Teaching beginners to count liberties

Time for stupid questions. Prompted by this and some other discussions:
link to video

This is a bit hard to explain. I’ve seen people say that this type of visualization can help beginners because counting liberties is a kind of technical task that takes away from creative part of go. And it’s kind of a barrier for beginners to go because people don’t want to dauntingly count liberties. I also saw people teach beginners to count liberties (not in real capturing races), e.g. “how many liberties does this group have?” etc. And they explained some game fighting situations through liberties, like “this group has this amount of liberties and this group has this amount of liberties so probably this one is going to capture that one”.

And it interests me because for me in the beginning counting liberties wasn’t what I did ever. I knew about them but I never counted them. For me it was more like a binary flag: the group either has liberties or it doesn’t. And all interactions between groups with nonzero liberties I was solving through calculating moves ahead. I know why I did it this way, of course, it’s because that how one plays chess - through calculating moves.

And I remember one particular moment in go club where a teacher was explaining to a beginner how white can capture black or whatever (not in a real capturing race) through amount of liberties, and I def knew that in my beginner times the explanation I’d find easier to understand would be through reading moves ahead.

So here’s a question: is teaching beginners to count liberties a thing? Is this what people do?


I think it can be. Not necessarily for the sake of counting all liberties of all groups but rather to understand that stones or groups with few liberties need attention.

Also there is a nick sibicky video about fighting (maybe called “fighting 101”) which in short says something like: for fighting, count all the liberties of all the stones/groups and help/attack the one with least liberties.


If you’re not coming from a chess background, liberties feel very familar to all other gamers, as you can kind of regard them as your units’ “combat strength” and in the same way that in, for instance, YuGiOh, a 1200 monster will beat an 800 monster unless there is a way to strengthen or weaken one of them, likewise in go a 3 liberty group will typically defeat a 2 liberty group…

counting liberties in combination with some good shape knowledge, especially in kyu games, can actually prove more effective than attempts at reading


I don’t know if this is related, sorry if it isn’t. I think I entered a capturing race in one of my games and I’ve kind of panicked. I’m trying to see what I should do and there’s a big gaping hole in my tactics where “count the liberties” should be.
So, if it isn’t a thing, I mean teaching beginners to count liberties, IMHO it should be.


Try this?


edit: ok discourse isn’t parsing the embed well… go to this link lol


When I began, counting liberties wasn’t really on my priority list, but I understood the usefulness of it in capturing races pretty soon (earlier than I could actually make use of it). I saw liberties as a good explanation for why inefficient shape is inefficient, but again, couldn’t really understand how it really mattered in practice.

I think I still usually don’t count liberties, except for capturing races / seki where it’s not obvious on first glance. Even then I usually play it out instead of counting.

In the end, the number of liberties is not really a good measure of the status of a group anyways. There are dead groups with 8 liberties, and alive ones with 2.


Children and adults learn about liberties quite differently, in some cases. The Second Book of Go has dedicated sections on capture races; Bruce Wilcox’s Contact Fights is quite good on various aspects of liberties.

I think it is useful for absolute beginners. I don’t mean that keeping a running tally of liberties for every stone/chain is useful, but rather that plenty of beginners will struggle with even just recognizing that a stone/chain is in atari, or that they have just put themselves into atari with a move. Something that reinforces the idea that each stone played gradually affects the status of the group and that one needs to recognize when something is severely threatened.

In short, I think it is helpful for beginners to work on immediately recognizing 2 vs 1 vs 0 liberties.


One of the most useful proverbs – arguably the most useful of all proverbs – is “tactical stability requires five liberties”.

When one or more groups in a local position has / have less than five liberties, there is a tactical situation.

Which is obviously not to say that having five liberties frees one from having to consider tactics.


By the way, I have the impression – to go slightly off topic – that semeai technique and the associated liberty counting is a big part of the the road from 5k to, say, EGF 1d.

And, ofc, liberties are the key to most life and death positions. And what’s fighting about? Essentially the counting of liberties.

Fighting is about reading ahead. It doesn’t matter if you have liberties if you’re dead.

Some day I’ll hit 1d EGF without any liberty counting. And then I’ll get to look down on all of you. I mean, I might be looking up in terms of ranks at that point, but you get it.


I like this topic. It reminds me of how I started counting liberties. I was borderline DDK/SDK at the time and I never really counted liberties at all. One day, I was playing a teaching game with an experienced 5 kyu from my Go club. I made some blunder or other, probably started a capturing race I couldn’t win or something, for which I received the following comment from my opponent: “Tut, tut, tut! Are you counting liberties? Because you should be…” He then went on to capture my large group and it was game over. Ever since then, I have always been careful to count liberties in sticky situations. Not for all groups at all times though - that seems like overkill.

True, but I have found positive results incorporating liberty counting into reading. So not just “I go there, they go there, I go there…” But “I go there and these groups have this many liberties, they go there and then those groups have that many liberties…”