My aunts and uncles, who are about an hour’s drive away in Birmingham, are big board gamers. I always remember visiting a few times a year, when I was young. They had this huge fitted wardrobe in one of the bedrooms, going from wall to wall. The wardrobe held what felt at the time like hundreds of board games. It was like Santa’s Grotto, only it was mid-September.
They were the first to introduce me to the game of Go; they bought me a set (a smaller, travel-style set), one Christmas. I was quite young at the time, and the Internet wasn’t as common as it is today. Go is such an abstract game that it is hard to learn unless you have some really good teaching materials. And don’t misunderstand: when I say “learn”, I am using it in the sense that, not only do we know the rules, but we can also play a game without our stones looking like “stars in the night sky”.
I happened not to have those decent teaching materials, and I put the game away, much to my regret, for over 10 years. I took up chess instead, and did not return to Go until a few years ago. Now, thankfully, it is easier than ever to learn the game, and play real people, whether online or face-to-face. I hope these links, that I am passing on from when I learnt the game for the second time, are useful to you in your journey.
As a Complete Beginner
There is really only one site that you need to learn the rules, and that is The Interactive Way to Go. OK so the site looks a bit dated, but so what? It is hands-down the best way to learn the rules of the game. It will also introduce you to some basic tactics and strategy.
After you have learnt the rules, you should just play for a while. You can either play bots, or you can play real people, either is fine at this stage. There are quite a few sites to play on, but I am going to recommend just two: Online Go, and KGS. They have good interfaces, are easy to use, and have lots of nice people, as well as a range of computers to play.
There really is no correct answer to what board size you should start out on. As much as you might be encouraged to start with 9×9, 13×13, or 19×19, there is no consensus on the “correct” start to your Go learning. So I am just going to say: I started on 13×13, you may start on whichever board size you want.
When you are playing your first games, you won’t have a clue what to do. But this is OK! Everyone feels like that at the start. Experiment with playing close to the corner, close to the side, and in the centre. Try to keep your groups connected, and try to separate the opponent’s groups. After you have lost 50 games (and maybe you’ll win some too!), it’s time to move to the next stage.
As an Improving Player
Content creation is in full swing these days for Go. We haven’t quite got to the level of League of Legends, but you can usually find a few Go streamers on Twitch. There are also lots of videos on YouTube. I recommend Nick Sibicky’s lectures. He was taught by a Chinese professional player, and he is also a good teacher himself. You will learn a lot.
The quickest way to improve at Go is to do Go puzzles. This is because Go is a visual game: shape, eyes, strength, connectedness, and so on. By doing Go puzzles, you are improving your pattern recognition. There are thousands of them (called “tsumego”) online. There is an impressive collection at Tasuki’s Tsumego Collections page. There is also the goproblems website. And there are a bunch of Go apps for Android and iOS out there too.
Towards Single Digit Kyu
The classic split of DDK / SDK / Dan is not something that we should focus on too much if we want to be healthy people, nevertheless we all want to get better and improve our Go. Playing games and doing Go puzzles, as mentioned in the previous section, are the most important ways.
The other two important steps are: read Go books (or alternatively get a Dan-level teacher), and have strong players review your games. About the first point, I have nearly 50 Go books, and I love them to bits. Yet my books-to-rank ratio is way too high. What’s my point? Well, buy books appropriate to your level, buy books that contain lots of puzzles, and always research before you buy. And after you have bought them, don’t be precious! Carry them around, jot stuff down in them, and use them to their full potential. You can find books on GoShop Keima, on Amazon, or directly through Kiseido. There are a bunch of other shops that sell Go books too; put a message in the comments below if you’re struggling to find a particular one.
There is one last site that I would like to highlight: GoKibitz.com. This is a free service, where you can upload a game you have played online, and a strong player will come along and put comments on the game, for free. I have used their site a few times before, and it deserves to be way more popular. It’s well-designed, quick, and it’s just great.
I would just like to say thank you for visiting the Nottingham Go Club, and thank you to all of the players who I have had the opportunity to play over the last few years, and I am sure that we will be playing and improving our Go for many years to come. You, the next generation of Go players, will be instrumental in helping us do just that.
And here is a game I played recently (I play as Weatherwax) that I had reviewed on GoKibitz. Enjoy!