Go FAQ

#1. What should I do to get better at Go?
A: The big stuff is to learn some Go theory and tactics, play and review games, and solve life- and-death puzzles. Nick Sibicky does lectures on YouTube that cover a lot of theory (youtube.com/user/nicksibicky). You will also pick up on theory by getting your games reviewed by stronger players, such as at our Go Club! Here's the thing about Go: It's a game about getting punished and coming back for more. When you start playing, it will seem like your opponents can build walls that will just materialize out of nowhere. You’ll be about to capture their stones, then suddenly your position is cut in half. You’ll try to play solidly and you’ll still get surrounded. You’ll make points, only to see they'd made twice as many points.
Study those games, and learn a shape. Try that shape and fail. Try to get fancy and get cut apart and die. Face another new opponent and only barely earn a win because they made a bigger mistake. See a shape that keeps precipitating a loss on your end. Resolve to never make that shape again. Then make it, get captured, and lose. Try again. Avoid making the shape, but still get captured and lose. See an opponent make that shape. Capture them—lucky break; nothing more. Read books and watch videos, and nothing will seem to work. Your opponents are always one step ahead of you. Try to read ahead three moves, four. They always seem to be five or six, unless they accidentally missed something and then you’ll be lucky again. See a new player and be able to win by a tiny little margin, but maybe lose on the rematch. Get cocky, play a stronger player, then lose by 150 points. Try a shape from their game—and it will work, even though it shouldn't have.
See your rank go up. Play an even game, and it'll decrease again. Knowing that you’re back to your true, low rank, play a game and win. Rank up again. See an opponent make the shape that had cost you so many games, and offer the proper refutation. Win. Play another game, see another mistake, and give another punishment—but it won’t work and you’ll lose by 50 points. Play another game. See the shape, stop yourself from making the wrong refutation, then play a solid move and lose by 1.5 points. In review you’ll see three good places to play. Play in those places in another game and win by 13.5 points. Get punished. Try again. Get punished. Try again. See a player make your mistake. Punish it and win.
Then look back on your progress and see that somehow, in the chaos of your weird games, you’d somehow gained four stones in strength. Go will become a completely different game. You’ll think you have the hang of it, only to find new, more nuanced mistakes. Make the mistake and get punished—over and over and over, until you know how to avoid it and how to punish it if you saw it. You'll never feel like you're that good of a player. There are always more mistakes, and what looked like professional finesse to you a year ago looks like heavy, plodding play now. And you’ve got a long way to go. Embrace failure. Embrace complication. Keep falling off the horse, and keep getting back on. Before you know it, you'll be doing to opponents what they keep doing to you now.

#2. What are tactics?
A: Tactics are, metaphorically, the language of Go. Wikipedia defines tactics as "a conceptual action aiming at the achievement of a goal." But what does this mean? Well let's break that definition into two parts: a conceptual action, and aiming at the achievement of a goal. On the very first move of any game you have a limited number of moves you can legally make, 55 to be exact (accounting for symmetry). On the second move, there are as many as 19,800 different possible positions. On the 3rd, 7,108,200. In as few as 4 moves, there are over two billion possible positions! However, the important question is not how many possible positions there are, but finding what moves are good, which leads us to the second part of the definition: aiming at the achievement of a goal. The most obvious example of achievement of a goal is material gain such as capturing a stone or group of stones, but there are other forms of gain too. Most of these are positional ideas that you likely won't understand or make use of until you have mastered all the common tactical patterns that can give advantages. Some examples are connecting stones, cutting opposing stones, building influence, building thickness, keeping initiative, choosing good direction of play, making good shape, inducing overconcentration, etc. The reason these positional ideas are not as important as basic tactical patterns is because they give relatively small gains compared to tactics. There is no point in having a positional advantage if you blunder away your stones in a tactical sequence you overlooked. Similarly, it is pointless to know what your opponent's main positional weakness is if you can't figure out how to successfully capitalize on it via tactics. It just doesn't work like that. Sorry. Study tactics first! To go back to the initial metaphor, when you are trying to learn a new language, you need to build your "vocabulary" (tactics) first before you go making complex "sentences" (positional play). The bigger your tactical vocabulary is, the deeper and better your positional play will be. online-go.com/learn-to-play-go is a pretty good place to start if you want to build your tactical vocabulary. You can then practice life and death at goproblems.com.

#3. Okay, so I have been practicing life and death. How does one's rating on goproblems compare to one's rating in real games?
A: Generally, your rating on goproblems will be higher than your actual rating, whether online or over the board (AGA). It is common for one's rating on goproblems to be anywhere from one to two stones higher than your “actual” rating. While life and death is important, there are a lot of other factors that go into a full Go game.

#4. Where is the best place to play Go online?
A: online-go.com is a good place to start off with. It's free, easy to use, has plenty of instructional resources, and allows for almost any kind of play with similarly rated opponents. Other sites include Internet Go Server (IGS), Tygem, Kiseido Go Server (KGS), and World Baduk, all of which are frequented by many dan players and some professionals. Ultimately, it just comes down to personal preference.

#5. How do I analyze my Go games?
A: Analyzing your games is easy, but time-consuming. You don't even need an engine, and in fact, it's better if you don't use one immediately. Replay the moves of the game and find all the places where one side gained an advantage. An example of an advantage would be capturing stones. Figure out why this occurred and what you or your opponent should have done differently. Once you have found all the instances of bad moves and why they occurred, go through it again and look for potential tactics that you missed. What moves did you or your opponent miss that would have given you or your opponent an advantage? Figure out why you missed these moves so that you won't miss them next time. Finally, once you have done these two things, you can run the game through an engine and see if your initial analysis was correct, and also find out what you missed entirely that the engine found. The most important part is not to find the right move but to understand why it's the right move. That is the only way to learn from your mistakes. This is just a guideline for analysis, but it works (for most people) and I highly recommend it. You can also have your games reviewed by members of the Bakersfield Go Club!

#6. What are some good Go engines?
A: Here is a short list of some of the best engines available today.

#7. What are some recommended books to help improve my game?
A: Keep in mind that these books almost all require an in-depth knowledge of tactics before being able to put their material to good use (with the exception of the 30 kyu category). With that said, the following books are organized by estimated minimum rank. While these rank guidelines are good for a ballpark estimate, take them with a grain of salt.

30 kyu 20 kyu 10 kyu 9 kyu 7 kyu 3 kyu 1 dan 2 dan 3 dan 4 dan 5 dan