Deconstructing Go

In order to figure out what I should focus on in learning and improving at Go, I need to break it down to its elements. At the highest level, there are two parts to this:

  1. Learning the Rules
  2. Learning the Strategy

The Rules of Go

One of the great things about Go is that the rules are actually extremely simple. In fact, there are only about 6 of them (some people condense/expand the rules, but it’s always the same core ideas).

  1. The board starts out empty
  2. Black moves first, then white and black alternate placing stones on intersections of lines
  3. A stone or group of stones adjacent to each other is captured when all of the spaces adjacent to it are filled by the opposing player’s stones
  4. No stone may be played that returns the board to its previous position (“Ko”) (This prevents infinite loops)
  5. Two consecutive passes (choosing not to play a stone) end the game, as does running out of stones
  6. The player with the largest amount of surrounded territory wins

And that’s it. Unlike a language which has tons of rules, and unlike chess where every piece moves differently, Go’s rules of play are very simple. That’s the easy part of the deconstruction.

The Strategy of Go

Here’s where things will get crazy. There are dozens of good books on Go strategy, scores of websites, and thousands of “Graded Go Problems” which you can think of like those chess puzzles in magazines. All of these resources are focused on strategy. But we can break the strategy down as well. I’m going to think of it like this:

  1. Good and Bad Shapes (Formations that guarantee some territory and are uncapturable vs. ones that can be destroyed)
  2. The Early Game, or Opening
  3. The Josekis, common series of play that happen in many Go games
  4. The Tesuji, or middle game local tactical problems
  5. Life and Death, how to keep groups of stones alive or kill off enemy groups of stones
  6. The Endgame

There will, naturally, be a number of other parts of the strategy that merit discussion, but I think 80% of it at least will fit into these six categories. I’ll try to put each strategy post into one of these categories to make everything nicely searchable as I go.