CBlue's Elementary Course

  Difficulty: Beginner   Keywords: Opening, Shape, Tactics, Strategy, Theory

(German language version / Deutsche Version : Grundkurs.)

CBlue: I was looking through the Senseis pages, searching for some sort of compact instructions explaining basic fundamentals and hints, that are written clearly and without an overload of information, with the purpose of giving an impulse to beginners and in general players in the double-digit kyu range who are looking for some hints to strengthen their orientation. Since I didn't find something of the sort I had in mind, I decided to actually put the public lesson I used to hold on KGS in intervals, into written form. So here it goes... (It's become a bit more than I thought it would :)

(Note about editing: I was advised to 'personalise' the page by including my name in the topic, in order to prevent editing as it would happen to generic pages :) So if you have any suggestions, instead leave me a note on KGS, or use the [ext] 'Discuss Page' button at the very top, thank you!)

Prerequisites for this tutorial are:

  • knowledge of the basic rules (placing, capturing/liberties, counting the score)
  • knowledge of the term Atari
  • recommended but not required: Having played at least 10 (fast) games on a normal (19 x 19) board, to get somewhat of an initial boost of feeling for the game.

Table of contents

1. Generic Strategy

The Chinese name (Wei-qi) as well as the Japanese name (I-go) for Go basically mean 'The Encircling Game'.

This interpretation holds much truth, because sort of surrounding the opponent's stones is infact a fundamental principle during the game's process. This becomes clearer when we look at it from the other perspective, ie of the player that gets enclosed:

  • Stones that are enclosed may yield a (usually not very big) amount of territory, but as long as the enclosure lacks any severe weaknesses the stones inside are hardly affecting the course of the game anymore, which can render them ineffective, or even worse, useless.
  • A basic principle therefore is, to try and break out of enclosure before your opponent manages to complete it.
  • There are some fixed patterns (such researched patterns are called Joseki), usually played in standard corner situations, that aim at trading big corner territory for outside influence:
    One player gets the big corner territory, but as a drawback, the opponent is allowed to enclose him quite firmly. If the corner territory is large enough, both players can be satisfied with the result.

(Side notes: In general, to be accepted as a Joseki sequence, the outcome ought to be even for both players. There are hundreds of josekis, many not aiming at enclosing or corners, but middle-game (Chuban) fights instead.)

  • There are many important proverbs in Go, that carry a strategic or tactical truth which should not be disregarded, some more than others. One quite simple is: Connected stones are strong, separated stones are weak.
    When breaking through an enclosure, the opponent's stones might get separated in that process, which is a success for the player breaking through. Here is a small example of a very common corner joseki that pays heed to separating and breaking out of a threatening enclosure:
Double-Attack on Corner  

Left: Black chooses the marked move to break out of the corner and at the same time definitely separating the two white stones. This is a correct move, and joseki.

Right: If black neglects to play here, white will play on the important point himself, thereby very effectively enclosing black, restricting him to the corner, and at the same time connecting all three of his own stones relatively well: Although the connection is not perfectly firm but consists of slightly loose 'Knight Jumps' (Keima), it is sufficiently strong to withstand attempts by black to break out well enough. Allowing white to play this move is a severe mistake.

In fact, there is another proverb applying here, which emerges quite often: The vital point of my opponent's stones may also be the vital point of my own stones.

  • Go is a fighting game, attacking often being the better form of defense. Keeping own stones connected and separating opponent stones is one of the basic ideas that guides both players' thinking during the game. Here is a very basic example, that should give you not even one second of hesitation:
Basic separation vs connection example  

Whoever is to move should play on the marked centre point immediately, in order to connect his stones. The other player will have his stones cut into two groups (of 1 stone each) and be at an extreme disadvantage.

A basic concept of Go strikes: Keep your own stones connected and cut your opponent's groups if possible, and try to keep them separated.
Exception: If the partial groups, that are created from separating, are already very strong each on their own, ie already have two eyes to live or can most easily jump towards another nearby strong group, then the effort of separating them was pointless. The idea behind separating is always, to weaken stones, and to keep them weak. So if the partial groups resulting from separation will actually not be weak at all, there was no need to separate them in the first place.

