How to Play Go: 5 Game Rules and 3 Strategies to Win

how to play go
January 22, 2021

Go is one of the most popular Chinese board games of two players in which the player who can claim more territory wins. Although it was invented in China over 2,500 years ago, the game was used to determine the future of Tibet because a Buddhist ruler refused to go to war. 

It is enjoyed by people of diverse races all over the world today; the international Go federation’s 2016 survey shows that 46 million people worldwide know how to play Go.

This guide will teach you all you need to know before you start playing Go and not only that, you get to learn the following:

  • What is Go
  • How to play Go board game 
  • Go rules
  • The various rules of Go;
  • The Ko rules
  • The Concept of life and death 
  • The Seki
  • Komi

What is Go

Go is a territorial board game played on a 19 x 19 grid of black lines, there are smaller boards of 9×9 and 13×13 for newbies. There is also a portable Go variant known as ‘Flip it’ that can fit easily into one’s backpack for travel and other purposes.

The game pieces known as stones are moved around on the ‘lines intersection’.  Just like chess, Go is also a game of skill, However, Go rules are quite different and it has psychological advantages. It helps the player make use of their analytical skill sets and intuition. 

The playing time for a casual Go game is between 20 – 90 minutes while professional Go games are played within 1–6-hour duration. However, some professional games could exceed 16 hours; in this case, the game will be played in sessions that could last up to two days.

Game Objective 

The game’s aim is for a player to claim and occupy more spaces, the player with the larger territory becomes the winner. The players take turns to mark their territories on various parts of the board with the game pieces called ‘stones’. 

The stones must be placed strategically because players cannot change their positions once they have been placed. The only time the stone’s position changes is if it gets captured by the opponent.

A stone will be captured when it is surrounded by the opponent’s stones. At the end of the game, the vacant intersections on either territory are counted and added to the number of stones captured. The player with the larger total emerges as the winner. We hope now you know the purpose of the game. Go ahead and learn how to play go!

go game play

Why Should You Learn Go?

The Go board game is an excellent way to Pass time during leisure time. Unlike other Chinese board games, it is so easy to learn.

The game helps players engage their intuition and requires them to employ their creativity to respond to various circumstances promptly.

It teaches players how to be strategic as they plan to attack and defense. Unlike chess constant memorization of the player’s position is not needed.

How to Play Go Board Game 


The traditional Go board has a 19 x 19 grid. The game pieces are lens-shaped disks colored black and white. The black stones are 181 black stones while the white stones 180 pieces. There are certain points on the Go board that serve as reference points and also safe spaces where handicap stones can be placed.


When playing Go, a player’s primary aim is to claim as much territory as they can using their stones. So, start by occupying vacant spots on the Go board then proceed to capture your opponent’s stones thereby claiming their territories.  

The game usually starts with an empty board, except if the players agreed to place handicaps before the game starts. 

Handicap markers are usually located at the corners of the Go board, once the game starts, players should begin marking their territories by placing their stones near the handicap markers; this helps the player to gain corner positions that can be easily defended.

Players should prioritize building off a stable structure as its advantages are limitless. First off your stones are safer; it is easier to protect them while establishing a broader base for subsequent moves.

Place your stones far away from your opponent’s as much as you can because if your stones are too close, your opponent might gain significant influence on your stones while you are out chasing other stones.

Do not place your stones on vacant spaces within your opponent’s territory except if you are confident of capturing his stones otherwise you are only making it easier for them to capture your stones. 

Scoring and Territories 

Territories are empty spaces surrounded by stones of the same color. The edges of the board automatically serve as a natural border and they also count as points. The game ends when all vacant points are surrounded by stones of either player.

If you introduce a new stone into a territory you have already claimed your score will be reduced by one point.


Liberties are the empty spaces next to a stone, a single stone has four liberties while a group of stones shares their liberties. 

When a player places a single stone there will be four liberties, however, if the stone is placed among a group of stones then there must be at least one liberty left.

how to play go instructions


A stone or group of stones can be captured by placing stones of the same color on all liberties of the stone(s). Once the stone(s) have been surrounded, the player who captured the stone then removes the stone from the board and keeps it till the end of the game where he then places all captured stones inside his opponent’s territories to reduce the scores.

A captured stone is equivalent to two points; one point for the space and the other for the opponent’s negative point.

While playing Go, one will often hear players refer to a group of stones saying they are in Atari, this means that the group of stones are at risk of being captured. This often occurs when a group has one liberty left and thus can be captured in the next turn.


Single stones of the same color placed on adjacent intersections are connected to form a group. The connection could either be vertical or horizontal but cannot be diagonal as the connection must go along the lines.


