Atari Go Teaching Method/Discussion

Table of contents Table of diagrams
Dia. 1
Dia. 2
Dia. 3
Capture This 1
Capture This 2
Try to Capture This
Can White Live Inside This?
Is This Black's Territory?
Can Black Capture Two Marked Stones?
Capture String 1
Capture String 2
Attack marked white stone
Attack marked white stone (cont.)

Contributions

TakeNGive

Though there is some controversy about it, I feel that using Atari Go is one (of several) great way to teach the fundamentals of go (to kids especially).

One thing about teaching with the Capture Game is that it presents the rules slowly enough for beginners to fully absorb and understand them. The usual advice for First Capture is to not confuse beginners with concepts like eyes, living groups, seki, ko, miai, semeai, etc.; but rather to let them just practice capturing and evading capture, and answer their questions as they discover these concepts for themselves through their games.

Some players understandably feel unhappy when they thought they knew the rules, but you keep telling them new ones. For this reason, it's important to say up front that Atari Go is not "real" go.

Also, the Capture Game method of teaching works better when you know that the beginner will be getting future instruction from you or another go player. It works less well for casual instruction in a chance encounter with someone who is idly curious, unless you're sure you'll have enough time to get through the stages to "real go" (Capture One; Capture Five; Capture Most; Real Go). With most folks, especially if you start with the recommended cross-cut stones on the 9x9 board, this doesn't need to take a long time, but it's better to move to the next stage when the student is ready to, and not just because the teacher is in a hurry.

Another thing is that, once the student knows how to capture, the First Capture method works best when beginners play each other instead of playing against the teacher. That way the players teach each other through experience (and the teacher is not totally bored and frustrated that the student still doesn't see the ladder). The teacher should be on hand to answer questions.

I don't worry about the bad habits First Capture Go may teach. Nobody is born with dan strength, so everyone must make progress. Overcoming bad habits and replacing them with deeper understanding is a powerful form of progress. I don't think we should erect barriers merely so players can have something to work on, but in my opinion, the innate understanding of go fundamentals that beginners rapidly gain through the Capture Game is worth the risk of a few bad habits to overcome. (Hey, I was not taught via the Capturing Game, so how come I have bad habits? ;-)

What are these bad habits that might become second nature if we use Atari Go for teaching beginners? Becoming bored and giving up on learning the game? I find this happens less if we start with the Capturing Game. Being fixated on making captures, unwilling to sacrifice? Most beginners do that anyway. Not seeing the snapback? Most beginners have to work on that for a while anyway. Trying to save useless stones? Even mid-kyu players like me have to work on this.

So, I'm not convinced that learning via Atari Go makes bad habits worse. Others insist it does. There are master teachers who love the Capture Game, and have excellent results with it. There are master teachers who have no use for the Capture Game, or who have found it to work worse than simply explaining all the rules up front. Your Mileage May Vary.

-- TakeNGive (12k and falling)

Eric (Ric) Werme's school teaching story

The following is a narrative about what my experience introducing Go to the 3rd & 4th grade students at Lakeland School, a small private school in Meredith, NH. I'll turn this into a web page someday, and probably recast this into a "How to teach Go" document rather than "How I teach Go". While this concentrates on the Capture game, I'll be back there tomorrow to talk Go on the 9x9 board.

I didn't learn about Go until I was over 30, and have really been too busy to play regularly until my daughter, Hannah, started getting interested a year or so ago. For a while, I'd almost given up on her. Figuring I'd have a good excuse to learn more about Go if she had other kids to play against, and figuring that other kids should be introduced to Go before they get too involved in Chess, I decided I should infect, err, introduce Hannah's classmates to the game. A quick check with her teacher showed interest, so I suggested that mud season, the period between winter and spring, would be a good time.

I wanted a freeware computer game to provide some consistant early challenge, and wrote David Fotland. He told me about Igo ([ext] ftp://igs.nuri.net/Go/comp/README), which is exactly what I had in mind, and also suggested starting with the Capture game. Hunting down Mindy McAdam's Capture game page ([ext] http://www.connectedglobe.com/mindy/index.html) I agreed that would be the best starting point and began thinking of two sessions, one on the Capture game, and one on real Go, at least as real as it gets on a 9x9 board. And maybe a third session on 13x13 boards.

For preparation, I tried teaching Hannah the Capture game, but couldn't get her to play more than a couple games. I tried snaring some of her friends, but the competition against Barbie dolls and computer software was tough. Still, I managed to teach it to a couple friends.

The good thing about the Capture game is that it contains the easy parts of Go. No need to teach about eyes and life, when the game is over, dame, ko, etc. Just put a stone on the intersection, don't move it thereafter, and groups are stronger than single stones. Its major shortcoming is that it emphasizes capturing. Well, I imagine there's no way to keep kids from that. When I started playing Go as an adult, I succumbed to trying to capture my opponent's stone too. I knew it was weak, but it was easier than securely surrounding empty space. So, let them capture, they'll do it anyway and it'll let them get it out of their system.

Another check with Hannah's teacher and I had a firm date. I guessed I needed 1 to 1 1/2 hours, she said that would exceed their attention span, so we cut it back to 45 minutes. I'd see Mrs. Sandy in the morning, a time with far too many distractions to explain anything about Go. I was rather impressed I really had to make no sales pitch at all.

For boards for the kids, I just copied a 9x9 grid I had from Ishi Press. For stones I found Bingo markers at a party store. I'm sure the red and green would offend many Go players and teachers, but they weren't going to be at the school to complain. The night before the session I made a 9x9 grid on a 16x22 inch piece of paper and trimmed a bunch of yellow Postit notes into octagons. I colored half of them red because that marker had the widest tip. (Who moves first anyway, red, green or yellow?)

On the way to school, I told Hannah that if there were an odd number of kids I wanted her to play against Mrs. Sandy. The main reason behind that I was concerned that Hannah would "help out" too much. Had she learned more about the Capture Game or offered up friends for me to practice on, then her help might have been more helpful.

At school, I figured the thing to do would be to get the kids playing as quickly as possible, but that some lecture time was vital. The lecture went something like:

  • Putting up my own hand to help set the example, I asked, "Hands up - how many of you know chess or checkers?" This got their attention and got them thinking about board games.
  • "How many of you have heard of a game called Go?" I wasn't interested in the answer, but Hannah was annoyed that one kid raised his hand and made it clear to me later that she didn't think he knew anything about the game.
  • That gave me an opening to show how stones are placed on intersections, not inside squares, and how they don't move around the board.
  • A quick digression to mention traditional Go stones are made from slate and clam shells. (Next time, I'll have a pair of my glass stones in my pocket to pull out and show.)
  • I first showed stones in the center, and showed how a yellow stone could be surrounded and captured by four red stones. Liberties and atari were about the only non-obvious jargon I explained. I think it is the right amount.
  • Next was showing how it took six stones to capture a group of two. Then showing that capturing a stone on the edge or corner only takes three or two stones and suggesting those would be poor places to start play. That's one thing common to both games.
  • At this point I should have explained how diagonals neither surround nor make groups. Oops.
  • I think the last thing I showed was a sample capture game. (How do you play this silly game anyway? Sure isn't Go!) One thing that wasn't immediately obvious to me from the web page was that players take turns playing one stone at a time, and that's important to point out.

That was about it - about 10 minutes. Kids were beginning to fidget. I couldn't think of anything else I want to say, so I said "It's time to play the game - I need everyone to pair up," and began to pass out the boards.

The kids were a little perturbed by getting communal piles of stones instead the "right number" of pieces as they would in Chess or Checkers, so I had to assure them it would work out.

Of course, I instantly realized I should have explained diagonals, so tried to get to each table quickly to fix that. After that it was mostly wandering around helping kids realize how to put their opponent in atari (and to realize when they're in atari). And all the other stupid things any beginning player does.

The games ranged from less than 10 stones to covering most of the board. They were fast enough so that losing one was not big deal. If a kid lost several in a row, I'd spend some time helping out.

I hadn't thought to have kids change partners, but that just started happening by itself. It would be good to encourage kids to just watch other kids play a few games.

As they began to catch on, I started pointing out that instead of trying to capture the other's stones, you could also try to make your own stones harder to capture by making groups with lots of liberties. I also suggested that they might try playing until someone captures three stones.

Play went on for longer than I expected. Finally, the teachers said it was getting close to their break time. I asked for a little more lecture time, something I hadn't thought of in planning.

In the second lecture period I talked about eyes and life, emphasizing that there was more to winning at the Capture game than just capturing. I showed how a single eye wasn't enough, then how a three-space eye on the edge could be turned into two eyes and live.

That was about all I wanted to cover, but then someone asked what happened if the other color played on that spot (the vital point). Wow. So I had to talk about how the best spot to play for one player was often the best spot for the other. And went though the sacrifices and eventual capture of that big group. Somewhere in the midst of this I remembered the Capture game would have ended with the first sacrifice and had to mention Go would let the game continue. I think they sort of understood.

Before I left, I suggested that they didn't need to end the game with the first capture, but could play Capture Three, ala McAdam's WWW page.

Mrs. Sandy, who is one of the directors of the school, had quickly realized all the thinking and strategizing the kids had to do in the game, and I finally had the chance to tell her about Go's benefits over chess and how military strategy from Japan, Russia, and the US could be compared to Go, Chess, and Poker. (Remember the MX missile shell game?) Later I gave her several of Milt Bradley's WWW pages ([ext] http://villagenet.com/~bradleym/index.html) on the benefits of learning Go.

The next week she said she was going to try her hand at teaching the Capture game to the 7th and 8th grade class, so I volunteered to do it myself. So far, that's been delayed due to a trip to the opera and a visit by a sled dog, but we'll do it soon.

I had intended to be back to the 3rd/4th grade class by now to talk about 9x9 Go, but we want to get to the older kids first. Apparently Hannah's classmates are having fun with the Capture game at the expense of several reading periods. Sounds like a good trade to me.


Jason Taff

I thought I'd weigh in with my experiences use the capture game to teach go. I think I have been very successful with it, and I plan to continue to use it. Most of the people I have taught since starting to use it have been junior high and high school students (ages 12-16).

I disagree that teaching capture does not allow students to learn the important points of the full-fledged game. These are the points that my students (with occasional nudges from me) learn in the order that they learn them. All are important in the full-fledged game:

  1. Groups with lots of stones (usually) have more liberties than groups with fewer stones.
  2. One group is easier to take care of than two groups.
  3. A good way to defend your groups is to create a little area that is surrounded by your own stones because your opponent would be foolish to play into it.
  4. If you can't pass, you're better off surrounding more area so your opponent will have to fill in his or her area first.

These facts take anywhere from 5 to 25 games to sink in. When the student can consistently play against me to a draw (allowing passes, a draw is when both players pass consecutively without captures), I teach them the full-fledged version and we play on a 9X9 board at 5 stones.

The students are told from the beginning that this is not the full version of go, but they trust that the full version will come in time, and they don't at all feel the game is too simple.

I do not know whether young children would get the wrong idea that capturing is everything in go, because I haven't taught any younger children with this method. But I will continue to teach the go club I started at the high school I teach at using the capture game. I can teach a group of 15 kids and have them all playing unsupervised games of capture in about 15-20 minutes, and if I walk around offering probing questions and pointers, I usually find one pair of opponents that consistently play each other to a draw within about an hour. Their games look suspiciously like real (territorial) games.

I highly recommend this method (at least for ages 12 and up), and will gladly give anyone suggestions if they run into problems using it to teach. Note that my e-mail address is not the one from which this note was posted.


Angus

Your efforts to spread go are exceptional. Of course you should use whatever methods you find work best. I have much less experience than you. I have tried to teach some high school students who were already members of a Go Club. There were (are?) about 15 of them, and they think they play Go. I thought the strongest was around 20 kyu. They had been playing for perhaps a year when I met them, and I wasn't able to help them much, because they were sure they were playing go. I have also spent hours with kids from 6-9 playing capture. I was able to lose 3 stone capture games on a 9x9 board quickly and repeatedly. These kids enjoyed the games, learned quickly tesuji like schicho and geta without any frightening Japanese words being said. I haven't ever "shown" a kid how to capture with schicho or geta, but they discover these patterns on their own. They find this process rewarding.

I can teach capture in maybe two minutes, and finish the first game in maybe ten. Go takes much longer to teach, and dedication to learn.

As an AGA 2d I object to the characterization of capture as easy. This game is quite complicated. Try playing capture five with someone around your own level some time. No passing, no aesthetically upsetting ko rule, just play until someone wins. If you find the game easy or trivial, you are either MUCH better than me at both it and go, or you don't understand it.

