Etiquette, Attitudes & Advice

British Go Journal No. 54. October 1981. Page 21.

Stuart Dowsey

With 4,000 years of history, go has had more chance than any other game to develop customs and practices conducive to good play. The oriental and in particular the Japanese overlay given to the game is very significant. In some ways this distinctive cultural influence appears as ritual observances which stem from the profound philosophical approach to such disciplines as games, sports and martial arts found in the East.

Go is a game for two players. Though in competition, each needs the other in order to play. This makes them partners in the exercise. If one accepts the notion that go is a beneficial pastime, a potential voyage of self-discovery and enlightenment, then the opponent or partner who makes this possible deserves special treatment and respect. You show this in a variety of ways.

Firstly there is etiquette, the code of behaviour at the go board. This is where ritual plays the greatest part. The Japanese bow to each other, enquire politely if the other would instruct them and ask if the other would please commence play - all done using phrases reserved for these special occasions when only the highest form of politeness and greatest deference is shown. Of course we don't need to go to such lengths but at least a friendly, courteous approach to an opponent is right. During play sit quietly and do nothing to upset him. If you must leave the table apologise politely before doing so. Remember that the other player expects as much from you as he does from himself.

At the beginning of a game certain conventions apply. For example, in an even game it is customary to play the first move in the upper right corner of the board. Should, this be a komoku, then the right hand one is expected. In placing a handicap, which incidentally Black does for himself, the recommended order of moves is as shown in the diagram. Note that in the only asymmetric position of three stones, Black leaves White's lower right corner open for him to play in. With equally matched players, first move is chosen by nigiri. One player takes a handful of white stones from a bowl. The other will then guess odd or even and the stones are counted out in pairs. The player on the correct end of this little guessing game then automatically plays black.

There is more ritual at the end of the game. This comes when both players agree that there are no more points to be gained or lost for either side. Then the dame (neutral points) are filled, preferably alternately although in the Japanese method of counting this is not essential. What is important to remember is that the game has ended before the dame are filled. So you do not capture stones left in atari when the dame are taken. Instead you point this out to your opponent and allow him to connect. The connection is a dame. Western tournament rules which were devised to avoid ambiguity at the end of the game insist that the game ends after the dame are all filled. On this technicality dame rip-offs are possible but are totally contrary to the basic nature of go. Such play undermines the spirit in which the game should be played and speaks poorly of players who perpetrate it.

Having filled the dame, each player then takes up their own captured stones which added to the prisoners in the lid they then place in their opponent's area preparatory to counting. Each player arranges and counts his opponent's territory announcing their score. Only then are the stones cleared away with each player putting away his own stones. This ensures there are no accidents as hands clash in mid-air en route to the same bowl. Of course you can help each other sort out the stones still on the board and push the opponent's stones towards him. Afterwards it is right and proper that you thank each other for the game.

Apart from good manners, there is another way in which you can show proper respect for the other player and that is by playing the best game possible. Playing rubbish is an insult to the opponent. Every player has his limitations but there are ways in which you can enhance your play without further study. Which takes us back to sitting quietly at the go board. Your mind performs well with the minimum of distraction and this includes the self-induced as well as any from your opponent or the surrounding area. It is best to promote a calm frame of mind, allowing the mind to think about the game with great clarity and in a detached way. Remember that you play into an existing position on the board there for all to see. What you do is up to you and you alone. All that matters is the position at that point and how you intend to play. In this respect you opponent may as well not exist. What I mean is of course that you should try not to play the person sitting opposite. Play the position not the opponent.

The go board is large in comparison to other similar board games and an overall board vision is essential. You can't get this by hunching over part of the board. Sit up straight in a relaxed way. Your eyes should be about one yard from the tengen point in the middle of the board. You need to scan the entire board without effort. Poor posture not only interferes with your view it also may constrict your bloodflow and have same effect on your ability to think. Tension and stress in your body will have the same effect as discomfort in disturbing the smooth flow of ideas. It is similarly important to play your move after due consideration. Decide where you wish to play before picking up your stone. Then play it with confidence.

Don't rattle stones in the bowl as that is annoying. Don't play a move before you are certain where it should go. That way you aren't tempted to take the move back - a cardinal sin. Don't hover. By this I mean don't hold a stone in your hand and hover with it over the board while still making up your mind. Notice how much of the board surface is obscured by your own hand. You must have a clear view of the board at all times.

Get used to following these recommendations during play and improve both the quality of your game and the enjoyment and pleasure that go guarantees.


This article is from the British Go Journal Issue 54
which is one of a series of back issues now available on the web.

Last updated Thu May 04 2017.
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