Pondering Upon The Rules Of Go

ofc, this is in line with my little pet hypothesis that modern go originated as capture go (a simple game like gomoku), but players either found that this was less interesting because fights were much more rare, or they noticed the cool potential in the form of snapbacks.
Then the rules of passing were introduced so that there was now a “game end” condition, and scoring (probably starting out as most caps, but maybe changing to most stones so there didn’t need to be an unnecessary sac move) was used instead as the victory condition.
Then players found that the most interesting game was played with each side having two diagonal hoshi, which led to that being the rule (like how chess evolved the option of a pawn going two spaces in the beginning to lessen time), which the Japanese later removed.
Then the somebody found “hey, why bother spending all that time filling in stones and just count the empty space?” Which then led to the followup “why bother capturing those stones in my territory if we can both agree they’re dead?” and while the Chinese and Koreans used group tax to make the scoring equivalent to the older version for a while, it was dropped because it was just an extra complication at that point.

Ofc, this is all based on the idea that “classic games evolve the unfun parts out over time”


hmm, I can see that basic idea.

This kind of thinking is exactly the style of pondering I’ve had going on in my head. I really enjoyed hearing your take on this subject. And I agree with you entirely. I truly enjoyed your thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to write them up @mekriff :pleading_face::smiling_face_with_three_hearts::hugs:

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People would have realized this immediately. I’m guessing that (under stone scoring) people would have often taken this shortcut once they realized that the game had reached the stage where all that was left was to fill in territory with stones.

I think stone scoring was preferred for its pure simplicity, which is elegant in that right. I mean, the objective can be simply stated as putting as much stones on the board as possible. There’s no need to formally define and distinguish between life/death/seki, territory/dame, or even talk about (in the rules) removing dead stones before scoring. Those concepts are removed as technical definitions in the rules, and instead exist only as strategic considerations to be determined by the players. If stones are dead, it’s up to the other player to capture and remove them. If territory is firmly controlled, the player can occupy it.

Stone counting requires more effort to explicitly follow it out to actual counting, but many games would have still ended via resignation, since a player would realize that they have lost.

Ultimately, this leads to territory scoring (as done in Japanese and Korean rules). I used to feel that Japanese rules were more elegant since it forces play to end without actually capturing strategically dead stones (in order to avoid ruining one’s score), however, I’ve come to realize that life and death determination can be incredibly complex, which forces Japanese rules to become a complicated and inelegant mess in order to formally define how to determine life/death/seki.

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Like so many, my first exposure to Go was with Japanese Rules.


Starting with a Japanese Language teacher who didn’t actually know how to play properly and many years later, ‘An Introduction to Go’ by Davies/Bozulich which saved me from Go oblivion. :grin:

Though I would still not claim to know them completely (see Japanese Rules 1989) and yet, after playing for a while on OGS, I have developed a preference for Chinese Rules primarily because I find it easier to resolve games under Chinese Rules without involving a mod and secondly because I find it easier to explain Chinese Rules to a beginner.

And now to pondering… I am going to be something of a hypocrite because on the one hand I would write the Rules of Go slightly differently if I had a mandate to do so and on the other hand, I would prefer less variety existed with Go rules.

My ideal rules would be fairly simple:

  • Area scoring
  • Suicide forbidden
  • Komi by arrangement but typically integer komi (with draws) except for certain types of tournaments.
  • No super-ko rule. Three-fold repetition leading to a draw.

So essentially Chinese rules except with integer komi because I find a draw to be an extremely fair, satisfying and honourable result and no super-ko rule because at my level of skill the super-ko rule is essentially a coin toss anyway so a draw is a fairer result. I daresay that at higher ranks the super-ko rule can be coherently worked into strategy by the players but not by me.

Having said all that; I believe it would be significantly better for the future of the Go playing world if we could simply agree to one set of rules. For me the differences in the standard rulesets are not significant enough to justify the damage done by the confusion. For such a cause, I would agree to ANY of the regular versions. Imagine if the Nihon Ki-in and Hanguk Kiwon agreed to simply use Chinese Rules. Some might say that Japan and Korea would lose face by such an action but one might just as easily say that China would lose face by not having been the first to act so generously and positively, for the benefit of future Go playing generations.

Just my two-bobs worth. Still pondering. :thinking:

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Unfortunately, the divisions regarding the rules seem to be quite firm.

Here is an interesting statement from the International Go Federation:

The careful diplomatic wording suggests that unifying go rules is a politically intractable and sensitive issue. I think it may go beyond just politics and may be a matter of national pride and cultural heritage.


Hoshi are star points, yes? How are star points a part of any ruleset?


