Dieter Verhofstadt / Recommended Introduction

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Table of contents Table of diagrams
The purpose
The rule of capture

The following represents my recommendation for a first introduction of go to a complete novice. It has been derived from my /teaching experiences.

The introduction

The purpose  

"The purpose of the game is to have more stones on the board than your opponent[1]. We start with an empty board. Black begins and plays on one of the empty points. Then White plays[2]. A stone doesn't move once it is played[3]. On a 5x5 board, there are 25 points to play. If we would just fill the board, then Black would win, right?[4] So, there is a way to remove your opponent's stones.


The empty points next to a stone are called liberties. How many liberties does the black stone black+circle have? Four, that's right [5]. And the white stone white+circle? Also, 4, exactly [6]. And the black stone black+square? Three, indeed. And the white stone white+square? Two, you got it. Forgive me that I'm asking silly questions like these - but this way I know you are with me.

The rule of capture  

If B3 here, then how many liberties does W2 have? Three, indeed. And B3 itself? Also three of course. Now W4 plays here and B3 has ... two liberties left. Now Black decides to play B5 and W6 takes away another liberty of B3, so it's left with ... one liberty. And if B7 plays elsewhere again, then W8 can remove the last liberty of B3. Now this stone is removed from the board. It is captured[7]


Now where would you play B7 if you want to prevent B3 to be captured? Indeed, on that same point, the last liberty. Now B3 and B7 form a chain of stones. The liberties of the chain are the liberties of the stones in the chain. How many liberties do you count? [8] Two indeed. Now White can occupy those two liberties again, with W8 and W10. The whole chain is then captured. By the way, how many chains remain on the board? Three white chains and one black chain, correct.

Now you can play. As you may have noticed [9], the rest of us are playing on bigger boards. We recommend you to play on very small boards first: your games will be over quickly and you will learn faster that way."

Next steps

  • Have them play each other [10] and mind your own business but emphasize you are available for questions.
  • Do not watch their game actively but occasionally peek at it and overhear their musings.
  • Explain ko only when it occurs.
  • Explain seki only when it occurs.
  • Confirm[11] passing is allowed when it occurs.
  • Confirm capture by playing inside a chain is allowed, if it is the last liberty of the chain.
  • If either of them takes long pauses to think, encourage them to play what comes up to them and learn from the proceedings.

Moving on

  • Suggest 7x7 when the advantage of playing first becomes trivial for them.
  • Suggest 9x9 when 7x7 becomes trivial [12]
  • Confirm they can resign when the advantage is clear, usually after capture of a big chain.
  • Only explain the alternative way of counting, namely territory (remaining empty points) minus captives, if they become bored with the trivial act of filling what they consider "theirs", in other words, when they have acquired the sense of territory by their own experience.

By then, the introduction is likely to be over, or you are dealing with particularly interested students and can dive into real go tutoring, including life and death, efficiency, influence ...


[1] Yes, I advocate strongly the stone counting teaching method.
[2] The rule of alternating play must be made explicit.
[3] A trivial rule which is often overlooked but a major difference with reference games like chess and checkers.
[4] Let them calculate this observation, if needed.
[5] I find it very important to observe this and only be corrected if they also count the angle points.
[6] Repetition breeds knowledge.
[7] It is useful to introduce the terms liberty and capture for the verbose empty adjacent intersection and remove from the board. They are also fairly intuitive terms.
[8] Don't take a correct answer for granted. The untutored mind may have many surprises in store.
[9] If you are in a club environment, they will notice they are doing something else than the regulars. I think this is inevitable and easy to accept. Be prepared for those who think they can handle the real stuff right away.
[10] This is a vital condition which you do not control: the presence of more than one novice. In my experience, those who can face each other have a happier time being introduced than those facing a tutor in their first games. For even the most benevolent teacher it is impossible to emulate an absolute beginner. If there is more than one novice, by all means, pair them against each other and do not sacrifice them to the lions of kyus and dans.
[11] To confirm means to confirm, not to explain before they have come up with the issue. Try to resist even the most basic explanation unless you observe them consistently making the same mistake against the rules, for example thinking they can not play inside a chain even if it removes the last hostile liberty. It is important for an introduction to produce games that comply with the rules. It is not recommended to manipulate them into good play. The beauty of go, in my opinion, is that surprisingly much of that good play will come natural to the novices.
[12] Do you think 9x9 should be the starting size? I don't think so. I know it is unconventional but 5x5 is my preferred starting size. Games are over quickly and they will have gone through all rule related stages of the game. They will gain confidence from grasping the game procedure and their experienced evidence of Black's advantage of moving first. Moving on to bigger board sizes works like a reward for confirmed comprehension.

Dieter Verhofstadt / Recommended Introduction last edited by Dieter on October 4, 2011 - 08:11
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