  • Most prevalent weaknesses in beginner games:
    • They tend to automatically answering every move the opponent makes, losing the view for the whole picture. For example if the opponent threatens to capture one stone: One stone is just one point. The grid of territory below the stone is possibly another point. However, in many cases, there are moves on the board which are much bigger than just 1 or 2 measly points. If you see any big open area on the board where no stones have been played yet, just sacrifice one or two stones to your opponent, and play into the big area instead, possibly securing 5, 10 or even 20 points in the process! (An exception occurs, if the 'single stone' is in fact an important cutting stone, which is a slightly advanced topic. Cutting will be discussed in the process of this tutorial in all chapters, so just read on. However, if you can't see the big idea about cutting stones yet, don't worry too much, it'll come to you eventually just from playing more games.)
    • They place their stones in bad shape, most of all, the so-called Empty Triangle. More about those shapes will be explained in paragraph 3 later.
    • Answering an attachment in an effective way. For beginners it's actually very hard to see the importance and power of answering an attachment; so even if you aren't really sure why yet, just try and play an answering move, as will be explained in detail later, in paragraph 4.
    • Playing a defensive move, when an attacking move would have achieved even more.
    • Not considering possible reasons their opponent might have had when he played a certain move.
    • Playing too loosely when they should firmly connect. Playing loose moves can be a good way of developing very quickly over the board. However, beginners often miss when they should really play a very solid move in a crucial situation. A basic 'separation vs connection' example was already given in the diagram above. Here are some more examples:

Black must connect SOLIDLY (middle)

Black must connect his stones solidly as shown in the middle diagram. If he plays some fancy move like in the right diagram, white will just cut him apart.

Note that in the middle diagram, black has a single strong group and white has two separated groups, while in the right diagram, black's stones have been separated too.


Black must connect SOLIDLY (middle)

Again, black must connect his stones solidly as shown in the middle diagram. Then white will be left with two ugly cutting points at 'a' and 'b', that black might exploit when it's his turn again.

If black plays some fancy move like B1 in the right diagram, white will just shrug and capture the marked stone with W2, forming a powerful shape (Ponnuki, more in paragraph 3) and end up with all his stones connected and safe, while black actually has lots of further cutting points in his formation. Lay it out on a board to verify for yourself.
Here a slightly different diagram: This time black simply cannot connect solidly. Nevertheless, he should just try to keep his stones together as good as possible:


Black links his stones up as good as the situation allows (middle)

Black B2 in the middle diagram is correct. He links up as good as possible in the given situation. That his stones aren't connected perfectly cannot be avoided here.

Right side: The fancy move of B2 is very bad, no matter if white plays 'a' or 'b' next, black will be off worse than in the middle diagram, because black will either have more cutting points, or worse shape.
In the following diagrams, white plays bad moves that can be interpreted as an invitation for black, to cut the white stones apart:


(Left and middle:) White's mistake invites black to cut him in two

On the left, white makes the mistake of playing W1. In the middle diagram, black punishes white's mistake correctly by simply following the invitation and cutting through cleanly at B2.

Right side: The move of W1 would have been nicely solid for white, however, he could also try and play 'a' instead of W1. Although this leaves white with a cutting point, it also blocks black's road, and depending on the surrounding situation on the board, any fighting that follows might be in white's favour. Some other moves are possible for white too, as long as they don't allow black to separate white as cleanly as in the left and middle diagrams.


White can't stop black's progress this way

Black is ahead in this pushing battle. White wants to stop black's progress and get ahead, but W2 is akin to jumping in front of a freight train. Black is invited to drive through with B3 and, as the right diagram shows, white is left with a broken shape. white+circle is left weak and alone, and White's own train has been stopped hard in its tracks. Meanwhile, black's stones are solidly connected and strong.

In this situation, white can't immediately get ahead to stop Black's progress in this direction, so needs to come up with some other plan.


Another bad attempt at getting ahead

With the hane of B1, black gets ahead of white to stop white's progress, or at least push white's group to the left. If white tries to jump past with W2, black will push through with B3. Again, black is invited to push through the gap.

Right side: White has several choices that are better than W2, depending on the surrounding situation. 'a' pushes back and threatens to cut at 'b' next. If white thinks a fight here is favorable, cutting both groups immediately at 'b' may be OK. If the situation is very unfavorable for white, maybe running away with 'c' is the only choice.

Last but not least, here's an example where black should just ignore the white Atari (attack on his single stone), because it's only worth two measly points:

Black should ignore white's attack and play elsewhere!  

The difference might be hard to grasp for a beginner. The reason why black can ignore this attack, is that his single stone which is threatened has neither an effect on the stability of his own group nearby, nor an affect on the stability of white's group nearby! Both groups, black and white, are already pretty solid and the marked black stone plays no role in changing that. So it's really just a single stone, worth two points.
(Two points, because the captured stone is worth one point, and the empty grid where it had been, will be a point of territory for white too.)