Is this not also the case with Chinese? Under Japanese you count any remaining group without two eyes as prisoners, but you still need to remove them before counting, when you begin shifting stones into clean groups, right? I’ve never played a real life Japanese game, so I have no experience shifting stones. But given dead stones would end up covering what should be empty territory, it seems to make sense to remove them.

In Chinese you can leave dead stones on the board and simply count them. No need to remove them, since they will be counted as stones. When in reality the player is being rewarded a point for each territory a dead stone occupies. I feel like I’m missing something obvious :sweat_smile:


Can you elaborate on your thinking behind this preference?


A position has just occurred on the board. Now if it repeats one more time, is that repetition the first or second occurrence of the pattern according to your three-folder rule?


Can you elaborate on what you feel the damage done is? I find that most people I talk to only know about a single ruleset. The rest literally are shrouded in mystery. I too feel this is damaging, but I have trouble quantifying it in the face that so few seem to understand the difference between rulesets. So while I would like to cite confusion creating disharmony or turning people off Go somehow, I don’t know that is actually the case :thinking:


As a logophile your use of the word bob here caught my eye. But after looking it up, I couldn’t figure out how you were using it. Any chance this is slang or were you just being playful with language?


This is exactly what I think lies at the root of coming up with agreeing on a single rule set. Which is a profound statement considering how most people view board games (any) as trivial; the play things of children :hugs:

Easy, you look back at really old chinese games (like Huang Longshi old), and you’ll notice that there’s a certain pattern on the board before even the first move – both sides have two 4-4 stones on the board diagonally opposite from each other. Like a mandatory opening.

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:pleading_face: That is extremely interesting. I had no idea :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

Not really. The game of Go works perfectly well with or without this rule. For those who don’t know what we’re talking about: Suicide a.k.a. Self-Capture. For me, allowing self-capture is a counter-intuitive complication to the rules that doesn’t add anything to the game.

Okay. Let me revise my ideal rules thusly: " • No super-ko rule. Irreconcilable repetition leading to a draw.

You can define that however you like. Playing IRL most people would struggle to correctly implement a precise procedure for it but nonetheless everyone is capable of recognising it (eventually). So I’m not too concerned with precisely how it’s implemented. Three-fold repetition with ‘who’s turn’ and all ko-status included seems sufficient to identify irreconcilability to me.

[Confusion of multiple rulesets]

  1. It confused the hell out of me and could have ended my Go playing before it really began.

As previously mentioned, I first learned Japanese rules from someone who didn’t understand them and was finally rescued by Davies/Bozulich ‘An Intro… to Go’ BUT in between these two events I found for myself ‘The Game of Wei-Chi’ by Daniele Pecorini and Tong Shu which confused the hell out of me because it was describing Chinese rules (and scoring) and I didn’t even know there was a difference so I was trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

  1. It needlessly complicates the process of introducing new people to Go.

Taken from AdamR’s excellent new tute:

Different rulesets in Go >

And here comes the curveball but I had to tell you sooner or later. These things I just taught you apply for Japanese scoring… Yeah. Go has several rulesets and Japanese are arguably the most popular in Western Europe. Does that mean you cannot play with someone who was taught Chinese scoring? Luckily, no! All the basic principles are the same and unless you played something very weird the result will be the same as well. So, it almost does not matter what rules you know. If I were you, I would not bother with the differences right now. If you are really, really curious about the differences, you can check them out here.

  1. I would rather time was spent discussing strategy and the game itself. Just look at how much time & energy is wasted explaining the differences and implications of the differences between rules here on the forums.

Monetary slang. cf. ‘two-cents worth’.

Author’s note: While I’m not keen on the multitude of rule-sets for Go, I have no aversion to variants that are clearly identified as variants. eg. Blind Go, One-colour Go, Tibetan Go, Vorlon Go, Capture Go, Thue-Morse Go etc. In fact I often enjoy trying these new angles.


even though i started with J rule and it is more popular in the world, here is how i see the relationship between J and C rule:

C rule is much simpler, there is no confusing ad hoc judgement, no ambiguity.

The ambiguity of J rule, to me, arises out of an attempt to use a different set of rule to TRY TO REPLICATE THE SAME RESULT OF C RULE.

if they are willing to accept that a different set of rules can result in different result, then most of the ambiguity is easily resolved. if one side needs to fill in his own territory to kill the opponent’s group, then let it be.

but because J wants to replicate C result, and the math doesn’t add up when you have to fill in your territory to kill, or some other situation, they set up ad hoc rules to decide which one is alive and which is dead, like the “bend 4 rule”. this is the root of all the problem: TRYING TO REPLICATE THE SAME RESULT OF C RULE, BUT WITH A DIFFERENT SET OF RULE.


