How to hold and play a go stone

  Difficulty: Expert   Keywords: Problem
Picture taken from [ext]

Traditional grip

In most cases people would hold an object with the shape and size of a Go stone between thumb and index finger. However this is not the traditional way to hold and play a Go stone.

When taking a stone out of the Go bowl for your next move, slightly bury your index finger under the stone, and trap it against the nail of your index finger with your middle finger. Position the stone just above the right spot on the board. Release gently. (Or smack it down hard if you don't have a clue whether your move is a good one but you want to appear convinced.)

Not only does this look very elegant, it is also the easiest way to carefully place a stone in between a bunch of others once the board gets crowded.

The Japanese term for describing how a stone is played is te-tsuki.
On the left: standard and correct! - on the right: wrong! (from [ext]

Playing next to another stone

Bill: The click is produced by snapping the edge of the played stone against the edge of an adjacent stone. Try resting your forefinger on top of the adjacent stone with the edge of the stone to be played touching the board. Then snap the stone to be played down.

Charles If you are playing next to a stone that's already on the board, the technique is more of a 'click' than a 'slam'. I'm not sure I have ever seen this described properly. You click the stone down by placing one edge on the board while your index finger is still under the other edge and above the existing stone. Then you take away the lower finger, while the upper finger remains on the stone pressing down on the centre. The stone pivots down onto the board on the 'far' edge, while the 'near' edge clicks audibly onto the existing stone without dislodging it.

There may even be several slightly different techniques of 'click', for playing into densely occupied areas. I think experienced players are rarely conscious of the exact methods - all unconscious habit.

Removing stones

Thomas: When removing captured stones from the goban, do you hold them the same way like placing them (between index and middle finger), or do you just grab them with thumb and index finger?

DaveSigaty: Just grab them.

Jenny Radcliffe: Struggle, sometimes, when you're clumsy. :) I've often found myself helping my opponent to "capture" my stones, especially when using a magnetic board where the stones and board are tiny, because my fingers are small enough to pick them up without disrupting the pattern, but theirs are not. The same can apply with a full-size set if the game's got crowded. So you just pick them up any way you can.

oldfrog: I have found that one can easily take two (or three)stones off at a time by squeezing them together between the middle finger and the thumb at the opposite sides of each stone (tilting each stone up where they meet like this: /\ and pressing them together at the same time so they stand vertically ()() grasped between the thumb and finger). When you do it properly, which isn't any harder than the clicking technique, the stones push each other into position where they can be lifted off the board together without disturbing any of the surrounding stones. For three stones it takes a little more practice, using the index finger on the middle stone while you press it between the outer two stones using thumb and middle fingers, the stones press against each other like this: /\\ ; ()()().

captslow: I once read that it is considered a good habit to only remove the stones you captured from the board, and not your own stones captured by the other player, at the end of the game. I do not know if this habit is customary, but it seems logical. Anyway, whatever technique you use to remove stones, it should be a sound technique, applied properly, same as when placing stones, because you do not want stones picked up to fall back on the board or floor (and disrupting the counting of the game played and giving rise to discussions with your opponent).

See also:


Morten Pahle: With a bit of practice you can also 'roll' it between all four fingers, doing a 'double figure of eight' above and below alternate fingers. Not only will this impress your opponents, but it will also make them, if they try to copy you, lose a stone on the board and upset the position, which was hopeless anyway ;^)


You too can make your moves with the slickness of Yi Ch'ang-ho (now if we could just figure out on what point Yi would play...).

Bill Spight: This grip is also a good one to use for extracting M&M's from their bag, as well as other candies and nuts. Inserting two fingers into the small space is less clumsy than inserting a finger and thumb. You can also use this grip when taking goodies from a bowl. Even though it is not necessary, you will impress your friends. ;-)

Roland Illig: Since I have been playing Go regularly I tend to pick up all kinds of things using my index and my middle finger. Especially when taking cutlery out of the drawer.

Zarlan: Me too. Even though I rarely play irl. As I have done so, I have found it to be a rather good method of picking up things from tight spaces.

captslow: Heh, I'm not the only one! Me too. And perhaps it is because of my physical proportions, I use this technique also to pick up smaller things from the floor. Much more convenient than having to bend your knees.

 Shouichi: This is also comparable to the difference between
             the correct use of chopsticks and incorrect. Sort

a picture of Lee Sedol holding a stone (from

HolIgor: Are you sure that this is a proper way to put the stone? If you read Hikaru No Go you should remember that Touya Akira asks Hikaru to show him his hand in the beginning. Since Hikaru's nails were not worn Akira concluded that Hikaru did not play go. Did you wonder why the nails should be worn?

