In order to learn how to read and solve problems well and correctly, Tactical Reading has been overdue.

In comparison to this book, typical tsumego, or life and death, problem books have the following disadvantages:
Tactical Reading explains the general theory, emphasises the always applicable regular reading and general means of simplification more than the too specialised techniques and shapes, offers problems with or without successful solution, shows all relevant variations and explains all the necessary decision-making.

What the Book Is Not

Despite a good percentage of easy-to-understand contents, beginners weaker than 13 kyu can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of contents and frequency of intermediate level moves. Players stronger than 3 dan should know all the theory; nevertheless, they might profit from the book if they missed just one of the important means or principles of simplification.

The book describes tactical reading but forgoes dynamic reading with flexibly changing aims and strategic reading above the level of tactics. These can be topics for later books. Despite an explanation of the most important techniques in a short theory chapter and some 40 techniques (which occur in the answers to the problems) listed in the index, the book does not make any attempt of providing a comprehensive overview on the hundreds or possibly thousands of existing techniques.

In the conflict between maintained quality contents, minimised large white spaces, important contents on the same page and unimportant contents on the same page, the layout sacrifices the latter. This makes reading of the PDF edition slightly inconvenient. For perfect layout, the book would have to be split into two volumes, doubling the price.

Conclusion

Instead of many words, permit the author's simple personal statement: I would have loved a much earlier access to such a book teaching how to solve tactical problems efficiently!
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2016 Robert Jasiek