Friday, August 26, 2011

For Beginners

For those of you who are not familiar with the game, here is a quick introduction!

Go is a war game.  It is an epic battle to see who can surround more territory.  Gameplay is simple.  One person is black, one person is white, and you take turns putting a stone on the board in any spot so long as it follows three rules.
These are my go bowls of awesomeness.

What makes the game interesting, but oftentimes challenging, is that you have few rules to restrict where you play, everything else is fair game.  As you can see from the picture, a Go board is a big grid.  We play stones on the intersections, and not on the squares like chess or checkers.  When you put a stone down on an intersection it has liberties:

As you can see, this stone has 4 liberties when no enemy stones occupy the horizontal or vertical spaces surrounding it.  We don't care about diagonals.  The stone on the left has 4 liberties and is in no danger, whereas his friend on the right is almost full encircled and only has 1 liberty.  By the way, the Chinese name of the game is Weiqi which means encircling game.  
When a stone has no more liberties it is captured by your opponent, taken off the board, and is worth 1 point.  One rule of Go is "You can't play a stone where it will automatically run out of liberties and die."  Yeah, I know, painfully obvious but someone has to do it.  The other rule is just a tad more complicated but keeps the game from freezing.

On the left, Black has 1 liberty left which I've marked for you, so White can capture the A stone and then our board will look like the middle picture.  The thing is, now White B has only one liberty.  If Black captures, then his stone will have one liberty, and both people will be locked in an eternal struggle for dominance.  This is why we have the "Ko rule".  The character for ko means eternity, and to keep the game going, once White takes, Black has to play elsewhere before he can take the move back.  So if we look on the right, White takes the circle marked Black stone, and Black must play elsewhere.  If White also plays elsewhere, then Black can take White 1.  

You can play Go now.  Yes I'm serious if you have a board and stones, and you can make that out of cardboard and buttons, you can grab a buddy and play.  You can try out your first game for free on the Kiseido Go Server at  You can make an account and play as many games as you want at no charge, so Go is both fun AND frugal!