Jörg Zuther's Go Page

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What's Go?

Go is a 2-player game with full-information (i.e. there is no hidden information such as the hands of the players of most card games) and without random elements (such as dice, shuffling cards etc.). Chess belongs also to this game category. You play it on a 19x19-board, with 180 black and 180 white stones (though the stone fundus is virtually unlimited). All stones are the same. The goal is to claim areas on the board as big as possible by surrounding them with your stones such that your opponent can't snatch them away from you any more. Totally surrounded enemy stones become captured.

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I guess that Go is the game with the highest deepness/simplicity-of-rules ratio. For beginners, I recommend the following versions of rules:

Official rules that also match tournament play can be found on the site of the German Go Federation:

Here is my own attempt to explain the rules of Go as simple as possible (unfortunately without illustrations so far). The essence of the rules is contained in rules 1.-6. as well as 9. and 10. Rules 7. and 8. do explain some special cases. Beginners usually have problems to understand rule 9. If so, some games with an experienced player will help to illuminate the rule sufficiently.

  1. Setting: Go is played by two players on a 19x19-board of intersecting lines. This is the official tournament size of the board. It is possible to play go on smaller or larger boards. Apart from 19x19, common board sizes include 13x13 and 9x9. My recommendation for beginners is to play some initial games on a 9x9 board since matches take a much shorter time than on a 19x19 board without a negative impact on the learning of the game. On the contrary, it will facilitate learning.
    One of players gets 180 black stones, the other one 180 white stones. (Note that the number of stones is virtually unlimited. 180 stones are usually far enough.) The intersection points of the lines will simply be called points.
  2. Start: The player with the black stones begins.
  3. Turn: By turns, the players put one of their stones on a vacant point on the board.
  4. Pass: Players can pass over their turns.
  5. End: The game stops if both player pass over their turns consecutively. See rule 9. for more information.
  6. Capture: For the explanation of this rule two notions are needed.
    A group is a solidly connected bunch of stones of the same colour, i. e. you can reach every stone of the group by any other stone of the group by a sequence of jumps to successively vertically/horizontally (but not diagonally) adjacent stones.
    Each vacant point on the board that is horizontally or vertically (but not diagonally) adjacent to a stone of a group is called a liberty of the group.
    If a player puts a stone on the last liberty of one of his opponents groups, then she removes all stones of this group from the board. These stones are called prisoners. This whole process is called capturing a group.
  7. Suicide: A player is not allowed to put a stone on a point of the board such that one of his groups has no liberties left at the end of his turn. Note that you can occupy the last liberty of one of your groups if it was also the last liberty of one of your opponents groups since the removal of the stones of this group belongs to your turn, providing at least one free liberty for your own group.
  8. Ko: A position on the board where 4 stones of one color surround one vacant point on the board and 3 stones of the other color almost surround one of the 4 stones of the first color is called a Ko (an illustration can be found in the External Link IconWikipedia article Rules of Go). If the player of the second color (called player 2 here) kills the almost surrounded stone of his opponent (called player 1 here), then player 1 is not allowed to take his opponents stone back immediately. He has first to make a move elsewhere, leaving player 2 the decision to make the Ko solid or to react on the move of player 1. If player 1 gets the opportunity to take the Ko back, then player 2 has to make a move elsewhere etc. This rule prevents that the game becomes stuck if a Ko appears.
    Unfortunately, this rule isn't comlete since there can occur situations on a Go board where several Kos at the same time arise and rotative capturing of the Kos results in repeated identical positions on the board. This rule could simply be put as follows (so called Super Ko rule, which is not officially accepted): In a game of Go, a position on the board isn't allowed to occur twice. The case covered by my explanations is just the most frequent one.
  9. Counting: If the game stops (rule 5.), both players count the prisoners they caught and the vacant points in the areas on the board that are completely zoned by their own stones, respectively. (The border of of the board 'helps' both players in surrounding areas.) Every prisoner and every such vacant point is a winning point. If a player surrounded an area with his stones that contains still some of his opponents stones, and there is no way to prevent these stones from being captured, then this player takes these stones from the board without the necessity to occupy their remaining liberties. These stones also count as prisoners, and the points left vacant by them count also as winnig points.
    If it is not clear whether it is possible to capture such stones or not, both players have passed their turns too hastily and should resume to the game to see what will happen.The game ends when there is no dispute left between the players concerning the counting status of any vacant point and the captivity status of every stone on the board.
  10. Victory: The player with the higher number of winning points wins.
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Go in Berlin
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first published: 27.11.1997 Critics, comments, remarks, questions? Mail to © 1997 - 2006 Jörg Zuther
last modified: 10.09.2006