There is not much tactical difference between capture five and go. The strategic differences are profound, but capture five certainly involves a significant amount of strategy.


Jim Bonomo

The potential problem with the "capturing game" that is discussed below seems based on a misunderstanding of that method of teaching Go. We should remember that the "capturing game" is actually a sequence of different capturing games. They do not all stop at the first capture. The next step, as I remember, sets the winner as the first to capture three stones. I suspect that step was devised precisely to get students past the point that Roy and Milt raise - having them feel comfortable with the simplest "dead" (in Go) groups.

I further gather that yet more versions of the capturing game are used in teaching Go in Japan. For example, a "capture five" game allows still larger nakade to be filled in, and the group captured "correctly" (as compared with ordinary Go).

Now, whether this is the best method of teaching Go is another matter. Milt's comment below, about his wanting to avoid reinforcing "...their already too strong desire to capture, capture, capture, to the exclusion of all else..." is a different sort of objection. But let's not confuse that with this claimed limitation of the "capturing game"; when you use the full sequence, the capturing game seems to lead kids to the idea of two eyes rather naturally, as Mindy McAdams has written.


Roy Schmidt

[Diagram]
Dia. 1  
[Diagram]
Dia. 2  
[Diagram]
Dia. 3  

{The} third diagram shows why I gave up on the "captruing game" within a couple of days of using it. This group is, unfortunately, unconditionally alive in the "capturing game," because to kill it white has to sacrifice a stone, losing the game. This ruins the pedagogical value of the game, as it teaches kids that a dead group is alive. After this, it is hard to make them understand the value of making two eyes (we're talking five-to-six year-old kids here).


Milton Bradley

Many thanks for this analysis! I have long refused to use "the capturing game" in my after-school go program (primarily for third thru fifth grade students) because it reinforces their already too strong desire to capture, capture, capture, to the exclusion of all else - an undoubted carry over from such simpler games as checkers, where capturing is actually the game's objective.

Now, you've provided me with an even more compelling rationale -Mindy McAdams please take note!!


Dieter Verhofstadt, unwillingly reigniting the discussion

This is how I teach Go:

  • Explain the capturing rule
  • Play MANY capturing games (first one taking a stone wins) on small boards (9x9 and smaller)
  • Explain the suicide rule when it comes up
  • Explain ko only when it comes up
  • Extend the capturing game to a higher number of stones (first one to take five, wins) until the goal is not reached by neither player
  • Explain eyes only by the time the beginner has almost found out for himself
  • Explain territory (an area where you are unwilling to play, because your stones will be captured)
  • Emphasize the possibility of sacrifice (to compensate for the initial focus on capturing stones)
  • More games on 9x9 now with territory

Basically: don't overexplain


Milton Bradley

Dieter,

Sigh! A reprise of a topic that many wish could (and believed was) permanently interred! What am I talking about? "The Capture Game" as a "preferred" introduction to Go.

As I've posted to this ng repeatedly in the past, all of my 50+ years of teaching Go to beginners indicates that this approach is ultimately counterproductive, especially for those who come to Go with a background in such games as Checkers, where capturing is all, and chess, where it's often almost all.

IMHO the sooner that the beginner learns that although threats to capture are an integral part of both Go tactics and strategy, making that an objective or even a priority will almost necessarily lead to not only a bad game but worse, a bad concept of how to play.

Yes, if you don't know how to capture you can't play GO, but concentrating on it is like a football player concentrating on tackling when the objective is to move the ball downfield and over the opponent's goal line.


Morten Pahle

I agree with this.

After the (very) limited introduction of Go to my elder sons (almost 4 and almost 6 years, respectively - obviously the eldest 'getting it' the most), it seems that they both intuitively understand the 'territory' thing easily. Although they do know what a capture is and the eldest can even read a ladder sometimes, I've tried to have them 'play where you make your part of the board bigger or stop me from making my part bigger' - and they grasp that. It also means that we can actually finish and count 'real' games.

I accept that w.r.t. fighting/tactics they have no clue, but as long as they play me or others like me, they are getting to understand some of the the strategic concepts (corner-side-center for instance). Once in a while thay try to 'live' where they cannot, or the try to kill me where they cannot, but they sort of get the point, although they wouldn't be able to solve even the simplest tsume go problem.

When we play 19x19, they actually create groups and then expand from them. They insist on not using a handicap :-) It makes for boring games, but it seems that they enjoy it. When they get older I hope that they will pick up more skills related to invading and fighting, but that's for the future. For the time being they enjoy what they're doing and that's what's most important.

I suppose that for many adults it is different, especially for westerners who like clearly defined goals and who live in a 'competitive' world, and it probably changes from child to child as well.

Just my 2 cents.

Morten.


Nick Wedd

I like to keep them at the capture game for about an hour, and then move on to the full rules. (I let them carry on with the capture game if they prefer, but it's very rare that they do.)

My reason for starting with the capture game is to help them learn to recognise captures. I don't here mean possible captures, I mean captures that they have already made. It is frustrating to be called over with the words "please, what happens now?", and find that the board is covered with libertyless groups. If at least one of the players has learned to remove captured stones, this should not happen.

Nick


David Carlton

Like you, I'm not too inclined to use the capture game at all; on the other hand, I'm not so against (admittedly not having tried it myself) it if it's only used for the first few hours of instruction (one or two, for example) if you'll see the people again later to introduce them to real go.

(second post by David:)

Matthew Macfadyen has written a book where he not only talks about the capture game but a "territory game", where the latter is supposed to talk only about territory but not capturing. I can't remember the details, and my copy of the book is at home; I don't think he takes this "territory game" too seriously, and it might even just be a thought experiment. (He certainly spends less time on it than on the capture game.) Has anybody tried teaching that way in practice?


Piers Cawley

The point here is that, a teacher who is trying a teaching method in which he places little faith will almost certainly not see good results from that method. I'm not saying that this will be because of any conscious action on the part of the teacher, but nevertheless I am quite sure that there will be an effect.


Adam Atkinson

Well, ok, but I'd be very uncomfortable not explaining suicide, and not too keen on not explaining ko. I don't want to be accused of making up rules as I go along when during someone's first game I say, "Oh, yes, there's another rule I didn't tell you about". I think that looks awful.

The only time I've seen capture go used was with very, VERY small children. 4 to 6 years old. And I don't think I'd feel up to explaining Go, capture Go or indeed anything else to 4 year old children.

