In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to play the game of Go.

Go is a strategy board game based on logic and creativity. It was created in China more than 3000 years ago.

The main purpose of Go is to surround more territory than the opponent. You’ll learn what territory means later in this guide.

Equipment to play Go

In order to play the game of go, you need 3 things:

  • Go board
  • Go stones
  • 2 humans

Also, it is recommended to find a calm place to 100% enjoy playing this beautiful and interesting game.

Go board

Go is played on a board called Goban. The regular board size is 19×19, but the game can be played on other sizes as well (9×9, 13×13).

The size is determined by counting horizontal and vertical lines of the board.

19x19 board
19×19

Go stones

Go Stones

Before starting the game, each player has a bunch of round objects called stones in the bowl that look like this.

The number of stones in the bowl for the 19×19 board is 181 for black and 180 for white.

Rules of Go

Rules of the game of Go are one of the easiest among all board games. But that simplicity makes the game the hardest board game.

There are very few people who master the game and even fewer who become professionals.

Stone placement

How to place a stone

The game starts on the empty board and player who has black stones places his stone on any intersection of the lines. After that, the opponent places his white stone on any intersection and the game continues alternately

When a player places a stone, it can’t be moved to another place of the board. Though stone can be captured and removed from the board; I’ll teach you how to kill a stone in a moment.

Liberties

Every stone you place has it’s own living spaces, also called liberties. The stone stays on the board while it has at least one liberty

In the picture on the left, you can see that the black stone has 4 liberties (marked as circles). Note that ones marked as X are NOT considered as liberties, because they are not directly connected to the black stone.

If the stone is placed on the side or edge of the board, it may have 2 or 3 liberties

Group

If a player places a stone next to his stone, those are considered as a group and the liberties are joint together.

Starting from 2, groups can contain any amount of stones that can be fit on the board. Groups can have various different shapes.

The bigger group you have, the harder for your opponent to capture it.

Capturing

how to kill a stone

In order to capture opponents stone(s), you have to fully surround it. In other words, you have to take all of its liberties.

When a stone has only one liberty, it is called as being in Atari.

Here, you can see that white has only one liberty (it’s in Atari). When black places the stone there, the white stone becomes captured

After capturing a stone, you remove it from the board and keep it separate until the game ends.

how to kill multiple stones

Capturing a group works the same: You surround all of its liberties and remove the stones.

In this case, if it’s whites move, it can place a stone on its liberty and run away, but if it’s blacks turn, then the white group will be captured

A player can even capture a group of 100 stones with one move if that group has only one liberty left.

Eyes

how to kill a group of stones with 1 eye

A single empty space inside a group of stones is called an eye.

As I have mentioned before, in order to capture a group, you have to take all of its liberties. But if a stone has an eye, you have to fill that space as well.

There’s an important rule you have to keep in mind:

fill all liberties

You can only place a stone inside other group’s eye if the only remaining liberty of that group is an eye itself; otherwise, it would be considered as suicide.

Here white can’t play in X unless the circle is filled.

Suicide rule

Suicide is when you place a stone in a place where it has 0 liberties.

suicide rule fo Go
Here, black can’t fill a stone inside

If a group has 1 eye (i.e. 1 liberty inside) and is surrounded by the opponent stones, a player can NOT place a stone inside its group because it reduces the number of liberties to 0. That is considered as a SUICIDE, which is not allowed.

Additionally, if white hadn’t filled all outside liberties and tried to place the stone inside black eye, that would also be considered as suicide, because with that move white is not killing black.

If you’re still confused about this rule, watch this video:

Alive group

There are frequent occasions when the group can not be captured. That group is called alive.

In order to be alive, the group has to have at least 2 eyes. Here’s the basic example of a living group.

2 eyes

Here white can not place a stone on any of the X-s because that would be suicide.

Also, here black shouldn’t place a stone to cover his eye because it would be down to 1 eye and white can capture in 1 move.

There are other group shapes that can’t be killed:

Seki

Seki is when 2 groups are placed so that neither wants to play a move inside because it decreases its own liberty

Seki

In this case, players shouldn’t place a stone in circles and leave as it is.

If any player fills any circle intending to kill the opponent’s group, it would make it self-Atari, so the opponent will be able to kill it instead in 1 move

Ko

Ko rule fo Go

Easiest meaning of ko is- “exact repetition of position is prohibited”

This is a classic example of ko. In this position after black takes the white stone white can not retake immediately, because that would be the exact repetition of the position that could continue forever.

Instead, white has to play elsewhere and if black also plays elsewhere, then white is able to retake. This way the position hasn’t been exactly replayed because some stones were added to the board

Finished Ko

After black takes the stone and white plays elsewhere, black can fill the empty space in the middle instead of playing elsewhere as well. In this case, ko is ended

If you didn’t get the meaning of ko, don’t worry, neither did I; But after getting some practice you’ll discover that ko is a very important part of the game.

Ending the game

The game ends when both players agree that there’s no winning move for each player. That agreement is called passing.

After the game ends players count their territory and compare the numbers.

Territory is the number of one’s stones plus the squares they’ve surrounded

Go game end

In this example, Black has 18 stones + 26 empty territory points that are equal to 44 points. White has 15 stones + 22 points that are equal to 37 points.

It might seem that black has won the game, but not so fast… On every game, white gets an additional 7.5 points for the compensation of black starting advantage. That compensation is called Komi.

So, in this case, white’s points are 37+7.5=44.5 compared to black’s 44 points, so white wins the game.

An example game

Here’s an example match between Lee Sedol (White) – one of the best go players of all time VS Alphago (Black) – AI created by Google.

The game ended with the victory of Lee Sedol by the resignation of Alphago.


All right, I hope the tutorial was clear and helped you learn how to play the game of Go. If so, please share it with your friend and leave a comment if you have any questions regarding this topic.

About the author

Irakli Khizanishvili

Hi, I'm Irakli from Georgia.
I've been playing the game of Go for a few years now. During that period I've read lots of books about all aspects of this interesting and beautiful game.
In this website, I'm glad to share my game knowledge and experience with you.
I hope I'll be able to help improve your skills and proficiency in the magnificent game of Go!
Remember, it's never too late to learn new things!
If you want to support the website, please follow the link: https://patreon.com/SenteGo

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