I Want To Start On The 19x19, Is Playing On The 9x9 First Necessary?

I see this question asked frequently enough by newcomers that I figured I would write some thoughts down for future inquiries. If anyone else has any thoughts on this topic, please do share them :upside_down_face:.

The 9x9 does focus heavily on fighting (life and death). However, my 14k skill level does not carry over to a 19x19 at all. The mass amount of space available makes most of the 9x9 tactics pointless, because there is so much open space. Things are possible there that just don’t make any sense on a 9x9. Likewise, things that make sense on a 9x9 just don’t make much sense on a 19x19, because they no longer work. If your aim is to learn 19x19, and you aren’t too worried about losing or a steeper learning curve (i.e. you are dedicated to learning Go and don’t think you will get discouraged along the way), then starting on 19x19 makes much more sense.

I’ve played about 2000 games (1600-ish here on OGS) on the 9x9 and only one 19x19. I’ve played a dozen or so on the 13x13. The 9x9 is my absolute favorite (obviously) for so many reasons. I enjoy a 13x13 with a friend from time to time, but not against people I don’t know. I take my 13x13 games very casually. 9x9 tactics make a tad more sense on the 13x13 compared to the 19x19. I have no intention of ever making it to the 19x19, as the games are simply too long. 9x9 is an animal all its own and when I want to go big, the 13x13 is A-Okay.

I once heard the different board sizes described like this: 9x9 is akin to a knife fight in a telephone booth, 13x13 is like a street yard brawl, and 19x19 is all out warfare. Each requires a different mindset and will require different strategies and tactics. So if your heart is in 19x19, then by all means, don’t wait too long. In my mind, I think the 9x9 is great for beginners for one big reason; simplicity. Go is a crazy difficult game to understand. It can feel punishing, demoralizing, frustrating, and trigger a whole world of negative possibilities within you, as you get your feet wet. But if you stick with it long enough (different for each person), you will get to the point where you begin to understand what is going on.

When this understanding begins to take root, a genuine interest in Go begins to develop and an excitement begins to bloom that you hadn’t experienced before. If you stick with it even longer, a passion usually begins to evolve and eventually flourish. Once you hit this point, where you have a genuine interest in the game and losing no longer affects you strongly, a person finally becomes a genuine Go player. Staying or leaving at that point is merely a matter of preference. But getting someone to that point can be very time consuming and difficult.

Most new players will not make it that far, which is sad to those of us who experienced that road, did make the entire journey, and now hold Go near and dear to our hearts. For this reason, I encourage people to play on the 9x9, because a desire for the larger boards will develop organically. They will eventually end up there, if that is where their interest lies. But exposing them to the greater difficulties inherent to larger boards too early, tends to squash their interest and any potential for passion at an accelerated rate.

Funnily enough the 9x9 tends to be less forgiving of mistakes. However, in a learning environment, this means you learn what works and what doesn’t faster. The smaller size also means you can get more games in. For example: Let’s consider a blitz match (10 second turns) for a game that concludes with 85% of the board covered in stones. For a 9x9, the average game lasts 10.49 minutes. And on a 19x19, the average is 48.09 minutes. I can easily fit in 4 to 5 more games on a 9x9 in the same period of time as I could with a single 19x19 game.

Time Estimation Explanation


9x9 Math - :mantelpiece_clock: 10:50 minutes max
81 Intersections available multiplied by 0.8 (80% of 81), equals 64.8 stones. Let’s round that up to 65 stones. 65 stones multiplied by 10 seconds, equals 650 seconds. 650 seconds divided by 60 (to get minutes), equals 10.83 minutes. To get seconds I take 60 (one minute) and multiply it by 0.83 (the decimal portion of a whole minute remaining), and this equals 49.8 seconds. So 10 minutes and 49.8 seconds, is the maximum time it would take me to complete a 9x9 blitz match.

13x13 Math - :mantelpiece_clock: 22:30 minutes max
169 Intersections available multiplied by 0.8 (80% of 81), equals 135.2 stones. Let’s round that down to 135 stones. 135 stones multiplied by 10 seconds, equals 1,350 seconds. 1,350 seconds divided by 60 (to get minutes), equals 22.5 minutes. To get seconds I take 60 (one minute) and multiply it by 0.5 (the decimal portion of a whole minute remaining), and this equals 30 seconds. So 22 minutes and 30 seconds, is the maximum time it would take me to complete a 13x13 blitz match.

19x19 Math - :mantelpiece_clock: 48:10 minutes max
361 Intersections available multiplied by 0.8 (80% of 81), equals 288.8 stones. Let’s round that up to 289 stones. 289 stones multiplied by 10 seconds, equals 2890 seconds. 2890 seconds divided by 60 (to get minutes), equals 48.16 minutes. To get seconds I take 60 (one minutes) and multiply it by 0.16 (the decimal portion of a whole minute remaining), and this equals 9.6 seconds. So 48 minutes and 9.6 seconds, is the maximum time it would take me to complete a 19x19 blitz match.

Each example assumes that all 10 seconds are being consumed each turn, which would never happen, because you risk timing out if you push for the full 10 seconds. So, actual game times will be even shorter than the above estimation.


I like 9x9 because it “forces” me to practice reading whereas on 19x19 I tend to play more by “intuition” before the fighting starts (and even then I play by feel a lot, which definitely holds me back). I feel that I should play more 9x9 because I do realize that weak reading is one of my bigger issues (among all the other issues! :slight_smile:) and 9x9 is a great way to improve this, in addition to tsumego.

But I don’t feel that starting on 9x9 is necessary. Anything 9x9 teaches is also taught by 19x19, it’s just less of a “drill” and perhaps less “concentrated”. It’s easier to skip reading on 19x19, even though it’s just as crucial there, just less obviously so. In a way, I feel that 9x9 can be more demoralizing for a brand-new player because you can get completely wiped off the board. On 19x19, you at least end up with some points even when you lose. It doesn’t matter fundamentally by how much one loses, but it “feels” slightly better if you at least have some points at the end of a game. So to me, 9x9 is more “brutal”, more unforgiving, and a little more stressful to play (in a ranked setting anyway, I do play 9x9 on my tablet).

Mostly, though, I believe that 9x9 and 19x19 are rather different games and that people should play the format that appeals the most to them and that they have the most fun with. Ultimately, fun is what keeps folks around.


Of course it’s not necessary.
A lot of SDK Go players (including me) have never played on any other size than 19x19.


I have mixed feelings about this concept. I have learned the game purely through 19x19, and it was not until later down the road that I took up 9x9 (which I still do not usually play). I certainly believe that learning the rules and absolute fundamentals of the game is easier on the 9x9, but the actual common game, 19x19, does usually force a newcomer to develop some tweaks to their game (particularly to their style), if they started out with 9x9. Therefore, there are times that I wish I had started out with 9x9 and there are also times when I feel glad that I didn’t. @Mulsiphix1, I appreciate your work here to develop this well-constructed summary. I am sure it will serve beginners well! :smiley:


Very helpful and informative posts. I like starting on the 9x9 to learn the rules and basic tactics, but it’s definitely a very different game from 19x19, so if the big board is in your future, don’t wait too long to switch.


I had a single teaching game on a 9x9 board and then started playing 19x19


I learned on 19x19 only, and never even knew about 9x9 or 13x13 until I came to OGS. They are very different games, but speaking purely theoretically, I believe 9x9 is a good place for beginners to learn basic tactics: throw-in, snapback, protecting cuts, playing on the 2-line, eye formation, etc. I’m much weaker at 9x9, but I do enjoy it and play it often IRL on weekends.

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