How To Win Converts

British Go Journal No. 10. December 1969. Page 4.

Francis Roads

One of the objects of the British Go Association is to spread the knowledge of the game to as many people as possible. Anyone who has tried, as I have, to start a local Go club knows that the best way of getting new members is by personal contact. I have been lucky in having had the opportunity of teaching the game of Go to scores and possibly hundreds of beginners, and I thought it might be useful to pass on some of my experience in winning converts to the game.

It is well known that groups such as science students, computer programmers, schoolmasters and chess-players often provide potential converts, but one can find interest in the game in surprising places - Young Conservatives, Scout groups and even the Townswomens Guild have been known to show interest - and therefore whenever I find myself in the company of new acquaintances, whoever they are, I always try to mention my interest in Go as soon as the conversation allows it. Usually someone will show interest, even if only of the polite variety, and the next step is to manoeuvre that person into asking me how the game is played. The battle is then half-won.

Two points always need to be made clear before even setting out the board and stones: first, that you are not about to explain either Messrs. Waddingtons trivial game or Go-Bang (properly Go-Moku); and second, that, although Go can be a very intellectual game, the basic rules are quick to learn, and that the game can be enjoyed at a very elementary level.

For the purpose of teaching beginners I have made some small quarter-boards (10 x 10) ruled on cardboard. Coloured counters, which cost about 5/- [25p] a gross, serve as stones - red and green or blue and yellow replacing black and white. These sets are very cheap, easily portable when you want to play a number of beginners at once, and also show the beginner how easily he can make his own board.

The generate maximum interest in the game it is usually best to get the beginner actually playing the game as soon as possible, and to cut the introductory explanation down to a minimum; I usually explain first the following six points in order.

  1. How moves are made.
  2. How stones connect to form armies (emphasising that diagonally adjacent stones are not connected.
  3. The object of the game, showing how armies can surround territory with or without the help of the edge of the board.
  4. The definition of liberties, and how stones and armies are captured (mentioning the need for internal surrounding).
  5. How the game ends, from the theoretical paint of view (i.e. when both players pass in succession).
  6. The two prohibitive rules of Go, i.e. the no-suicide rule and the rule of ko. Only the bare mechanics of these rules need be explained.

The above is enough to enable the beginner to play his first game of Go. Note that it is not necessary to explain about the safety of two-eyed armies ; this after all, is an elementary tactical principle and not a rule. And of course such relative niceties as ko-fights, seki, snap-back, etc. can easily be left out until later - they are not likely to occur in a players first couple of games.

Even with a four-stone handicap on a quarter-board, the beginner almost always ends his first few games by losing all his stones. There is no point in discouraging him by pointing out all his bad moves - better by far to point out a few good ones, even If he doesnt see why they are good. If he has lost a lot of stones in his first games, he will be in a receptive frame of mind for hearing about an infallible way of making his armies invulnerable. This is also a good time to point out the futility of playing stones inside territory securely held by the opponent, explaining exactly why it gains nothing.

By now you will have formed an opinion of your pupils aptitude for the game, and you will be able to judge whether to introduce further elementary points such as connection and disconnection or the use of the third and fourth lines from the edge, or whether to allow him to practise and assimilate what he has learnt so far. At whatever speed he learns the game, it is necessary to give plenty of practice at all stages by playing games that for you will inevitably be rather boring (though even against beginners there are opportunities for practicing and improving ones technique). You always need to try to find as much to praise as to blame in his play, and to remember that what seems blatantly obvious to the experienced player is not so to the beginner.

One should never leave a new convert without extracting a promise to play the game again, preferably with oneself or with a local Go club, nor without giving him the address of the Association and reminding him to send a stamped addressed envelope when writing for details. Its always a good idea to show a few copies of the Go Review and the British Go Journal - he wont understand much of it, of course, but it will help to show him how seriously the game is taken, If possible, beginners should always be left with some literature to read for themselves. The Associations introductory leaflet is very useful for this purpose.

As I remarked at the beginning, personal contact is better than any means of advertising as a way of converting new Go-players. Teaching beginners is not as exciting as playing someone your own strength, but if every Go-player would make it his business to introduce at least some new players to the game each year, it would do more than anything else to ensure the continued growth and success of our Association.


This article is from the British Go Journal Issue 10
which is one of a series of back issues now available on the web.

Last updated Thu May 04 2017. If you have any comments, please email the webmaster on web-master AT britgo DOT org.