Go: A Complete Introduction to the Game

Before I jump into some real games and the more detailed strategy, I want to read through “Go: A Complete Introduction to the Game.” In browsing through Reddit’s “Go” section (baduk is the Korean name for Go) this book seemed the most frequently recommended. I’ll pull out the pieces most interesting and noteworthy to me as I go, but I recommend you pick it up for yourself.

Each heading will be in reference to a chapter of the book. Again, this content is from the book, not my original work. I recommend you pick it up for more in-depth insights and to support the author.

Capturing Stones

A stone or a group of stones becomes captured when all of its liberties are gone.

A liberty is a space next to a stone that it could theoretically place another stone and expand to. In this picture, (source for all images)

[Diagram]

Black 1 has two liberties, white 2 has three liberties, and black 3 has four liberties. If white were to fill the liberties for 1 and 3, those black pieces would become captured. If black were to fill the liberties of White 2, that white piece would be captured. As you can see, pieces in the middle are safer from capture and have more escape paths.

Atari

A piece is in Atari if it only has one remaining liberty. Here are some examples:

[Diagram]

For each of these pieces, if they don’t “escape” by adding another piece to their one remaining liberty, they’ll be captured on the next turn. So putting your opponent into a state of atari is a way to force them to play a certain move, or else surrender some of their pieces.

When a piece is captured, it’s removed from the board. At the end of the game each of your pieces captured by your opponent is subtracted from your score (total territory controlled).

Eyes and Living Groups

One of the additional rules to Go is that suicide is illegal. In this image below, white plays at 1, and in doing so removes all of the liberties for that group which means it gets captured by black:

[Diagram]

These types of moves are not legal in Go–you can never make your pieces commit suicide.

The exception to this is if you can capture an enemy group by placing a stone in a situation that would normally be suicide, except that it removes the last remaining liberty for a group.

[Diagram]

In this example, black only has the liberty in the center since white has him surrounded. White wouldn’t be able to play in the middle normally, but since the otherwise suicidal move results in capturing black’s group it is allowed in this case.

Safe Groups

So, the only way to make a group unkillable is to make sure it has two “eyes” (internal liberties). That way it can never get down to just one liberty without the opponent making a suicidal move.

[Diagram]

In this image, black has eyes at the two red dots. White can’t play at either, since they’re both suicide moves, so he cannot reduce black to one liberty and thus cannot capture their pieces. Black’s stones are safe.

False Eyes

But you have to be careful that you don’t have “false eyes.” A false eye is a liberty that at first glance appears to be protected, but that is actually able to be infiltrated by the other player.

[Diagram]

The black group here has one real eye, but the eye at “a” is a false one. If white plays at “b” and “c,” they’ll then be able to play at “a” and capture the two black pieces on top, followed by the larger group below it on the next turn. Don’t make false eyes. If black had played at either of the white stones marked with a red circle, then he would be safe with two real eyes.

Opening Strategy

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m going to focus only on high-level advice about opening moves in the beginning. Here are the most important pieces I gathered:

  1. Spread across the board gaining influence on different areas until you absolutely must respond to an attack or begin securing territory
  2. Securing corners is easier than securing along the wall which is easier than securing the middle
  3. You don’t need the whole board, just influence over a majority
  4. Play your pieces in a way where they can be connected later, they don’t need to connect immediately
  5. “Knight moves” (2 or 3 spaces away and one space over, like moving a knight in chess) are pretty safe bets
  6. Don’t start below the 3rd line in on any side

Capturing Techniques

Some strategies for capturing pieces:

Double Atari

You will sometimes find, and will eventually be able to build into, situations where one move creates two ataris for the opponent. Here’s a very simple example:

[Diagram]

The move at white 1 puts both black pieces in atari. Black can save one, but the other will be captured. A more complex example:

[Diagram]

The white move at 1 puts both of the red-marked black groups in atari. Black can only save one of them. If black had played at 1 first, the two groups could have been saved.

Ladders

Ladders will occasionally come up in Go games. They look like this:

[Diagram]

White is stuck inside a ladder being built by black, and now that it has reached the wall black will capture white’s pieces. The only way to survive a ladder is to already have a piece in its future path, like this:

[Diagram]

If the ladder were to extend, it would eventually reach the piece, and then white would break out of the ladder and put black in a bad position:

[Diagram]

Now 5 is in atari, and even if black connects it to 1 white can break out through the top and start surrounding blacks stones.

Nets

A net is a move that, while not putting a stone into atari, makes any extension it could make detrimental or unhelpful in keeping itself alive.

[Diagram]

The white stone marked with red is “netted” by black’s play at 1. If white extends to “a” black can block at “b,” and if white extends to “c” black blocks at “d.” So no matter what it does, the marked white stone is dead.

Life and Death

I think this will be the most important skill to master. No matter how the game starts out, you need to be able to defend your spaces and kill off those of your opponent.

Placement Moves

One important thing to understand is where to play a piece in order to prevent the opponent from securing two real eyes.

For example:

[Diagram]

When black plays at 1, white’s group is dead. White can’t capture black without removing the possibility of getting two eyes, and black could fill out the inside to capture white. If white had played at 1, however, white would live. It would have two eyes and be uncapturable.

Here are some more examples.

Hane

Hane is a method of infiltrating a group that does not yet have two eyes, by “reaching around” the pieces. It can also just be in reference to reaching around a piece, reducing its liberties, but without having a direct link to your other pieces, like here:

[Diagram]

 Linking Up Stones

More text notes here:

  1. Connections are good. They keep stones alive
  2. Diagonal connections don’t really count, though they’re useful
  3. A “one space jump” (two stones with one liberty between them) on the third line cannot be separated.
  4. Bamboo joints are strong, they can always be connected:
    [Diagram]

That’s all for now. I think these are the most important parts of the book to my learning, but I may revisit parts of it later.