Your step-by-step Instructions to train a Complete Beginner to 1 Dan

Hi guys,

I’m sure everyone’s journey differs slightly from one another. While some perhaps just simply played the game on their own and discover by trails and errors, others may have felt more comfortable by starting with some beginner books in order to build a more solid structure.

Regardless of the past, now that you have been playing the game for some time and have perhaps reached close to your goal, what are some of the things you wished you could’ve done in the past?

How would you have fine tuned your studies into a more streamline fashion if you had the chance to go back and start all over again.

Or how would your syllabus or study plan look if you were to guide and instruct a complete beginner from a complete novice who has never played the game, to 1 Dan?

How would you structure a study plan given the tools, exercises, sites, books, that exist today. What would you study first, what would you study second? what puzzles/exercises or books would you choose to go along with each topic. When is it a good time to introduce a new concept based on how much you know.


I ponder this question from time to time, but honestly the biggest part of your time needs to simply be dedicated to playing!

  • 9x9 for tactics, and 19x19 for the real deal (im quite decent at 9x9 now, 19x19 as a beginner? forget it i still get slaughtered since i don’t know what im doing really). Ask people to review your games, review your own lost games (do you see any overplays? Dumb mistakes? etc).

  • theory at the beginner stages seems to be limited to really delve in deeply. However tsumego (life and death puzzles) need to become daily routine, I recommend the puzzles on this site or books like Go problems for beginners (a 4 part book series also available online). I learned a few very basic joseki, but don’t dare to learn any joseki i don’t see very useful at my stage of go playing.

  • Besides tsumego I also spend a small amount of time reading general Go books like The Fundamentals of Go, Shape Up! etc.

  • checking other peoples games! Very recommended, both pro games swell as kyu games just to see different styles of play, the thought of players, maybe guess where both black and white will try to play next!

So what im really doing is play play play, do tsumego daily, read some go books when I feel like it, and every once in awhile I sit back and just look at other peoples games. Ofcourse even with all this I still feel like im not even doing anything that well, but I guess the proverb “lose your first 100 games as quickly as possible” is a proverb for a reason. For reference, im now 19 kyu…

Its too hard to make a study plan that fits everyone, like you mentioned. But I do feel the things I mentioned are the general things most people are going to recommend, maybe not in the same order. You could study books all day, but what if you play an opponent who instead of taking corners first just relentlessly starts attacking you? Or what about that opponent who just seems to place a random stone that later becomes a real pain for you? Books won’t teach you that, intuition like that seems to only come from playing…a lot.



Here is my study plan that will likely make your student as strong as I am:

  1. Teach them the rules on 9x9. First introduce the black-white-black… move order, then finish an example game and show counting. Afterwards, teach capture, and finally ko.
  2. Now let the student play 20-30 games and at some point, tell them about life and death.
  3. As soon as they are comfortable with the rules and can finish a game when it is played out, transition them to 19x19.
  4. Keep the student from playing regular games against bots, especially GNU Go.
  5. Now the student should Lose 50 Games as Quickly as Possible.
  6. While they are hopefully getting more into the game, teach them some basics:
  • beginner’s tsumego
  • corners > sides > center
  • difference between first, second, third, fourth line and above
  • Go terminology (joseki, fuseki, …)
  • walls, extensions and bases
  • show them a proper opening using 1-2 pro games as an example
  • tell them to replay the first 50-100 moves of a small number of pro games
  1. If they have learned quickly, they are now about 15k. At this point, the student should learn whatever interests them, but they must do a bit of each of the following:
  • life&death problems
  • shape/tesuji problems
  • read theory books
  • replay pro games
  • get reviews
  • get teaching games
  • play on different servers
  • play in real life tournaments
  1. After they reach SDK, they have to practice counting in every game as much as possible.

Some topics are usually underestimated and under-studied. Some people are afraid that certain lessons are “too hard” or “too abstract”, for example shapes, aji, tewari, direction of play and end game.

I think it is important to read about all of that, too, at any strength. The student might read in the book that A is a vital point and B makes shape, look at the diagram and not understand why. But this information is very important to point the student in the right direction. When they faithfully apply these lessons in their games, they will soon get the experience to go along with them.

Another very important skill is time management. Even in a blitz game, the student must learn to use their ten seconds of byo-yomi to think and not just throw them away every move.

Here are some things I did not list, for good reason:

  • joseki, opening theory and other memorization of sequences: studying these special cases is a waste of time for kyu players.
  • 13x13, rengo and other variants: those are a joke; play them for entertainment, but do not delude yourself into thinking that they are instructive in any way :smile:
  • handicap games, especially with fixed 4-4 placement: play an even game instead. It’s better to get a good lesson than to have a winning chance.

