Learn Go The Easy Way: The 3 techniques of a Capture Go ninja

Isn’t it amazing how sometimes when you’re learning something new, a few good tips can suddenly make everything seem easy? Today you’re going to learn three capturing techniques that will turn you into a Capture Go ninja.

Introducing the Go ninjas

First, let me introduce our two little Go ninjas, Kuro and Shiro. They’ll be demonstrating their skills for you today. Umm – let’s get started before they trash the place…

introducing go ninjas picture

Go game ninjas: Kuro and Shiro.

Welcome to lesson three

This is lesson three of Learn Go The Easy Way. If it’s your first time here, I recommend you either read ‘What is Go‘, or start learning Go with lesson one. Here are the three techniques…

The three techniques of a Capture Go ninja are:

  1. The Double Atari – an unblockable attack
  2. The Net – an inescapable trap
  3. The Ladder – creating dead ends out of thin air.

So let’s get started…

The Double Atari – an unblockable attack

It often happens in Go that our partner plays too aggressively, and doesn’t repair their own weaknesses. Many times, that creates a position that looks something like this:

double atari 3 picture

An opportunity to play the double atari.

White has two stones next to each other that only have two liberties left. Black can atari either of these stones on the next move. Do you remember what atari means from lesson two?

It means a stone is about to be captured because it only has one liberty left. In this position though, black can atari two stones at the same time – that’s why it’s called a double atari.

double atari 1 picture

The double atari threatens to capture two stones at the same time.

In the example above, black plays 1 and threatens to capture two of white’s stones at the same time. White would like to save both of them, but white only has one move…

Take some time looking at this pattern, so that you can recognize it in your own games. Look at the way black 1 cuts white’s two stones in half and…

double atari ninja 300x225 picture

Kuro! What are you doing?!

I think they get the point.

naughty go ninja 221x300 picture

As I was saying – there’s no way for white to save both stones. If white saves one stone, black just captures the other one.

double atari 5 picture

In both cases, if white saves a stone with 2, black captures the other one with 3.

That’s what makes the double atari unblockable.

Your turn: practice the double atari

Here are some puzzles to help you practice what you’ve learned. In each one, please try to double atari white’s stones.

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Good work. Now let’s move on to the next skill.

The Net – an inescapable trap

Ninja technique number two – the net – can be used when playing atari just lets stones run away and escape. In this example, black would like to capture white’s single cutting stone in the center.

go game net 12 picture

Black wants to capture the single white stone in the center of the Go board.

If black tries to capture it directly, by playing an atari on either side, white can escape. For example:

go game net 14 picture

If black plays atari at 1, white just runs away at 2. Now black can’t capture these two stones.

Black needs to try something more subtle here. Using a net can stop white from running away.

net go ninja picture

But how do we apply this to Go? In the example below black throws a net with ‘A’ and traps one white stone.

go game net 11 picture

Making a net at ‘A’ traps one white stone.

Notice how white’s stone is now trapped in a tunnel. If white tries to escape…

go game net 13 picture

There’s no way for white to escape. If white tries, black just captures more stones.

…black just captures more stones. Many times, as in this game, throwing a net is the only way to capture some stones.

Your turn: Practice the net

In each of these puzzles there are some white stones that can be caught using a net. Practicing now will help you see opportunities to use the net in your own games.

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

How was that? Are you ready to learn the third technique?

The Ladder – creating a dead end out of thin air

In lesson two, you learned how to capture stones using the edge of the board. It’s easy to do that when your partner plays stones too close to the edge, isn’t it? But good Go players learn not to put their stones in danger like that.

So how do we capture their stones then? The ladder is a special technique that lets you chase stones to the edge of the board and catch them when they reach the dead end.

go ninja ladder picture

Chasing white up a ladder, and towards a dead end.

Chasing stones in a ladder is just like the ninjas are demonstrating. Once Shiro (white) reaches the end of the ladder, Kuro (black) will catch her.

However, just like the double atari and the net, you can only use this technique in certain positions. Here’s an example of when the ladder can be used:

go game ladder 18 picture

Black can capture one white stone in a ladder.

If black wants to capture white’s cutting stone in the center, there’s only one way to do it…

go game ladder 15 picture

Black starts the ladder with 1.

Black 1 starts the ladder. Even though it looks like white can escape with 2, white can’t. Let’s see why not…

go game ladder 13 picture

Black 3 continues the ladder pattern.

Black 3 gets in front of white’s running stones and continues the ladder pattern. Once again, white can escape, but black is going to capture all these stones eventually. Continuing…

go game ladder 16 picture

Continuing the ladder – right, left, right, left.

Did you notice how this pattern is just like climbing a ladder? Look at black’s moves in the example above. Right hand (1), then left hand (3), right hand (5), left hand etc (7). This is why it’s called a ladder.

The important thing about this pattern is that it never lets white get more than two liberties. That means black can always play atari again on the next move to continue the ladder.

When you’re climbing a ladder, you need to alternate between right and left hand like this, otherwise you lose balance…

go game ladder 08 picture

Black 5 doesn’t follow the ladder pattern and white escapes.

After black plays 5 (above) the spell is broken and black loses grip on the ladder. See how white has three liberties (triangles) after white plays 6? Now black has to watch out for a counter attack from white.

Ladders are dangerous, so remember to only climb one step at a time to keep balance.

ninja ladder fail picture

Kuro lost his grip on the ladder and Shiro escaped!

Let’s go back and see the result of playing the ladder correctly.

go game ladder 11 picture

After black plays the ladder correctly, white reaches a dead end in the corner and gets captured.

White’s stones (above) are trapped at the edge of the board. Black can capture them no matter what white does now.

Once again, you should take note of the climbing pattern black used in this example.

Your turn: Practice the ladder

Here are three more puzzles. In each puzzle, please capture a white stone using a ladder. Remember to climb the ladder one hand at a time and don’t rush!

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

When the ladder fails

Like many techniques in Go, the ladder must be used with caution. If it’s misused it can backfire and leave you in a difficult position.

In the following puzzle, white tries to capture black in a ladder that doesn’t work. Can you see why?

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

Remember this lesson.

Today you’ve learned

  1. Double atari
  2. Nets
  3. Ladders
  4. When not to play a ladder.

Next steps

If you’ve completed lessons 1-3, you must be getting pretty good by now. With these ninja capturing skills under your belt, you’re almost ready to graduate from Capture Go to normal Go. That’s what the next lesson will be about.

The next two lessons will be the most challenging and important ones. To prepare for them, I recommend you play more practice games and solve the puzzles I send you as part of Learn Go The Easy Way. Try to play on at least two different days this week.

Instead of playing first capture wins, try making it that the first player to two, three or four captures wins. This will make the game more difficult and help you and your partner to improve faster.

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.