by Fritz Balwit
The arrival of the English version of Lee Sedol’s Commented Games Volume I in 2011 fulfilled a dream of our go study group: a high-quality, detailed view into the highest levels of the art of go as practiced by the Korean super-talents. We had worked our way through stacks of old Go Worlds, graduated Slate and Shell’s magnificent Fairbairn volumes on Go Seigen’s famous Jubangos. But here was something new and different: Lee Sedol, the world’s number one player famed for games of staggering complexity, uncompromising fighting spirit, quadruple ko and half-point wins. I was immediately struck by the superb quality of the books. Everything from the paper to the layout and its large diagrams made for a most enjoyable reading experience. There are just three games in each volume, but the depth of the commentary more than compensates.
Lee actually wrote three books during a six-month hiatus in his tournament schedule while he worked out some kinks in his relationship with the Korea Baduk Association. Volume Two, now available from GoGameGuru, begins with Lee’s fantastic triumph in Game 3 of the LG Cup against Lee Changho 9P. Lee devotes 100 pages to this game alone. Large diagrams head the chapters and typically include a general point of strategic advice or an insight into the psychology of the game. Indeed, the book abounds in the latter sorts of reflections, both in Lee’s own words and those of the writer, his sister, Lee Sena, who glowingly covers aspects of Sedol’s personal development and the ups and downs of his career. Game Two, against Chang Hao 9P, similarly runs to more than 100 pages and includes commentary and annotated variations at a depth I have never seen before. However, the last game is the best of all. Again, the opponent is the Lee Changho 9P. This time, the occasion is the World Oza 2006. Whereas the first two games will surely repay careful study and help players of all levels to improve their understanding of whole-board vision, deep reading, modern joseki and the like, the last game is best approached as a lesson in humility. I suggest you play through this game with a 6-dan, as we did at our club. He was utterly flummoxed by it and unable to predict the moves or discern the flow of the game. Lee’s avowed dislike of being “coerced” by his opponent manifests itself in a taut duel of nerves in which each player defiantly shifts the location of the battle in what appears, even to strong amateurs, to be chaotic mayhem. The strangeness of this game has its own beauty and excitement, but don’t expect to pick up any tips.
Baduktopia deserves high praise for putting out these splendid books on one of the most exciting players of our generation. (Click here for a review of Volume 1.) The editorial decision to include few but thoroughly commented games with a limited number of moves per diagram results in a book that you can read anywhere, even without a board. The biographical materials add a nice dimension to our appreciation of the life of a professional Go player. All in all, I recommend Lee Sedol’s Commented Games: Volumes I and II without reservation. We await with eagerness the arrival of the promised third volume.
— Balwit (in cap at right in photo above) was The American Go Foundation’s 2011 teacher of the Year