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eople often ask questions when I am playing online that are just too hard to answer in a "chat" session. That is why I put together some thoughts for beginners, and people who have played a few games but who are getting frustrated. When I started these pages, Yahoo had a link to the rules, but those pages stressed capture so much that I felt something else was needed. Since then they changed their rules pages, and the latest version is much better, but by then it was too late... I had already begun.
Click here for the rules of the game in various languages.

Here then are some of the questions that I have encountered, and my attempts to find answers.

Most people start playing Go with the object of capturing the opponent's stones. They have learned that you can surround other stones and capture them, and that this gives you points. If they are playing other beginners, this strategy may be successful for a while, but they soon find that this does not work against more experienced players. Let's make this point in a big way:

The object of a Go game is NOT to surround and capture the opponent's stones.

What is the object of the game?

So what is it all about? The object is to surround empty territory on the board. You do this by building "walls" around empty intersections. If your territory includes some opposing stones, so much the better. But think about territory rather than capture.

Here is the position at the end of a short Go game played on a 9x9 board.

Diagram1

Let us assume there were no captures during the game. Black now has one territory with 14 empty points (intersections, or crosses) inside it. White has two territories: the one on the right has 6 empty points and the one on the left has 11 empty points. So the final score is Black:14, White:17. White wins the game by 3 points.

By the way, if you have never seen a game played, take a look at the sample 9x9 game . You can step through each move one at a time and see how this particular game developed.

Why are territory points better than capture points?

When you score, we know you get a point for every empty intersection within your walls, and you get a point for each stone you capture. So why is one kind of point better than another? Take a look at this diagram. White has just captured one stone at 'a'. It took four moves to do it. In the meantime, Black used her four moves to build a wall.

Diagram2a

This is a very artificial situation, but you may see that the area each side controls is something like the points marked with 'w' or 'b'. that gives Black 13 points, versus 4 points of territory and one capture - 5 points - for White. Black's plays were more efficient than White's because Black went after territory rather than capture.

Diagram2b

Why do I keep getting captured?

There is a very simple answer to this: because your stones run out of liberties. A liberty (sometimes called a "freedom") is an empty point next to your stone or stones, and diagonals do not count. One stone by itself has four liberties, unless it is on the side where it has only 3, or on the corner, where it has only two. In the following diagram the liberties are marked 'X'.

Diagram3

A fundamental rule of the game is that a stone, or group of stones, must have at least one liberty or it may be removed from the board. The important thing to keep in mind is that, if your stones are being attacked and you are running away, make sure you are doing so in a way that will eventually increase your liberties. Here is an obvious example. The black stone now has one liberty only. If it tries to run away by playing as in Diagram 4a, there will then be two stones, but still only one liberty and White can capture by removing the last liberty.

Diagram4

Diagram4a

Diagram4b

Diagram 5 is similar. Here if Black tries to run out as in 4a, he can get more liberties, but White can continue to reduce them until Black comes to the edge of the board, where he is captured.

Diagram5

Diagram5a

Diagram5b

After Black's move (Diagram 5a) the two black stones have 2 liberties, but when White plays as in Diagram 5b, there is only one again. And White will continue to play on top of the black stones if black tries to run out again. Eventually, when Black comes to the edge of the board, there are no more liberties and the Black stones die.

Of course the situation is different if there are friendly stones in the area. Look at Diagram 6.

Diagram6

Diagram6a

Diagram6b

Diagram6c

Now in the end, the black stones run towards another black group that has plenty of liberties (8). White's attack leads to Black connecting up with a "safe" group of stones.

What is a ladder?

A ladder (also called shi-cho) is a situation very much like the last in which one player can attack a group by repeatedly reducing the liberties to one with attacks from different sides. Nothing explains it as well as a series of diagrams.

Diagram7

Diagram7a

Diagram7b

Diagram7c

Diagram7d

And so on, until we reach the edge of the board and White runs out of liberties and is captured. The interesting thing is that the black stones have a lot of diagonal weaknesses, and if the white stones could get away - perhaps by connecting with a friendly stone in the ladder's path - Black would have a lot of cutting points to worry about. What is most important about a ladder is recognizing that one can develop; i.e. you can see from the first Diagram 7, that a ladder can develop and the white stone is lost. Once you start a losing ladder fight, you might as well resign because it will be too hard to regain the eventual loss.

What is important about "2 eyes?"

One of the rules of Go says that you can only play on a point if it is empty, and if after the end of that move the stone placed has at least one liberty. Look at Diagram 8.

Diagram8

White may not play in the middle of the black group, because, when the move is over the white stone at that position would have no liberties. Suicide is not allowed. But when the black group has fewer liberties...

Diagram8a

White can now play in there, because the move captures 8 black stones, and the last white stone played now has four liberties.

Diagram8b

So how can a group become unconditionally safe? If it has two separate interior areas (called "eyes") it can never be captured. Diagram 8c shows a very small safe black territory. White cannot play into either eye, because doing so would leave the played stone without liberties - an illegal move.

Diagram8c

By the way, don't think that an eye is the same as one empty point That is just the smallest possible eye, and you will commonly see eyes of two or more adjacent intersections. Remember that an eye is an independent interior area of a group.

Why does play start near the corners?

This question has a very simple answer: it takes fewer stones to enclose territory because the edges of the board count as part of your "wall." Suppose we want to enclose 9 points of territory:

Diagram9

Diagram9a

Diagram9b

You can see that it took 16 stones to surround 9 points in the middle of the board. Diagram 9a shows only 11 are required at the edge of the board, and Diagram 9b shows 7 stones enclosing the same number of points. So it is a matter of efficiency: territory just requires a smaller investment of stones near the corners.

Where do I go from here?

First of all, you should play as much as you can, and watch other people play. Good players will not mind explaining things to you, unless they are really concentrating. There is an old Go Proverb that I was taught and I often repeat it: "Lose your first 50 games as quickly as you can." It sounds silly, but it says two things: first, don't expect to win for a while; and play as many games as you can. Stick to a 9x9 board, and play black. If you think you are not getting anywhere, don't be shy about asking for a couple of stones handicap. Another important tip - if you think you are losing, resign and start a new game. Don't get depressed about a losing game, get excited about the next one. You will soon start improving.

You can practice on your own by downloading igowin , a free Go playing program (PC only, I am afraid) from here. This is a really nice program and will help you estimate your rating ( at least up to 7-kyu). It is a great place to try out some of your ideas, and your opponent will never cuss at you or run away.

There are many excellent books written in English and some in French and German too. The best place online for Go equipment and books is the Yutopian eStore .

An excellent site for beginning players is Hiroki Mori's Play Go site.

I am also starting some more web pages, hoping to address questions that new players often encounter. Here are the first ones: