Learn to Play

Step 1: Learn the Basics (15-30 minutes)

"Go is an activity in which two people who love puzzles take turns giving each other presents." -- Jim Conyngham 

"Go is equally comparable to music, boxing and mathematics." -- Noriyuki Nakayama 8P 

Go is a two-person strategic board game, invented in China millennia ago (Confucius wrote about it), and still played today just as it was then. Wildly popular in Asia, it is oddly unknown here, one of the West's best-kept secrets. Welcome to a small but growing "in" group who have discovered the ultimate mind sport! 

Go is the essence of simplicity. The rules and object of Go can be stated in nine words: "Take turns placing stones; control more of the board." That's it! But without further understanding of the meaning and implication of those words, new players often find the game a little confusing.

Go is also the essence of complexity. A player can place a stone on any of the 361 intersections of the board. As a result, the number of possible positions far exceeds the number of subatomic particles in the known universe! If you seek quick mastery, look elsewhere. But for those who are looking for a game with fathomless depths of understanding, worthy of time spent, you have come to the right place. 

Learning to play is easy, with multiple programs and demonstrations to choose from:

Step 2: Lose 100 Games As Quickly As Possible

This ancient proverb contains a profound truth. When you begin playing, you will feel completely lost. You will have no idea where to play next; your opponent's move will completely confound you; you won't even be sure when the game is over. This is the biggest reason that people stop playing: bewilderment anxiety. So, don't worry! The other guy is probably as confused as you. In fact on some level, we're all bewildered by the game's complexity. But hang in there, play 100 games, and you will begin to have a feel for the basics.

-- Play quickly. If you don't know what to do, just play a stone. If you can't figure out whether a move works, see what happens.

-- Don't get bogged down. If you can't understand why something happened, don't worry about it, move on. Focus on what you are learning; the other stuff will come up again.

-- Assume a humble attitude. You are taking your first steps on a path that others have trod for millennia. You may not win many games at first. You will meet some players who are so strong that you have to place extra stones on the board to even things out. They can teach you a lot. Be determined, not discouraged.

Some people enjoy practice games against the computer, especially when learning the basics. Go servers make it easy to meet others, play, watch and study. You'll also want to meet other players. These three areas are discussed below.

Computer Programs: Play Anytime, Anywhere

Go playing programs are not as strong as comparable programs for others games such as chess. Go is too hard! But recently some programs have become able to play even against mid-level human players. Beginners can learn from them.

Igowin A free download that plays 9x9 Go on your PC, iPhone or iPod Touch. It estimates your strength from your results, and automatically assigns the appropriate handicap. A complete tutorial is also included. Igowin is the 9x9 version of Many Faces of Go, the 2008 Computer Go Champion. Order the full version ($89.95) including problems, a joseki tutor and other functions.

SmartGo A series of popular products in various formats. The iPhone/iPod/iPad 9x9 app is $.99; the full board version costs $2.99. SmartGo Pro offers 2000 problems, many thousands of pro game records, and other useful resources for the serious go student. SmartGo for Windows/MacIntosh offers all these features and more, including 45,000 pro games, for $49.

For a more comprehensive list of downloads that play, and many other downloads and computer-related sites, visit the AGA's Computer Go page.

Play Online: The Go Servers

Thousands of people from all over the world are playing online right now. In fact, whether you're a skilled player or a total beginner, someone is waiting to play you!

KGS Go Server Install their software, or simply log on. The English Room usually has 1000 or more visitors at any given time. Newcomers love the "Automatch" feature. Just click on "PlayGo" in the "Rooms" window, set your preferences (speed, max handicap, etc.), and select "Automatch." Your game will probably start immediately, so be prepared! You''ll seldom wait longer than 30 seconds, especially once you establish a possible rank by playing one rated game. 

PandaNet Internet Go Server The mother of all Go servers has been in operation since 1992, and better than ever. A free iPhone app lets you play anytime. (KGS has an app for the Android.)

From time to time KGS and IGS also simulcast top games with commentary; sponsor free lessons by top players and teachers; and offer premium services. Private lessons are also available online.

F2F: The Ultimate Encounter

Even avid online players would agree, there's something special about facing an opponent in person. You can teach your friends, and we hope you will! You will also want to have contact with the larger world of American Go. Which is still very small, but growing. Maybe you can even help with that. Here are three easy ways to find other players 

Chapters and Clubs The AGA maintains a list of chapters and clubs. Chances are there is a club or chapter within driving distance. Call first; some info is out of date.

Tournaments Check the AGA Tournament Calendar to learn about events near you, where you can meet other players from your area.

Advertise Place a classified ad in The American Go E-Journal, which is read by more than 13,000 players all over the world. The EJ also has a tournament calendar.

Finally, here's a way that's not so easy, but rewarding: start your own club! We have helped hundreds of people like you to start programs in school, after-school programs, libraries and community centers all over the US. Visit our schools page to learn how we can help you get the ball rolling. 

Step 3: Get Stronger

If you have played 100 games, whether online or against a human or computer, perhaps you have glimpsed a bit of the depth, the challenge the game presents. Now you're trying to figure out how to get stronger -- like the rest of us! Just playing game after game may not be enough. Here are four suggestions to improve your play.

Play Stronger Players: Find the strongest player who will give you a game, put some handicap stones on the board, and carefully study how White accomplishes the result.

Review Your Games Figure out where you went wrong in the games you lose, and how you achieved your victories. Ideally, you will review the game with your opponent, or with a strong player or Go teacher, but self-review is also useful.

Study You can choose among hundreds of books to find the ones that suit your needs. One place to start is Kiseido's Elementary Go Series, six small volumes with in-depth analysis of the fundamentals -- the opening, joseki, tesuji, life-and-death, attack and defense, and endgame. The four-volume Graded Go Problems for Beginners series is more challenging than the name might suggest. Slate and Shell and Yutopian also offer large selections of Go books in English.

Study Pro Games Playing through pro games, with or without commentary, is a good way to get a "feel for the stones." Don't try to understand everything, just get some general impressions. The links listed below will help you find thousands of game records, and collections of up to 60,000+ games are available from vendors.

Useful Links There are hundreds of sites devoted to various aspects of the game, everything from game collections and tournament coverage to art galleries. Here are a few "mega-links" to get you started: