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Introduced the game to two Chinese kids, about 10yrs. Stone counting, 9x9, a few games against me, a few against each other. Filling up one's own territory to have as much stones as possible. But avoid remaining with one eye: they understand - I think - that a group needs two eyes to live forever.

Gave them basic problems: how to kill a group with three inner liberties. They got the point.

Then switched to territory scoring. One of them spontaneously came up with the association of "air": need to have as much air as possible. Life and death: the net is being woven.

The oldest seemed stronger, yet his younger brother won between them. Youngest may still have a problem with suicide vs taking the last liberty to regain a liberty.

Mother wants them to play the game, to strengthen their mind. Showing them how to systematically count their territory, without rearranging stones, a detail that fits in that objective. It also involves memory (remember one's own count when counting the other's - even if that's peanuts; there's a reason why I use the memorisation trick...), patience (e.g. trying to resist playing with the stones, hover over the board, play too fast), and calculation.


Initiating three little buggers is a bit too much at the same time, so with the parents we decided to put most time in the oldest - who alsow show a lot of interest for the game. I must be more patient: he wants to go back to stone counting, next time I'll let him continue playing that game. He knows about leaving two holes to keep a group alive. I try to encourage the parents to play too (without much success yet), they will look for a (Chinese?) chess friend who might want to learn the game with him. Must also be more patient with handicaps: 6 on a 13x13, but I keep winning. It's not a problem, next time I'll switch to 8H to make sure he wins (just for the record, he has already won from me in the past).


Introduced Chinese counting, as they like stone counting, and Japanese counting ('air') does not seem to interest them so much. Note that these are Chinese kids, so this gives extra motivation, I guess. Am thinking more of how to teach: more than initiating, it is the responsability of introducing tactics. Eyes, 3-point shapes and their vital point, ladder. Next, I will create three minimal 3-point groups with vital point open: one in the corner, one in the side, one in the center: which one to kill first. This should teach two ideas: how much stones a group needs to live (so why the corners are interesting) and the fact that go is much about finding the biggest move all the time. So the exercise after that will be chosing between saving an own solo stone in atari vs killing an opponent group. Possibly hyperkinetic kid, confirmed traces of autism, likes maths (will definitely increase his interest in Go), outstanding memory. Need to put the parents more at distance. I think their presence (they, sometimes both, follow the games though I can't yet convince then to participate - must make a note of that) possibly puts more pressure on the kid and makes him more jumpy. Teaching the game also tests their elementary math skills: what's the size of the goban (13x13), how can we know which side won (by rearranging areas), how to count an irregular area (requires attention).

Still plays too much isolated stones, also along the side, rather than creating strong groups.


Left with playing 7H as alternative, Wei Wei preferred to played two games without handicap, but with constant suggestions: he plays, then I suggest a better move and explain why it seems better. Two games in 1.5h, so I expect 19x19 in a few months, probably sooner. I wonder if teaching makes oneself stronger: now I'm forced to give more attention to Go, must be more sure of what I'm talking. He's quite young, I still need to find a way to introduce him to the club (it's a practical issue: club location is a bar, a legal problem for young players). Parents are a bit impatient, maybe putting some pressure on him: in the second game, the kid won over me (without H, but with tutoring); parents should not say that that was due to me helping him. Will need to draw their attention on that: winning gives a good feeling, motivates.


Separation between teacher and pupil faded a bit. Maybe I'm teaching, but I'm also training to teach - so who's the teacher in the end? Dualism, says Zen.


A session is typically two games: one without handicaps, in which White helps Black in the selection of moves, then one with handicaps, but without help. Time permitting, they ask for another one, with help.

The idea is to progress to 9x9 3H, then 13x13 6H to 4H, then 19x19 9H. One is now at 13x13 5H, the other 13x13 8H.

And mom wants her kids to play on 19x19. I'll have a chat with her (she's not in for the moment): one to explain that 19x19 is way too big for beginners, and two 9x9 is excellent to develop fighting skills, create strong groups.

And I feel that I'm hitting my limits already. Originally the idea was simply to initiate, not really to teach. I've been a 15-13k for years now, I'm not good in reading, and am afraid they will inherit this. There's a page on SL where Dieter writes that one of his early teachers left marks in his play. So the motive to get better is getting shape: if I want to continue playing with beginners, I need to improve a lot. Or I'll have to make clear that they need another teacher, I'm willing to remain a "sparring partner".

