Ted Keiser's teaching system

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TedKeiser has been teaching for a few decades and this pamphlet is a word-for-word log of his first lesson for the average pupil.

An Invitation to Go[1]


This is a text for people who already know how to play Go and want to share their knowledge with the non-Go-playing public. The majority of the material is what I actually say to the first-time student.

The purpose of this text is to get the student into a "reasonable" game as quickly as possible. There are obviously many perceptions that I do not bring up in this first exposure, such as the characteristics of a live group or the rule of Ko and the rest of the world of Go. These issues will come up in actual play and I treat them at that time and in so far as I think the person is ready. Questions that come from the student are the best indication of what they are ready to learn as long as we keep our answers short and to the point.

With a five stone handicap on a nine by nine board the fundamental rule of "no stone or group of stones can remain on the board if it has no freedoms" covers most circumstances.

It is true that I have taken on the much more difficult perception of open space. In part this comes from the student's need to know the purpose and goal of the game. In part, the decision comes from the realization of just how unnatural this perception is to the western mind. Life and Ko can be explained simply and with clear logic. Open space requires something like a leap of faith. Most of us understand Life and Ko pretty well and the spend the rest of our time struggling with space. Thus, I start out with this concept and keep stressing it in hopes that some of it will "stick."

I happily share my work with the Go playing public to be used in any way it sees fit.

-- TedKeiser

9x9 board  

"This is a 9x9 Go board. It is about one quarter of a full board.

13x13 board  

"This is a 13x13 board. It is about half of a full board.

19x19 board  

"This is a full board -- 19x19."

"Go is played on boards as small as 3x3, though this brings it to a level of simplicity far removed from the full board. Go is the only game I know of that is independent of the board size.

"Size may not matter but Go boards are most regularly an odd number of lines. (This allows for a center point, which seems to be important.) It is the lines and their intersections that count in Go.


"See these dots on the board? They indicate where handicap stones are placed.

"Go has a handicap system built into it. This means that theoretically every game can be won by either side. If one person is winning all the games, the handicap can be adjusted so that this problem no longer exists. This is one more of the charms of the game.

"If there is a difference in ability between the players, as there is in our case since it is your first game, the weaker player takes the black stones.

five stone handicap  

"These five stones are your handicap. They are probably not enough to win the first game on a 9x9 board, but they create a set-up that allows me to explain the purpose and rules of Go in the best way I know how.

"In the first game, you must play as I show you. After that, you can play any place you want.

First moves  

"I will play here, you here..."

"Who played the last move?"

If you have done it right, you student will say "You did." or something like that.

"Right! Now remember that. It is an important piece of information that we'll need later.

Two stones temporarily removed  

"Now I am going to remove these two black stones for a moment. They will go back on when we get to playing again.

"But now, if we take this black line as a cut through the board, chunk!, just like a big axe cut it. Everything on this side of the black line to the corner is black's piece. Everything from the white line to its corner is white's piece. Which piece is larger?"

Most people will say "the black piece". If you get someone who says "the white piece, get them to look again until they see that the black piece is larger.

"Okay, why do you say so?"

There are many demonstrations of this fact. Accept them all.

"The reason I have spent so much time on this issue is that the purpose of Go is to get control of open intersections. The person at the end of the game with the most free and open intersections wins.

"The perception of open territory as a goal is one of the hardest elements to get. It may sound simple, but it is harder than it seems, so I am starting you out on it right away.

"The counting we are doing is to find our who is winning or losing."

Stone for example  

Put the 3-3 stones back on the board.

"There is another kind of counting: It is counting to see which stones live or die.

"We will use this black stone black+square on the white side for our example.

Freedoms marked  

"This stone has 4 freedoms circle. One, two, three, four.

"They are directly connected to the stone. Diagonals do not count! Only the horizontal and vertical intersections directly connected to the stone are freedoms of this stone.

A two-stone group  

"One of the things a freedom allows us to do is to add a stone B1, thus making a group of two stones. Once put together, nothing can separate these two stones or any more stones that may be attached to them.

Group's freedoms  

"Stones that are grouped together share each other's liberties. How many does this group have?"

Get the person to point to them as they count them.

"Yes, they have six."

Take away the attached black stone and add a white stone to the side of the black stone.

Counting freedoms  

"Black stones add freedoms and white stones remove freedoms. How many does the black stone have now?

