Nachtrabe/ Teaching

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I am often thrown into the position where I am teaching a newbie or weaker player. In martial arts, this is a fairly common phenomena--for one student to teach another who is a few kup weaker.

Unfortunately, most of the time in martial arts you are teaching them based off of a lesson plan put together by your instructor, in Baduk we have no such advantage and often have to make do with what we can. There are several [ext] lesson plans available online, but I've read through those on that website and elsewhere and have been dissatisfied with them for the purpose of teaching a new person who has just walked into the club versus having a class that meets every week with set time for lessons.

To that end, to make myself a better teacher, I have been looking into what people think about teaching and have been working on my own "curriculum" based on that. Something I can reasonably implement.

Thus, I am putting together this document--which contains a syllabus along with my ideas on teaching--for critique by stronger players and so that I can lay it out on paper to have a plan to follow.

More details and thoughts will be added throughout this document as I come to them.

General Ideas

  • Avoid complexity.
    • Dodge situations that she isn't going to be familiar with at first. Ko, Seki, etc. When she's played a few games, then will be the time to introduce things--slowly, one at a time.
    • Try to stick to moves she will have seen. I remember once seeing an advanced student in a rapier class fight a brand new person--first day picking up a sword--using no techniques she hadn't been practicing just 15 minutes before. This is the ideal when she is first starting out (first couple of weeks in the club) and Go is a game of fundamentals.
  • Stick to english terminology where possible, dodge Japanese and Korean terms for concepts (e.g., aji) and only use them where absolutely necessary and to describe a technique (e.g., hane)
  • Learn By Doing. Rather than go on-and-on about theory, emphasize going on to the next move/next game. Rather than go into ten different variations on why a particular move doesn't work, show her by properly punishing it.
    • Rather than explain intricacies of life-and-death, ko, joseki, etc before playing, let her experience them in-game and keep things going.
    • Remember that while I don't mind studying Go for hours out of a book, she isn't that hooked on it yet. Playing games is fun, so get to it quickly.
  • Talk about "Go-asides" in little mini-breaks to keep things from getting too intense. These breaks are a good time to talk about the kup-dan system, the proper way to hold stones, the history of Go, etc.

Shaydwyrm: I think this is a vitally important and perhaps a bit neglected aspect of teaching beginners, since the rich history and culture of Go is almost as fascinating as the game itself. Particularly if there are no other beginners available to play against, playing as a beginner against an experienced player is very boring at first. Having an interesting conversation about go is a good way to keep the enthusiasm alive as they struggle to grasp the basics.

  • Talk about non-go related topics as well to keep the conversation light--ask her (just picking a gender for consistencies sake) about herself and make her feel welcome.
  • When playing, keep a running dialogue about what she is thinking with her moves. Emphasize praising good moves or moves that "have the right idea." I heard a stronger player who was reviewing my games make a great comment that I've taken to heart and used a few times since then: "I don't know if this is a good move, but it shows the right spirit."
  • Don't ``let her win.'' After playing a few games and she is getting the hang of things, practice your own game by trying to win by a specific margin or to accomplish a specified goal (if you accomplish it, then you've attained an internal victory even if you've lost the game; if you fail then it doesn't matter whether you've won by 60 points on a 9x9 board). Try to make no obvious errors or throw away any points--just using perfectly normal plays.
    • Note that this is different from making intentional mistakes with the intent of teaching her how to punish/how to win. What I mean here is do not intentionally make errors with the intent of changing the outcome of the game. There is a fine line here between "teaching through intentional errors" and "intentionally losing."


Basic Rules

  • Play on lines, not spaces.
  • Play alternates between two players.
  • When a stone is completely surrounded, it is captured.
  • A board position cannot repeat (mention it, show a demonstration).
  • Territory is the end goal and the deciding factor in who wins and loses (show what territory is, then move on, don't dwell on it until we get to the 9x9 games)

Capture Go

One of the things I've noticed beginners having the most trouble with when they first start out is spot the atari. They don't recognize when a stone or group of stones is in atari.

Certain concepts that are considered critical to one's understanding of go--such as nets and ladders--are also easier to show than they are to tell.

So, before doing anything else, with Capture Go using pre-set situations to teach abut atari, how to spot atari, etc. Work on both "how to escape" and "how to capture."

  • Larger groups, each of them starting in atari.
  • Escapes for both of the above

Play several games when whoever is the first to capture wins. Can preferably be played with another newbie if one is available.

  • Introduce ladders by putting a stone in a ladder and asking them to try and escape. Reverse colors and show it a few more times, eventually introduce ladder breakers. Don't dwell on this, but move on quickly.
  • Introduce nets. Same idea as with ladders. Start with me being caught in the net. Again, move on quickly--introduce the concept and let her stew on it for a bit.

Demonstration Game

Show the first 50-100 moves (or so) of a full board game between two professionals.


  • Talk about the flow of the game.
  • Note how the players start in the corners and play all over the board.

Small Board

Now we play a few games--without a handicap--on a small board.

  • Explain before beginning that, when she starts, she will lose--a lot. After losing 50 or so games this way she will begin to improve very rapidly though, so just to hang in there and don't sweat losing.
  • Emphasize "Learn by doing." At some points show them a better move and mention a brief word as to why it is better, then go on and keep playing moving it back to its original position. Do not belabor the point or go into multiple, branching variations. Emphasis on continuing to play.
  • After playing a few games like this and she is starting to get the hang of things, start giving her an appropriate handicap on a small board (if possible) so that she can watch her progress.
  • Teach scoring with whatever ruleset your local group plays with.
  • Discuss the concept of life and death as it comes up.

Life and Death

  • Show the basic concept of an eye.
  • Show how two eyes live, while one eye dies in various corner situations.
  • Avoid situations that turn into a seki or a ko.
  • Set up scenarios and ask her for the status of the group.
    • If she thinks it is alive, have her defend it (with you moving first).
    • If she thinks that it is dead, have her try to kill it after you make a move.
    • If she thinks it is unsettled, have her decide how to make it live and/or how to kill it.
  • Emphasis on basic side shapes.
  • Ask her to solve variations on the themes.
  • ``Beware of corners--they change things up.''
    • Give a demonstration with the rectangular six.
  • Refer her to the Korean Problem Academy, Level 1.

Study Discussion

By now she is possibly feeling overwhelmed at the amount of material. Hopefully the instructor has been keeping things light up to here, so that it isn't too bad, but there is still a lot of information just in L&D.

Talk to her here (or before the L&D section) about what to study and how to go forward on her own.


These are what I feel a person should be competent with at each level up to mine. I wanted to get this down before I was too far away from that rank to remember it. Comments from stronger players (or other players in general) is definitely welcome!

It should be noted that these are not necessary or sufficient, just a general guide of what I think is "generally known" by someone at that level. See also Rank and What You Know

  • 25 kyu
    • Can spot an atari
    • Recognize basic L&D shapes (bulky five, three-in-a-row, etc), at least if pointed out.
    • Open in the corners/spread stones around a bit in the opening.
    • Word List: Hane, Attach, Cross-cut, and the terms for the basic haengma (knight's move, extend/crawl, etc).
  • 20 kyu
    • Comfortable with the basic variation of being invaded at a 3-3 point.
    • Will generally play the unsettled point in a bulky-five or three-in-a-row.
    • Comfortable with some basic starpoint and 3-4 point joseki variations.
    • Familiar with a snapback tesuji (even if she doesn't see every time, she knows what it is).
    • Word List: Sente, Gote, snapback.

Nachtrabe/ Teaching last edited by Nachtrabe on March 18, 2005 - 21:41
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