To be continued.


Maybe this page should be called "Initiation" instead, as this remains my primary goal. During summer, I chose to be present in the [ext] city centre in an attempt to give more visibility to Go. I had been distributing many small visiting-card sized flyers, with the suggestion to mail me to be kept informed on updates; many people said yes they would, none of them did. Also, I presented several people that were interested in Go the occasion to learn the game at home, for free. Except from this Chinese family, no-one seemed to understand my motives. Maybe I should ask for money to become more credible.

2007-11-07 (Wed)

Today we had a record attendance of players at work: 7 (including me) and at least three to four more can be expected. The room is getting too small...

2008-01-02: group initiation and tournament

Before talking with the responsibles of the cultural section of Gent penitentiary ("Nieuwe Wandeling"), I had foreseen a quiet initiation session in mind, an afternoon with a few interested if any. well, it turned out to become a two-day initiation plus knockout tournament with 50+ participants.

The very first hour was smooth: eight inmates showed up, I explained stone counting (B begins, play on intersections, what is a liberty, what are connected stones and how can they be killed, suicide and the exception) and off they went on 5x5 dry runs. Depending on their individual progress, I let them proceed to 7x7 and had planned to have them play a first qualification round on a 9x9. Unfortunately, most had to qualify on (only) one winning 7x7.

When a ko happened, I gathered the other boards around and explained the problem. This worked fine in the first hour...

The next hours were a bit more chaotic, as new player waves were less ordered, so I ended up explaining the rules to almost every pair of players LOL. That evening I was exhausted and went to bed early - missed the first club evening (though I had hoped to attend, be it later).

Add to that Eastern Europeans that spoke broken English only, and even a deaf-mute person - now how do you explain the rules to then? Anyway, the guy understood it, he beat his opponent in the first round. Later I talked with one of the personnel who told me that the deaf boy, against all expectations, had beaten one of the strongest chess players LOL!

The single problem that kept popping up in still too many cases was related to suicide. Players left dead groups on the board, a minority even filled up the entire board at the end: this even happened when I repeatedly stressed the fact that there should *never* be any group left without liberties at the end of a move. Also others did not understand the exception to the suicide rule. Although I walked around all tables all the time to catch mainly that mistake, some obviously never understood it (nor the game, in fact). I avoided mentioning eyes, although some obviously were better than others and just asked for some more tactics (such as how to create a live group).

Initially I chose for a simple manual tournament planning because I had foreseen seven 1-hour slots of 8 participants each doing a mini knockout, with slot winners competing for the first three places in the finals. But the players preferred to stick together and each fight for a place, plus the slot system went down the drain after an hour. Anyway I managed to roster 23 winners for the second day: 5 rounds of two winning 9x9 games of 20 minutes total time each, scheduled in 5.5h over 4 gobans. The manual rostering was an interesting experience, as I had to juggle with times, gobans, group women together (I decided so) and split (perceived) strong players sufficiently. And allow slack time for unexpected events (in such an institution people ARE busy and DO have schedules...)

I noticed several cases where players that were strong in several games on a small board (5x5 and later 7x7) dramatically lost on 9x9 boards, or players that felt lost in the beginning (and even looked like they would never make the second round) won the last game (which was deciding for the second round).

Some players had the impression that Black playing first would win more often. I dared not talk about komi: after all, these are beginners and their game results would fluctuate far beyond the komi range. The essence was to discover a game and encourage losers not to give up on Go because of a few games.

I expect about 10-20% to have caught the go virus; the three women that won the first round all seem quite good at it.

Dieter: Alex I think this is just fantastic. You're on a roll. Couldn't help wondering about their facial expression when you started discussing the concepts of liberty, capture, running groups ... though.

:-) The most difficult concept was suicide; but I didn't go into tactics. In fact the only thing I did was to explain the rules.


Friday afternoon saw the continuation of the tournament: only 9x9 games would be played.

To my relief, the roster I had prepared was tossed aside (so to say) - the circumstances are not like in a real tournament, where players hang around the bar waiting for the next round; also, some players were also involved in other tournaments, so I was more than happy to leave the scheduling to the local responsibles.

