The correct way to approach how a beginner should learn Go

Hello everyone, thanks for your time to read this and your suggestions.

My own struggle to learn Go is not lost, as I look to my deficiencies and how I overcome then and I take notes, so I can use them later to teach my students that will follow the same path and have the same struggles.

I notice in all material I research the overwhelming incentive to learn first “Go Openings” (or “Joseki” if I’m not mistaken). As a chess player (not bad of a chess player myself, but not too good also), I see all books and advice to beginners to first learn the “end game”, and the first thing you need to learn is “what is a checkmate”.

You must know what is a “winning position”. The difference is that, in Chess, in the end, there are fewer pieces and we can focus on how each one, individually, move and create patterns of checkmate.

But in Go, the more you go to the end, the more complex and visually dense is the board. To show a beginner a 19x19 endgame full of pieces and ask him/her to learn from it is a nightmare.

So the current approach is to start learning openings. This fantastic study by @mark5000 here is a good place for you (beginner like me) to start, if you want a classical approach:

Before I started to learn Go, I googled some materials, and I’m happy to say that Mark’s lessons appears all over the place, being it written texts or even youtube videos. So you have a starting point and lots of materials to use. I will be gladly reading and sharing all, but I’m going to set a different “order” of reading. It may be more difficult to skip lessons and go back, but I believe the order bellow that I’m about to clarify is better for my personal learning experience (and hopefully for others).

From my inexperienced point of view, the classical approach used in all materials, books and youtube channels lack an important concept: “what is winning at Go?”. Not just a paragraph or two, but really grasping the concept, and using puzzles and exercises.

How can someone expect to know what to do if they still don’t know what the outcome should be? How can you start a vacation trip if you don’t decided first in what city you want to spend your holidays?

We all know “a journey begin with the first step”, yes. But they only say that to someone who wants to get somewhere and is afraid to start. They don’t say that to someone who don’t even know to where to go!

That is why I’m breaking the rules of learning and I’m going to force myself to learn from end to begin, in the opposite direction.

That is the way it should be. I first need to know where I want to be, so I can better decide how to play. And if I lose because I don’t know “openings” yet, so be it. It doesn’t matter, as long as I can at least survive the opening and the middle game for a little longer and then be able to employ some of the endgame maneuvers that I learn in the plenty of materials there are out there. Something like “ko”, and be able to capture a “supposedly” dead group, that I have no clue why it is considered dead or alive.

So, in my point of view, pedagogically speaking, the most important things for a beginner to learn first is:

  1. End game:
  • How to count territory at the end of the game (Chinese/Japanese rules)
  • What is a winning game
  • What is 2 eyes
  • What is false eye
  • What is seki
  • How the edge restricts liberties
  • How to capture near the edge
  • What is ladder, snapback, net-capture, etc.
  • How to break a ladder
  • How to capture a (obvious, but not obvious for beginners) dead group
  • How to defend from an invasion in a supposedly live and safe group
  • Concepts of Life and Death
  • What patterns you can rest in peace you are safe
  1. Middle game:
  • How to extend
  • How to cut
  • What is ko
  • What is ko threat
  • How to invade
  • How to battle locally
  • How to link your scattered pieces into safe groups
  1. Opening game:
  • Common openings for beginners
  • How to create frameworks that secure areas of the board
  • What are the common patterns you should know as response
  • How to expand and determine which areas you want or you are given
  • How to scatter pieces over the board without losing them by rendering them isolated

This is just a list I wrote from my own head, and it is probably meaningless in the technical vocabulary of learning Go, because I still don’t know them (the vocabulary). But I guess I was eloquent enough to make the topics at least somehow clear to what they mean.

Please, if you agree with this approach and would like to extend this list, or correct the vocabulary, add items, add references to facilitate beginners like me to follow this path with material covering each one, feel free and invited to join in in the effort.

Thank you so much.

Dr. Bèco

PS. I liked this video very much. I believe this explanation is exactly where I am now, in terms of level.

It reminds me the patterns of John Conway’s Game of Life.

PPS. Also, I need to learn what is kyu, dan, etc., and how the rating/ranking is calculated. I know the complex mathematics of ELO chess rating, but I don’t yet know how Go is comparable.



I think the main challenge of learning go is that the true objective of the game only becomes clear after playing it for a long time. I believe the stages of go are as follows:

  1. how to capture a stone,
  2. how to connect a group
  3. how to make a living shape (here you’re around 25k~20k)
  4. ladders, snapbacks and other elementary tesuji
  5. how to make territory: how to use your stones more efficient so you can claim a larger area than walking leisurely, one stone at the time
  6. how to avoid puppy go: when do you need to respond to your opponent, and when can you tenuki? What is the biggest move on the board? (this would be around 20k~15k)
  7. how to invade and reduce large areas (15k~10k)
  8. Learning about aji-keshi and winning ko fights
  9. Learning about sente and gote, how to attack and make territory at the same time (10k~1d)
  10. Master it all (1d+)

The ranks I mention are a system that is originally Japanese, and is also used for Karate. You could compare the kyu ranks with beginner ranks, or coloured Karate belts. An absolute beginner would be around 35k, an intermediate beginner player around 15k, an advanced beginner around 5k, then a strong amateur player would be a dan, which is the same as a black belt in Karate, starting with 1d and going up to 7d, and finally strong 7d players are comparable to 1p, which is the first professional rank of dan players, going up to 9p. Note that on OGS we also allow 8d, 9d and 9d+ as amateur ranks, but that is not standard. Also, due to our rating system (which is not ELO, but Glicko2), the minimum rank is 25k.

The ranks are based on the handicap system in go: for handicap go, the weaker player receives a number of stones to put on the board at the beginning and plays black, and komi is 0.5 for white. The number of handicap stones is determined by the difference in rank: a 15k playing a 10k should receive 5 handicap stones to play an even game, and a 2k should receive 3 handicap stones when playing a 2d.

One of the best ways to learn how to play go, is by playing teaching games with stronger players and to review each game you play, preferably with a stronger player giving comments. Usually many people here on the forum are willing to play teaching games and it is a good way to know what points to focus on.

Finally, my personal opinion about 9x9 versus 19x19, is that it is a very different game. In 9x9 you learn how to fight, but it is nothing like the strategic 19x19 game. If you get strong focusing on 9x9, you will initially miss a lot of strategy, tend to focus on fighting and not on playing large moves in a calm way. True, a 19x19 board can be overwhelming at first, but you will get used to that after a few games. Finally, I’m biased, since I find 19x19 a lot more enjoyable than 9x9.


I think your list is a very solid outline of key topics that beginners should learn. It clearly shows that you have already put a lot of time into getting an idea of the basics. I don’t notice any major omissions and the usage of terminology and organization of topics seems good.

Opening theory in go can be quite a challenging topic and learning joseki is not really necessary too early on. Some would even advise to delay studying joseki.

There is a free book about 9x9 go strategy: 81 Little Lions: An Introduction to the 9x9 Board for Advanced Beginners, by Immanuel deVillers — Revised Edition (2019)
The beginning of chapter 3 of this book has some very nice advice about how joseki could fit into learning about go.

So basically, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not worrying too much about opening theory at this point.

Life and death is a very tricky topic. Indeed, I think the fundamental challenge in go is figuring what stones should live and which should die, since determining these will also depend on the overall strategic considerations on the board.

A big part of getting stronger at go and understanding more about many phases of the game is to practice more at understanding life and death. A good way to do that is to solve “tsumego”, which are go problems that revolve around life and death. You can find a lot of these on the puzzles section of the website.

As for learning the rules, I think it’s good to have the perspective of seeing that both area scoring and territory scoring produce nearly identical results, but as for learning the minute details, I would recommend against diving too deeply into the hairy details of the Japanese rules at this point, since it’s an endless rabbit hole of complexity. See the New Zealand rules or Tromp Taylor rules for concise and clear descriptions of the rules that are also complete.


wow… im impressed! :slight_smile:
i love your systematic approach to the subject. i understand where you are coming from with this approach, and it makes a lot of sense to start study in this way.

i think the reason why many sources recommend to study the opening is that it is helpful (and comforting) for beginners to have something to start with. actually playing a 19x19 game can be frightening to beginners. especially on an empty board the possibilities often seem endless!
the way to go about this, imo, is not to memorise a move-order, but to focus on the stones relation to each other. (i.e. how to enclose a corner, when to play a two space jump, when to ask for more…)

similarly (for the sake of thouroughness, i am actually not a great advocate of joseki-study) the way to understand the joseki study-recommendation is not to make all beginners memorise the patterns and leave it at that. rather what is usually meant, is to learn from joseki. joseki are optimised move orders, which have been subject of in depth study for (sometimes) centuries. each move has a purpose, an underlying tesuji for example. joseki teach about shape, shape points, urgency, sente and more :slight_smile:. of course a random board position likely offers that too, but where to find the explanation?
because corner-play repeats most reliably every few games, we can use joseki to teach and explain moves and shapes, why they are good/effective and then try to spot similar situations in later stages of the game and other parts of the board.

shape, stone development and the relation of stones with each other is also probably the only major topic i couldnt find on your list, although partially covered by “how to create frameworks”, “how to battle locally” and “how to link your scattered pieces”.


I think your list is more or less the standard order, how the game is taught to beginners, but most books fail to provide enough training material to solidify the learned topic.

I think you’re mistaken. Joseki are standard sequences of moves, usually in the corner. They’re definitive no beginner material.

About ratings:
“traditional” go ratings (and the de facto standard to compare player strength) use the kyu and dan (belt) system. The player strength from weak to strong is 25k -> 1k -> 1d -> 9d. The lowest and highest rank differs between organizations and servers. Some start with 35k, some with 15k, some end with 7d, some don’t set an upper bound at all. But the rank separation is 1 stone handicap per rank difference in all cases. Professional ranks (1p-9p) don’t follow the 1 stone separation and are more like a badge of honour.

Most organizations and servers are using another underlying chess-like rating system like ELO, glicko, WHR, …, but always do a mapping to the kyu-dan ranks. There’s not much point in learning them, except if you have a great interest in ranking theory and mathematics.

This book is for “Advanced Beginners”. I wouldn’t recommend it for players below 20k, especially you need to know and be able to apply everything you covered with your Endgame and Middle game category.

This book is interesting and informative, but only for players who want to keep fighting on the merciless 9x9 board. Players who want to play the calmer 19x19 board should take a look at books explaining 19x19 openings and strategy instead.

PS: please don’t understand me wrong, it’s a good book and I like the 9x9 for it’s close combat, but it’s not a first read for new players.



Hello @drbeco,
I largely disagree with your list to be honest :smiley: But that’s okay, because I also disagree with this statement:

In my experience the struggles often differ very much. So maybe some students will actually preffer your approach.

Really? That’s silly :smiley: but I never saw beginners books that begin with josekis to be honest.

I do that all the time and it’s awesome :smiley: but that’s beside the point. You do not really set a vacation in Alps, until you have learned to ski, do you? That’s how I view learning go.

They are not expected to know what to do, they are expected to learn it.

You say start with fully explaining how to score. In my opinion that’s nonsense (pardon the honesty). New players cannot understand scoring until they can recognize which groups are dead and which are alive. They can’t recognize dead groups until they understand how capturing works.

You want to teach people seki before they know what are liberties and how capturing works? How? And why?


See also: Your beginnings with Go? if you’re up for some related reading material.


I totally suck at this game still but even with that I would not recommend anyone start with end game stuff.

Learn the basic rules (there are what…three) then play with someone who knows what they are doing or move to some good beginning books (I found Janice Kim’s Learn to Play Go was a good ‘true’ beginner book and you only need the first to understand the basics).

Then play. Currently I am blocked by what appears to be a horrible inability to defend my own groups (or even recognise they need defending) and by repeatedly making stupid errors.

Saying that yesterday I used a Monkey Jump successfully for the first time. Shame that in the same game I sent a dragon in to reduce (not connected but with a miai gap to connect) and then did not notice when my oppo filled in one of those gaps so I lost 5 stones. Lost the game by 11. Fun game though.


Or what’s the point of deciding where to go on holiday if you have not the first idea of how to get there?

