How to play Chinese Go

How to play Chinese Go

Origins and history

The game of eastern origin, known as Weiqi in China, Igo in Japan, and Baduk in Korea, probably originated in China some 4,000 years ago; it later spread to Korea and Japan. In the West, where it is called Go, it was not practiced until the late 19th century. It is now growing in popularity worldwide.


It is played on an initially empty 19×19 line board, although smaller boards, 13×13 or even 9×9, are standard for beginners. The two players involved have many black or white stones, respectively, which are placed on the board.

The aim of the game

The game’s main objective is to use your stones to form territory by surrounding empty areas of the board; capturing is not the ultimate goal but serves to gain that territory. The winner is the player with the most points, which corresponds to controlling more territory.

The start of the game

Initially, the board is empty. The player starts with black stones, and then the turn alternates from one player to the other.

There is also the possibility of playing with a handicap: the stronger player gives an advantage to his opponent of 2 to 9 stones; in these cases, the weaker player plays with black rocks, the advantage stones are initially placed on certain predetermined intersections and it is the player who plays with white stones who freely takes the first turn.

Game progress

Each move consists of placing a new stone on an unoccupied area of the playing field but not of moving stones that have already been placed on the field.

Freedoms and territory

To understand the dynamics and purpose of the game, several concepts need to be defined:

  • Unoccupied points horizontally and vertically adjacent to a stone or group of rocks are called free crossings.
  • Groups of loose intersections that are surrounded by stones of the same color are considered the territory of the player playing that color.

Rock grab

A group of stones is considered captured when it has no freedom, i.e., when surrounded by the opponent’s player’s stones, with the charged group of stones having no free space within itself.

In the following picture, you can see that 6 white stones are in a capturing situation:

In particular, an isolated stone is captured if it is surrounded by 4 opponents’ stones; if the stone is on the side or in the corner of the board, it is sufficient if it is surrounded by 3 or 2 opponents’ stones respectively.


The captured stones are removed from the board.

Restrictions when placing stones

Two reasons can hinder the installation of a stone:

  • Suicide: It is not allowed to cast a stone when it runs out of liberties or is part of a chain that runs out of liberties unless the placement of the stone results in a capture.

The illustration shows the position where the junction where the white stone cannot be placed is visible:

  • Rule of thumb: no move that forces the game back to a previous situation is allowed. This rule often applies in situations where a stone that has just been placed by taking may immediately be taken by placing a new stone in the same position as the recently taken stone, which can cause a cyclical situation.

End of game

The game ends with an agreement between both players. When either player believes that it is impossible to make more territory, capture more opponent’s stones or reduce the opponent’s territory, he must pass rather than placing a stone on the board.

Endgame protocol begins when both players consecutively pass.

Living and dead stones

At the end of the game, players decide which stones will inevitably be captured if the game continues. These stones are called dead stones and are fished out before points are counted.

If the players disagree on which stones are alive and dead, the game starts again.


While the basic rules are standard, there are some aspects of go whose laws vary from place to place and do not affect the general dynamics of the game or its strategy. The most notable part is the method of scoring; there are two ways:

  • Area counting: this method is used in the Chinese rules. Each player scores points for each stone on the board and for each crossing in his territory, which has the advantage that it is easier to understand when starting to practice the game and that the result is not affected by possible disagreements in the endgame.
  • Territory counting: used in Japanese rules. One point is awarded for each capture and crossing of territory.

This is the most commonly used system, with the advantage that it forces players to avoid placing more stones than necessary at the end of the game to avoid a penalty to their score. When playing online, its disadvantage is that one player can cause a disagreement when deciding which stones are dead, forcing the opponent to make extra moves and thereby gain an advantage in the score.


As usual, in many games, the starting player has a particular advantage. To compensate for this advantage, the score is usually adjusted by awarding a certain number of points to the opponent, called komi.

This advantage is usually adjusted depending on the rules used, the size of the board, and the results of statistical analysis of games played by experienced players. It is usually a decimal value to avoid draws and is usually around 6.

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