  • The greatest factor to increasing your playing strength is your reading ability.
    Reading, meaning to try hard and play possible sequences out in your head, testing them for success or failure, before playing them out on the real board in your actual game! This can be trained, especially by solving Life & Death problems. (There are some on senseis library at lifeanddeath#toc11.)
    Top professionals can read more than hundred moves ahead in certain situations.
  • Another very important thing to get stronger, is to review your games afterwards. Either together with your opponent, or with a stronger player who is good at explaining. Note that you don't need to find much more than one or two grave mistakes per game you review. If you remember your mistakes, that will already be sufficient to make you improve.
  • Last but not least in this chapter, a strong advice for those who like to train against computer programs on board sizes larger than 9x9: Don't!
    Computer programs can damage your style a lot, if you get used to them, and this happens faster than you might think. You should always play a human opponent. This has nothing to do with actual playing strength, so even a weaker human opponent is a good choice while a much stronger computer would still remain a very bad choice.

2. Opening Strategy (Fuseki)

The main question plaguing new players in Go is as prevalent as in hardly any other board game, so don't assume that you aren't suited to play Go just because you are as clueless as any other of us was at one point: Where should I start putting stones, and why?

In chess for example, there aren't much choices. Before you can move out most of the pieces, you will have to move the pawns. In Go, you can just play anywhere you like - more freedom can give you more headache!

But behold, there are simple strategic ideas. If you have observed games of stronger players, you will have noticed that nearly always they start by occupying the corners with one stone or two, then move (to be more precise: extend) along the sides, and care about the board centre the last.

A simple reason for this order becomes visible if you think about just how much territory you could surround with, say, six stones:

(Note: Experienced players would actually not just lay out six stones next to each other like that in the beginning, because those moves would be considered too slow, this is merely an example to demonstrate efficiency of staking out territory. However, if you are a beginner, don't worry to much - be encouraged to just try out anything you can think of, and observe carefully how your opponent reacts! No harm at all, and none of your experimental moves will be stupid - quite the opposite: Trying out crazy things is something that can gain you a lot of experience, giving you level-ups! ;)

Example Areas surrounded by 6 Stones  

The black chains don't firmly connect around the corners of the surrounded area, but that doesn't matter for the point of this demonstration:

Thanks to the borders of the board, black could secure 9 points of territory in the corner, only 4 on the side, and a meager 2 in the centre.

Now it should become clearer why corners are especially attractive, followed by extensions along the sides, and caring about the centre last.

Here is an example opening, showing only the very first moves:

Sample Fuseki  
  • The Knight's Move formed by black B1 and B5 is a typical corner enclosure technique, called Shimari. It encloses a pretty large corner quite securely, (for advanced players: It also exerts influence downwards the left side, in this example). The shimari is a very traditional shape, but nevertheless still very effective.
  • The white move of W2 puts more emphasis on the lower side than on the right side. This can be due to personal preferences, maybe white has prepared a strategy which he feels very comfortable with.
  • Black B3 is placed on one of the 4-4-points that are marked by a large black dot on the board, named Star Points (Hoshi). These points allow for fast development and aim at outside influence. They are rather modern to use heavily.

Star Points have a weakness: The opponent can play diagonally below them, on the 3-3-point, using an invasion joseki: The very common 33PointInvasion (you should consider memorizing this joseki, because of its great importance). However, timing is important or he will suffer a disadvantage from doing so too early.

  • White W4 is a move that takes control of the whole corner completely in just one move, at the drawback of being placed in a relatively low position which somewhat lacks possibility of fast development.
  • Black B5 loses no time to complete the Shimari, a powerful corner enclosure.
  • White W6 is a standard attack move on a Star Point stone, which is answered by black B7 immediately, to prevent a double-attack on the corner. Black 'a' instead of B7 is also a good defense. If black fails to respond to white W6, white can consider a double-attack by playing at '7' himself.
  • White W8 draws back, forming good shape with white W6. Although it doesn't necessarily have to be the exact point where W8 was played in this Fuseki, it is important to somehow support W6, forming a sort of connection or providing a Base for the white stones (more on creating a Base later). Without a further strengthening move (such as W8 or similar) black might just counter-attack W6 by playing a Pincer move at 'b' (some other pincer moves are possible too). (Somewhat advanced: In the diagram with white W8 in place, if black still tries to invade with 'b' white can just reply by playing 'c'.)
  • If you are a beginner, you might be surprised that white does not directly attach his W6 stone to the black B3 Star Point stone, but leaves a one line distance. If this makes you wonder, just try out attaching directly in an actual game you play, and observe what happens.
    Experienced players usually heed the proverb attaching strengthens or don't attach to opponent's weak stones, so they avoid attaching to a stone they want to attack, because strenghtening it would be inconsistent to attacking it, meaning: An attachment is actually not an efficient attack, in most cases.
    Why does an attachment actually strengthens the stone it is attached to? Because it provokes a response. Let's imagine white plays on the point right of the black Star Point. If black adds another stone right on top of his Star Point stone in response, the one white stone will look weak, like if it's being pressed against a small wall of two black stones. This concept is hard to grasp at the beginning, so don't worry too much at this point, it will come naturally when you gained some experience.

