Is white alive under Japanese rules?

Yes, after white plays then the black stones are dead (or more specifically captured and physically removed from the board).

But if white does not actually play these moves and both players pass and the game ends, then they are considered alive. This is not simply an academic matter - because under Japanese rules one is allowed to remove and score dead stones without further play. If when white chooses not to play any moves here before both players pass and end the game, black’s stones were still to be considered dead, then white will of course choose not to play any moves, claim black’s stones are dead, remove them without further play, and ultimately score 8 points. Black would have no way to contest this and would have to instead lose a point by sacrificing a stone during the game. It’s only white, not black, that has the ability to choose the neutral trade.

It also appears to be necessary for black’s stones to be judged as alive for this to be a seki, because of how seki is defined:

Empty points surrounded by the live stones of just one player are called "eye points. " Other empty points are called “dame .” Stones which are alive but possess dame are said to be in “seki .” Eye points surrounded by stones that are alive but not in seki are called “territory ,” each eye point counting as one point of territory.


If black’s stones are considered alive when the game ends here, then the B2 spot is a dame because it is a spot that is not surrounded by just one player’s living stones, so we have a seki. If it’s not, then white is the only one whose living stones border these points, so there is no dame, and so no seki.

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In perfect Go rules if both opponents predict that some stone is alive, it should be counted as alive. It absolutely shouldn’t matter where that stone is.

if opponents don’t agree, then they should always be able to continue the game
if both don’t wish to add any stone while still not agreeing, then ALL stones should be counted as alive.

Japanese rules are crazy. They can’t count stones on the board themselves and they count captured stones, which makes idea “they should always be able to continue the game” too problematic.

Chinese rules are much closer to those perfect rules.


I think it all goes down to the definition of “alive”. For me “alive” simply refers to stones that cannot be physically removed from the board unless two moves are played. In the case you gave white is alive due to seki, but black corner 2 stones can be taken by white anytime so I wouldn’t consider them “alive”.

I still think Article 7 is very confusing. If that’s really what’s written in the Japanese rule book, then Japanese rule is indeed confusing lol

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During the normal, alternating play, White could capture those two Black stones, but at the cost of sacrificing the two White stones on the right. Of course, since this exchange does not gain or lose any points, it probably would not be played out, unless used as a ko threat.

However, the whole point of this example is to say that (if the above exchange was not played), then, during life and death determination (for scoring after both players have passed), those Black stones are in fact considered alive, precisely because the hypothetical play out to capture them would allow Black to play two new living stones (i.e., they are considered alive because of the “enables clause”).

This is a close enough approximation that probably works for >99% of actual cases in real games, but Japanese rules are in fact weird, and there exist rare situations that behave differently.


I agree that the Japanese rules are quirky, but I mostly blame some poor formulations in the official rules.

I think in practice there is much less confusion and I think it’s very hard to find disputed situations where referees won’t reach consensus in their ruling, although they may fall back on using some verbal Japanese rules instead of the official Japanese rules.

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Yeah I understand the implications now. But it just feel strange to have to define a dame as being “alive” in order for the game to end properly. Like in this case of seki:

It wouldn’t even cross my mind to define the 3 white stones as alive lol

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Really? So you consider “alive” to be a narrower term which doesn’t include strings alive in seki?


The 3 white stones are more like dame rather than “alive”.

There are two points of consideration.

  1. For normal groups, whether the group has 2 eyes or not.

  2. For groups in seki, who is trying to kill and who is trying to live.

For the example above, white tries to kill by placing stones inside black. So I would just say “black is alive in seki”, but I wouldn’t say "white is alive in seki.

I understand from a technical perspective it needs to be defined since Japanese rules would need this clear definition to count at the end of the game. But from the player’s perspective, considering those stones as “alive” is kind of trivial.

How would you evaluate the classic 2-shared liberties sort of seki where neither player is inside the other? Neither are alive?

