Paper and Pencil Go

  Difficulty: Beginner   Keywords: Variant

Paper and Pencil Go is a a simple finite Go variant without ko and superko rules. It differs from Go in the following aspects:

  • Surrounded stones are not captured, but just marked. Points occupied by marked stones count as territory for the surrounding player, but neither player can play on them for the remainder of the game. As a result, any group touching a marked stone is unconditionally alive.
  • Suicide is allowed, i.e., you can make a play such that one or more of your own stones, including the one you just played, become marked.

Luis Bolaņos Mures designed Paper and Pencil Go in May 2009. The game can be played in the [ext] Dagaz Server, where it is known as Paper Go.


White is alive  

White is alive in the corner because, after W2, Black's stone at B1 becomes marked, and neither player can play there for the rest of the game.


noobish?: I think the part about "the essence of Go gameplay mostly unaltered" is pretty dubious. Much like first capture Go, groups are now alive with singe eyes that are at least two spaces large. Strategy would have to change in a fundamental way when you can live so much more easily. Also, nullifying the ko rule imposes some radical changes of it's own. This may well be an interesting variant, but I predict that it will necessarily lack much of the complexity and nuance of actual Go.

noobish?: I suggest you play a few rounds of the variant to see for yourself, but my prediction is still that you'll have a game that is fundamentally different. With your adaptation, groups with any sort of eye are guaranteed at least life in seki. I believe this also implies that two groups involved in a ko immediately settle with both unconditionally alive (in seki) after the first capture.

I know that having to erase captured stones makes playing on paper rather difficult, but two very important principles in Go (ko and killing shapes) depend on the ability to replay on these intersections.

chro?: Looks similar to "dots" game (tochki,kropki) [ext] This game I played 20 years ago at school, and here, in Russia, it's more more popular than Go.

Interesting comparison! The rules are explained at [ext] Wikipedia, but I'm not sure what actually counts for one's territory - if you know it, can you please answer my question on the [ext] talk page? Thank you!

coiffe?: The effect on tactics are similar to atari go in that it doesn't prepare you for snapback in Go proper. Atari Go is also very pencil and paper-friendly.

MrMormon: Superko is not complicated. The difficulty of choosing a ruleset has nothing to do with how complicated any one ruleset is. My view of Go's complexities is that those, like scoring and ko, don't really count since they arise out of necessity (ko) or practicality (replacing stone scoring), as opposed to something arbitrary.

TM?: It sounds like the rules make it too easy to make living groups. What if marked stones (i.e., dead stones) are treated as the edge of the board? That is, they would no longer count as liberties, and adjacent groups would not be unconditionally alive. In fact, capturing a group would result in fewer liberties, not more, for the player who makes the capture. Thoughts?

(Sebastian:) I agree with noobish's statements. The rules are certainly not "extremely simple"; to the contrary, they are even more complicated than those of go, with the additional field states "black marked", and "white marked" and a set of rules for how to deal with them. If you want simplicity, follow TM's suggestion and just treat all stones that can't live like holes in the board. (A possible name for this might be "scissor go".)

MrMormon: Another topic this page could try to address is figuring out how to play the normal game on paper. Obviously, one could erase. Or, darkening a circle could mean that that stone was removed, and drawing another (light) circle around that would signify a new stone placed there.

willemien: that will just create a mess what if at some point

  1. a black stone is played
  2. the stone is captured (some kind of ko)
  3. black replays
  4. the stone is captured (some kind of ko)
  5. white fill the ko
  6. white is captured
  7. black plays at the same point

( by now you should be through the paper) :) Maybe better to draw a grid on paper and use coins, sweeties, or something else as stones

MrMormon: Unless the pencil is dull or the pen is thick, I think there'd be room for more than four circles (colored on the inside correctly). Yes, there is a limit, but it might be seven or something if circles are first made small.

willemien: but there is also the problem that a stone can be black or white, making a white one black is not such a problem but the opposite ?

MrMormon: The stone color would be defined as the color between the outer ring and the next one in, so a new region would be colored (or not) each time a stone is played in a particular position. With a little practice I think one could easily tell stone colors by outer rings.

cinygmato I made a printable [ext] pdf for playing go with paper and pencil, and one could do nested circles to move into a previous capture. Using two colors or one continous circle and one dotted circle. diagram of nested stones

Paper and Pencil Go last edited by luigi87 on April 18, 2023 - 13:28
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