  • After occupying the corners: After the corners have been occupied, the next steps are usually attacking an opponent's corner, as well as extending along the sides:
Another sample Fuseki  

Due to its shape, black's Shimari in the bottom left corner exerts influence towards the right, so black would really like to extend from it along the bottom side, to the point of B1 or even to 'a', which would also attack white's corner stone. White however spoils this by extending from his own corner stone to W1 now before black gets the opportunity. He doesn't dare to extend much further, because he might be coming too close to black's strength (the black shimari).
Instead of settling for a smaller extension to 'b' now, black decides to attack the top right corner. The sequence shown from B2 to B6 is a Joseki suited for this situation, ie a standard sequence that gives even result to both players. As often, there are possible variations, such as 'c' instead of W3 for white, or 'd' instead of B6 for black.

  • A side note on memorizing joseki:
    The best way to learn about joseki sequences is to study the meaning behind each of their moves! This will help your understanding of Go far more than just memorizing the mere pattern without actually understanding the reasoning behind it. Also, you will be able to respond to unknown joseki much more easily if you have previously studied the meanings of moves, because you will infact be able to apply that knowledge to other situations that you haven't encountered before.
  • Moves on the second line, third line, forth line:
    Usually, during the opening, strategic moves such as corner enclosures or extensions along the sides are not played on the second line, because they are too close to the border to form potential territory and also too far from the rest of the board to exert much influence. One speaks of them as being way too low. As you can see in the sample opening above, all moves are actually on a third or fourth line.
    Moves on the third line are usually safer for making territory, while moves of the fourth line exert more influence. The concept of influence is very hard to grasp at the beginning, so don't worry too much. If a player plays too many of his stones on the third line instead of the fourth line in the opening, one tends to speak of a low position
  • There are players who infact play the centre Star Point of the board as their first move, instead of playing into a corner! This centre Star Point is called Tengen (the centre of the heavens), and among other features (ladder-breaker) provides a maximum of influence into all directions at once, while not expressing any territorial demands at all. This shows us, that infact any point on the board has a balance of the factors influence vs territory: The lower a move, meaning the closer to an edge, the less influence does it exert but the safer it stakes out territory underneath (towards the border of the board) - also see the following diagram:
Bottom: Low stones on the third line secure territory along the edge relatively firmly. Right: High stones on the fourth line radiate much influence over the board.  

3. Basic Shapes

Shapes play a big role in Go. One speaks of good shape and bad shape, and you might well see players calling a shape nice or ugly, if they think it's a good or bad shape respectively. The aesthetics of shape are especially important when you are playing a timed game, and are low on time. Reading out a lot of possible continuations might strain your time account too much, or even cause you to lose on time. In such situations you have to rely on playing good shape instead, something that can be done without any thinking, if you know which shapes are good, therefore promising an advantage in upcoming fights, and which shapes should better be avoided because they might put you into unexpected trouble later.

Shapes are small, local patterns of stones, comparable to those 'shapes' falling down in the game of Tetris. ;) (Although most of those would probably be regarded pretty bad in the game of Go, ahem.)

  • The first shape you should know about is the infamous Empty Triangle. It's actually got the reputation of the worst possible shape, yet especially beginners are very prone to using it. In turn, this means if you can manage to avoid it, you might quickly witness a surprising improvement of quality in your games. So, what does the Empty Triangle look like?
Empty Triangle (left side)  
  • The shape on the left is called Empty Triangle. Note that this shape has only 7 liberties, while the shape on the top right, which also consists of three stones, has actually 8 liberties. Seems like a small difference, but infact, although putting a chain of three stones on the board just like that without any opponent stones nearby might not make much sense either, the quality of the empty triangle is terrible in comparison.
  • Important: The shape in the lower right is not an Empty Triangle, but a perfectly fine shape. The shape on the left is an Empty Triangle, because the point marked by a square is actually empty%%%So make sure you don't confuse a normal triangle-like shape with the Empty Triangle, there's a big difference.

