Getting Started with Go

(This post is about the ancient board game Go, not the programming language Go which I’m also a fan of)

Go is hard. This is a phrase I’ve probably uttered hundreds of times in the past 6 months. I started my go journey last October based on a suggestion from my wife. I had tried to learn before but I remember getting so confused and frustrated that I gave up without much thought. This time, however, I have stuck it out and made progress beyond just learning the basics. I’d like to share my experience with go so far in hopes that others will also join me in learning this beautiful, ancient game. 

To begin, I’ll summarize my journey so far in case you want to (a) follow the steps I’ve taken or (b) don’t want to read a length explanation of my path:

  • Learn the rules*
  • Play lots of games on various board sizes on apps and websites*
  • Buy an actual board and play in person
  • Do lots of tsumego problems*
  • Watch video tutorials*
  • Get a coach
  • Have your rank assessed
  • Play in a tournament (Haven’t done this one yet but I’m signed up for one a couple weeks away)

*these are all free so you can definitely get into this hobby at 0 cost

That’s it, that’s the post. If you’d like any elaboration or links to resources keep reading.

To begin playing go, you first have to learn the rules. I started by watching Go Magic’s youtube playlist on how to play go. After that, I downloaded the Go Quest app (Apple or Android) and proceeded to play enough games to learn which rules I misunderstood. I played hundreds of 9×9 games before moving on to a 13×13 board. Another app I used to get more games in was BadukPop. 19×19 games can feel a bit cramped on a phone screen so I’ve tended to use OGS to play via browser on my computer.

Near the start of my learning I also saw the documentary on AlphaGo and witnessed the beginning of the era of computers reshaping the landscape of go. I was a kid when Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov at chess and throughout my education in computer science, go was used as an example of a game with much higher complexity than chess so it was incredible to watch this milestone occur. Something profound that struck me after watching this was that we may have captured the last time the highest skilled human ever beat the highest skilled computer at a human created board game.

To get better at go, I quickly realized just playing lots of games isn’t enough. In chess, completing tactics puzzles is pretty beneficial but in go it feels almost mandatory if you want to not get totally destroyed. A great series of books with puzzles that start off easy but steadily increase in difficulty and teach you important patterns is Graded Go Problems For Beginners. I also use the Tsumego Pro app to complete daily puzzles.

As a teacher, I’m also very aware of the benefit of learning from a more knowledgeable person face-to-face so I paid for a few sessions with a dan level coach. Due to scheduling conflicts these 4 sessions ended up being spread out over about 3 months. At the end I ended up attending a large event where players around Bangkok had their skills assessed. You had to play and win handicap matches against master players to attain a particular rank (Here’s a video to understanding how ranks in go work). I started the day going for 12 kyu, passed then jumped 2 levels to try 10 kyu and also won. I also managed to get 9 kyu but lost my final match of the day so the rank I achieved was 9 kyu which just barely got me to the level of a single digit kyu (SDK) player. I now qualify to enter some local tournaments in the low kyu section. I plan to enter one that will be taking place later this month.

So, yes, go is hard. But it isn’t completely impenetrable. You can learn it and you can improve your ability to play it. If you do, and you’re ever looking for someone to play with let me know!