Learn Go The Easy Way: How you can start playing Go right now

So you want to learn to play Go?

go game example 298x300 picture

This is what a game of Go looks like during a game.

That’s great! I have to tell you that Go is a fascinating game and I’m excited that you’ll be learning with us. Welcome to Learn Go The Easy Way!

(If you’re not sure what Go is? Read ‘What is Go?‘, then come back here to get started.)

Why it’s easy to learn Go

Sometimes people say that Go is hard to learn or that only smart people can learn Go, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The game Go is easy to learn, because the rules are very simple. If Go is explained clearly, then anyone should be able to learn how to play Go.

Capture Go

That’s why we’ll start by teaching you a game called ‘Capture Go’. Capture Go is very similar to normal Go, and is designed to help you learn the fundamentals of playing Go quickly. This often helps people learn Go faster and better than traditional methods of teaching Go do.

I didn’t invent this way of teaching Go, it was introduced by a Japanese Go player called Yasuda Yasutoshi. However, I have taught Capture Go to hundreds of people, including school children as young as five.

If a five year old can learn to play Go, surely you can too, right?

That’s right! So let’s get started…

9 simple things you need to know to get started

If you’ve read ‘What is Go?‘, then you may already know that:

learn how to play go intersections 300x200 picture

Stones are played on the intersections of the lines.

  • Go is a two player board game.
  • To play Go, you need a Go board and some black and white pieces (the pieces are called stones)
  • One player uses the black stones and the other player uses the white stones.
  • At the start of the game, the board is empty. It fills up during the game.
  • You take turns with your partner to put your stones on the board, one stone per turn.
  • Once a stone is on the board, you’re not allowed to move it. Instead of moving your stones, you can add a new one each turn.
  • The player with the black stones moves first.
  • Stones are placed where the lines cross (not inside the squares) – look at the example picture. We will call these crosses intersections.
  • As long as you play on the intersections (crosses), you can put your stones almost anywhere you want to.

Try it yourself

Try it out now by clicking on the board below, play wherever you want to:

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

How was that? I hope you gave it a go.

Liberties in the game of Go

In the picture below, there is a single black stone on a board. There are four nearby intersections next to this stone. These points are called liberties, and are very important. The liberties have been marked in blue in the picture below.

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This stone has four liberties. The liberties have been marked with blue circles.

Diagonal points don’t count as liberties

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How to count 4 liberties.

In the picture above, you may have noticed that the nearby diagonal points are not counted as liberties. This is because they are not connected by a line. This is useful to remember when counting liberties.

Groups of stones share their liberties

If one or more stones of the same color are joined together, then they make a group. The picture below shows a group of two stones. How many liberties does this group have? (Hint: remember to only count the points connected by the lines)

go game liberties 4 picture

How many liberties does this group of 2 stones have?

 

Did you count 6 liberties? If you did, then you counted correctly! If not, don’t worry. Maybe you counted some of the diagonal points? Have a look at the picture below and count the liberties with me.

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This group of 2 stones has 6 liberties. Remember not to count the diagonal points, they have been crossed out to help you.

 

Can you see the 6 liberties now? That’s great! Let’s try counting liberties for some bigger groups now.

Counting the liberties of 3 stone groups

Another black stone has been added in the picture below. Please try to count the liberties for this group of stones.

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How many liberties does this group of 3 stones have?

 

Let’s see… I counted 8 liberties. How about you? Let’s count them together in the next picture.

go game liberties 1 picture

This group of 3 stones has 8 liberties.

 

Well done! Now you’re ready try a tricky one. See if you count count the liberties of the 3 stone group below. (Hints: be careful not to count any intersections twice and remember not to count the diagonal points too)

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How many liberties does this group have? Be careful, this one's tricky!

 

OK… how did you go? Let’s try counting together!

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This group of 3 stones has 7 liberties.

 

It seems like this group only has 7 liberties. If you counted 8, don’t worry. Lots of people make that mistake the first time and they still become good Go players.

Usually when people count 8, it’s because they counted the lines next to the stones instead of the intersections. When you do that, you might count the liberty at ’6′ twice, because there are two lines there, but only one intersection. And only one liberty.

Remember to always count the intersections connected by the lines (not the lines themselves).

Don’t take away my liberties!

Please forgive the joke. Go is just a fun board game, but all this talk of liberties makes it sound very serious, doesn’t it? It reminds me of Patrick Henry’s famous quote “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

If your partner plays a stone on one of your liberties, you don’t get to count that liberty as your own anymore. They have taken one liberty away from you! In the picture below, three white stones have been played on the black stone’s liberties. How many liberties does the black stone have left?

go game liberties 18 picture

How many liberties does this black stone have? White has taken away 3 liberties!

That black stone in the picture above only has one liberty left. It started off with four liberties, but white has already taken three of them away.

I bet you’re wondering what happens if white takes that last liberty away from black? Well, I suppose you’ve figured out that they don’t call it Capture Go for nothing icon smile picture .

Capturing stones

If the white stones take away black’s last liberty, the black stone will be surrounded. When stones are surrounded they get captured.

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The black stone has been surrounded. It doesn't have any liberties left.

And taken off the board…

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Black's stone has been captured and taken off the board.

Try capturing some stones yourself

You’ve had enough of counting liberties right? This is way more fun. Imagine you are playing with the white stones and try to capture the black stones in each puzzle below.

Start by capturing one stone:

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

OK, now capture two stones:

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Do you remember this shape? Capture black’s three stones.

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Last one. You’re well on your way to playing Go now.

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Rescuing stones

So capturing stones is fun, but imagine if you were playing black in those puzzles above. You wouldn’t have wanted your stones to be captured would you?

Usually black can save a group from being captured by adding another stone to it. This is because it gives the whole group more liberties.

go game liberties 16 picture

Black has saved one stone, by connecting another stone to it. Now black has 3 liberties instead of 1.

Try saving the black stones

Imagine you are playing as black now. Here are three puzzles. Please save all of black’s stones.

This one again… You know what to do, right?

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Black has two stones that are in danger.

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Can black’s three stone group be saved?

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Congratulations!

Well done, you now know how to play Capture Go. That wasn’t that hard was it?

There’s only one more thing you need to know.

Who wins?

In Capture Go, the first player to capture a stone wins. This is the best way to get started.

However, once you and your partner start getting good, you can change this so that the first person to capture two or three stones wins. Keep a separate pile of your captured stones so that you don’t lose count.

Here’s what you should do now.

Next steps

1. Subscribe to our free online Go course, Learn Go The Easy Way. You’ve just completed lesson one of this course. If you subscribe by email, you’ll also get:

  • The Instant Go Set, a free printable Go set (board and stones) which you can use to start playing Go right now
  • Free Go lessons, one delivered each week by email
  • Bonus lessons that extend on what’s already on our website
  • Additional resources for getting started
  • An experienced Go player to guide you and help you if you get stuck (just reply to any of my emails if you need help).

2. Print out your Instant Go Set and teach friends or family to play with you. This is the best way to learn and teaching other people will also help you to get better at Go.

Click here to get Learn Go The Easy Way now.

About David Ormerod

David likes teaching, learning, playing and writing about the game Go. He's taught hundreds of people to play Go, including many children at schools in Australia. In 2010 David was the Australian representative at the 31st World Amateur Go Championships. He's a 5 dan amateur Go player and is the editor of Go Game Guru. You can find David on Google+ and follow Go Game Guru on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.