    The Empty Triangle even has its own webcomic, thanks to Chidori, at [ext] http://www.emptytriangle.com/ :)

Another reason why the Empty Triangle is a bad shape, is that it can be interpreted as a Diagonal Move (Kosumi) to which an additional and therefore superfluous stone has been added. (More on the Diagonal Move later.) Before giving an example of how the empty triangle can lead to a severe disadvantage, let's have a look at another shape:

  • The Bamboo Joint, a very good and strong shape that serves as an inseparable connection:
Two Bamboo Joints  

The bamboo joint cannot be cut, since it provides two alternative points for making a connection, labelled 'a' and 'b' in the vertical bamboo joint on the right side: If white tries to separate the upper stones from the lower stones by playing on either a or b, black can just play at the other point to firmly connect.

Note: The Bamboo Joint serves to connect your stones while they are threatened by adjacent enemy stones. So just playing a bamboo in an empty area as shown in the diagram above is pointless - rather you need to apply the shape to a situation that asks for it. The diagram is just empty of white stones to emphasize what the shape actually looks like. A proper application is for example shown in the riddle diagram below, titled 'Shape Problem'.
Now we already know enough, to be able to solve the following shape-problem:

Shape Problem: Black to connect  

If it was white's turn, he could cut the black stones in two, separating the two stones at the bottom from the single stone further above. Fortunately it's black to move, so he wants to defend against white's cut by quickly connecting his stones! The question is, how will black firmly connect his three stones?

First move coming to mind?  

If black just plays the appearently pretty simple move B1, he is indeed firmly connected. However, suddenly white changes plans, and instead of cutting now tries to enclose black as a whole! Infact, black suddenly finds himself dumbfounded as he realizes that he has no way to escape! (Please verify for yourself. It's important to lay out such positions on the board, and try for yourself, if you are unsure.)

Since you're aware of the shape called Empty Triangle which analysis could you give about black's move? Well, he appearently just played indeed an Empty Triangle: The move B1 together with the two black stones below forms an empty triangle. Another black stone looks 'attached' to it at its top, but that does not matter for the shape itself - it remains an empty triangle (with an extra stone attached on top), the worst possible shape to play.

The solution to the problem would require us to find a way for black to connect his stones, while avoiding to put an Empty Triangle on the board. Can black accomplish that?

Black connects, using a Bamboo Joint  

Here black plays B1, forming the excellent Bamboo Joint. As he knows, this shape cannot be cut, since it provides two alternative points for connecting. What happens if white changes plans again, and tries to enclose black as he did before?

White fails to enclose black  

Suddenly, white's attempt to enclose black with W2 fails, and black breaks out of a possible enclosure with B3, separating white into two groups, one to the left and one to the right of blacks connected group of stones.

So not only did black manage to connect - by choosing good shape over bad shape to do so, he gained a remarkable advantage that materialized in the following fighting that takes place! Such is the power of good shape.

Some other good shapes:


Surprisingly simple a move, the One-Point-Jump is infact a good shape, moving fast, but not too fast, which would increase the risk to get cut easily. Usually, if white tries to wedge (Warikomi) between the two black stones in an attempt to cut them apart, the result will be better for black than for white. This property is a main feature of this good shape.
There is even a proverb, telling the one-point jump is never bad.


If white attempts to wedge in, black simply plays the very natural Atari of B2 (or at 'a'). After white defends, black will defend one of his cutting points 'b' or 'c'. Although black is left with one cutting point afterwards, usually the outcome of white attempting to wedge into the one-point-jump is better for black than for white. Black has to pay extra attention though if other white stones are in close vincinity. The underlying principle behind each of black's moves is to maintain connectivity of his stones%%%
Actually, the One-Point-Jump can often be a good shape alternative when you're about to make a bad empty triangle. Example:


One-Point-Jump replaces Empty Triangle

If black feels he has to move upwards to get away from the white stones, he should of course not play the bad Empty Triangle shown on the left side, but go with the good One-Point-Jump instead, shown in the middle. It's also a much faster move.
Right side: Note that if white tries to prepare a cut with W2, a good response for black is to calmly reinforce by completing the strong Bamboo Joint with B3. Playing at 'a' hastily instead of B3 would just be.. a bad Empty Triangle!
Paragraph 4 will illustrate another example of using the One-Point-Jump, there it will serve to reinforce a base.

Diagonal Moves  

Another pretty simple-looking move. The two stones on the left side forming the Diagonal Move seem to not be connected to each other at first glance. However, as illustrated in the Diagonal Move on the right side, its special feature is, that its two stones are indeed connected - by having two alternative options 'a' and 'b' for making a direct connection. As soon as white plays on 'a', black can just reply at 'b' and his two stones are directly connected. The other way round if white plays at 'b', black will just connect at 'a'. It becomes obvious, that black does not have to add any other move in order to keep his two stones connected, until white makes an attempt of separating them. An interesting observation now is: If black just plays a pointless move at 'a' or 'b' without white having played on any of those points so far, he forms an Empty Triangle! So the Empty Triangle is actually the same as a Kosumi with a third useless stone added. This also makes the Empty Triangle a very bad play: That it contains a third stone which actually is of not much use to the other two stones.
The Kosumi is a good shape, since it offers you a way to move diagonally while still staying firmly connected! However, sometimes it can seem a bit slow, so it's not used too often. The One-Point-Jump is played on more opportunities than the Kosumi.