--Adam Atkinson


Big Nose

I usually do the following:

  • Explain the objective (cover more than half the board)
  • Explain alternation and placement of the stones
  • Explain liberties and groups
  • Explain capture
  • Say "That's all you need to know to play a game. There are a couple more rules to stop the game repeating, but they are for exceptional situations and I can explain them when they crop up."
  • Start playing (with a large handicap)
  • Wait for a single-stone suicide or a ko, then explain "The last rule is that you can't make a play that would leave the board the same as it has looked earlier in the game", which amounts to a superko rule
  • Play the entire game out each time, without explaining territory

This meets the issue you raise, that there are rules left to explain; but notice that this has been announced up-front, with a definite limit ("a couple more rules") and make it clear when there are no more rules so they don't keep thinking a new rule might appear to thwart them. I find that the beginner will look surprised that they got most of the rules in a few sentences, but will be happy to start playing.

As Jasiek followers will note, this promise -- that all the rules have now been explained, in the first game or two -- can only be made if simple, logical rules are being followed, and not the funky tournament variants. I also find that area rules allow the concept of territory to be ignored until it develops naturally, and make the end of the game clear.

Also notice that it is not necessary to teach all the *concepts* of the game -- life and death, territory, eyes, even suicide -- to start playing the "proper" game. These concepts are consequential to the rules, so they are superfluous to the instructions. It is truly a testament to the simplicity and structure of the game that people will pick these things up by themselves in a surprisingly short time. When they raise the topics themselves is the best time to explain these things:

  • "What if I played there with no liberties?" -- remind them that groups with no liberties get removed, and suicide of a single stone would make the board look the same as it did before
  • "If I capture that stone, can't you just capture me back?" -- explain the no-repeats rule, and mention this is called the ko rule
  • "I don't think there's anything else I can do" -- explain territory "groups that can't avoid being captured" (no need to explain life or death at this point)
  • "How come some of your groups can't be captured?" -- explain life with two eyes

Notice that there's no anti-suicide rule in the above; it's just an application of the superko rule. I've never quite understood the reasons why suicide might be an advantage, but I'm confident that it doesn't hurt teaching people that it's not against the rules -- just a bad tactic.

 > The only time I've seen capture go used was with very, VERY small
 > children. 4 to 6 years old. And I don't think I'd feel up to
 > explaining Go, capture Go or indeed anything else to 4 year old
 > children.

I sympathise and agree with this. I've found that for small children, playing the entire game on a smaller board -- 7x7 or 5x5 -- is far more beneficial to later teaching than the capture game.

The full-blown game isn't too hard for these kids to understand; the only problem I've seen is attention span. But why change the rules? Go is beautifully adaptive in that the same rules and victory conditions can be used on any sized board; there's no need to play a game with different rules to "work up to" go.

The nose


Dieter Verhofstadt

The nicest feature of the capture game is that after some time, the number set for victory (first one to catch 5) is not reached by either player. So who wins now ? Well, the one who has more surrounded empty points plus captured stones.

By then they already have a feeling for territory: Territory is the area where you don't play because your stones get captured. You don't even have to explain what territory is !!!

Eyes come up naturally as well, although you can give a few basic L&D problems as part of the learning process. The importance of connectivity comes up naturally too. Explaining eyes to a beginner too soon only creates a fixation for eyes, and a lack of sense for connectivity.


Michael Dobbins

I really hate to see people take such a strong I'm right and your wrong attitude on this topic. Teaching Go is so subjective. Success depends upon many factors. The inate ability, desires and needs of the student. The style of presentation of the teacher. The goal of the student (learn enough to have some fun playing or reach a high level of skill or both.)

The traditional teaching method works as most of us in the western world learned that way. It works better if the teacher can present the material at a rate the student can grasp. It doesn't work as well if the student is overwhelmed with too much at once. One problem with this method is that it is not as well organized by most people as to the sequence and rate of presentation of material. Hopefully Milt's book will formalize this for the traditional method.

On the other hand, the capture game method also works. It has the advantage of presenting the material at a rate the student can handle because the student discovers most of it through play rather than lesson. This can be more fun for people who just want to play as soon and as much as possible. It has some disadvantages in that a student can get stuck at the capture game too long and internalize bad habits, or as Milt also mentioned, get bored, if held there too long. Even with the capture game the goal is to get students playing real go as quickly as possible.

Both methods are useful tools. each one works better than the other depending upon the student/teacher relationship. This is not a win/lose situation, but a win/win situation. We should recognize that.


Charles Matthews

I agree. Like Milt, I don't use capture go to teach, with pupils ranging from five years old to adult. However I've also seen the Yasuda method in action, applied by Yuki Shigeno, and it works (in its own terms). At the Baduk conference earlier this year we heard from Romania about capture go, and from Taiwan about Mr. Yang's conceptual method laden with popular culture and attractive metaphors. Now, is this really "right" and "wrong" about method? Surely established teachers can be left out of the discussion, leaving a more reasonable approach to possible teaching methods according to their strengths and weaknesses.


Bearlabs

IMHO, the problem with and the danger in teaching the capture game can be summarized simply: fixation.

Clearly, the game is not monochromatic - it is colorful and multichromatic.

So, the task is to convey a game with simple rules and complex things that flow from those simple rules.

Much depends upon your student's capacities - clearly a very intelligent, mature and learned individual will have a greater capacity to comprehend, and so is less likely to either fixate on one facet or to merely assume that there is some limitation, and is likely to recognize some of the vast potentials in the game.

This is not the person that a teacher has to be concerned about - like the top acheiving student in the class - that person will find his/her own way regardless of how good or bad the teaching is.

The person(s) that we need to be most concerned about are those who might come to the game either as children, or as adults who are not quite so "gifted" in this way.

For them, the presentation makes a huge difference.

The danger and trap, especially for children (limited education, limited concentration, limited reasoning skills) is that they will "get" one idea and "cling" to it to the exclusion of all others. This is especially true of they are successful with the *one* idea.

This is a real danger when teaching in these circumstances.


Charles Matthews:

The known weakness in capture go is that an experienced go player doesn't make a good opponent for a beginner.

I also believe that the long term danger of talking too much about capture tactics is real. Go after all is a game of territory, and sacrifice is a major part of the game. So that's a burden on the good teacher.

Charles


Milton Bradley

 > With a large number of people and only one teacher, it is hard to get
 > everyone to play legal go let alone get a feel for what  a game is
 > like.

