The Chinese game of Go

The Go Board

The board game go is thought to have originated in China around 4000 years ago although some doubt exists and it may in fact be slightly younger than that. The game was taken to Japan around the year 500 and became very popular there for several centuries. Legend suggests that it was created as a teaching tool designed by the Chinese emperor Yao (2356–2255 BCE) for his son to learn balance, concentration and discipline. Other people have suggested that the game was developed as a result of Chinese warlords using stones to map enemy positions. Some have suggested that the game was used as a fortune telling device simulating the universes relationship to an individual.

While some of these dates can be disputed it is still a very old game which didn’t became popular in the west until comparatively recently.

At one time the game was used to determine the future of Tibet after a Buddhist ruler refused to go to war.

While there are older board games the game of Go is thought to be the oldest board game to have been continuously played to the present day.

The game is a strategy game for two players where the object of the game is to control more territory than your opponent.


A Go Board         (traditionally a board with 19 by 19 intersections of lines but can be played as 9 by 9 or 13 by 13 for new and improving players.)

A supply of stones in contrasting colours. (In this set 181 each of Black and White.)

Game Play

The game is for two players with the object of controlling more territory that their opponent, at the end of the game the player who controls the most territory is the winner.

The board starts empty – While the board could be any size it is usually 9×9 , 13 x 13 or 19 x 19 with the smaller boards being used to teach the game. One player has a quantity of white pieces (usually called stones) and the other a quantity of black pieces. Black goes first and then each player places a stone in turn. The stones can only be placed on the intersections of the lines. Once stones are played they are not moved unless captured.

Territory         The diagram shows the position at the end of the game on a cut down board. The points of territory which score for white are marked with a W. If you start from one of those points and move along the lines in any direction you will always come to the edge of the board or a white stone, it is therefore obvious that the empty points are White territory. Points of Black territory are marked with a B. In this example White has 6 points and Black has 4.

Chains            Two stones next to each other horizontally or vertically forma a chain (diagonals do not count). Chains can be extended by putting more stones in any pattern. In the following diagram the two black stones form a chain and the six white stones form two separate chains which are not linked as the diagonal connections do not count.

Liberties          To understand capturing stones it is necessary to understand the concept of liberties. The liberties of a stone are the empty points next to it connected by a line on the board.  In the picture the black stone (marked *) has four liberties marked with an x. The edges of the board may reduce the number of liberties as do the presence of opponents stones. The White stone at the edge of the board has only 2 liberties (marked with an L) as one is occupied by the Black stone and there are no empty points beyond the edge of the board. The white 3 stone Chain has 7 liberties marked with a #.  If a stone or a chain runs out of liberties it is captured.

Capturing       On the first of the following diagrams the isolated stone in the corner of the board has only one remaining liberty and white could capture it by placing a stone at the space marked L but whites chain also has only one liberty and would be vulnerable to capture on blacks next move. Note it does not matter that Black stones surrounding the white chain is made up of more than one chain. White might place their stone at x to give the chain more liberties. It is not allowed to capture yourself. So in the second diagram white would not be allowed to place a stone at the point marked with an X as it would create a White chain with no liberties at the end of their turn. There is an exception to this rule however, white would be allowed to place a stone at the point marked with # despite the fact that this also creates a chain with no liberties because it captures the three stone black chain and therefore once the black stones were removed the white chain would have at least one (In this case 3) liberties once the move was finished.

The End of the game           When it is your turn instead of making a move you can pass. Whenever you pass you must give an extra stone to your opponent to add to their captures. When both players have passed in succession the game is over. To ensure that each player has the same number of turns the last pass has to be by white even if this means that there are 3 passes in a row.

Dead stones       At the end of the game there are often stones which cannot avoid capture, but have yet to be captured. Usually players agree to remove these stones as if they had been captured. In the diagram the stones marked with # are all dead stones. If the players cannot agree then the game is simply continued completing the capture of the stones.

Repeating Positions        It is prohibited to play a move which makes the position the same as after your last move. Imagine that you are black in the position in the diagram. If White places a stone at x capturing the marked stone. It would be prohibited for you to place a stone where the marked stone was capturing the white stone  as this would cause the position to be the same as the previous one. If this was allowed this position could repeat over and over resulting in the game never finishing.