Never heard of Go? I’m not that surprised. The game has definitely gained in popularity over the years, but it still doesn’t garner the attention in the West that it really deserves. Go is a game which originated in China, and is immensely popular in the far east (particularly Japan, China, and Korea). Like Chess, it’s a game of strategy between two players, but the similarity really ends there.

The Basics

The game itself is played on what is typically a wooden board with a 19x19 grid imprinted on it (though games can be played on other sized boards, such as 9x9 or 13x13), and a set of stones, one set of black and another of white. Here’s a shot of my own go set with a pro game partially played out on it:


Doesn’t look like much, eh? Well, the basic rules of Go are as follows:


The empty spaces around a stone or connected group of stones (ie, stones of the same colour that are directly adjacent to one another) are called liberties. For example, the following stone has four liberties:

and in the next board, we see a group of two blacks stones which have a total of six liberties:

When the liberties of a stone or group of stones is filled, that group is captured, and the stones are removed from the board. For example, the following stone has one liberty left. When this occurs, the group is said to be in Atari:

When white fills the final liberty of the group, the black stones are removed:

At this point, white has captured a single black stone. Now, normally, black is not allowed to play in the point inside the white group, as that stone would immediately be dead (put another way, suicide moves are disallowed). However, consider the following:

Now, in thise case, the black stones are in atari, and white is allowed to play inside the group, as this move kills the stones:

Put another way, captured stones are removed from the board before the suicide rule is considered.

Life and Death

The rules about capturing lead to an interesting result. Consider the following group:

Notice something? The group of black stones is impossible to kill! Why? Because white would need to place two stones, one in each empty space, in order to capture the stones. Thus, this group is considered alive. The two empty spaces are called eyes, hence two eyes makes life. Neat, eh?

One of the main ways to study go is to study life and death problems. For example, the following situation occured in a game I played the other night:

Black to play and live.

The question one then asks is, what move must black play in order for the group to guarantee itself two eyes. See the Problem Solution to find out.

The Ko Rule

There’s one last rule I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s the ko rule. Consider the following:

Now, the white stone in the center of this arrangement is in atari, and can be killed:

But look! This is the same shape, just reversed. In theory, white could simply play back into this space, and this could continue indefinitely. Hence, the rule of Ko (which means ‘infinity’ in Japanese).

The standard Ko rule states that no move may be made that causes a repeat of the previous board position. With this rule, white may not immediately play back and capture the black stone. However, if white chose to play elsewhere first, and black did not fill the space, white would then be allowed to play and re-capture the stone. But why would black not fill? Well, if white plays a move that black cannot ignore (ie, a large “threat”), then black will respond and white can re-take the ko. This move by white is called a ko threat. Of course, after, black may, himself, look for a ko threat, and so it would continue. Playing ko’s effectively is considered fairly high-level play, and is a key part of the game.

What Now?

Well, you now know all the rules of Go. Still doesn’t sound like much? Well, why not take a look at this Sample 7x7 Game. You could also check out some of the other resources I’ve linked to, below.


The items below are mirrored from the Namaru Go Club website.

And here is a set of problems, in Word 97 format, from the Korean Problem Academy:

Even better, with a bit of work between and friend and I, we converted the above problems into a single booklet, which is available below as a pdf:

Just print it off double sided, fold in half, and staple!