  • The Knight's Move (Keima) and Large Knight's Move (Ogeima):
Knight's Move (left), Large Knight's Move (right)  

For those playing Chess, the Knight's Move (left side in the diagram) is an old aquaintance.
It looks similar to the One-Point-Jump, just seeming slightly looser. However, infact it can prove to be more flexible, providing less possibilities for the opponent to cut through effectively than the One-Point-Jump. The Large Knight's Move (right side in the diagram) is pretty loose but at the same time very fast, and therefore also has its applications. While these shapes are also played very often, using Knight's Moves effectively is not always an easy task, especially for beginners.
The Knight's Moves are often used to form a Shimari, such as shown in the top left corner of the sample opening diagram above in paragraph 2.
Another Knight's Move in action is shown in paragraph 4, where Attachments are explained.
A scenario that gives us some insight on the flexibility of Knight's Move vs One-Point-Jump:

Knight's Move (left), One-Point-Jump (right)  

In this specific situation, the Knight's Move is more appropriate than the One-Point-Jump, because its flexibility will make it harder for white to attempt and cut our stones. See next diagram below.

1 cutting point vs 2 cutting points  

Our structure formed by the Knight's Move (on the left) will only have one cutting point at 'a' for us to worry about, while the structure containing the One-Point-Jump (on the right) gives us two cutting points 'a' and 'b' to worry about.

Table (left), Double Table (right)  

These two shapes are highly robust and very good at creating Eye Shape. Their application is relatively advanced. However, the Double Table (right side) can also serve as a Net (Geta), firmly trapping an opponent's stone that might be so unfortunate of being at 'a'. Verify for yourself that if there was a white stone at 'a' it had indeed no way of escaping capture%%% (The same note that was given at the Bamboo Joint applies here too: You don't just play a table shape into an empty area like this, but rather apply it to a situation where your opponent's vincinity requires it.)

Ponnuki (left side)  

The left side shows a Ponnuki, a shape that is created from the shape on the right side after black captures the white stone! A Ponnuki is extremely powerful, providing a great deal of influence into all directions, and being thick it's nearly impossible to be attacked effectively.


Black having no cutting points (left) vs Black having a cutting point (right)

On the left side, black's group consists of one solidly connected chain of stones, which cannot be separated (cut) anywhere.
On the right side however, there is a cutting point at 'a', where white could play in order to split black up into two groups consisting of two and three stones respectively. If this worries black, he could just play at 'a', to protect his cutting point.
However, black often has other options for protecting a cutting point:

Black employs a Tiger's Mouth to protect his cutting point  

Left side: Black plays the Tiger's Mouth shape to protect his cutting point. On the right side the pure Tiger's Mouth shape is shown just to make clear what it looks like.
Note that by forming a Tiger's Mouth with B1, white becomes unable to play at the cutting point 'a', since black could just capture the white stone immediately. The point 'a' is sort of the mouth, where you shouldn't put your hand. ;)
The advantage of the Tiger's Mouth over a simple solid connection in this situation is, that the move B1 at the same time threatens to cut right through white's two stones, forcing white to connect at 'b'. After that it will be black's turn again! So black managed to keep the initiative, also called keeping Sente. Maintaining Sente is a very important aspect, even worth making sacrifices for.
As usual: Just experiment with it! Try playing solid connections or Tiger's Mouth connections and see how you fare, that's what will allow you to gain more experience.
Here is another application of the Tiger's Mouth, the Double Tiger's Mouth:

The Double Tiger's Mouth protects two cutting points at once  

Here black is worrying about two cutting points at once. To solve this matter, he plays B1, which forms two Tiger's Mouths at once, protecting both 'a' and 'b' with just one move! This is also called a Double Tiger's Mouth.