This time I had introduced clocks (9 minutes per player), which gave an extra flavor to the tournament; some players already knew clock from playing chess, but in general it gave a bit too much stress - even if 9 minutes was enough, as barely a few players almost lost on time. Although I had scheduled the women together, they preferred to be split up and each fight a male opponent. In fact they should have remained together so that they had more chance to reach finals.

Because they lost by the clock - I mean: the clock put too much stress on them and seriously degraded their game.

An Armenian woman joined the tournament on day 2, got a crash course, and finally knocked out two other players before going down against the number 2 of the tournament.

Meanwhile a woman working in the cultural section (who had been organising the tournament) also learned the game, and the girl that had been noting the game results finally also played a few games for fun. In other words, those women out there prove to be valuable players, they just don't know it!


Saturday morning were for the semifinals and finals, this time two winning games to win. This was interesting, as it clearly showed that Black was not always the one with the advantage - all matches ended 2-0.

Even the pastor played a game for fun (he had never played it before) - and won against a quarter finalist.

All these quite unexpected events made it a unique experience I would recommend to everybody. Prisoners are very open to new games such as Go, several of them already play chess so the grounds are present; and the enthousiasm was obvious.

On the minus side, as these people do have rather busy schedules, I don't have the occasion to follow up these players, which is a bit disappointing because it is NOW that they need attention, before the fire dies again. Maybe in a few months, on some holiday.

Lessons learned

  • explaining the suicide rule requires more attention; ko is a special situation of that, it has to be judged whether everybody needs to know it immediately or not (I'd say yes if the initation is part of a tournament)
  • in a tournament of newbies, note down subjective factors (eg perceived strength) that should be taken into account when rostering (mainly to try to avoid the more promising players eliminating each other too soon)
  • maybe tournament and initation should not go together. Players must be allowed to train a bit (days, weeks) before being thrown in the race. It is too risky to face finals with players that do not completely understand the rules (although this was no issue in this case - both players will complement each other in that area).
  • when using clock, do a few dry runs to add the clock in the playing routine before playing important games; make clear that there is enough time.
  • todo: need a rule of thumb for time required to complete an N-player knockout

initial planning I had in mind

Note that most of this was never realised!

  • Settings:
    • 50 minute slots with 8 players (age 18+) each; newbies (56 entries)
  • Planning:
    • 25 stones per 5 minutes, 2 minutes breaks btn games
    • 5x5 (5min) -> 7x7 (10min) -> 9x9 (15min)
    • Recursive Knockout (never worked)
    • reward for winner?
  • Programme:
    • introduction: 5min
      • china (4000yrs, legend, weiqi) -> japan (7AD, igo - also: [ext] backgammon), korea (baduk) -> western world (17-19Century)
      • show 19x19, grain, aspect (but: risk of scaring off those that already feel difficulties on small boards)
      • nigiri (skipped)
      • Stone Counting Teaching Method
    • 5x5: 5min
    • 7x7, two games: 10min
    • 9x9, two games: 30min (never worked)
  • At the end (skipped)
  • Optional - to decide (but: How Not To Teach Go)

No need to clutter the mind that is still struggling with stones

    • eyes
    • auto-atari
    • strong groups, liberties
    • ko


Second edtion of the prison tournament: a three day 9x9 tournament, with an initial inscription of 90 players, of which 60 proceeded through to the finals. Initial 5x5 -> 7x7 -> 9x9 stone counting. Players from previous sessions begin to feel there must be a better way to count, and I started hinting at Chinese/Japanese rules. Need to find a way to ease the transition, main problem is not enough access to interested players. The remaining problem is the amount of newcomers that keep coming in in small groups. The first day is killing, having to repeat the same rules over and over. This seems to be inherent to the prison system; also, maybe Go should be given a higher priority so that planning can go smoother. Should insist on this on the next occasion.


At work, we (6 players) play once a week, during lunchtime.

I recently introduced a simplified variant of the Point Ranking Scheme At Tokyo Go clubs: ( difference in points divided by six ) + 1 gives the number of handicaps. The idea is that losing three games (=losing 3 pts, opponent winning 3, thus diff=6) in a row should give you one extra handicap. We keep track of points on an A6 scorecard. No komi in place (yet) due to too wild variations in game outcomes.

Pierre suggested to introduce kifu to help the weaker players better understand their games.


