ESM/Guide For Move Priority

Sub-page of ESM

This guide is a work in progress.
It should be helpful to anyone 30-5k.
Feedback is appreciated.


Table of contents

Order of Moves

Many of us learn "urgent before big" as a guideline for what moves to play. While this is good advice, I think it could use some fleshing out. This short guide is aimed to do just that. It will help players up to around ~5k get a good intuition for move priority; and will help develop an understanding for those priorities.

Please keep in mind that this guideline is intended as a simplified model. Its goal is to give DDK and SDK players strong fundamentals for judging move priority. As you get stronger, you might realize there are situations for breaking these rules. That being said, I'd guess these rules hold up well until one gets closer to dan level.

General Phases

While playing a game of Go, the match will usually move through four phases. These are:

  • Fighting (aka "urgent moves")
  • Opening (aka "big moves")
  • Invasion
  • Endgame

The higher the phase, the higher its priority.

This means, a Fighting move will always take priority over an Opening move. And an Opening move will always take priority over an Invasion move, etc.

Each phase has their own sub-set of rules:


  1. Protect shape
  2. Make base
  3. Attack

1. Protect shape When your stones have less than 4 liberties or are in danger of being cut, you must react immediately. These moves take priority over any other type of move. Good choices are moves that increase your liberties or that secure the connection between your stones.

2. Make base If one of your groups doesn't have a base yet, you need to make one. The easiest way to make a base is a 2-space extension on the side. The third line is usually best. If you can't make a base, jump towards the center.

3. Attack If your opponent has left a stone or group of stones without a base, you should attack it. To attack, don't get closer than a 1-space jump. Try pushing your opponent towards your strength. If possible, attack in a way to take profit.


  1. Corners (and Corner approach)
  2. Sides
  3. Center

When there are no urgent fighting moves left to play, "big" moves become important. Playing in an empty corner is biggest of all; next is playing an approach move to an empty corner. Once all corners are approached, moves on the sides become interesting, and finally moves towards the center, usually to expand your own or diminish your opponent's moyo.


  1. Corners
  2. Sides
  3. Center (Moyo)

This section is work in progress.


  1. Double-Sente
  2. Sente
  3. Gote

This section is work in progress.

ESM/Guide For Move Priority last edited by esm on March 15, 2020 - 13:58
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