I've never found that to be true!!! Perhaps it's a function of the teacher's skill! I did this quite successfully with as many as 69 kids age 9-12!!

 > However everyone can learn the capture game and play against
 > others.  You can hint that there is more to the game for those who are
 > still interested in coming to the next lesson.

"hint that there is more to the game"??? What kind of an introduction to Go is that??? The attraction of Go is its depth and profundity, and you're pretending that it's some kind of simplistic activity??? I can't imagine that the kind of person to whom Go appeals would be intrigued by or interested in what you're presenting! Even my 9 year olds, when taught using "The Capture Game" complained "Is that all there is to Go?" - something that NEVER occurred when I used the "conventional" method! And we're talking about college students here! If THEY aren't ready and able to accept and enjoy an direct introduction to Go, who, pray tell, will be???


Barry Phease

 > I don't know if the capture game is good for a small class that is
 > going to continue for some time.  However as a quick introduction to
 > the game in a party atmosphere it is ideal.

Michael Gobbins

My understanding from following all the discussion here on this topic that the capture game is best for children under the ages of around 5 or 6 depending on their maturity and directly teaching the game is best for anyone older than that. Successes reported with both methods show exceptions to this guideline as well, as any exposure to Go is better than no exposure to Go.


SimonGoss?

 >(3)  introduce the concept of territory in the second session.

Here we're on our own. The Yasuda method doesn't teach territory at all, because the assumption in Japan is that the school visitor will only get one session and then any kids who are interested can go home and get the rest from their dads and uncles. It's a pity, because explaining territory is by far the hardest part <sigh>.

Beware: if you try to define territory as something surrounded, you're in for a very rough ride, and there's worse to come in the future when somebody wants to kill a one-eyed group or try an inside cut or an invasion or a simple nakade and you'll hear "Oh but Sir, he can't. That's my territory!". This happens terribly often if we say things that induce it. I think it's very important to define White territory as being points where Black will never want to play.

The second session is perhaps rather early to explain territory to 8-year-olds, but here is one method (I learned it from a 9-year-old who unwittingly gave me a feed when he asked how many stones you have to capture to win a game in a tournament):

On your display board, set up a Black group with 2 (minimal) eyes and surround it with White stones. Then find an accomplice to play a game with you, in which you keep on playing inside each eye in turn, and (s)he wins the game by taking off every stone you place. Don't explain suicide, or eyes, or life and death or anything, just play this game for long enough to get a laugh.

Then ask the class: "If you were White, would you want to play where I played?" ... "Never ever?" ... "OK, we agree that White doesn't ever want to play on those points, so we'll say that those 2 points 'belong' to Black, shall we?"

Next, set up a Black group completely surrounding a 3x3 rectangle in the middle of the board and again surround it with White stones on the outside and ask whether White would ever want to play inside that. If you get a unanimous no, you're home and dry.

If you're really lucky, you'll get some who would want to play there. Praise it: "Great! If you didn't want to play there it would be my territory. You want to make it hard for me? That's what I call fighting talk. Let's play it, shall we?" Or better still, get the Noes to play the Yesses, as teams.

(I think this activity contains some wonderful subliminal lessons about things like: value of invading; difficulty of invading; nakade; value of influence. One reason not to instruct too much is to avoid undermining those ideas. It's OK to say "You want to make it hard for me?" Not so good to say "You want to stop me getting territory there?" That implies invasion; he might have glimpsed nakade.)


DavidCarlton's story

 > And how about the logical argument that "The Capture game"
 > reinforces a conterproductive tendency to focus on capture even if
 > the stone(s) to be captured have no "structural" value?? As a
 > pedagogue I'd like to believe that you wouldn't teach your students
 > things you know to be untrue, or even things that you recognize may
 > later have to be unlearned, so why do you condone doing it in Go???
 > This, apparently widely shared attitude baffles me, so perhaps you
 > can explain it.

Here's a few different answers:

  • I'm a mathematician; mathematicians care very much about saying precise, true statements. But if you worry too much about that when teaching, you can make it hard for students to get the ideas behind what you're talking about. So sometimes it's better to say something that, technically speaking, isn't quite true, if it helps students grasp the basic idea, and then correct possible misunderstandings later once students are comfortable with the basic ideas. (There are math professors who disagree with me about this.) Of course, this dosn't make a great analogy with introducing go via the capturing game, so let's move on to further points that are a better analogy.
  • It would be nice to teach in such a way as to avoid ever teaching anything that will subsequently have to be unlearned; I don't know how to do that. For example, say that you teach the full game of go at the beginning. So students learn about capturing as well as about territory; and you make an effort to get them to focus more on the latter than they might naturally do otherwise.
But then what happens when your students start to reach the strong kyu level? At some point, they'll have to reconstruct their game to acknowledge the importance of influence during the opening and middle games. I know that I, personally, had to revalue my emphasis on territory (and capturing), and rethink my approach to evaluating positions; frankly, I'm still not very good at dealing with influence.
But I don't see how to teach beginners in such a way that they'll be prepared for influence right at the beginning. So, ultimately, advancing in go will always involve some unlearning.
  • If the capturing game had no benefits, then your reason for not using it would be pretty convincing, at least to me. But people claim that it does have benefits. One benefit that I've seen cited is that it makes it easier for students to play a legal game (albeit not a legal game of go) with relatively minimal supervision, which seems to me to be very important if the student/teacher ratio is high. Another benefit is that it lets students get familiar with one aspect of go, and so lets them break up their learning of the basics of the game into smaller, more accessible chunks. (I liked the "playing catch" analogy that somebody else made in this thread.) Yet another benefit is that some students may initially find the capturing game more interesting, making it easier to get them started along the road to learning go.
So if you focus only on the negatives to the capturing game but ignore the positives, you're stacking the deck.
  • I also don't think the negative aspects are as serious as you seem to think. When I hear people talk about using the capturing game when teaching, they describe using it for the first hour or so when learning. Frankly, I have a hard time worrying too seriously about bad habits that might be developed in one hour. I would never hope to be able to instill good habits in such a short amount of time, so why should I worry overly about bad habits that people might be exposed to for a short amount of time?
 > Well, actually the AGA says almost (but perhaps not quite) that
 > because "The Capture Game" is not only their officially sanctioned
 > teaching method, but all discussion analogous to this ln why it
 > shouldn't be used is BANNED from their official "goteach" newsgroup!