I like this quote:
“The aim of go is relative advantage; the game is played all over the board, and the objective is to increase one’s options and reduce those of the adversary. The goal is less victory than persistent strategic progress.”

  • Dr. Henry Kissinger, quoted in Newsweek, 11/8/04

I feel there is an issue of Western v Eastern thinking. The endgame does not determine the winner. In Go the endgame merely determines the end of the game - the game may already have been won or lost much earlier. Of course in many games the endgame can be decisive but so can any other phase of the game or any given tactical element.

In chess you are aiming for checkmate and knowing the rules you can figure out how checkmate might be achieved. In Go you are aiming for more points than your opponent but there is no way to figure out how to achieve that by only knowing the rules.

I could go on but I’m not an authority and I’ll express myself poorly as I’m rushing now.

I admire your systematic approach. I wish I could be so thorough!


This is really key, a key difference with chess. In chess, the final move determines if you win or not. The rest is positioning to get there. So you can start with how to checkmate, and work back.

In Go, the win condition is continuously negotiated, not suddenly decided, so as a beginner you benefit from rough guidelines for opening, middle and end about how to conduct that negotiation, and you definitely need to know how to start the negotiation in the first place, otherwise you can lose in the opening.


I feel this is the strongest statement made so far. It is the raw truth of Go. You need experience, heaps and heaps of personal experience, to progress. Most things in life allow you to study hard and gain a huge advantage in the realm of progress, once you begin your journey. While this can be true for Go to a degree, there is an element to learning it that only real life experience can uncover.


This information is already in the Newcomer’s Guide that I linked you to in your game review thread, but I feel it warrants mentioning again. There is a really easy and solid way to learn where to go:

At It’s Core, What Is Go?
Something that is really important to realize about Go is that, no matter which board size you play on, it is an exercise in pattern recognition. Go is not about winning or beating opponents. The game, in my view, is a solitary pursuit. For we only ever truly face ourselves. Each game is essentially a unique puzzle, being generated based on our decisions and our opponent’s choice of moves. Your opponent represents chaos, the unknown, or randomization; not a foe or force to be overcome.

Rather, Go is an exercise in memorization of shapes and how to employ and counter them effectively. Especially considering how the methodology of countering the same shape changes based on the surrounding board configuration. The myriad of possibilities in any given game with familiar shapes and patterns is breathtakingly complex. To this end, you should realize that the only true way to get better is to build your brain’s database of shapes, patterns, and how to properly employ and counter them.

This can only be achieved through raw experience. Maintaining mental focus while studying specific topics of interest, searching for weaknesses in your understanding through self analysis and third party analysis of your games, and deliberate practice will accelerate your speed of progress. It is also likely to teach you lessons or reveal aspects of Go game play that you would otherwise never stumble upon yourself.


Learning Go Openings is essential because the framework that is built prior to the Middle game, literally determines the possibilities during the MIddle and End game. If you play poorly during the Opening segment, it won’t matter how crazy your Middle or End game skills are, because you have likely already lost.

The Opening is crucial for establishing a framework of territory large enough to secure victory; akin to sketching Blueprints for a structure. During the Middle, those Blueprints are largely filled in and all the major features are decided. Huge shifts in the design can happen here, but they tend to occur, almost exclusively, within the already established framework already on the paper. The End game is where all the lines of design get finalized and set in place.

Points wise, very little tends to change in the End Game. All of the major action happens in the Middle. If your Opening was poor, you won’t have much to work with. If your Middle was poor, the End game won’t much, because you’ve already lost. If your End game was poor, it won’t matter unless you guys were pretty close in points when you entered it. Well, assuming that there were huge vulnerabilities in your shapes that your opponent can exploit. So starting with the opening makes a lot of sense.

Please note that my advice on Openings pertains only to the 9x9. They are crucial to victory on the 9x9, and are nowhere near as complex or numerous as on the 19x19 :wink:


I wrote a guide on the difference between both rulesets. It includes a breakdown on the differences between scoring in each ruleset: What Are The Differences Between Japanese, Chinese, & New Zealand Rules?


