What is Go?

Go: A board game of territory and capture

The name Go is actually Japanese (they also call it Igo sometimes); in Korea it's called Baduk and in China it's called Weiqi (pronounced Wei-Chi).

Oriental friends playing Go

Go originated over 3,000 years ago in China and is very much a part of Oriental culture. It was brought to the UK nearly 100 years ago from Japan and continues to expand in popularity.

Go has very simple rules and concepts, but a complex strategy. You start with an empty board, alternately placing pieces which don't move (called stones) on it, trying to surround empty areas, whilst capturing your opponent's stones by surrounding them and taking them off the board. However, as with a lot of simple concepts, it can take a little while to grasp them and a long time to master them.

One of Go's best features, unlike almost all other games, is the handicapping system.
This allows players of very different strengths to play a proper game giving each player a 50% chance of winning and unusually compared to other games with a handicapping system Go players often play handicap games.

Also unlike many other games draws are almost non-existent, but the margins of winning/losing can be very small.

Unfortunately the rules can often be badly described and hard to understand, especially on rule sheets supplied with some Go sets - but do not let that put you off! We have a complete introduction, with some videos, on our How to Play page.

Who plays Go?

A game against a professional

Anyone aged from under 5 to over 90, male or female!

More than 10% of Koreans and a smaller proportion, but still many millions, play in Japan and China. Go is less well-known outside East Asia, with probably a few thousand active players in Britain, but the number of players is increasing world-wide now that you can play on the Internet. There are more than 70 countries where organised Go is played, see the International Go Federation website and the European Go Federation one.

There are about 1,000 full-time professionals in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan with a number of part-time ones now in North America and Europe. The largest prize for winning a tournament is now close to $1 million!

The Korea Amateur Baduk Association has produced an English language video: Introduction to Go (just over 10 minutes long). It talks about the background to the game and world-wide spread, rather than the rules.

We also know a number of well-known people who have played Go, as diverse as Albert Einstein and Rod Stewart! You may have seen Go played in the movies, in such as "A Beautiful Mind" or "Pi", or on television in programmes such as "24" or "Enterprise", or read about it in a novel such as "Shibumi" or "The Girl that played Go". More and more, Go is entering Western culture as well as Oriental.

If disability prevents placing the stones, then calling out the co-ordinates of the intersections can be done for an able opponent to place the stones instead. Partially sighted or blind people can also play, as described on our Go for the Blind page.

  • If you are a Chess player you may be interested in a Chess-Go comparison.
  • You can play Go at home, in clubs and in tournaments. Against a computer or another person on the internet you can play any time, day or night. Visit our Where to Play for more information.
  • Details of Go sets (and also Go books) are on our Go Books and Sets page.
  • When you played a few games, you will realise there is an awful lot to Go. We have some tips and pointers on our How can I improve? page to guide you.
  • Many young people play. Visit our Junior mini-site and if you're an organiser or teacher our Youth Go organisers section to find out how we can help you.
  • Go features strongly in Japanese comics for adults - see our Manga and Anime page.
  • We've got many pages of other information about Go that might be of interest too

At the British Go Association we are passionate about the game of Go, and we hope you will find the game just as appealing as we do.

If you want someone to come and visit your organisation and give a presentation on Go and how to play, contact us.



Last updated Mon Dec 28 2015. If you have any comments, please email the webmaster on web-master AT britgo DOT org.