Rules of Go - introductory

  Difficulty: Introductory   Keywords: Rules

This page introduces the rules of Go. These rules allow you to quickly start playing your first game.

Table of contents

1. Players

Black and White  

Go is played by two players, called Black and White.

2. Board

The Go board is a grid of horizontal and vertical lines, as shown below.

The standard 19x19 board  

The standard size of the board is 19x19.

Other board sizes such as 9x9 or 13x13 are also played, usually by beginners or players who desire shorter games.

A 5x5 board  

On this page, examples are shown on a 5x5 board, which is small compared to the sizes players normally use. The size of the board does not affect the rules.

3. Point

The lines of the board have intersections wherever they cross or touch each other. Each intersection is called a point. Intersections at the four corners and the edges of the board are also called a point.

Go is played on the points of the board, not on the squares.

Two points  

The example board has 25 points. The red circle indicates a point near the center of the board. The red square indicates a point at one of the corners.


Two points connected by a line segment are said to be adjacent or next to each other. Stones that are all adjacent to one another are called a string.

The two white stones in this diagram are adjacent to each other and are a string.

The two black stones are not adjacent to each other.

4. Stones

Black uses black stones (B). White uses white stones (W).

Some stones  

The example shows a game position with 4 black stones and 3 white stones.

The points on which any stone is put are called occupied. All other points are called unoccupied or empty.

You do not need to use Go stones to play Go. You can play Go using whatever you have, such as poker chips, beads, buttons, coins, etc. Additionally, you can play Go on paper by drawing a grid and marking O's and X's on the intersections as you play.

5. Play

Players take alternate turns.

The player having the turn puts one of their stones on an empty point.

Before the move  
White plays a stone at W1.  
After the move  

Sometimes, to complete a move, a player removes stones from the board.

Sometimes there are points that may not be played on a particular turn.

A player may also pass instead of playing a stone on their turn.

Once a stone is placed on the board, the stone does not move unless it is captured

6. Game Start

A game of Go starts with an empty board and Black plays first, unless playing with handicap.

Empty board  
Black starts  

In the example Black chooses to start at the point B1.

If one player has more experience than the other, the players may play with a handicap, meaning the less experienced player holds the black stones and starts with a few stones already on the board. Handicap makes Go more enjoyable for the players with some difference of ability.

7. Capture

The capture rule: If a player surrounds an opposing stone or stones by playing on all adjacent points, those opposing stone(s) are captured and are removed from the board.

Every stone or string of stones must have at least one adjacent point that is unoccupied. This unoccupied point is called a liberty. Adjacent stones in a string share liberties, and the stones are said to have liberties.

If there are no empty points next to a stone or a string of stones (i.e. no liberties), the stones are removed from the board. The only exception is that a capturing stone may have no liberty until the stones it captures are removed: see example 4.

Example 1: capture of one stone

Before the move  

The white stone is almost surrounded. It is adjacent to only one unoccupied point, marked square. Thus, the stone has only one liberty.

Remember: only adjacent points can be liberties. So the points marked cross are not liberties.

Black captures  

Black's move B1 occupies the last liberty of the white stone, surrounding it completely. It is thus captured and will be removed from the board. .

After the move  

The captured stone has been removed from the board.

Example 2: capture of three stones in a corner

Before the move  

The three white stones white+circle are adjacent to one another and share liberties. As a string, the stones stand or fall together.

Black captures three stones  

Black's move B1 occupies their last liberty and captures them, removing them from the board.

After the move  

Example 3: capture of two strings

A move can also surround different stones at the same time even if not all of them are connected as a string.

Before the move  

Here, a is the only liberty of two separate strings: the four white stones at the top and the single white stone in the middle.

Black captures 5 stones  

Black's move B1 captures the surrounded five white stones. For this Black occupies their last liberty. They now have no liberties, so they are captured and thus removed.

After the move  

Example 4: capture by a stone with no liberties

This example illustrates the rule that a capturing stone doesn’t need to have a liberty until the captured stones are removed.

Before the move  
White captures  

The White move W1 occupies the last liberty of the two black stones, capturing them. Note that W1 is a legal move although it has no liberties when it is played.

After the move  

Now white+square has a liberty again, leaving a legal position.

8. No Repetition

The repetition rule: One may not play a move that repeats a previous board position.

This rule prevents players from endlessly capturing and recapturing a stone, back and forth.

A position  
A legal move  

White's move W1 removes a stone.

Illegal move  

Black's move B2 would remove the stone W1. However, B2 would also repeat an earlier position - the position just before W1.

Since the rule prohibits repetition of the board position, Black cannot play at B2 now in the example. Black must play on a different point.

Note that on subsequent turns, the same move may be available as a legal move, because it will not be repeating the same board position.

For more on this rule, see ko.

The situation where repeating captures of the same stones would be possible without a special rule is called a ko; ko fights can be one of the most exciting parts of the game.

9. Ending a Game

The victory rule: The player who occupies (controls or surrounds) the most points wins the game.

When neither player wants to keep putting stones on the board, they will each pass. (Passing is always a legal move, although it is only good at the end of the game!) The player who controls most of the board wins.

There are two ways to score, area scoring (also called Chinese rules) and territory scoring (also called Japanese rules). Both systems count territory, the number of unoccupied points surrounded by one player's stones, but they differ in how the stones are counted. In either case, each player gets a total score and whoever has the larger score wins the game. For the vast majority of positions, the two systems give the same difference of scores and give the same winner.

  • In area scoring, the score is territory plus the number of stones the player has left on the board.
  • In territory scoring, the score is territory minus the number of stones the opponent has captured.

The example below uses area scoring.

Final position  
Black's points  

In this position, Black controls 6 points of territory and has 7 points occupied by black stones. Thus, Black has a total of 13 points.

White's points  

Meanwhile, White controls 5 points of territory and has 7 points occupied by white stones. Thus, White has a total of 12 points.

In the example, Black controls more points. Therefore, Black wins the game.

Final position  

That's it! Now you can play Go.

10. Further Study

This page is a first, basic introduction to the game. As an introduction, it does not seek to overwhelm the reader with a bestiary of strange cases which are decided differently depending on the exact wording of the rules. If precise readers spot inconsistencies in these rules; or if eager beginners encounter a situation in their games which they found ambiguous; then they may wish to consult. Do not worry if at first, you do not understand. You can play your first games with knowing only these rules. When you understand more, it would be a good idea to consuld these rules below!

The second tutorial aims to deal with frequently asked questions, introduce the finer points of making a consistent rule set, and explain why different Go associations sometimes have different rules. However, it still assumes that the reader does not yet have a good intuitive feel for the game. To jump straight into the thick of things, see

A more subtle understanding of the rules of Go will not help you play Go better. There are several minor variations to the rules of Go worldwide, but it is quite rare for these variations to affect play. Most of the confusions that a beginner faces are not about how to play, but about how to play well.

These pages should help with the first questions arising from practical play. For other pages aimed at beginners, see


Rules of Go - introductory last edited by on February 24, 2024 - 17:56
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