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“The board is a mirror of the mind of the players as the moments pass. When a master studies the record of a game he can tell at what point greed overtook the pupil, when he became tired, when he fell into stupidity, and when the maid came by with tea.” This anonymous quote describes the intricacies and poetry of Go, one of the oldest surviving board games in the world.
It’s a game that’s been around for at least 2500 years. Some claim it’s even older. It’s a game worth learning. Not just because of its cultural heritage, but because of the game itself. It’s fun and enriching, and although it’s not easy to master, it is easy to get started. We’ve compiled a list of online resources, both to learn the rules and to play the game.
Learn The Rules
Although a game of Go can grow in a million different ways, the rules of the game are few in number and deceptively simple. In fact, you can learn and master the rules in almost no time at all. The websites below are just some of the resources where you can learn the rules of Go. It’s not an exhaustive list. In fact, you could even turn to Wikipedia to get started.
If you’ve already played Go in the past, you can skip this section entirely.
A great resource for Go players of all stripes, Sensei’s Library is a collaborative website (i.e. a wiki) about Go. It’s an expansive library containing all kinds of information about and around Go; exercises, background information, history and technical information. There’s also a collection of beginners’ pages, which is a great starting point for new players.
Head to the Pages for the Beginners section to get started. There are a number of links to interesting pages on the wiki. First and foremost of these are undoubtedly the rules, but Sensei’s Library also offers a study section, pages on tactics and strategy and even an introduction to Go etiquette. (Did you know you’re supposed to hold the stone between your index and middle finger?) All of these pages are written in a simple but concise way, and most are accompanied by supporting illustrations.
Although it’s hard to top the sheer amount of resources available at Sensei’s Library, The Interactive Way To Go arguably takes a more compelling approach to teaching people the rules of Go. As its name implies, this website spices up its explanations with interactive problems and examples. By putting the stones in your hands, it’s notably easier to grasp some of the concepts and to notice where your understanding was lacking.
Usually, a beginner starts off at the lowest level of 30 Kyu and works his or her way down. After 1 Kyu, you can attempt to reach first Dan, and work your way up in the ranks from there. The Interactive Way To Go devises its own extension of this ranking system and starts you off at the unofficial level of 50 Kyu when you start the tutorial. By working your way through the examples and exercises, you gain levels until you finish the tutorial when you’re just above 30 Kyu.
A third good way to get started is by using Learn Go. This website doesn’t let you place the stones on the board, but also has a highly visual emphasis. The center part of the screen is occupied by a Go board. You can step through the development of the game and see the board evolved.
At each step, Learn Go is ready to give you a detailed explanation of what’s happening, and what it entails. There are twelve of these smaller tutorials in total, which together make up Learn Go’s curriculum. It’s a well explained and well illustrated introduction to Go’s ruleset.
What Comes Next?
After you’ve learned the rules of Go, it’s time to seek greener pastures. There is a couple of directions you can go from here. If you’d like to formally learn more about Go tactics and strategy, you can find more information in Sensei’s Library, or turn to one of the many books on Go.
Another way to learn is by playing Go (obviously), or watching other people play. Like in chess, taking the time to study other games is a great way to develop your own technique and understanding of the game.
Play Go Online
There’s a sizeable Go community online, and you can hone (and test) your skills by playing Go over the internet. Again, this list is not exhaustive, but the two options mentioned below are two of the most popular Go servers.
This used to be the Internet Go Server (IGS), but has been renamed Pandanet. It’s perhaps the biggest international Go server in the world. You’ll meet people from all continents. When you sign up, you should probably register as a beginner. After playing for a while, you’ll be able to join the ranks at 17 Kyu.
To play (or observe) games on the Pandanet server, you’ll need to download the client software first. GoPanda 2, pictured above, is available for all three major operating systems; Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. Just download the application and log in to get started. Mobile users can download Panda-Tetsuki, available for iOS and Android. Between these two applications, you can play Go whenever and wherever you want!
Another very popular Go server is KGS. Hundreds of players choose KGS to play, teach, or even host club events. Like Pandanet, it’s one of the biggest Go servers you’ll find. After joining the server, you can observe active games or start one of your own. There’s also a separate English game room, where you can find people to play against that share a language with you.
If you have a browser equipped with Java, you can run the KGS client in your browser as a Java-applet. On Mac OS X these Java applets are disabled by default because of security problems. Instead, you can download the client as a Java application which will run on all major operating systems after you’ve installed the Java runtime environment on your computer.
Have you ever played Go? Are you planning to? Share your experiences (and tips) in the comments section below!
Image credit: Luis de Bethencourt