Compare Go to Chess

    Keywords: Culture & History

Table of contents

Should we compare the two games at all?

Whether comparing Go to chess is a BadHabit or not is in dispute (see /discussion), but what isn't in dispute is that it's a bad habit to ridicule either game by comparing it to only the good qualities of the other game. Both games have their strengths and weaknesses. When you're in love, the mole on your beloved's nose becomes a beauty mark.

In the west, Go is a bit of an underdog to chess, in terms of popularity. One needn't disparage Chess in order to advocate Go, as Go can stand on its own. If you must compare or criticise (and it's very difficult not to), try to do it thoughtfully and academically and not as an act of proselytizing.

One bad but popular reason to compare Go to chess is to troll. A better reason to compare Go to Chess is to give it context. It is natural to explain the native context of Go, i.e. its history, popularity and cultural framework in the Far East, but if it is to grow in the West it also needs a western context, i.e. what is it like? Where does it fit into the scheme of things? Why would anyone want to spend an hour putting little stones on a board? There is only one other thing like it in the West, and that is chess. It makes a natural point of reference. Highlighting the ways that Go is more attractive than chess (higher strategy, humans v. computers, etc.) is a simple way of 'selling' the game. [7]

See also


"While the Baroque rules of chess could only have been created by humans, the rules of go are so elegant, organic, and rigorously logical that if intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, they almost certainly play go."

-- Edward Lasker

"You don't have to be really good anymore to get good results. What's happening with Chess is that it's gradually losing its place as the par excellence of intellectual activity. Smart people in search of a challenging board game might try a game called Go."

-- [ext] Hans Berliner, The New York Times, Feb 6, 2003.


  • It is a strategic game, with no random chance
  • It is an abstract wargame
  • You need a logical mind and the ability to look several moves ahead
  • 9x9 go is more like chess than 19x19 (less strategy, one tactical clash settles the game, material more important)
  • Both games are highly dynamic: Chess also in the literal way, Go in the sequence of moves


  • Go has fewer rules. [8](Yet this allowed for all sorts of moves to be played, so Go can be a more intellectually challenging game than the other two types of chess - there are between factorial(361) and 361^(3^361) possible games of Go without repeating positions.)
  • And yet: "I think this is the only weakness of go, that starting period in which beginners get the rules explained but can't really do anything with them at all. The two months it took me to get a grasp of what really was the general idea, are no exception. Only people slightly obsessed with the game will come out on the other end of this. In that respect chess players are a lot better off, there may be more rules but the goal and the way of playing become clear much sooner than with go." --Catalin Taranu
  • Go has a point-based scoring system whereas Chess has a specific goal
  • Chess has moving pieces while Go stones don't move around
  • Losing basic units (stones, pieces) isn't as important as in Chess. In chess, a one pawn advantage is usually decisive at higher levels. In Go, the focus is more on territory and influence.[0]
  • Draws are extremely rare, even at the highest professional level.[3]
  • In Go, players build up their positions - there are more stones on the board with each move; in Chess, the board empties gradually.
  • During every turn a go player has more legal moves than a chess player.
  • Go becomes much easier in the endgame, whereas a chess game can stay very difficult.

Controversial (or even irrelevant)

Remember that "controversial" means that many people won't agree with these statements! Please see /discussion for further comments.

  • Strategy is much more important than in chess because the board is much bigger.
  • Focusing too much on tactics will win you one fight, but lose you the game.
  • Go has a handicap system that allows players of different strength to enjoy a real game rather than a crippled version of it. [1] It's possible to compensate not only for differing skill levels but also for the advantage of the first move[2], in a very fine-grained way.[4]
  • In Go, games will generally have the appropriate handicap, so there are no "easy games," even against weaker players.
  • Once a move is made it is always there to stay, so every move is as critical as a pawn move in chess.
  • You can get much further in go without memorising many openings (though this is no longer true if you want to go beyond shodan level roughly equivalent to 2000 rating).[5]
  • In general, a game of go takes longer than a game of chess and casual club games are usually played without a clock (though "blitz go" is quite popular on internet servers).
  • In Chess, always getting tactics right gives you the best chance of winning a game.
  • In Go, both halves of the brain are used. [ext]
  • Chess has more variants than go.
  • Go is always dynamic, so you cannot "sit" on a position and press a positional advantage in safety, as you can in chess.


[0] The typical territory versus influence exchange in go has an analogy in chess, namely a sacrifice of material for the initiative. The difference is that essentially every go game features such exchanges. ilanpi

[1] The weaker player is given a handicap; he starts with a number of stones already on the board, before the first move. This is equivalent to the stronger player passing several times, which is possible because the goal is not focussed on a single figure but on gaining overall territory and because the Go board is initially empty.

[2] Points are customarily given to the player taking the white stones. This is called "komi", and is usually 6.5 points.

[3] When komi is given, a fractional point is usually added. This makes it impossible to have an equal result. (Draws are still possible in other ways, but they're very rare.)

[4] For agreement and disagreement with this statement see the headline "Handicap" on the /discussion page.

[5] Sez who? --Bill

[6] This might recall the John F. Kennedy Cold War statement: "We play poker, they play chess."

[7] how about following nowaday analogy as I read it once somewhere long ago. When comparing Go to chess, Go is closer to modern warfare: whereas in chess horses and towers jump around, in Go a stone can be seen as the equivalent of the army unit dropped in the field, trying to connect with other units, and with everybody trying to conquer the land. --axd

[8] > axd: Hmmm... the various rulesets and special cases highlight a darker side of Go: rules are more complex than Chess, cases exist that lead to discussions, etc... (e.g. Bent Four In The Corner Is Dead)

RobertJasiek: The number of rules is not conclusive for how easy or difficult each rule might be. More interesting would be a statement like "The rules of Go are easier | more difficult than the rules of Chess.". Such simplistic comparisons are not possible though because there are different Go rulesets. Some of them are simpler than "the" rules of Chess - some of them are more difficult than "the" rules of Chess.

axd: This very reply illustrates the underlying complexity of Go. I don't care if it is about comparing individual rules or rulesets; it seems to me that the difference with Chess is obvious. I think that everybody agrees that by reading all these comments on various rulesets, one must conclude that it is better not to read them at all or risk headaches. Fact: throw [ext] at a beginner and (s)he will not even wonder what kind of game Go might be, aside from a few exceptions.

Compare Go to Chess last edited by Malcolm on August 28, 2023 - 13:55
RecentChanges · StartingPoints · About
Edit page ·Search · Related · Page info · Latest diff
[Welcome to Sensei's Library!]
Search position
Page history
Latest page diff
Partner sites:
Go Teaching Ladder
Login / Prefs
Sensei's Library