Teaching go to curious cats - discussion


This page discusses teaching go to curious people, who might not have the time or interest for a full first lesson. The intention is to create a concise topic that can be incorporated into Teaching Methods / Proposed Outline.

(Sebastian:) When I play in a public place, there often is someone who comes and asks "What is this? Can you eat them?" (one particularly bold guy even took up a stone from the board to test it!) If his interest goes a bit beyond the nutritional value of go stones, I'll explain him the rules and offer to play an atari go or one-eyed go game on a 6x6 board. Naturally, it would be nice if he'd catch on, but to my knowledge, this hasn't happened so far, which is fine with me.

I'd like to initiate a discussion about the best way to do this. This is similar to Teaching go to newcomers / Discussion, with the significant difference that curious cats don't have the time or the patience newcomers have. This means:

  • No time to explain ko or even the "capture first" concept.[1]
  • Often, they're just waiting for someone. No time for a solid theoretical base. Let them play some stones as soon as possible.

Board size

A 6x6 or even a 5x5 board is just right. I keep little colorful felt boards on me (which double as buffer against rattling stones when I carry them).

Simplified rules

  • atari go
  • one-eyed go - avoids explaining the concept of catching a group by temporary suicide

Start at the End

I found it helpful to start with the following:


This is the end of an even game. Each player has 12 points (territory + 0 captured stones). The game ends because both players agree that they can't decrease each other's territory without losing their own stones.
You don't believe me? Good for you! Let's try it out...


If I play here, you can kill me. (If he's insecure:) Let me help you ...

[1] (The following discussion started from a clumsy description in the text:)

Hikaru79: You mean snapback?

Sebastian: No, I mean the simple fact that Black can take the marked white stone. I feel embarrased that I don't know how to put this in simple words:


Sngrfxz: The Ing rules say " When the stones of both sides become breathless simultaneously, the player removes his opponent's stones." I would use "lose all liberties" instead of breathless.

Hikaru79: Oh, I see what you mean, Sebastian. As for Sngrfxz's explanation, it sounds pretty good, but I would add "who played the capturing stone" to the description, or else it is very vague-- both players are both players and opponents at the same time.

Evpsych: Try this one: "Every group that is left on the board has to have at least one liberty at the *end* of every move."

Slade: I call this rule 'Capture First'. When it is your turn you capture the stone(s) first which frees up liberties and therefore the move is legal.

RafaelCaetano: By all means, have some introductory booklets handy. ;-)

Zarlan: (I'm not sure if this should be in the Teach go to curious cat, or newcomers discussion)
Here is what I think one should do:
Explain the capture rule. There is no need for confusing words, so skip the word liberty. It is easier to understand that the stone is captured if it is surrounded (you will want to explain that the diagonals are unnessecery though). There is no real need to mention atari either.

You might have to explain the goal. Haveing control of the largest part of the board. No need for more details quite yet unless the beginner asks for them.

After letting my sister and cusin play on my newly aquired board I have come to the conclusion that one detail might be good to mention: What you get points for. The game turned into what was almost two rivaling Dumplings (I decided that we could use chinese rules for that game). Well it could be mentioned during the game as well as long as it is in the begining. Alternativly you could stop the game when it is basicly finished but when should that be done?
This was on a 13x13, as the board was 19x19 and 13x13. This problem might not be a problem on a 9x9, I don't know but I think it at least helps.

Play. You should use a 9x9 (or perhaps smaller) as it isn't as overwhelming as the larger boards and is simpler. If you have to play him/her yourself (someone of near equal strength is the best): No, or at least small, handicap. At the end of the first game, you can explain how you count the score (well you can wait with that until a later end of a game if one side has taken the whole board)

Ko should be explained when it appers. No need to use the word Ko though. The same goes for seki.

The most important thing though is to adapt to the person. One should avoid to even mention the existance of larger boards, but it can be useful to do so to increase interest and if the person insists on playing on a larger board, then that may perhaps be good to do, though not necessarily. The same goes for mentioning Go-terms (liberties, atari, sente, hoshi, tengen). Cultural and historical info can increase interest or boredom and should be mentioned or not accordingly but one mustn't forget the game itself. In how much detail one should explain the rules should also depend on how much the person seems to quickly understand and be most comfortable with. Also, go easy on the proverbs. No need for them so early, most of them would only confuse someone who has played so little.

The second worst thing that could happen is loss of interest (the worst is hate of the game). Confusion, boredom and being overwhelmed are things that increase the risk of that happening and should therefore be avoided.

benni: I am not sure. Is loss of interest really better than hate? In both cases the person will never play go again. So if we are interested in spread the game, so the only thing, we can await from such a person, is, that he or she remember the existence of the game, talks with other people about it and such things. This will happen more often if the person hates the game than if she ignores it, for sure. So, obviously it is better to generate someone who hates the game than someone wo just ignore it ;-) ... ok, if this is to much off-topic ... just move it to another page. but where?

Zarlan: (I don't realy think it is off-topic)
It is an interesting point. It might also occur that someone who hates the game begins to see the beauty of the game, since he has not ignored it, though this requires that he gets further contact with the game. That and, as you said, that he informs others of the game. The latter is a problem because, although he lets others know of the existance of Go and thereby might get them to eventualy become players, he also tells them that it is a game to hate and they might take his word for it. Boredom is very bad, but hate could be worse. It could be far better though, so you've got a point there.

Slade: When I first started playing go I got trashed by my friend and didn't really like the game too much and I had pretty much given up on it. Then one day I thought "hmmm, maybe I could get better than my friend" and found igowin and started playing that. From there I really got into the game and have been playing ever since.

Teaching go to curious cats - discussion last edited by Sebastian on May 27, 2010 - 03:06
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