I looked at the AGA web page. It is true that they have a section devoted to "The Capture Game" but not a section devoted for traditional methods; I don't see this as excluding traditional methods in the way that you do. I can understand wanting to spend time talking about unusual, non-obvious methods rather than relatively obvious methods, though certainly a section on traditional methods wouldn't be out of place.

I don't follow the "goteach" mailing list, so I don't know exactly what was banned there. I personally have a hard time imagining that a calm discussion of the issue would not be allowed, especially if it had been a while since the last such discussion had occurred.

I can easily imagine, however, that they wouldn't like it if, whenever somebody else brought up the capturing game, you were in the habit of posting why you thought that was a bad idea: they probably want to provide a space where interested parties can discuss how to use the capturing game without having to constantly justify that use. And I would be even less surprised if people complained if you went around calling people who disagree with you "actively stupid", as you have done here: indeed, I'd be surprised if people didn't complain about your behaviour in such situations.

Discussing and even arguing is one thing; barging in on other people's conversations is another thing; insulting people you disagree with is a third thing.

 > And this is precisely the main problem we currently confront. So far
 > as I'm aware it seems that I'm the only person who has had really
 > extensive experience with both methods and who has attempted to
 > directly compare the results of both. The consequence of this is that
 > most of what people like you who aren't active large scale Go teachers
 > are forced to base their judgment largely on heresay and the opinion
 > of a few who by virtue of being trained and certified in Japan now
 > have a vested interest in promulgating "The Capture Game" teaching
 > method.

I think that "vested interest" is going to far; it's not like people are getting rich by peddling the snake oil of the capturing game. Aside from that, though, I agree that direct experience is important, and I am sincerely impressed that you took the time to experiment with the capturing game to get a more informed perspective on the matter. (Though I have a hard time believing that you're the only person with experience with both methods.)

But I'm certainly not willing to let that be the end of the story. As has already been pointed out in this thread, different teaching methods work differently with different teachers and different students. For example, most math professors prefer to teach by lecturing. I personally prefer to lecture less and have students work in groups more; I think that this is a good enough idea that I wrote a web page about it, and I occasionally give talks about this (I gave one just last week).

But when people try this out after my talks, they have mixed results; it's not at all uncommon for other people to have less success with these methods than I do. And I know that, personally, it took me a while to get group teaching methods to work well, and there are still circumstances where it seems to me that it should work well but I can't carry it off. There are huge numbers of variables involved in getting a teaching method to work. So, while one person's experience in using it is an important data point, it's not the only one. It's certainly not enough for me to reject other people's positive reports on the method out of hand, especially when they raise theoretical issues that, to my mind, you don't adequately address.

Furthermore, I strongly doubt that one method is inherently much better than another. I have reasons to believe that group teaching methods are a good idea when teaching mathematics; but, honestly, I don't think that it really makes all that much of a difference. It would be nice if there were a magic wand to substantially improve the effectiveness of my teaching, but I have yet to see it. The flip side, though, is that I also don't believe that teaching methods alone are likely to have a subtle but strong negative effect.


As promised (or threatened), a discussion of how and when I use the capture game, when and why I don't, and of some related issues. This is in the context of teaching Japanese rules. Sorry it's rather long; I just don't know how to write it short :)

The way I now teach Go (until 3 years ago I did it differently) is based on the Yasuda method, but modified for two reasons: (a) I also teach adults, for whom the Yasuda method was not intended and is (in my humble opinion) unsuitable in its original form; (b) the idea that children will go home after learning the capture game and learn the rest from family and friends isn't applicable in the UK, so the responsibility for taking pupils all the way to real Go falls to the Go teacher.

One of the adaptations is simply to go further than the Yasuda method specifies, by introducing eyes and then territory. The other significant one is to use the capture game fewer times before moving on. Two such games is now the maximum I ever use.

What a beginner must be taught

When I teach a complete beginner, I'm aiming to reach the point where I can say (in language suitable for the age group) something like this:

In a game of Go, each side is trying to make more territory than their opponent. If your territories are too small, you'll lose. But when you make more than your opponent, he might try to invade it and take it away from you. If he manages to live there, it won't be your territory any more, so you have to try to stop him living. A lot of the excitement of Go arises from the battles that happen when one side tries to make a big territory and the other side tries to take it away.

In order to understand this substantively, the beginner will first need to understand the following:

  • the capture rule
  • why some groups can never be captured
  • what territory looks like (topologically)
  • that hoped-for territory is real territory only when it's uncontested; invasion is allowed
  • how to count the final score

Anyone who understands that much can, in my opinion, play "real Go", even if not very skilfully.

To get to this point, I introduce things in this order, as do a lot of other people:

  • starting with an empty board
  • playing in turns
  • playing on intersections
  • capturing a single stone
  • pulling out of atari; capturing a string as a unit
  • capturing these
[Diagram]
Capture This 1  
[Diagram]
Capture This 2  


  • what happens when you try to capture this
[Diagram]
Try to Capture This  


  • what would happen if White tried to live inside this?
[Diagram]
Can White Live Inside This?  


  • therefore we count the above as Black's territory
  • is this Black's territory?
[Diagram]
Is This Black's Territory?  


We discover by discussion and trying it out that this question is tough, but the invasion is certainly worth a try (which it is, at this stage of learning). We also notice that a failed invasion doesn't change the score.

The pupils now play Go. Tidying up and counting are explained at the end of the first game.

Pace and perceptual problems

For many people who have played games before, everything above is extremely simple and one can zap through the whole lot in 5-10 minutes - sometimes even less - and start the first game of real Go. When that's possible, I prefer it.

The only area I've ever seen to give anyone any difficulty is the capture rule. (Perhaps surprisingly, once the capture rule has been understood, the presentation of territory as area where the opponent cannot successfully invade seems to cause no difficulty at all.)

For a small minority of adults, and a rather high proportion of young children, the capture rule brings up perceptual difficulties that need to be dealt with. In practice, they always come up at the stage of capturing no-eyed strings. One example (bottom edge):

[Diagram]
Can Black Capture Two Marked Stones?  

Some people have difficulty with the question of whether a black play at 1 captures 2 white stones on the edge. The difficulty is always easily resolved, once identified.

I think it's important to detect and deal with this kind of difficulty straight away, before moving on, otherwise later explanations are going to be clouded by this dangling issue. How to do it depends on the size and age of the class.

