Rules of Go - introductory

  Difficulty: Introductory   Keywords: Opening, Rules

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

Table of contents

1. Players

The game is played by two players. We call them Black and White.

2. Board

The board is a grid of horizontal and vertical lines.

The board used to give examples on this page is small (5x5) compared to the sizes Go players normally use, but the size of the board does not affect the rules.

A board  

The example board has 5 horizontal and 5 vertical lines.

You win the game by controlling more than half of the board.

3. Point

The lines of the board have intersections wherever they cross or touch each other. Each intersection is called a point. That includes the four corners, and the edges of the board.

Two points  

The example board has 25 points. The red circle shows one particular point. The red square in the corner shows another point.


Two points connected by a line segment are said to be adjacent or next to one another. The triangles are adjacent. The crosses are not adjacent.

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

4. Stones

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

Some stones  

The example shows a board position from the middle of the game with 4 black stones and 3 white stones. The points which have no stones are unoccupied or empty points.

You don't need to use stones to play Go. Poker chips, beads, buttons, coins... whatever you've got.

5. Play

Players take alternate turns.

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

Before the play  
A white play  

White plays a white stone at the point W1.

After the play  

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

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

Instead of playing a stone on their turn, a player may pass.

Unless a player passes, he puts one of his stones on the board on each of his turns. Remember, the stones don't move.

6. Game Start

Empty board  

The game starts with all board points empty.

Black plays first.

Black starts  

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

If one player has more experience, Black should start with several stones on the board. This is called a handicap. It makes the game more fun and more educational for both players.

7. Capture

The Capture Rule: If a player surrounds the opponent's stone or stones completely, he captures those stones and removes them from the board.

Every stone on the board must be next to an empty point. (An empty point next to a stone is called a liberty.)

If a stone is not next to an empty point, but it's next to some other stones of the same color which are next to an empty point, that's fine too. (Strings of adjacent stones "share liberties".)

If there are no empty points next to a stone or a string of stones (the stone has no liberties), the stones are immediately taken off the board.

Four examples follow. The first example shows Black capturing a single White stone. The second shows Black capturing a clump of three White stones. The third shows Black capturing a clump of four White stones and another lone White stone with the same move. The fourth example shows White capturing two Black stones.

Example 1

Before the play  

The white stone is almost surrounded. It is next to only one empty point, shown by the square. (Remember, only points connected by a line segment are next to one another. So the circles do not count as liberties, for example.)

Black captures  

Black's move B1 surrounds the white stone completely.

After the play  

Black's move B1 occupies the last liberty of the white stone, thus capturing it and removing it from the board.

Example 2

Before the play  
Black captures three stones  

The three white stones white+circle are connected along the lines of the board, and stand or fall together.

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

After the play  

Example 3

Before the play  
Black captures 5 stones  
After the play  

A play can also surround different stones at the same time even if not all of them are connected along lines. Black's move B1 captures the surrounded five white stones. For this Black occupies the last liberty of the four white stones at the top which is also the last liberty of the one white stone in the middle. All the white stones without liberties are captured and thus are removed.

Example 4

Before the play  
White captures  
After the play  

The White play W1 occupies the last liberty of the two black stones, and removes them.

It does not matter that temporarily a white stone does not have a liberty; after execution of White's play, all stones on the board have at least one liberty again, leaving a legal position.

8. No Repetition

The Repetition Rule: One may not play a move which repeats a previous board position.

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

A position  
A legal move  
Illegal move  

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

Since repetition of the board position is prohibited by this rule, Black cannot play at the point 2 now in the example. Currently Black must play on a different point.

Note that on subsequent turns, the same play 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. End of the Game

The Victory Rule: The player who controls (occupies or surrounds) more points than his opponent wins the game.

When neither player wants to keep putting stones on the board, they will each pass. (Remember, passing is always a legal move... although until the end of the game, it's not a very good move!) The player who controls more of the board wins.

There are two ways to score, Chinese and Japanese; Japanese scoring is more common in Western countries. Both systems count territory, the number of empty 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 for nearly all they give the same winner.

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

Our example uses Chinese scoring.

Final position  
Black's points  

13 points score for Black: 7 points occupied by black stones and 6 points surrounded by only black stones.

White's points  

12 points score for White: 7 points occupied by white stones and 5 points surrounded by only white stones.

In the example, Black controls more points and therefore Black wins the game.

Final position  

That's it! Now you can play Go.

10. What's next?

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

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 September 4, 2017 - 17:38
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