Start Here!

Start before you’re ready.—Steven Pressfield

Playing baduk online is free. You can register on several English-language servers, including the Online Go Server (OGS), Kiseido Go Server (KGS), Internet Go Server (IGS or Pandanet), the Korean-based Tygem, and the turn-based Dragon Go Server (DGS). My preferred server is OGS because it is easy to set up an account and it does not require additional software, unlike, for example, KGS, which is Java-based. Sensei’s Library maintains a list, here, of online go servers for across operating systems.

Need a baduk kit? They are readily available online. I purchased mine through the American Go Association classifieds, but you can also visit shops like Go Game Guru and Yellow Mountain Imports. You can spend as little or much as you like, but I recommend spending less than $100 on your first kit. The temptation to spend a lot is a distraction from the game itself, which is prized for its simplicity. My own set up is a reversible bamboo board, size 36 biconvex glass stones, and a set of rosewood bowls all purchased second hand for less than $100.

Many Names, One Game

Baduk originated in China more than 2,500 years ago. It has since spread throughout Asia and, indeed, the world, often following migrant populations. In China it is called weiqi (围棋), in Japan it is igo (囲碁), and in Korea baduk (바둑). The term “go” is an anglicized version of the Japanese name, and it is the most common designation for the game in the Americas and Europe. This is because it was often through Japan and Japanese immigrant communities that baduk was introduced to non-Asian societies. Unfortunately in English the noun “go” is easily confused with the verb, which is why I have departed from custom and used the Korean name, baduk (바둑), instead. The Chinese term weiqi (围棋) is almost never used in English. Still, each of these names refers to the same surrounding game, and may be seen on Let’s Play Baduk.

 

Two men playing baduk in the bed of a truck.
Baduk can be played in diverse settings!

 

How To Play

Baduk is a game of territory. Two players – one playing as Black, the other White – begin with an empty board, usually a 19×19 grid (although other board sizes are possible). In alternating turns, beginning with Black, each player places a single stone on the intersection of two lines. Note that stones are only placed on unoccupied intersections, not on the inside of squares. The basic object of baduk is to surround more territory than one’s opponent. Baduk is about achieving relative advantage, not domination, over one’s opponent.

It is possible to capture an opponent’s stones by completely surrounding them. In this case the captured stones are called “prisoners” and removed from the board. Stones are captured when there are no unoccupied intersections around them. These vacant points around stones, either individually or as a group, are called “liberties.” A group of stones requires at least two liberties in order to avoid capture – such groups are called “alive.”

As the game progresses, patterns of friendly and opposing stones emerge on the board. Both players strive to extend their territory while reducing their opponent’s. These moves and counter moves display the fighting spirit of both players. Eventually, however, no further moves are possible, and it is at this point that the game ends.

To end a baduk game one player passes a stone to their opponent. If the opposing player agrees that there are no more viable moves then they hand over one of their stones. Finally, the first player to pass hands over another stone. This exchange of prisoners ends the game and begins the counting phase. In this final phase, both players number their respective territories and the player with the most wins the game. Note, too, that it is also possible for one player to resign before the exchange of prisoners. Resignation also ends the game and is considered an honorable end, because it demonstrates foresight. If the result of a game is clear, it is better to resign than play on until inevitable defeat.

Learning The Ropes

And becoming one stone stronger is the supreme enjoyment.—Go Seigen 9-dan

The basic principles of baduk – its rules, object, etc. – are simple, but their mastery is difficult, even for lifelong professionals. This is part of the game’s attraction.

Experience is the best instruction, and this is only gained through actual play. Novices are advised to lose their first 50 or more games as soon as possible. This is a painful introduction, for sure, but it teaches valuable lessons about baduk that cannot be gleaned from books or lectures. The flow of a game, for instance, is unknowable without some basis in experience, as are concepts like gote and sente.

After acquiring some initial exposure to baduk it is advisable to begin studying tsumego and other baduk literature. Korea’s Baduk TV offers video lessons, tournament coverage, and live games – many of which have been translated into English by and are available via Go Game Guru. Recently, Korean professional baduk player Lee Haijin 3-dan professional began posting her games on YouTube with insightful commentary. If possible, find a local baduk club or a mentor. The Interactive Way to Go is a great starting point for absolute beginners.

Balancing study and play is an important habit to develop. Play should always drive study, because it is only through action that we gain experience. It is easy, however, to shirk the goban in order to ‘train.’ The reason for this escape is simple: There is no ego risk in ‘training’ as there is in actually competing. This is also why such ‘training’ is actually worthless. I’ve fallen into this, and I’m sure others have as well, but the important think is to confront this challenge and overcome it. We are baduk players after all, or else we are just spectators!

Ready for more? Check out these resources.

Bauduk Terms, Ranks, And Handicaps

Like all professions baduk has developed its own jargon. Check out Sensei’s Library for a collection of baduk terms.

Amateur ratings work like this: (Beginner) 30-kyu → 1-kyu; (Advanced Amateur) 1-dan → 7-dan. Ranks above 7-dan for amateurs are either online or only numerical; national associations, such as the American Go Association, do not recognize them. Professional ranks work like this: 1-dan → 9-dan (with 10-dan being a special title).

Abbreviating ranks can take many forms. Most commonly a single letter “k” or “d” follows a player’s numeric rating, e.g. 11k (for 11-kyu) or 5d (for 5-dan). Professionals may be distinguished by a “p” following their numeric rating, as in 5p for a 5-dan professional, though this is not always present..

Source: Go ranks and ratings (Wikipedia)

Rank type Range Stage
Double-digit kyu 30–20k Beginner
Double-digit kyu 19–10k Casual player
Single-digit kyu 10-1k Intermediate amateur
Amateur dan 1–7d (where 8d is special title) Advanced amateur
Professional dan 1–9p (where 10p is special title) Professional player

The current ranking system was formalized in Japan during the seventeenth century, but baduk ranks date back to second century China. At the amateur levels – both kyu and dan – ranks distinguish how many handicap stones that a player requires for an even game with a stronger player. An 11-kyu will need a three stone handicap against an 8-kyu. Similarly a 2-dan player will require two stones against a 4-dan. Both the ranking and handicap systems cooperate so that both players have a fair chance of winning.

At present, although there is a single worldwide ranking system, there is no universal rank except at the professional level. This is due to differences between national (and regional) ranking methodologies, for example an American 5-kyu is regarded as a 10-kyuk in Korea. Online platforms introduce a further complication in determining a player’s rank because each uses a different algorithm. Fortunately Sensei’s Library has developed an equivalency table showcasing the approximate worldwide ranking levels.

Game on!