When teaching individuals, or groups small enough to allow the teacher to get continuous feedback from everybody, I prefer just to set a few problems to confirm and reinforce understanding. The key shapes are the one above (or anything similar) and these two (how one can capture one string without the other, in the second case):

[Diagram]
Capture String 1  
[Diagram]
Capture String 2  

If these have been understood, then the rule has been understood, for practical purposes. Capturing a group with one eye, even a 2-point eye, doesn't appear to give any further difficulty.

With larger groups, it depends on age and how itchy people's fingers are getting. A game of Capture-1 is an option. I never present it as Go, just as "a game". Adults seldom seem to want it, preferring to know all the rules <g> first, and being patient enough to go on listening for a while longer.

(Many adults often don't want to play a game even then, being reluctant to do anything until they've told what are the best moves. Children are *much* more sensible :)

IME most pre-teens, and many teenagers, want to stop the talking and start the doing well before it has been possible to make sure that the capture rule has really been understood by everyone in a class of any size. In that case, I divide the class into two teams and we play a game of capture-1 on a 9x9 magnetic display board.

The modus operandi is noisy. Children will shout advice to each other and I encourage this (if there's an excessively dominant one, I try to control him, but that's the only restriction). They will also shout advice to the opponents to play the worst moves they can think of. This does no harm at all, since everyone knows perfectly well what they are trying to do, and it's as good a way as any of teaching that self-atari is a poor tesuji :)

This one capture game is really enough and we can move on if we want to. But, in the past, I've had feedback from schools that the part that is enjoyed the most is the second game. In the second game, which may be capture-1 or capture-3 as the kids choose, all the children play as one team against a team made up of their class teacher, her assistant or another teacher, and the head teacher if available. Two or three teachers, anyway.

Teachers tend to go into huddles and spend a long time debating what to do. Children tremendously enjoy seeing their teachers squirm like this, and it's healthy because it shows them that any difficulties they may be experiencing are experienced by adult beginners too, and nothing to be embarrassed about.

I don't think the second game is pedagogically important, but I think the 10-15 minutes it takes are worth it, and I'd be reluctant to abandon it.

But after that, we continue with the rest of the rules presentation and to playing Go. We never return to the capture game after that.


Iehiro

Bill: At his [ext] ''Internet Go Cafe'' site a fellow named Iehiro presents his method for teaching go. Instead of seeing Atari Go and Stone Counting as alternatives, he uses both.

Briefly, he starts with having the winner be the first player to capture a stone. He progresses to requiring the capture of 5 stones to win. At this point, when the game ends because one player has to fill the second eye of one of his own groups, allowing it to be captured, he switches to what he calls Zaru Go.

In Zaru Go the players are allowed to pass (instead of filling an eye), but must hand over a pass stone as a captive. Two consecutive passes end the game. The winner is the player with more captives.

As Iehiro points out, Zaru Go where White must make the last pass is equivalent to stone counting.


Migeru

I recently read Go as Communication and what seems to be lost on most people is that Yasuda 9p does not advocate Atari Go as a method to actually teach Go. His Atari Go program has different pedagogical, communicative and social goals. In short, he claims Atari Go can be used to improve confidence and attention and build interpersonal bonds. This is why he actually bothers taking his Atari Go program to nurseries, elderly homes and mental institutions.

Yasuda makes it quite clear that the program is most successful when the "teacher" knows nothing about go and that when go players leading Atari Go programs try to go from playing Atari Go to teaching rules, tactics or strategy of Go most students lose heart and the program is a failure as far as Yasuda's goals are concerned.

He may be wrong, but his account is compelling and he is emphatically not trying to teach the game of Go in the first place.

IN SUMMARY

        ---------------------------------------------------------
        | I[901] use the capture game as a tool for making the   |
        | capture rule more clear to pupils where I feel that   |
        | it's likely to be the most effective method in this   |
        | particular class. It's played once or at most twice.  |
        | After that we move on, never to return to the capture |
        | game again.                                           |
        ---------------------------------------------------------

[901] Who is "I"?

Post-introduction exercises.

Once somebody has been taught the rules, the main thing they do in their Go time is to play Go, of course. However, at various stages in development, there are game-like things other than Go that can serve specific purposes.

One, for example, is the well-known one where you surround a rectangle of a chosen size with Black stones and have White try to live inside while Black tries to prevent him. Excellent for getting a feel for the value of thickness and the difficulty of playing too close to it.

That one is played as a game, but not all exercises have to be treated so. The way I teach the L group to people around 12 kyu is simply to set it up on the board and play each defence in turn, having the pupil refute it. The pupil achieves success not by winning a game, but by solving the challenge.

(In answer to a question on the other thread: cricketers do indeed do batting practice, all the way up to international professional level. It's sometimes called "nets". But it isn't played as a game; it's just technique practice, similar to the Go-player's exercise of doing lots of easy L&D problems fast).

Is the capture game useful as a post-introduction exercise? I doubt it. By this time, the beginner should have understood the capturing rule. I don't see what else it helps to teach and, since good play in the capture game involves attacking and defending stones that would be better ignored in the real game, it's flawed for any purpose other than one directly concerned with capturing.

The "Go is a game of territory" argument.

Go is a game of territory once the game is over and the captives have been put inside, under Japanese rules. That's all. At a more fundamental level, as Ing Chang-Ki pointed out, Go is about the "survivability of the stones" (and this is true even under Japanese rules, once one understands the role of the potential invader in defining territory).

Go requires both life-and-death (derived directly from the capture rule) and territory, in order to make sense. One has to introduce both and present the relationship between them. Any order of business which achieves that effectively is sound, in my opinion. There is no logic that says that territory has to be introduced before capture. (With adults, I actually do a preamble saying that this game is about who controls more of the board; but this is merely preamble - I don't define what I mean by "control").

(Actually, since I like to present territory as being that which the opponent can't live inside, it would be quite illogical for me to teach territory first. OC, if you use a different definition, then it might make more sense to do it that way round.)

At another level, you can say "Go is a game of efficiency". So it is; but who would say that you logically must teach (say) inducing moves before you introduce territory or capturing?

Encourages the stone-chasing habit?

The capture game is a tool. It's important for the teacher to make sure that he uses whatever tools he may choose to use in such a way that they don't cause more problems than they solve.