I really like your suggestions, but I’m surprised you lumped 13x13 in with go variants. I greatly prefer 19x19, but I also much prefer 13x13 over 9x9 because at least with 13x13 there’s some familiarity, while 9x9 feels like chess (narrow opening choices and heavy emphasis on reading and a single mistake which will decide the game).

I’d suggest starting with 9x9 until they can complete a game with counting, maybe playing a couple (half a dozen or so) more on 9x9 if they’re still a little hesitant to try larger boards, and then spend the rest of the time on 13x13 until you can move them up to 19x19 (asap imo; if they’re willing, I’d start them on 19x19 the moment they’re capable of playing a legal game). But if the choice is between 9x9 and 13x13, I’d prefer for them to be playing on 13x13.

Any reason you were so hard on 13x13?

Also, rengo is a great opportunity for stronger players to explain why the played a given move or how they were thinking it should continue and then you can compare it to what you played etc. etc. Rengo doesn’t deserve to be insulted either. :wink:

So in conclusion, I think that both of those mentioned “variants” (I wouldn’t really consider 13x13 a variant, though that’s really just semantics) are quite instructive, especially rengo.

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I’m hard on the smaller boards because I see them as a playground for beginners to learn the most basic rules, like the pawn and king’s game in chess.

Some unfortunate lost souls get stuck on the smaller boards, just like some get stuck with bot games, because they are afraid to play a proper game against a real person. A proper game of Go is played on a 19x19 board.

I’m not saying that nobody should play on 13x13 ever. It can be fun, and I did also participate in 13x13 side tournaments at the European Go Congresses. But if you know someone with an attitude like “I’ll stick with this smaller board until I get good enough for the larger one”, talk it out of them. And don’t we all know someone like that? :wink:

As for rengo, my experience is a little different from yours. From what I know, rengo is great if you want to break friendships (j/k, … or am I? :neutral_face:). The true list of playing material for rengo includes a round of (alcoholic) drinks.

IMNVHO … you are using/recommending the wrong “recreational drug” :wink:


Alright. I do agree that play should primarily be on 19x19 with one of the half dozen or so major rulesets or something equivalent, I just think that 13x13 or especially rengo can be educational.

Interesting inputs: I don’t feel the same at all. :grinning: For example, I never understood the “lose 50 or 100 games as quickly as possible” thing: I played maybe only 25 games (on 19x19), including only 5 games with real people (instead of programs), and am probably close to 8 kyu OGS (correspondence games). So let me chime in. :grinning: The following applies at least to making progress in slow (correspondence) games.

I strongly believe in the following principle, for making fast progress: play against players who are at about your level, so that you can have a chance at both winning and losing, and so that you can understand your opponent’s moves. Some programs automatically provide this for you (Igowin iOS, SmartGo iOS,…). Similarly, I almost never look at pro games (and I am not completely alone in doing this :smiley:): behind each move hides a mountain of reasons that cannot be climbed unless you reach a very high level (dan and more, I guess).

Another principle: many important things can be practiced on a 9x9 board (life and death, counting,…), so I would definitely start with that. More things can be practiced on 13x13 (influence,…), so I’d continue with that. Then 19x19. A program like SmartGo Kifu automatically moves you through these steps. In order to make progress, review your games move by move and find out why you lost (or won).

Another principle: there is a lot of wisdom in books, and it can be best appreciated when you always guess the next move on diagrams, as this both gives practice and let’s you explore the reasons behind each move. SmartGo Books allows you to do this. As for the subjects, it seems quite logical to me to start with basic bricks first: the opening is the basis for a whole game, shape and tesujis are the basis for longer sequences.

Yet another principle: doing exercises is like playing many small game bits, and this is best done by reading a good part of move tree (before checking the solution), and when the correction explains why some moves don’t work, as this many not always be obvious. Again, this allows one to explore the reasons behind moves. Life and death problems are particularly interesting for practicing the very important skill of reading, because a small mistake can be fatal, so they encourage accurate reading, which is a crucial skill. Otherwise kinds of problems are precious too: for example, opening problems allow you to practice opening principles without having to play many, many games. SmartGo Kifu has many such exercises, and there are many others on the web.

Also: practicing with programs is good, but you learn to beat their strengths, not their weaknesses: a variety of opponents is important, and this great variety is found in playing with real people.

A recurring theme in the points above is the idea that a deliberate pondering and a slow but deep exploration can teach a lot, in go.


Studying with go software, weak ones, is dangerous. Some players have enough resources to avoid the trap, but between the people i know who did that, some got huge steps to pass later because these programs gave them some very wrong idea and habits on the game. As much as possible better play humans.
For the lose 50 or 100 games… The point is that for many beginners the most important is to see, not to understand, first.
See a atari, see connections see eyes shape see very basic things which need to be seen before starting any kind of theories. Some get quick on that for sure but well still something to consider when starting to play go.