That has indeed happened. There’s a famous game from Cho Chikun where he was losing, so he figured out a way to force a triple ko that led to super ko. This forced the game into a tie since it was Japanese rules. He figured a tie was better than a loss!


I agree that area scoring rules are much simpler, since the territory scoring in Japanese rules seems to require a complicated and counter-intuitive procedure to resolve life and death.

However, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that Japanese rules are trying to replicate the same results as Chinese rules. There are some rare cases where Japanese rules produce very different life and death determinations. I think some of those cases might actually be by design, in order to keep in line with historical and traditional precedence.

For example, Japanese and Chinese rules behave very differently in a case that I discuss in this thread:


I found an interesting article about the history of go rules:

Here are some key points that are relevant to the discussion above:

The modern Japanese and Chinese rules (or any go rules for that matter) were not formally written down until the mid 20th century. Before that, they were both passed down through oral tradition and understood conventions among the go community.

Go was introduced to Japan about 1300 years ago (or maybe even earlier). This means go would have a spread into Japan via an ancient form of stone scoring rules.

The modern Japanese rules did not evolve from (and are not an attempt to replicate) the modern Chinese rules. They both evolved (and since diverged) from am ancient common ancestor that employed stone scoring.

The group tax effect of stone scoring may have been the historical influence for the Japanese rule that eyes of groups in seki positions do not count as territory.

Stone scoring persisted in China until the beginning of the 20th century, while the Japanese rules seems to have eliminated the group tax effect for living groups much earlier. Perhaps, that Japanese development even influenced the modern Chinese rules.


WHAAAAT?! :scream::exploding_head: (mind blown)

This is an amazingly cool find @yebellz. Thank you :sob:. Sooooooo coool :nerd_face:

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And this is why I dislike Japanese. They eliminated the eyes group tax but not the seki tax. It’s half stone counting and half modern. Makes no sense. :frowning:


I wish we had the reasoning behind their design decisions, the way we do about Komi.

Ancient stone scoring practices used territory counting shortcuts (while still preserving the same result as stone scoring)

Another interesting point from the article is that the author goes through historic scoring examples for several old game records that have been found in literature. Even though these games are played with stone scoring, play stops apparently early with not even all of the dame filled. It almost appears as if they were playing with Japanese rules. However, the reported scores show that ancient players used territory counting shortcuts that still abided by (and gave the same result as) stone scoring principles.

Instead of filling in the board with as many stones as they could, they stop early and count assuming that players would do so (and properly deduct the group tax implied by stone scoring). They don’t care about getting the absolute scores correct, but only getting the score margin correct. So, when there are only an even number of inconsequential dame left (i.e., those that don’t create teire situations), those can be left unfilled without changing the scoring margin. Further, instead of counting by stones or area, they ensure that both players have played an equal number of stones, and then count territory with deductions for prisoners and group tax. This count gives the same scoring margin as if they played it out fully and performed stone counting.

Other obsolete rules regarding dame from seki positions

On a different note, the dame that must be left open for seki also allowed for an interesting wrinkle in some older rules sets. Under all modern area scoring rules, the players scores will (in most games and when all dame are filled) sum up to 361 (on a 19x19 board), since the principle of area scoring is simply about dividing up the board by which points are occupied or fully surrounded. The exception is when there is a seki, which forces some points to remain unfilled and neutral, counting toward neither player’s score. Interestingly, an older version of the Chinese rules (I’m not sure when this was abandoned) and an older version of the Ing rules would pro-rate the scoring for the neutral dame left over for seki. Basically, each player get fractional credit for each dame based on how many stones they have adjacent to it. This keeps the sum of scores equal to 361 (which some might view as more aesthetically pleasing), but introduces the possibility of fractional points from board play (which some might view as less aesthetically pleasing).

Consider the following seki for example:
Under modern area scoring rules, white has 12 points from this seki (10 living stones + 2 territory), while black has 2 points (from two living stones). Of course, black would also have points from the surrounding black stones and both players would have more points from the rest of the board, but that’s not the point of this example.

However, under the older pro-rated dame rules, black would get 2/3 of a point from each of the two dame (since black has two stones adjacent to each dame point, while white only as one stone adjacent to each), and white would get another 1/3 of a point from each of the dame.


Modern Chinese rules give both players 0.5points for each dame.

http://home.snafu.de/jasiek/c2002.pdf (Section 9)


Thanks for pointing that out. I actually wasn’t aware that the dame points were technically split in half for Chinese rules. However, I guess that is merely a formality (or helpful when counting only one player’s score for convenience over-the-board), since it won’t affect the result. The possibility of a 1/3-2/3 or 1/4-3/4 split under the older ING rules could make for a different result.