First moves

  Difficulty: Beginner   Keywords: Opening, Joseki, Go term, Index page

Where to start?

To a beginner, the 19x19 board looks huge. Where to play? (Try a 9x9 board) How to choose from 361 possibilities[1]? Open in the corner. Sure. Which one? Where? Is it important?

As a beginner, it is probably best to play on small boards until some understanding of the game leads to more comfort to start on a standard board. Still, it helps to know that there are four points on the whole board where even games actually start most of the time. They are named points in the upper right corner.

sansan hoshi komoku mokuhazushi
Four named points  

Most (99% ?) of the first moves, are made on these four named starting points. However, you can start on any point you like: go is a game of great freedom and you don't have to follow the pros. In fact it can be very refreshing to play other moves in the opening. See also why don't we open at tengen.

The second, third and fourth move may be a first move in another corner as well. But a local answer is also possible, as is (for the third and fourth move) a local reinforcement. Consequently those first moves in the corner can be made later. However,

Table of contents Table of diagrams
Four [named points]
Starting points
Corner [joseki]
[komoku kakari|3-4 point josekis]
[hoshi kakari|4-4 point josekis]

Starting points - Black 1

Assuming most players adhere to the etiquette most of the time, these four points in the upper right corner are the starting points on the board:

Starting points  
  • a: komoku - 3-4 point komoku means "little point". This move strikes a balance between territory and influence.
  • b: hoshi - hoshi just means star point. There are nine of those on the board. When starting, however, only the 4-4 point is meant. The move emphasizes influence more than territory. In handicap games with 2, 3 or 4 handicap, 2 3 or 4 stones are placed on those points. In even games komoku and hoshi are clearly favourite as first move.
  • c: sansan - Sansan is 3-3 in Japanese, so one could argue that this is just a systematic name, too. Anyway it is played often enough to justify a name of its own. The 3-3 point grabs corner territory immediately, but does not help development in the corner it is played.
  • d: mokuhazushi - 3-5 point The move emphasizes influence above territory. The territory it does claim is on one side.

Starting points - White 1

In handicap games all four corners may already be occupied by the handicap stones. If so, white mostly plays a low approach, or (less frequently, even if it is possible) immediately takes a side by playing at 3-10 or 4-10. Sometimes even if there is an empty corner left to play in, white starts with this low approach.

White 2, Black 3 and White 4

When you are playing white in an even game and when you are playing black in a handicap game, your first move is the second move of the game. In an even game, most second moves are in an empty corner, too.

  • When W2 is played in the diagonal opposite corner, black mostly chooses to play B3 in one of the two remaining corners.
  • By playing W2 in an adjacent corner, e.g. opposing 3-4 points, white gives black a choice for B3. This is played more often after B1 at an asymmetric point. Next corner play:

Fifth move

Because of the very limited number of actually played moves, just a few combinations at one side of the board really matter, nothing too complicated for a beginner. Unfortunately up to now (july 1 2003) there is only advanced material on side patterns available at SL.

There may be an empty corner left, and it is possible to play in the middle of a side of the board, e.g. sanrensei. Anyway a second move in a corner will be made now or soon. Reinforcing a friendly stone is done with an enclosure (shimari). An approach to a single hostile stone in the corner is called kakari.


33point josekis 44point josekis 34point josekis 35point josekis
Corner joseki  

Even further into the game the number of actually played moves is limited. Focus on what happens in one corner obviously blurs whole board vision, but the benefit is that it postpones the combinatorial explosion a little. The patterns of play that emerge have been studied for ages. The sequences of best moves for both (josekis), starting at komoku and at hoshi are the most relevant, and in both cases the low (see: board geography) kakari is played most often:

3-4 point low approach 3-4 point high approach 3-4 point josekis
4-4 point low approach 4-4 point josekis

Joseki sequences

Joseki show actual moves. The Fuseki Exercises give a good indication of the reasoning applied to these moves. Looking at the types, or intended function of the first moves in the corner just a few sequences emerge.

B1 corner - W2 kakari or tenuki

For the question which joseki choice is best, considering the rest of the board see joseki context.

[1] Strictly speaking, due to symmetry of the game, there are 55 non-equivalent points to play:

  • the centre point, also known as tengen
  • 18 points on one half diagonal and one half straight line through the centre, which represent 4 points each
  • 36 points between that diagonal and straight line, representing 8 points each.

Also, there is an old (Japanese) custom to play the first move in the upper right corner.

First moves last edited by on November 9, 2017 - 15:53
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