A new dimension in tsumego

We'd heard good things about a new book from Cho U on tsumego. He was supposed to be a wizard at producing hard problems with few stones. We made a beeline for the book and, now that we've seen it. we'd like to say even better things about it. It is like no other tsumego book we have ever seen.

It is called Cho U no Tsumego (Cho U's tsumego), but is subtitled "Making hard problems easier". It has five chapters spread over nearly 300 pages, but interposed are some fascinating featurettes. The book begins with one by his wife, Kobayashi Izumi, called "Tsumego and Cho U and I" which ends with a wedding photo. We'll leave you to work out what the content might be, but we have heard from a family friend that Izumi has effectively sacrificed her own promising career to be nurture her husband's. She is in fact listed as a collaborator on the book cover.

Another facinating vignette is by Cho himself, left. describing a week's stay in Beijing when he was there for the Chunlan Cup. On non-playing days he went to the Zhongguo Qiyuan. Since single pros live in a dormitory there, and he speaks Chinese of course, he was able to meet other pros easily. One productive meeting was with Kong Jie, who appears to be the whizz at tsumego in China.

This is garnish, however. The first main course is a chapter on tsumego in actual games. This is a quite superb chapter as it does not just give the problems but presents them in the context of commented complete games. There are three games, all by Cho U - one is against Kong Jie.

The next chapter, Fans and Tsumego, explains why he is so adept at problems with few stones. Like all pros he has to sign folding fans and other memorabilia. He does not fancy himself as a calligrapher, so when he started winning major titles and had to start signing big time, he decided to draw problems on the fan instead of a motto. That imposed a requirement for problems that were easy and quick to draw.

All the problems are graded with 1 to 5 stars, though half stars are used as well. 5 stars means pro level, 4 stars is amateur 6-dan upwards, 3 stars is high-dan amateur, 2 stars is low-dan amateur and 1 star is kyu level. There aren't many one-star problems and in general you may need to study this book with a couple of aspirins handy. However, Cho U is of the school that says it's OK to look at the answer if you can't find the solution in a reasonably short time.

The third chapter is "Special Tsuemgo". Special means specially catering for amateurs, up to about 4 or 5-dan. Presumably the themes are those that give amateurs particular headaches, though he does add comments such as, of a 2½ star example, "this is a problem that even pros can get wrong."

The fourth chapter is called "Hard Tsumego". And he means hard. These are problems that ordinary amateurs won't solve and that would tax even pros. Having said that, there are often clues in the text. Also, an interesting and novel technique is that he often (in Chapter 3, too) recasts a problem by showing one or more of the answers that don't work (and these "sub-problems" of course have an easier grading). So, for example, you not only need to be a pro to work out the whole problem, but you need to be, say 4-dan amateur, just to reject one line. This is real go!

You are not meant to be crushed by this. Thanks to the extra dimension just mentioned, this chapter is mainly designed to lead you to appreciation of what the best tsumego is all about.

The final chapter is devoted to problems where the original positions or solutions create letters or patterns such as a heart. For example, three problems show the three letters in NEC, which will have done Cho no harm with the sponsors of the NEC Cup! These problems are all pretty hard too.

The postscript is again by Kobayashi Izumi and introduces baby Kosumi. Choosing a name for an Oriental child is often as hard as a tsumego problem, and that is what this is about.

Easily the best go book of 2006 in our opinion. ISBN 4-8399-2124-5, and only ¥1800. Published by Mycom, which is another way of saying Mainichi Communications.

Here's a sample problem from the shape chapter. It shows, with the white stones, the Japanese character for "heart" and we choose it because of the family connections that run through the book. It is rated 4 stars (amateur 6-dan upwards), Black to play and kill. The introduction says it is a pretty difficult problem because it covers a wide area. But the trick is to discover the first move. White then has many possible answers and the difficult part is to read out all these variations fully. Three moves, A, B and C, are suggested for initial consideration, though other first moves are looked at in the solution.

Base problem

We are not going to give the solution (though we will tell you it takes 18 diagrams), but instead will show you Cho U's technique for breaking down the problem into smaller ones. In the two lines below, you have to show, for a particular first move by Black, how Black rebuffs White 1. The first problem is rated 2½ stars (say 3-dan) and the second 2 stars (say 2-dan).

Problem 1

Problem 2

The solutions to Problems 1 and 2 are on the next page.

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