Explain scoring in Go like I'm an idiot.
December 24, 2015 12:33 PM   Subscribe

How, exactly and in simple words, does one score Go?

Does one count only the empty spaces inside of one's "live" groups, or does one also count the stones inside live groups? Every rule set I've found just gets weirdly vague on the actual scoring, leaving me uncertain if, for example, it's worth putting a single stone inside an incomplete eye in someone's group and forcing them to place two or three stones to capture and remove it. I grok that bigger holes = better. I just want a fiddly explanation in clear English.
posted by Scattercat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It actually varies a little bit among different schools. (I think of it as Japanese vs. Chinese, loosely.)
posted by solitary dancer at 12:39 PM on December 24, 2015

Best answer: That is, one school counts only the empty spaces, but fills in with prisoners first. (That's how I've learned and played.) Another school counts all spaces and stones but does not score prisoners, so it should out approximately the same. That might help explain some of the vague and confusing things you've read?
posted by solitary dancer at 12:43 PM on December 24, 2015

it's not worth playing where you can't win because it doesn't change the score.

this is easy to see in japanese scoring (prisoners + spaces). if you (black) play an extra N stones, forcing your opponent (white) to also play N stones, until you fight to the point where those N stones are captured, then the area will contain N spaces less (because N white pieces were played) but white has N extra prisoners (the N black pieces they captured).

so the final stored has decreased by N (less spaces), but also increased by N (more prisoners), so the end result is the same.

and since the two scoring systems are basically equivalent, this is also true for chinese scoring.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:47 PM on December 24, 2015

There are two different methods of scoring: area scoring, in which each of your stones on the board counts as a point, and territory scoring, in which they don't (and in which your captured stones count against you). Different rulesets use different standards; e.g. Chinese rules use area scoring, and Japanese rules use territory scoring. This page describes some of the details. In particular, note that in Japanese rules, if a space is surrounded by a group of stones which is in seki, it does not count for either player.

At the end of every game, obviously dead stones and groups (i.e. stones and groups which, if played out, could be captured before making life) are agreed upon by both players and removed as prisoners, so even if you placed stones inside your opponent's territory, they would not necessarily have to bother placing their own stones to capture you. Nevertheless, it is sometimes still beneficial to "fill in" your opponent's eyes in this manner, such as when you want to set up a snapback.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:49 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Uh oh, you got me started.

There are many scoring systems in Go, which generally give you the same result in the end except for really fiddly cases, so they're pretty interchangeable.

Unfortunately, most descriptions of Go use Japanese scoring, which is of the variety known as "territory scoring". In this system, you get points for empty space you surround plus the prisoners you have captured. This is (generally) fine for experienced players but it's terrible for beginners because you get into all these "someone placed a stone inside my territory and has claimed it's alive but I don't want to waste moves killing it" issues.

Much better for beginners is "area scoring", where you get points for the empty space you surround plus your live stones still on the board. In this system there is clearly no penalty for putting down extra stones to double-plus-kill any opponent stones inside your territory (you just replaced an empty space worth one point with a stone worth one point), so if someone claims that his little doomed group is alive, just start putting stones down and actually capture it.

Once you've played a while it'll be (almost always) clear which stones are alive and which are dead, and you can use whichever system you like. (The main advantage of the territory system is that the numbers you're adding up are smaller.)
posted by dfan at 12:57 PM on December 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

(The two systems also give the white player a slightly different number of points, komi.)
posted by solitary dancer at 12:58 PM on December 24, 2015

Response by poster: So it boils down to always score empty space, and additionally score either captured stones or stones on the board?
posted by Scattercat at 1:09 PM on December 24, 2015

So it boils down to always score empty space, and additionally score either captured stones or stones on the board?
Basically, yeah. Every stone you play either ended up on the board alive, ended up on the board dead, or was captured. So assuming both players played an equal number of stones (some rulesets enforce this), the difference in dead stones between the two players is the same as the difference in live stones.
posted by dfan at 1:16 PM on December 24, 2015

Response by poster: Okay. Thanks! :-)

Man, online Go sites are really hard to parse sometimes. I'm not sure if it's a translation/culture thing (since Go isn't nearly as common/popular where I am in the US) or if it's just that the people who have dedicated Go websites also tend to be wonky nerds who have a hard time dumbing it down for plebs. (It reminds me of trying to understand peoples' homebrew D&D systems back in the day.)
posted by Scattercat at 1:45 PM on December 24, 2015

dfan gives an excellent summary. I would add that the AGA ruleset gets the best of both worlds (ie both the ease of counting of territory scoring, and the straightforward life-or-death resolution of area scoring).
posted by alexei at 3:49 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would strongly recommend watching online videos if you have questions about gameplay. It's definitely easier to understand once you've seen it visually. Here's one that I think does a good job explaining scoring.

When searching for go videos online, you can try to use the terms weiqi (chinese) or baduk (korean) to find resources as well.

The other answers have already explained the basics, but I just wanted to add that almost everyone in the US plays using Japanese territory scoring, and I think the American Go Association uses territory scoring as well. Chinese players will sometimes use Chinese scoring if they learned to play in China. It normally doesn't make much difference except in some very rare cases.
posted by placoderm at 6:29 PM on December 24, 2015

This is (generally) fine for experienced players but it's terrible for beginners because you get into all these "someone placed a stone inside my territory and has claimed it's alive but I don't want to waste moves killing it" issues.

If there's any disagreement about whether a territory is owned by one player or the other, or whether a given group of stones are dead, then play should continue until there's no longer any dispute.

It's dishonorable to dispute such things when you know better, and the general solution to someone who's an asshole about it is to not ever play with him again.

dames (pronounced "dah-may") are empty spaces which border both colors of stones, and those usually are cooperatively filled in, after there is consensus about dead units. (Empty spaces bordering a dead group of stones are not dames.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:43 PM on December 24, 2015

I can say from experience that it's not so easy with beginners.

They have a dead group. To take it would cost you five moves. They're advanced enough to see that they can't gain anything by playing near it (and so they pass), but they don't quite see why you should be allowed to remove it without going to the actual 'effort' of playing the five moves which definitively capture it (which of course costs you points and leads to an incorrect result). Insisting on it results in bad feelings. They're not assholes, they just don't understand.

At worst, it leaves them feeling cheated. At best, it leaves them with the impression that the rules of Go are complicated and obscure, when they're anything but. There's no reason to wrestle with it when the entire problem is easily avoidable by using Chinese or AGA rules.
posted by alexei at 1:53 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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