  • Last but not least - Destroying Shapes:
    Creating good shapes is important, but it's also possible to try and destroy the shape your opponent is trying to create, forcing him into bad shape%%%Two examples for self-study are given:
    Left side shows black capturing two marked white stones by playing on a vital point of a potential Bamboo Joint.
    Right side shows black erasing white's Eye Shape by playing on the vital point of a potential Double Table, even forcing white to make an Empty Triangle!
Destroying a Bamboo (left); destroying a Double Table (right)  

Please verify for yourself that the two marked white stones in the left part cannot escape capture%%%(Side note regarding the right part: White might also answer at 'a' or 'b' instead of W2, depending on the surrounding circumstances. However, he'd still be making an Empty Triangle that way, so it's no big improvement shape-wise.)
If white does not protect his cutting point at '2', black may happily play at '2' himself, cutting white's stones apart, turning them into even easier targets.

4. Basic Tactics

Since connecting and separating can decide about strength and weakness of groups, it may be important to try and capture cutting stones, ie stones that threaten to separate your own chains of stones. Note that cutting stones are only important, if the chains they cut would actually end up weak, meaning without eye space or possibility to easily run away.

The two main techniques to capture cutting stones are the Net and the Ladder, where the Net firmly captures in one move, while the Ladder requires two moves. According to Kageyama 7p, author of one of the most renowned Go books 'Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go', whenever you have to capture stones, you should ask yourself first 'can I capture them in a net?' and 'can I capture them in a ladder?'.

The black Net firmly captures a stone in one move (2)  

When white W1 attempts to Cut black's stones into two small chains, black replies by playing B2 which forms a net, firmly capturing the white cutting stone.
Note that this shape is actually a practical application of the Double Table shape discussed in paragraph 3.
There are other shapes besides this one which also form a Net, meaning they also capture one or more cutting stones in just one move. Two more advanced examples:

The black Nets firmly capture white in one move  

Please verify for yourself that the marked white stones have no possibility of escaping!

The ladder can be pretty tricky at times and require some reading to find out whether it actually works or not:

Black '1' traps a white stone in a ladder  

Black B1 traps the marked white cutting stone in a Ladder. The ladder keeps the white stone in Atari all the time, so it gets no opportunity to try and escape it. If white unreasonably still tries to escape, the sequence on the right shows the one-way-road to doom, with black now playing at 'a' capturing the whole white chain of stones.
In this example, the border of the Go board made for an easy and short ladder, that white can't do much about.

Mistake by black  

If black instead of setting up the ladder just plays the Atari at B1, white will run out at W2 and have achieved his goal of cutting black. This is a mistake by black.
Ladders can be nastier sometimes. If they are longer or have stones nearby their course, they require you to read them out in your head completely, so you can be sure about whether they work or not.

A ladder countered by a ladder-breaker  

When black sets up a ladder with B1, white plays a Ladder-Breaker with W2. Now the zig-zag course of the ladder, going diagonally over the whole board, would eventually hit the stone at W2, and result into a successful connection for white and an absolute disaster for black.
So the easiest continuation for black after white W2 would be to just play at 'a', capturing the white stone for good (and gaining great thickness - a somewhat advanced topic).
If black plays out such a long non-working ladder, it will become a disaster:

Disaster for black  

After white W4, white is connected and black cannot put white into Atari anymore as he did during the course of the ladder. So now white can start playing at all the cutting points in black's formation, whereby those cutting points marked with circles are even Double-Atari! Black will have to resign the game.

The white move W1 is a so-called Attachment since it directly touches an opponent's stone. An Attachment is a move that should directly be answered, because the first player to add another move will have an advantage locally.

Standard Hane (left side) vs calm Nobi (right side)  

Something that at first doesn't look like a big issue, but can infact be especially difficult for beginners, is how to answer an Attachment.
There are two main choices:
Left side: Bending diagonally around the attached stone aggressively (Hane), thereby stealing another one of its liberties, or..
Right side: Calmly strengthening oneself with the answer of solidly extending (Nobi) one's stone.
The Hane is the standard shape, however, playing the thick Nobi can be an excellent variation, depending on the situation. Try to experiment with both, and observe the results.

White gets an advantage because black did not reply  

If black omits an answer, white can instead gain a local advantage by adding another move.

Here is a practical example of answering with Hane. Also it's interesting to notice the shapes involved: a One-Point-Jump and a Knight's Move. The situation is, that black tries to enlarge his own potential territory (Moyo) while reducing that of white.

Black tries to enlarge his moyo and reduce white's moyo.  

Black tries to push white aside with the Knight's Move of B1, white counters with the One-Point-Jump of W2, which at the same time is an Attachment to black's stone. Black reacts by playing the aggressive Hane at B3, white defends with the Nobi (solid extension) of W4. Afterwards, depending on the situation black might choose to protect his cutting point at 'a', which was created in the process, by playing at 'a' before white gets a chance to do so.