Strings are single stones occupying adjacent intersections and they are said to be solidly constructed only if they are horizontally or vertically connected; diagonal connections do not count. Two or more strings that occur close to each other and belong to the same player constitute a group.

Just like single stones, a string can also be captured when all its liberties are occupied by the opponent’s stones.

The Eyes

An eye is a space within a group of stones. To capture your opponent’s group you must get your stones to the eye(s) within the group as well; this is because all liberties must be filled before a group can be captured and the eyes are also liberties.

Therefore to stay on the safe side a group must have at least two eyes because both eyes cannot both be filled. Your opponent can only fill one eye, filling a second eye in the same group is suicide.

Thus a Go player needs to create enough eye spaces and prevent their opponents from doing the same.

The Concept of Life and Death

The acquisition of multiple eyes is the lifeblood of any string or group as it is permanently safe from capture. Thus such a string or group is called a live string or a live group. Alternatively, any string or group of stones that cannot make two or more eyes will eventually be surrounded by live enemy strings and will be captured soon enough. Thus, it is called a dead string Since it’s death is imminent. 

Sometimes players choose to leave the dead string or group on the game board till the end of the game since it is hopeless. Such strings are counted together with other captured stones and strings at the end of the game.


In Go games where the competition is between players of equal strength, the white player is usually compensated for playing second since the black player always has the advantage of playing first. The white player is compensated by adding some points to his score, these points are known as “Komi”. The value of playing first is usually set as 7 so ideally that is the size of Komi. In professional games like tournaments, komi is set at 7.5 points to prevent draws.

Go rules

The rules of Go are quite easy to learn and so is the game

  1. Black always makes the first move towards the upper right corner of the board while white makes the next move towards the bottom right corner.
  2. A player makes a valid move when he places a stone on a vacant intersection on the board.
  3. Players are allowed to pass their turns, however, if the players succeed in making two successive passes, then the game must come to an end.
  4. A player’s area/territory includes all the spots he has been able to occupy, the player who occupies the largest area and holds the most prisoners wins the game.
  5. Once placed, a stone cannot be removed except when it has been captured. Capture occurs when the opponent occupies all adjacent intersections. Once a stone is captured, the captor removes it from the board and keeps it(holds it prisoner) till the end of the game.

go game board

The Ko Rule

Ko is a situation where there is an endless capture and recapture of either player’s stone in the opponent’s eye.

In a situation where Black places a stone in the eye of a white group thereby capturing it. Then the white also puts a stone in the eye of the black and also captures it.  If this keeps going on and on in an endless loop, the situation is known as “Ko”. Ko is a Japanese word meaning eternity.

Thus, to eliminate the possibility of an indefinite repetition, the Ko rule forbids the recapture of the ‘ko’. so that if black captures white for instance, white cannot recapture black immediately but must wait for at least one move.

The Seki

The Seki is a stand-off situation where both players coincidentally have strings with a single eye and so neither of the players can capture the other. Ideally, a string with a single eye cannot survive long enough, so the player is always under pressure to either make another eye or capture their opponent’s strings.

Sometimes this situation could result in a stalemate where both parties have one-eyed strings and are unable to capture each other due to a shortage of liberties. This situation is called a Seki.

Go Game Strategies To Win

1. Keep The Stones Connected

Ensuring that your stones are connected makes it easier and faster to claim territories and share liberties. For instance, a player could decide to place two adjacent stones at the center of the game board to form a group of six around the opponent’s stone thereby capturing it.

2. Gain Territories 

Prioritize enlarging your territory over anything else. Gaining territories is an essential Go strategy often practiced by Experts. It is more important than capturing your opponent’s stones at the end of the game, the player with the largest territorial area emerges as the winner.

3. Protect Your Stones 

Always ensure that every decision you make is geared towards protecting your stones. If at some point, you realize that your opponent is gaining some advantage on you, and you don’t have any more moves, then you can pass. Remember that the more stones you have played, the more points your opponent has.

If your opponent has an upper hand and decides to offer a handicap, you should take it.

At the end of the game, neither player gets any points because the empty spaces are not surrounded by either side. Ensure that you adhere to the Go game rules while playing Go to avoid penalties.


The Go game sure tests your ability to reason and find creative ways out of difficult situations; it is one of the reasons why so many people are so pumped about learning how to play Go game and searching for answers to numerous questions like what is Go really about? 

What are the basic Go game rules? Why is it one of the most popular Chinese board games?

Having read through this guide you should be able to play the game easily. Ensure to practice the tips and observe the rules of Go as described in the guide.

Play the game at your leisure and you will be glad you did. 

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)