Here’s an interesting counter-point to your thesis. I haven’t done a statistical analysis or anything, but just based on my experience and my gut, I would say that - when 2 players of unequal rank play a non-handicap 19x19 game against each other - the more experienced player will gain a decisive upper hand in the majority of those games within the first 50-70 moves.

What does this mean?

It means that somewhere in the transition between the opening (when both players prioritize grabbing edge territory) and the midgame (where jumping out to the middle and whole-board-strategy are prioritized) one of the players takes the initiative to grab an opportunistic advantage, and the other player will be ice-skating uphill for the rest of the game.

So yes, the endgame is important, but chess metaphor you’re using doesn’t really apply. It only sort of applies for games that were very even and close throughout the game. For games where one of the players grabbed an early advantage, the utility of the endgame mostly flies out the window, because by that point, the score gap is too great. This is why such a huge percent of go games end in a resignation - there’s no point in even taking it to the end because there’s no way the player behind can catch up.

Rather than trying to find that “one most important” element about Go - just surrender to the idea that all the parts have the capacity to be important, and take the time to learn them all, how they interact, and when is the right time to focus on each one. Go forces the student to be a generalist rather than a specialist. The sooner you surrender yourself to that, the easier the process will become.


Hello all,

First thanks for so many replies and thoughtful arguments and counter-arguments. In the end, it is not about being correct, but about sharing your experience so we can all benefit and adjust for our own goals. Thanks a lot.

I want to go post by post and quote and reply to the most interesting ideas, but not today as I’m a bit busy.

In the meantime I just want to add this quick reply to show one of my personal struggles, so you can understand better the problem, or yet, to visualize one instance/example of a real game where this approach would give benefits.

This game I played today against @Kaigen [5k] from Canada. (I’m not sure if the username here in the forum is the same for the Online-Go player, sorry if this is a mistake).

The game was played with handcap, and of course the AI sees the first opening moves as 100% victory for Black (me). I could manage to keep the score 100% during almost all the game.

The game lasted 56 moves (being moves 57 and 58 two “pass”). I made a single mistake in the move number 52 that brought the 100% victory for black to 100% victory for white. Consider 52 out of a 56 move game a move at the endgame. See this evaluation by the AI where it marks the move as -99 with a triangle in the image bellow:

This was played by me to create a 2 eyes figure, but later Kaigen kindly helped me to analyse and explained to me that the lower region was already safe and the move was not necessary. If I knew that, I could’ve played elsewhere, maybe even tried to be bold to cut at intersection B8 as suggested by the blue circle.

The game and some variants can be seen here:

I was happy with how long I could “hold” the amazing force of a 5k player, being lost only on move 52. But that is why we learn more from our defeats than from our victories, right?


Dr. Bèco

The graph of percentage:



Isn’t the true objective get more points than your opponent? Just what counts as your points at any stage of the game is up for debate, and higher ranked players tend to be able to argue their point more strongly.


At Move 51 you lost the game. When White was allowed to play at J2, forming a two eye structure in the bottom right hand corner, you had no chance of winning. White could have been undone at several points in the game, but you are still figuring when it is better to reinforce your shape for defense or to contest your opponents movement. The two biggest examples of this are:

Move 28: You played C2, but it wasn’t needed. You should have played B8, which would have killed his group. He would have been unable to turn that group into a two eyed structure.

Move 30: You played E2, but you should have played at D8, in order to prevent White from growing any further. Had you done this, even if White built his two eye structure in the bottom right, you would have won on points alone when the game concluded.

I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the AI at this point. Yes it is useful, but it is sort of like focusing on a GPS before you know how to drive. The GPS is always going to be helpful, but you don’t really need it. You cannot use it to it’s full potential until you first know how to navigate on a basic level.

Preventing your opponent from building two eye structures is crucial to victory. Especially on the 9x9, where games are fast and opportunities to grab territory is limited. I built this demo board a little while back. You might find it useful in helping you to recognize two eye structures on the 9x9 :wink:


A couple more things - In my last post, I should have clarified that my comments were specific to a 19x19 game - I have edited my post to avoid confusion going forward.