  • Making a Base:
    A proverb claims that weak groups lose the game. Weak groups are groups that are in danger of being captured. To avoid this, they need sufficient eyespace to form at least two eyes, because that is the condition for a group to be alive.
    The following diagram shows how black, who is in a pretty tight spot between the white stones, quickly ensures a simple base for his stones to avoid them becoming too weak and therefore too easily attackable:
Black makes a base  

A simple base consists of two stones on the third line, within a 2-point distance between them. The Two-Space Extension (Niken biraki) of black B1 forms this base, strengthening black's position within the threatening enemy's sphere of influence.
Note that if black omits B1, white could then attack black heavily, for example by playing a pincer at 'a'.

There is a basic principle that determines the width of an efficient base. The following diagram demonstrates this by showing three different bases:

3 different bases  

It becomes apparent, that the usual extension for a base depends on the height of the wall it starts from. If the wall is just a single stone (top), the usual distance is 2. If the wall is 2 stones high, the usual distance is 3 (note that black might also play at 'a'), if the wall is 3 stones high, a good distance is 4 (black might also play at 'b'), so the rule of thumb is wall height + 1.
Note that the opponent might still try and invade your base, but if you follow the rule of thumb for the optimum width, you should not suffer a disadvantage in the fighting that follows. The only base that is completely immune to invasion is the simple 2-point-jump base:

2-point-jump base is immune to invasion  

Left: Black answers correctly and captures two white stones (3 and 7).
Right: Black makes a mistake, allowing white to cut off the left black stone, getting it captured in a Ladder.
Hint: Lay it out on the board for practice, and try out some variations.
A base can be easily reinforced by a One-Point-Jump if required:

Base getting reinforced  

Although the black base has a good shape, when White puts more pressure on it by playing W1, the base is in such a tight position that black wants to reinforce it by playing the One-Point-Jump of B2.

Base getting reinforced  

Again the black base has a good shape, yet black might consider reinforcing with the One-Point-Jump to B2.

Black plays Hane on the Head of two/three Stones  

Playing Hane, ie a diagonal move around the corner (B1 in the diagrams each), is a powerful shape move that gives the advantage to black. While the proverb mainly talks about playing Hane at the head of two stones, playing it at the head of three is also good. It's kind of like black suppressing the white stones, gaining a superior position for himself. Note that black might have to watch out for potential cutting points at 'a' or 'b' later on, depending on how the fighting continues. If the fighting becomes complicated, this can be difficult to estimate and react to, especially for beginners.

5. What's next?

There are countless other things waiting for you to dive into and discover.
While books written by professional players are usually the best source of (advanced) knowledge, Senseis Library also has many interesting pages for you to discover.
Some examples:

About a world-wide highly successful japanese Go comic:

A tutorial about 'Haeng-Ma' (development moves), written by Minue, a korean KGS player (KGS nickname is Allpotti) who is one of the most dedicated teachers I ever saw.

Somewhat advanced topics:

  • Karami (Splitting Attack) - The fundamental idea of separating opponent stones, which guides the whole game, that we talked about a lot during this tutorial.
  • Aji and Aji Keshi
  • Shoulder Hit
  • Cap (Boshi)
  • Crosscut (Note: Unfortunately I can't recommend the SL page about crosscuts at this time I put up this link here. Just ask a strong player you trust about it if you want to learn more ;) Also, there's a valid Go Proverb for it: Crosscut, then extend!)
  • TwoStepHane (usually called "double-hane")
  • Miai (a very fundamental principle)
  • Joseki
  • Invasion
  • Reduction
  • Endgame (Yose)
  • Miai Counting

Also note that the KGS internet Go server often provides free public online lessons held by professional players, most of which are sponsored by the Ing Go Foundation (those Ing lessons take place every Sunday, assuming American or European time zones).

That's it for now, I hope you enjoyed it and that you were able to draw something useful out of reading this. I'm also often on KGS, so if you want to talk to me directly or have any suggestions, you could just leave me a message or use the [ext] 'Discuss Page' button at the very top. ^^- CBlue

Page visitors' comments and links:

(Note about editing: I was advised to 'personalise' the page by including my name in the topic, in order to prevent editing as it would happen to generic pages :) So if you have any suggestions, instead of editing yourself, please leave me a note on KGS, or use the [ext] 'Discuss Page' button at the very top, thank you! Of course, also feel free to put any feedback here in this commments & links section!)

CBlue: I cleaned up a bit here, looked pretty messy back from the main time of construction^^.
Thanks for suggestions and feedback, unkx80, Fwiffo, AndyPierce, Malcolm.

unkx80: See also Beginner Study Section.

CBlue's Elementary Course last edited by PJTraill on November 5, 2019 - 17:18
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