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(assume both the 1-4 and 5-4 strings are unconditionally alive)

Not really imo. J89 seems doubtful here, since ultimately scoring only needs stone removal. And you don’t remove stones because they are not alive - you only remove them if they are in opponent’s territory. So “territory” is the only thing the rules have to define - no need for “alive”, “seki”, “dame” or similar bloat.

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Really? The official Japanese rules as well as that document about verbal Japanese rules explicitly mention group statuses “alive” and “dead”, where the verbal Japanese rules distinguish further between “independently alive” and “alive in seki”, while the official Japanese rules state that “alive” stones can be in “seki”.

How would you determine if stones are in the opponent’s territory without referring to group status “dead” or “not alive”?

Those common terms come from human strategy, but I doubt they are technically necessary in the rules themselves. I think territory can be defined based on unconditional control instead (ie. control that cannot be changed even if the player only passes). Something like:

Territory consists of regions that the player have surrounded, and can take unconditional control of (without enabling the opponent to take control of anything in exchange).

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OK, so you are promoting a more minimalist formulation of Japanese rules, avoiding possibly redundant usage of some terms (even when those terms are commonly used).

I suppose that “alive” can be seen as merely a commonly used term for a group in a region that your opponent cannot take unconditional control of. Indeed it may not be necessary to use the term in a formulation of rules. It may even avoid some of the more hairy parts of the formulation of the Japanese rules.

Still, if the rules don’t mention group status “alive” or “dead”, it may need some clarification when players are asked to mark “dead” stones to score an online game.


With that formulation of Japanese rules, I suppose that in OP position, black cannot claim the whole board as their territory when the game goes to scoring as is. So in order to not lose due to komi, they’d have to capture white’s big block of stones during the alternating play phase of the game, giving white the opportunity to play on (albeit under a massive point deficit). I suppose this would be the same under area scoring rules.

I admit that your formulation seems quite elegant, and it causes less confusion in situations like the OP position.

I think that also matches how J89 judges that position. Btw, such control based approach is neither new nor my original idea (similar concepts go back to at least 2004, LJRG by Pauli).

The tricky thing is other parts of the rules - for example, the ko rule used in hypothetical play…


During my 35 years of playing, I have only had 1 game where my (3d) opponent demanded hypothetical play to kill his bent-4 corner group, so I have very little experience with hypothetical play in actual games.
My opponent was the sort of person to demand such things. In another game he offered a draw to his opponent during the early opening and claimed a win when they accepted (saying that offering a draw is legal in go, but accepting a draw is not). His claim was not accepted by the referee btw.
He stopped playing go IRL when he was banned from entering the building where the Dutch Championships were played (he was a participant), because he kept smoking pot inside the building after being given several warnings about it. He then demanded that the tournament would continue in a different building, but this demand was denied by the organisers.

My verbal/informal idea of the ko rule in hypothetical play is that ko threats are not allowed in hypothetical play (at least not in unrelated parts of the board).
I know the actual rules are more complicated, and I don’t claim to fully understand those, so I suppose positions exist where it is difficult to define what exactly is meant by “unrelated”, or perhaps my simplistic idea doesn’t even apply at all.


Yes disputes are rare, I also meant to second your earlier comment about this. When weighting the tradeoff vs area scoring, this is often overlooked: territory disadvantage is L/D disputes (which is only theoretical or at most affect beginners), while area disadvantages also affect practical, everyday games.

The ko ideas you mention are basically pre-89 (Korean) and post-89 Japanese rules. They kind of work, but have drawbacks as well.

I prefer to see hypothetical play as something that could actually happen if the game would go on, only without players needing to worry about playing into territory. That score drift is the only thing hypothetical play needs to nullify. This is also all that casual players remember of rules - just play on, but with territory scoring restore the position after the dispute played out (which is oc oversimplification).

Changing the ko rule violates this principle. I think ideally the rules of play, legal moves etc should be universal between area and territory, as well as all game phases.

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My understanding of the term seki is the meaning is ‘mutual life’. That seems to imply that the Black 7 stone group and the White 3 stone group are both alive in the seki.

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