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A board covered in black and white stones.People have been playing this boardgame for thousands of years. So come on, have a Go!

You will need

  • Lots of black and white counters
  • A Go board. You can download a Go board here, or use a chessboard and play on the corners rather than middles of the squares.
  • Someone to play against

How to play

  1. Choose who goes first. The first player plays with black pieces and the second player plays with white.
  2. On your turn, put a piece onto one intersection (a space) on the board. Remove any pieces you’ve captured (see ‘capturing stones’). Then your opponent has a go.

Capturing stones

A white stone on a grid. There are four xs indicating the spaces around it.

The white stone has four liberties

  1. When you place a stone, look at the spaces right next to it. Most spaces have four neighbours – up, down, left and right. Edge spaces have three neighbours and the corner spaces only have two.
  2. To stay on the board, a stone needs to have an empty space right next to it. These empty spaces are called liberties. If you want to capture an opponent’s stone, put your stones on all of its liberties.

    Four black stones surround the white sone's original position. The white stone is removed from the board.

    To capture, completely surround a stone.

  3. When you put two stones right next to each other, they form a group. You can add more stones to the group by putting them right next to a stone in the group. You can even join two groups together with a stone right next to both groups.
  4. A group acts as one big stone. To survive, the whole group needs at least one empty space right next to it – one liberty. To capture an opponent’s group, completely surround it and fill all its liberties with your stones.

How the game ends

Several black stones are surounded by white stones. One space is indicated by an x.

This black group has only one liberty.

  1. As the game progresses, the board will fill up. When you think you can’t gain any more spaces, you can pass your turn by handing a stone to your opponent. A black pass followed by a white pass ends the game.
  2. To work out who has won, count up all the spaces that are surrounded by your groups. Then add all the pieces that you have captured. Whoever gets the most points, wins!

    The x is occupied by a white stone, all the balck stones are removed.

    When the black group has no liberties left, it is captured.

  3. One last rule – sometimes you can get stuck in an endless loop, where you take turns capturing the same stones over and over. To stop this, you are not allowed to make a move that puts the board in exactly the same shape as before. You have to play somewhere else for one move before you continue your eternal struggle.

What’s happening?

A black shape surrounded by white stones. Two spaces are indicated by xs.

This black group is invincible – white can’t play in both eyes at the same time.

One of the best ways to learn about Go is to play it. So try a few games and see what you pick up!

You may have noticed that some groups are harder to capture than others. If your group surrounds a small area, the opponent must surround your group, inside and out, to capture your group. If your group has two small areas, then it is invincible. Their stones can’t survive long in each small area and they can’t fill both areas at the same time.

Another important lesson is that corners are much easier to control. If you want to surround a square in the corner, you only need to make two sides – the edge of the board makes the other two for you! Most Go players start their games by playing near a corner. They don’t play right in the corner – that space is easy to capture and doesn’t help surround anything!

In this activity, we’ve given you a 9 x 9 board. Experts play on a much larger board – 19 x 19. This gives them more than four times the places to play and makes the game much longer and more complicated.

More information

The rules of Go (video)

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