Counting freedoms  


Counting freedoms  


"When there is only one freedom left, I warn you by saying 'atari,' which used to be a Japanese word, but is now also an American one.

"If you are a chess player, atari is not check. You do not have to do anything about it. If you do nothing, then at any point in the game that I choose to, I can take the last freedom of your stone.

Stone removed  

"A stone or group of stones that has no freedoms can not remain on the board, so I take off your stone and keep it on my side. You do the same with white stones that you take.

"At the end of the game, these captured stones will be replaced in the open space of their color, thus taking up a point of territory for every captive that we have. So you see, captured stones count against you."

Remove the final capturing stone and put the black stone back.


"When you find your stones in atari, you should ask and answer two questions: 'Can I save my stone?' and 'Do I want to?' Usually on this small of a board, with this handicap, you do want to save it if you can. The problem is that the answer to 'Can I save it?' is often 'I don't know.' This is especially true when it counts the most.

"Since you don't know, let's see if you can save this stone."

Out of atari  

Add a stone to it.

"Now how many freedoms does your group of two stones have? ...Three is correct."

Watch out for people who count diagonals.

White responds  

"Now how many?

Black extends  

"Now how many? Three.

"The process of counting the freedoms of a stone or group of stones is fundamental to playing Go. It seems very simple and it is. The better you get at counting, the better your game will be.

White responds  

"Notice that you have gained freedoms every time a stone has been added to your group.

"How many freedoms? Two.

White responds  

"Now how may? Two again? You went from two to two. This is not making progress. Not good.

"Now I am going to show you how not to play. You will be emotionally inclined to play this way but it is not good and you will see why.

Almost out!  

"Now, black is about to get out. White's turn to play...

Atari, still  

"And now W4 takes the last liberty and all the black+square stones die and are removed. This is why you do not want to play that way. Any questions?"

Answer them the best that you can, of course.

"Okay, now we are ready to play. Play as I showed you.

Stop here  

"Stop here. This is where we left off. Let's talk about your strategy.

"What makes Go so fascinating for most of us is that it separates out and exemplifies the difference between strategy and tactics better than any game that I know of.

"Who played last? Right, me, white.

"Who is ahead? Right, you, black."

If this last question is uncertain, go back over the purpose of the game. It's all in front of you.

"As I see it, you have three strategic options at this point. You are ahead and it is your move. What are things you want to accomplish? What moves might you want to make and what are your intentions behind them?

"The three options I see are:

  1. To secure the black territory already marked out.
  2. To attack the white stones.
  3. To save the black stone behind the white line.

"It is worth working on this problem, since it is very important to have an idea of what you are trying to do when playing Go. It is also nice if your moves have more than one purpose.

"Now we are ready to play. You can play a stone on any intersection that is open.

"The last thing I'll say to you is 'Don't think.' Yes, Go is a thinking game like no other, but it is built upon perceptions. In order to acquire those perceptions you must see what happens in particular situations. The best way to do that is to play fairly quickly so that you can play as many games as possible and see what happens.

"It's your move."

Formatted for Sensei's Library by ChadMiller

[1]John F. This, "An Invitation to Go", is a somewhat unfortunate choice of heading. It was the title of my first go book by Oxford University Press. It went out of print but Dover Publications have decided to reprint it, and the first copies are due out any day now, I'm told.

ChadMiller: Sorry, that is also Ted's main title. Its full title was "An Invitation to Go: To teach beginners to teach", but I elided the last part.

Notochord: It seems odd that the word 'freedom' is used, when at least in all the contexts that I have seen, 'liberty' is the word of choice. This text very briefly uses 'liberty', as if it were interchangeable with 'freedom,' but if this were the case, it would do well to just use 'liberty,' which is (I think) by far and large the most common english-language term for an empty intersection adjoining a stone or group.

If there is a definite difference in how these two words are defined (such as that one applies to single stones and the other to groups, though this is probably itself an unnatural reason for having two terms instead of one), then I think that this difference should be made clear.

ChadMiller: Ted is a curious fellow, but I'm sure he uses the words "freedom" and "liberty" interchangably. Since he teaches beginners, he doesn't treat the words as jargon. "Freedom," not "'freedom'" and perhaps among his usual audience "freedom" is a more common word than "liberty." Having said that, I think it's okay to change the words, if you like.

Ted Keiser's teaching system last edited by Dieter on September 20, 2021 - 12:59
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