Playing baduk

This seems like a completely plausible theory regarding the origins of baduk as well…

… is deceptively simple (which is how they get you), but infinitely complex (which is how they keep you, read: addict you), and originated in Ancient China; because all cool things did.

About 4 500 years ago (give or take a century or two) a few people had too much time on their hands and too many black and white stones lying around, and somehow came up with wéiqí [圍棋], literally meaning “the surrounding game”; thus ultimately bearing responsibility for me missing deadlines while I fulfill my addiction for anything to do with this game (mainly cat pictures on baduk related facebook pages). It was introduced in Korea as baduk [바둑] and Japan as igo [囲碁] in about the 5th and  7th century CE; meaning basically that the Chinese were hogging this game for themselves for more than three millennia (how dare they!) Now known popularly as “Go” everywhere, because they wanted to annoy anyone trying to google information on the game, it can claim responsibility for many ruined relationships, “lost” homework, mental breakdowns, and inside jokes that nobody else gets. But damn, if it isn’t a frakking amazing game… and addictive.

At which point cats became involved, I don’t know; yet it is undeniable given the amount of cat owners among baduk players that there is some undercover plan being implemented by our benevolent cat overlords to study our strength and weaknesses…



The Rules

The goal of the game is the surround as much territory with strings of connected stones in your colour. Black plays first, which gives it a bit of an advantage (usually off set by compensation points awarded to white.) Both parties play one stone per turn, with each stone being final (no moving stones around, basically), until both parties pass consecutively; stones can only be removed through capturing them by completely surrounding them. Then points around counted, which according the Japanese/Korean system is all the empty points on the board you have managed to surround plus any captures.

The rules (from wikipedia):

  • Rule 1 (the rule of liberty) states that every stone remaining on the board must have at least one open “point” (an intersection, called a “liberty”) directly next to it (up, down, left, or right), or must be part of a connected group that has at least one such open point (“liberty”) next to it. Stones or groups of stones which lose their last liberty are removed from the board.
  • Rule 2 (the “ko rule”) states that the stones on the board must never repeat a previous position of stones. Moves which would do so are forbidden, and thus only moves elsewhere on the board are permitted that turn.

That is pretty much it for the basics; congratulations to the Chinese for coming up with a game with only two basic rules that ends up being more complicated than figuring out how to get out of the friendzone. My suggestions is to find an experienced player at a local club to take you through the motions, or to familiarise yourself with the game through several of the online resources and then hit the beginners room on KGS.



Because the game was popularised by the Japanese, which is sort of how most things go in East Asia it seems: China invents, Japan popularises, and Korea rules it (yes, Korean players have dominated professional baduk tournaments for years now), a “dan/kyu” system of rankings has been adopted. Well… “dan/geup” from my point of view, because I’m Korean (sort of.) Unlike martial arts, which is the usual association with such rankings, you don’t need to do some sort of exam or test, and you can’t buy a dan rank with a one year sign up at some sort of McDojo. Rankings are determined by the games you win and lose against others.

The nice thing about rankings is that it illustrates the difference in strength, which can be used to determine handicaps in games between differently ranked players in order to level the playing field (kinda like being allowed to punch the bully on the playground a predetermined number of times before they are allowed to try and get your lunch money from you… oh, how I wish such a system existed when I went to school.)

The system looks as follows:

Rank Type Range Stage
Double-digit geup 30–21k Beginner
Double-digit geup 20–10k Casual player
Single-digit geup 9–1k Intermediate/club player
Amateur dan 1–7d (where 8d is special title) Advanced player
Professional dan 1–9p (where 10p is special title) Professionals

The handicap is basically an amount of stones, usually the amount of difference between two players (a 10k player would get 4 stones when playing against a 6k), set on predetermined places on the board. The weaker player plays black, because they have the advantage of the first move already, puts the handicap on the board, and then white plays their first stone. Usually, handicaps are 9 stones max., because with more than that it just gets weird (I think.)

Wikipedia, as the all-knowing God of knowledge, has a good overview of handicap placements and rules.


Where to play?

If you are in South Africa, check the website of the South African Go Association for links to any baduk clubs; there are clubs in Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto, and at the University of Johannesburg.

Of course there are online places where you can play baduk, and they are great places if there isn’t a local club nearby; also it is great if local clubs annoy or scare you, respectively because of a being a male dominated space or because everyone is better than you are. There are too many servers to list, but there is a list at Sensei’s library with all of them; though here are the most used ones (that I know of):

A great online server to play baduk, though don’t ask me what KGS stands for; I assume the G stands for “Go” and the S for “Server” but that would mean that “KGS Go Server”, as the website is titled, stands for “K-something Go Server Go Server”… I’ve been through the website but couldn’t find KGS written full out. It is a free place, though there is some “plus” content (mostly lectures and tournaments.) While it is a game server, it has this old style chat feel to it, with lots of different rooms and annoying admins. You can play games or watch games played by others, and save them for review. However, my experience is that it is really hard to find a game as a beginner, as people are almost only interested in playing those of equal or higher rank. Still it is an entertaining place.

Update: I figure out KGS stands for Kiseido Go Server…

The oldest online server; now it is know also as Pandanet, ’cause of their both Asian and monochromatic nature I assume. It is first and foremost a baduk server, and unlike KGS there are only a few rooms available without any option to create additional ones. However, I find that it is easier to get a game as a beginner than on KGS. They also stream pro games from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan.

Is what is says it is, but there is the option to play both live games and turn-based games. Has a lot of users.

On of the major Korean baduk servers. Apparently has up to 25 000 players online at times. Obviously it is dominated by Korean players, but it is still a great place. The interface of the client is kinda hard to figure out at times, like most Korean online things it is cluttered with randomness.

Tygem [타이젬] is another major Korean baduk server. Not sure if it is as big as WBaduk, but it is still larger than most. To quote entropi at the Life in 19×19 forum:

Tygem, what a strange place to play. Every game turns into a big dragon hunt in the end. At 1 kyu level, no concerns about efficiency. Attack only for killing, never for gaining territory. Defence is for cowards! What a strange server! Fun though, at least sometimes :)

I haven’t played there really, but many people do and like it.


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In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man still has only one eye…