How to play the game Go

I tweeted this idea the other day:

Book idea: popular board game rules re-written with the 1000 most common words á la Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer.

Go is one of the most elegant and simple games around, yet the rules are often misleadingly complex. So without further ado:

How to play the game Go

Go is played on an area made of 19 lines going one direction, and 19 lines crossing them going the other direction. Black places first, and then black and White take turns placing a piece of their color on a space where any of the lines of the game meet. Once placed, a piece may not be moved to a different space.

Any pieces of the same color next to each other form a group. Only pieces on spaces exactly next to one another (on the game lines) can make a group. A group can be as small as only one piece. Groups may be made larger by placing another piece next to any of the pieces already in the group.

If White puts pieces on ALL the spaces next to a Black group, white takes the black pieces in that group out of the game. Same for black. Those pieces become points for the player that took them.

No player can place a piece that would make the game look like it looked after their last turn.

After both pass, each player points out any pieces they will be taking from inside their groups. If the other player doesn’t agree, the player must keep playing to take them.

Each player adds a point from each taken piece, as well as a point for each of their pieces still in the game, and finally a point for each empty space surrounded by their own groups. The player with more points beats the other player.


1. I wrote this using The Up-Goer 5 Text Editor.

2. Obviously this is missing some of the important strategies that are included in any decent set of Go rules. Additionally, most rules of Go are complicated quite a bit with terminology that is not actually important to play, but might be important if you want to actually talk with anyone about your game. This is not usually a barrier to playing if you have someone to teach you, but if you are trying to learn from rules, it can be unnecessarily frustrating.

Edited (2016-01-28)

3. Removed the suicide rule, which as Matt pointed out is not universally accepted. (Incidentally, Matt taught me to play go, way back in the day.) I originally wrote it: “Black can not place a piece so that White would take it without playing another piece. White can not place a piece so that Black could take it without playing another piece.”

4. Re-worked capture paragraph. Less verbose and simpler.

5. Added paragraph about passing, re-worked the last paragraph a bit to explicitly count all stones. This is more consistent with New Zealand rules, which seems sane.

6. Removed “That’s it.” from the end. That was just silly.

1 thought on “How to play the game Go

  1. Ha! Great.
    I’d make it less-verbose, but that’s just me, and probably biased by experience of playing go. :)

    Also, being a smart-ass as I am :), I’d like to add (if someone is inspired to learn Go by this post) that Atari-Go is a fine way to start – I usually play Atari-Go with new-to-Go friends, and we usually switch to real Go quite seamlessly, exactly as intended by Atari-Go itself:

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