13x13 is becoming more frequent at work. I intend to duplicate the point system: one for 9x9, one for 13x13, the two sides of the A6 should suffice. Komi should be brought into attention too; but the lack of clear rules for 9x9 komi (see "Handicap for smaller board sizes") is somewhat discouraging. Maybe a simple mapping of +7.5 -> -7.5 to the point difference could be a start. Ideally, players should be able to chose between handicap stones and komi.


Preparing the third edition of the prison mini-tournament, 77 players foreseen. Three-day initiation plus tournament, stone counting, no handicaps or komi, one prelim round, then six rounds knock-out, from 1W9 (one winning 9x9) to begin, to 2W13 in later rounds. Times are sudden death, 1W9=20' (8min/p), 2W13=100' (16'/p).

Stone scoring will remain in effect until a club is erected, so as not to burden beginners too much. Some players from last year already know the rules, they also stick to stone counting but will get a training session while the others get an initiation session. Once a club could be set in place, then Japanese counting, komi and byoyomi could be introduced.

(unrelated link: [ext]

2008-12-25: 3rd edition of the mini-tournament

Tournament is over. Finally. The three days were so demanding I barely made it to my PC to even browse my emails.

The setting is a prison, 70+ participants, part of which had already played before, and part which has never played Go. I brought 4 9x9/13x13 gobans and two sets of stones, and clocks I borrowed from the go club of Gent.

Due to the particular nature of this tournament (a prison), I am confronted to various kinds of beginners - as well as players who participated last year: men and women, beginners and experienced, interested and uninterested (some thought it was some kind of WII, others had darts in mind...), and, most of all, not everybody masters the Dutch language. This mix is not ideal for beginners.

An initial attempt was made to let players attend sessions in waves, but after an hour or two, they start coming in small groups. This is a catastrophy, because it means that I have to explain the game to almost everybody. By the end of day one, I have a sore throat, and wish I never did this...

I also had hoped to have the beginners grouped together for one hour sessions, and offer the more experienced players the opportunity to play 9x9 or 13x13 training games, but again this is too difficult to organise.

Players would sit down at their table and I would first point out the china-japan-korea names and dates, then explain stone scoring on a 5x5, then 7x7, then 9x9, and finally a 9x9x against time. This does not seem to be ideal, because they are too easily distracted, start playing (some start laying down stones in the squares, probably they think it's just checkers) or are so pressed to play that they listen but do not absorb what is being said. So I think next time I should call them around me and explain them the game on a goban, rather than let them sit down immediately. Maybe a magnetic Go demo board could be better suited for this.

The language issue sometimes leads to situations where I'm called to a board where one speaks (only) (broken) French, and the other Dutch and a little bit of French. So when I return to another board, I'm still in French mode but they don't understand French...

In the beginning, some boards still end up completey filled - that is, all groups lay dead on the board. Some players will never understand that dead groups mst be removed immediately, even if you repeatedly tell them to remove groups as soon as they die... The exception to the no-suicide rule is the next biggest hurdle for most beginners, and a few players do not seem to correctly grab the concept of connected stones (they keep looking diagonally, others fail to "see" groups but only see connected lines, as in Othello). One must realise that much of these players have never heard of Go before, and some are probably more attacted because of the final prize (25 euro for the winner).

Not everybody had the same respect for the material: several (glass) stones broke, particularly because many players tend to grab handfuls of them to play (and I was unable to convince them to leave the stones in the containers...), one player used a (plastic) lid as a tray for his chips, I had to prevent him from manipulating the clock with his greasy fingers (and the stones are enjoying a well deserved soapy bath at the time of writing.)

By the end of day two, while setting up the final 16, it appears that the number of remaining participants is odd. Turn up that I paired a first rounder with a second rounder. Also, for one game, I seem to have inverted winner and loser. I still maintain that I correctly wrote down the result, yet it seems obvious that I made a mistake (rather than e.g. both agreeing on who actually wins, which happens sometimes when someone cannot or doesn't want to continue the tournament).

Both events illustrate how demanding this particular tournament is: I seem to reach a point where I cannot manage this totally on my own. Add to this the unfamiliar names of the inmates (luckily I have a list of who is supposed to attend), even to a point where two seemingly unrelated players bear very similar names, and the risk of making mistakes is big.

And there is not such thing as a tournament tree: contrary to a "normal" tournament where everybody is either playing or walking around while waiting for the next round, who can play against who is determined by what they are busy doing at that moment (work, having a visit, or being away... or even playing in a darts tournament) - so it is not a matter of just filling in all the names in a tree. Luckily, it's not my job to gather the players; staff runs around a lot to find who is available.

A particularly interesting observation was that in the later rounds, without even being told so, some players realise that the end of the game, which is mostly filling up (stone scoring), presents no challenge any more once it is obvious that just two eyes must be left open in each group. In fact they could easily switch to Chinese counting.

Clocks were set to sudden death, 8' per player in a 9x9, 16' p.p. in a 13x13. Except from maybe one or two exceptions, no-one runs out of time. Maybe next time I turn a few last minutes into byoyomi periods. Initial rounds are 1W9 (1 winning 9x9), final rounds are 2W13, no handicaps, no komi; I also introduced nigiri. The varying game times made the planning even more difficult (1W9=20', 2W9=50', 2W13=100')

See also [ext]


One of the players had received a gift and wanted to give it away, so he came up with a tournament. So next week we have a 13x13 tournament at work: every day, during lunch break, about six players will compete for the gift. And this week is "warm-up": those who have the occasion, train on 13x13.

Update 2009-02-18: meanwhile we have about 9 players that frequently participate in the noon go session. And the number is still climbing - 12-14. Lack of material force us to play over two days in the week...


During the Gentse Feesten I gave a series of go initiations, 2 hours a day during 10 days, the event was listed in the programme booklet and thus was visited by interested people (about 40 in the end).

The plan was (preprinted) 5x5 (stone counting) -> 7x7 (area scoring) -> 9x9 (territory scoring). The idea for the transitions came from what I think is a problem when you distribute 9x9 cardboard sets to players who learn stone counting: chances are they will run out of stones.

  • Adults - let's say past 40-50 yrs - tend to need far more time to learn basic rules (in one case, two adults spend more than 30' on two 5x5). Some don't reach the 9x9 stage. I think that adults try to reason too much about how to play.
  • the transition stone -> area -> territory seems logical, yet is too subtle for most, especially in such a short timeframe.
  • nearly each player needs a different approach: e.g there was a player (age 45+) that knew chess, yet had difficulties playing stone counting on a 5x5. Age seems predominant in learning the game, past experience in abstract board games less.
  • Although the idea is not to give any hints on how to play, I try to "kickstart" the process by suggesting to make strong groups rather than disperse stones.
  • the no-suicide rule remains the biggest issue (see also Dieter)


At the beginning of 2012, the company merged with a sister company, and as a result of losing a lot of former players due to a 50% cut in personnel, I started over with a new group of players. Attendance is currently 2-4 players for a company of around 150. There is also interest from another group, but the company has a split dining hours policy (probably for historical reasons when the canteen was too small for the number of workers), which makes that other group difficult to reach.

I introduced a refined point ranking scheme next week, see simple point ranking scheme. Score cards are great to pair players: because of limited resources (play during lunch break, invitation via outlook meetings to make sure enough seatings are available as well as to oblige players to be on time, limited amount of material), I pair up participants to also ensure that there is a good mix of opponents.

Half november I did a simul against six players, in order to establish point rankings. But most interestingly I discovered that a simul has a lot of PR value because it tends to draw much more attention than the same bunch of people playing together in a corner - no-one seems to notice. I'll do that more often, also to boost the players by playing against a stronger player.


Can't help it... Gave an initiation session to a handful of players, and there is already a demand for more. My problem is not how to teach...

Funny thing: most players are Chinese, and many of them thought they were not good enough to play, didn't know the game, the usual "excuses".


I run a weekly noon schedule (a small window: 1230-1330), after an initial interest of about 10 players, a handful remains (and a few returned to China).

Because there is no "critical mass", I use a "subscribe" mode: I send (Outlook meeting) invitations every week, and insist that they confirm their attendance so that nobody has to wait. But they seem to prefer to choose whether to attend or not, so I risk facing empty tables. I'll try this "attend" mode, but my fear is that there will be less players showing up, because these players are not inclined to structure their agenda, so they will easily forget...


Axd/Teaching last edited by PJTraill on September 12, 2018 - 22:47
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