A 9x9 game is a completely different animal that requires different strategies, filters, and approaches. The usual joke used to describe it is that a 19x19 game is like a long, multi-stage campaign between two empires for a large island, and a 9x9 game is a knife fight in a broom closet.

Let me back up and throw another metaphor at your original question which is - given that there are so many different things to learn about Go - how should a beginner approach learning them all?

In my attempt to approach this problem - I will ask you to think of yourself as a baker, trying to make a wedding cake. The thing about this is - making a successful one will require many different skills, some of which are in domains so different from each other that they have very few elements in common.

In order to bake the cake you need to have familiarity with a broad variety of dough and frosting recipes, to know which works best in what context. You need to be able to measure ingredients precisely or the chemistry will fail. You need to have a depth of experience with heat, water content, cooking times, air pressure, and humidity to ensure that your cake has the flavor and consistency you want.

And once your cake is out of the oven - you’re just getting started! First you need to build a 3-tier construction out of those cakes that will stand up, hold its own weight, and not crack or topple.

Once you’ve done that, you need to activate a whole new set of skills so that you can decorate that cake in an aesthetically pleasing way - requiring not only a knowledge of composition and color theory, but also the skill to mix and apply frosting in a broad variety of ways.

So - if you are in competition with another cake maker for a single customer - it isn’t very useful to think about which one of those skills you need to master first in order to make the best cake. You need to be aware of each of them, and proficient in knowing what part each will play in the eventual cake.

If you’re good at decorating but your cake tastes terrible - you’ve failed! Likewise, if you make a delicious cake, but then if falls apart on assembly, and looks like it was decorated by a 3 year old, you will also fail.

As such, knowing that there is a large body of knowledge to absorb - and that this knowledge may be spread out among a variety of different domains - it’s always good to start with the basics (i.e. those domains that apply to most of the game) and then drill down into the nitty-gritty details of the more complex domains once you’ve gotten a better idea of how it all fits together.

My 2 cents - your mileage may vary - void where prohibited - some cars not for use with some sets :wink:


The best thing in general is to find out what part of go appeals to you, and then become very good at that so that you can compensate for the parts you hate to study.

That takes time to figure out though…

Till then I generally suggest learning some proverbs, playing games and doing some life and death problems.


I’ve never seen a book that was intended for very beginners (people who knows nothing about the game).
The simpler book that I’ve seen takes for granted the very basic stuff that one can learn from the site “An interactive way to go” which are actually the first topics you need to understand anything in this game: capturing stones, connecting stones, eyes, dead groups.

After that I believe that newbies need some random games to start and recognize those topics in an actual game. It’s a lot of abstract stuff that needs to become real.
At this very moment of the learning curve I noticed that beginners often get overwhelmed by anxiety and fear of making mistakes. I found very useful in this case to stress on the randomness of those first games: don’t try to find the “right” move, just try something and look what happens.

In order to do that, 19x19 is absolutely too much. Too much space, too many moves, too complicated situations, that’s just impossible.

In the 9x9 game you mentioned before you can now see that the matter was “life and death”: how to recognize a dead group or a key move to kill a group.
After realizing that in an actual game one can become interested in tsumego. Before that tsumegos are just a meaningless torture. Newbies can be overwhelmed by that, feeling too dumb to understand them and destroying self confidence. After some random games and some light review of those games, one can realise that tsumego can be useful in actual games and feel motivated to take the challenge.

Then hopefully comes enjoying the games and having fun on a 9x9 board.
The desire to move on a bigger board and start messing with fuseki, joseki, strategy and so on will arrive later spontaneously… if we manage not to scare them too much!!! :grinning:


There are books for absolute beginners. Janice Kim’s Learn to play go

Or Matthew Macfadyen’s book that comes with this starter pack

to name a couple


Hi guys,

Just to enrich the thread with even more good stuff, I watched these videos.

They are not for the “beginner” at go, but for “teachers of go beginners”, and I don’t know, you may disagree of course, but I found the advice there just perfect!

Specially when he says “a teacher do not need to crush the beginner, just play one concept at time” during class. But also, the order he puts the concepts, etc.

Here is the seven links to the 7 lessons:


Have a look. Cheers!

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