I was trying to figure out how the rim of the nail might be worn, but then I thought that it would be the top of the nail that would be worn after holding thousands upon thousands of stones. Just my 2 yen - Migeru
Slate stones are noticably rough. So much so that I wondered if they would damage clam shell stones which are smooth as silk and being mostly calcium, much softer than the slate. The roughness of slate must be what wears away at the top of the nail of one's forefinger. Velobici
If a bi-convex stone is placed on the top of the index finger, the middle finger on top, then slid down over the nail onto the board, after thousands and thousands of stone placements, it would make sense that the fingernails would be worn smooth, even if the stone were glass, plastic, or other material.

I have been shown the way to put stones on the goban once. Unfortunately I don't remember (and cannot figure out now) how it is done to produce that "pa-chi" sound from Hikaru No Go. I can imagine that with that trick the nails could be really worn.

I think this comes from placing the stone so one edge is touching the board, then sliding your index finger out from under it. The pressure from your middle finger then pushes the stone down on the board, creating the pa-chi sound. And this would indeed explain why the nail of the right index finger would be worn.

Otis: I recall seeing a couple panels of hikaru no go where Sai does a rather cool bit of stone manipulation. He picks up a stone by grasping its edge between thumb and first finger, then reaches over it with his middle finger, hooking the far edge and rolling the stone back around the end of his first finger while releasing it with his thumb, bringing it into normal stone-grasping position. This is useful, as it is sometimes easier to get the stone out of the bowl with thumb and first finger than with first and second finger. Also, I find it fun to be holding that first stone the "wrong" way, get a suspicious look for it, then roll it into the "right" grip and snap it down on the board with a smile.

Deebster: You mean [ext] this? (reading right to left, of course)
captslow: there is a very instructive video of this technique on Youtube, in slow motion. One can take a stone from the bowl using thumb and index finger, and then 'flip' it to hold it between middle finger and index finger, like Otis describes. Looks elegant and magic.

Aaron: maybe the middle/index finger thing evolved from the use of chopsticks to pick up things, only you use your fingers instead.

HolIgor: No, it is just a natural end easy way to put a stone on the board. It comes naturally after several games and observation how stronger players do it. 15 years ago, when I came to a go club nobody taught me this, nobody actually paid attention to how you hold stones. Hikaru no Go just stressed the point to show how bewildered Akira was during that first game.


In keeping with the nickname "hand talk" there can be a lot of body language in the gesture used to play a stone. If you are fortunate enough to be able to watch pros play in person you can see a lot of this. It varies from a soft but assured placement through the click-snap explained by Bill above to an energetic almost banging down of the stone. I've also seen pros be very adept at picking up captured groups, using the thumb and first two fingers to pick up three stones at a time very rapidly.

In her Italian Diary on the NihonKiin web page, in the section on clam shell go stones, Shigeno Yuki 2p expresses her dismay at the lack of professionalism that has crept into her tetsuki, i.e. way of grasping and playing a stone.

The remark in Hikaru no Go about wear on the finger nail originated in reality with Kobayashi Koichi who remarked once that he wasn't studying as much as he did when he was young because then he never had to trim the finger nail of the first finger on his right hand.

Naustin-- I was a debater in high school and the thing to do was to take the pen you were using and twirl it in this really incredible way around one's thumb. It almost seemed to defy gravity. If you were really good you could catch the pen with your index finger on the other side and send it back and just keep that up indefinitely. I practised that pen flip more than my debating (so I could look cool at least) and people still occaisonaly will ask me if I debated. It strikes me that this stone gripping is somewhat simialar. It takes an object that is common to the practice and develops a way of doing it stylishly. See Aesthetics. Probably a human thing. I of course (wanting to look like I knew what I was doing) picked up the grip right away. I have not yet though learned the clicking above described. I thought that when I read about the stones clicking it just meant on the board. I will have to practice and develop my tetsuki. :)

damien You mean the Thumbaround Harmonic, my friend? [ext]

Fwiffo: I'm having a lot of trouble getting this right. I play almost exclusively online but want to actually not look like an idiot if I get a chance to play Go IRL. The best I can do is get kinda a "thud" and "wobble-wobble" noise as the stone settles. And the stones wobble so much that they don't stay put very well, disturbing the position easily. I tried placing the edge of the stone on the board and then slipping my finger out, but the stone just rolls into place instead of snapping down because of the way it's rounded. I see videos and stuff where the stones make a nice "snap!" noise. Do you need single-convex stones to get that?

How to hold and play a go stone last edited by on February 22, 2023 - 01:04
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