I believe there is an approach in which pupils play the capture game for quite a long time before advancing to full Go, and that teachers are advised not to tell them that they aren't playing "real" Go, in order not to discourage or patronise them. I've never used this approach myself, and never observed anyone else doing so, but it would certainly worry me.

First impressions do count. If a beginner is going to spend a lot of time, perhaps spread over several weeks, playing a game whose sole objective is to capture stones and whose only known strategy is to chase them, it wouldn't surprise me if some pupils develop a "feel" for the game as a stone-chasing exercise, that will last long after the capture game itself has been abandoned. I certainly wouldn't want to risk it.

But I, and many other teachers who use the capture game, don't use it in that way.

Teach Go by whatever method you may, at some time or other you're going to have to teach the capturing rule and deal with any perceptual difficulties that may arise. For the few minutes that you spend doing that, by whatever method, you're going to have to allow capturing to be the focus of attention. Even 9-dans went through that process once in their lives.

There are some very simple therapies for the stone-chasing habit. One is simply to set up this position

[Diagram]
Attack marked white stone  

point out that White has 2 liberties and it's Black to play. How does he attack the White stone?

[Diagram]
Attack marked white stone (cont.)  

Now it's still Black to play but White has 3 liberties. Something must be wrong with this way of attacking, mustn't it?

Another therapy is to put a White stone on tengen and offer this challenge: you play Black and try to capture any White stone. On my turn, I may play or I may pass. If you can capture something white before I have passed 10 times, you win. If I can make the 10th pass, I win. Any 11-year-old beginner will say "easy-peasy!" and go for it with confidence, but I haven't lost yet :))

Advice from Liu Yajie 2p

[Diagram]
 

A few years ago, a friend of mine was teaching at a school near where I live. He ran a weekly after-school Go club, and I went in most weeks to help and encourage. One day, I watched two 11-year-olds who had been playing for about a month. This is what they did:

[Diagram]
 

They continued:

Liu Yajie is the professional who has taught Liao Xingwen, already of dan strength before he was old enough to go to school. Without overlooking this lad's obvious talent, she must be doing something right. At the time of the above game, she was on an extended visit to England, so I showed her this game and asked her advice about what to do for Go beginners who play like this.

What she said was: don't worry about it. Don't bother with corner-sides- centre; they can't understand the reasons yet. They have to learn to fight, too. It's good that they are doing this, at this stage. They'll discover what works and what doesn't. Just let them get on with it.

Bad habits, generally.

Of course, picking off small numbers of unimportant stones is poor Go strategy, and it's easy to observe that it's common among 30-kyus. But getting some things egregiously wrong has to be a main qualification for being 30-kyu. Dare I suggest that stone-chasing isn't the most serious worry?

Let's up the level a little bit. Among mid-single-digit-kyus I seem to find lots examples of:

  • neglecting to capture a strategically important cutting stone, perhaps because somebody has ticked us off for the small thinking behind capturing single stones;
  • passively defending against each threat to chip another two points off our largest territory in the middlegame;
  • complacently regarding a thinly-surrounded area as territory (and even resentfully dismissing the inevitable successful invasion as an outrageous rip-off by an opponent who should have resigned long ago);
  • extending out of every cross-cut, just because the proverb tells us that this is what is expected of all good citizens (read Richard Hunter's Crosscut Workshop to see just how feeble this is);
  • finding oneself 50 points behind, but starting the yose anyway and cruising to a genteel defeat.

Of course there are plenty more, but I picked those deliberately because they are sins against fighting spirit (in its true sense of sticking up for your right to get your fair share, not in the silly sense of picking squabbles everywhere).

Back to 30-kyu. Most of them like to pick off stones one or two at a time, but a smaller number get into the habit of picking off points of territory one or two points at a time. That's not only twice as bad, in terms of the points-per-move ratio, In my opinion it's far more worrying, because it contains the seeds of later sins of complacency such as those listed above. 30-kyus who fight will fight unskilfully and often, to dan eyes, irrelevantly and absurdly, but at least they're fighting.

Maybe it's not such a bad start.

-- Simon

Householding

DieterVerhofstadt: I have made a first attempt to summarize the various discussions that have risen on rec.games.go, and added it to the comments that have already been made on this page. Next I will make a gigantic WikiMasterEdit, although one might object that I am not unbiased to this discussion.

(Sebastian:) I changed the lines starting with "!__" to headlines with 2"!"s. There were some 1-"!" headlines already, which seemed to me to be meant as subdivisions of Michael Gobbins' contribution. I am not sure about the headline "IN SUMMARY" - is this part of Michael Gobbins' contribution, too?

I also introduced a few level 1 headlines where lines start with names, but I'm not sure if they were part of the main contributions or if they were individual contributions and just weren't marked in bold for some reason. My guess is at least some of them should be the same 2"!"-level, but I kept it deliberately different so you can distinguish them. Please change them as appropriate.

Atari Go Teaching Method is controversial.

--DieterVerhofstadt

I first heard of this way to teach go from Bill Camp at the Seattle Go Center. He called it "First Capture" and sometimes "Capture One," because he treated it as the first step in a 4-step process of teaching go slowly but surely. (The next steps are "Capture Five," "Capture Most," and "Territory Go," which is "real" go; often it's fine to skip either Cap-5 or Cap-Most, because the student is ready for real go; individual teaching and learning styles vary.) "The Capture Game" and "The Capturing Game" also work as labels, but i still like "First Capture" best. I did not know it as "Atari Go" until the recent RGG thread / flamewar flared up.
-- TakeNGive

Nuke-Marine: I usually don't have two amateurs to teach, so I'm stuck with one person that I have to interest in the game. It's pointless to give the person even 5 handicap on a 9x9 board. Unless I purposely make bad moves, the game turns solid white in a short time. To compensate, I came up with the idea which turns out to be a variant of the capture game. Real simple, they capture just one of my stones, they win. I don't get that benefit (I don't automatically win by capturing), so I must play very conservatively. Since I'm there, each new concept, missed oppurtunity, or mistake can be pointed out. It's important to point out their one eye group with two empty spots is dead normally (as are some other shapes) but that in this type of game it lives (to kill, I'd have to lose a stone and the game). I also encourage faster play to get as many games under the belt as possible. I've done it off and on over the last 4 years and it seems to get the people interested. People are smart, they make the leap from capture go to regular go with minor heartache.


Atari Go Teaching Method/Discussion last edited by 80.33.80.4 on November 5, 2011 - 20:25
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