I was reading the answers to this question, about who has won a game of Go and came across the two following statements.

You pass at the end of the game when you do not think you can increase your score (explained below), and stop when both of you pass one after the other.


You needed to finish the game...

As a beginner at go, I think an implicit part of the other question that has possibly been missed is "How do I learn when the game is over". Logically, assuming both players are beginners it is possible that they both think they cannot increase their score and the game is over; where as a more experienced player, such as those answering the question, disagrees.

Is there a suggested method of learning or teaching when the end of the game has been reached? For example continuing to play until only a "few" spaces are unclaimed?

  • 2
    This is certainly something you need to learn, but there is a whole mass to learn when you take up Go, and this is one of the easier things to pick up. It certainly happens that beginners do not spot a weakness that lets them pick off some of their opponent’s stones. It just means that they score less than they would if they were better, which is of course normal. Perhaps it is more a psychological thing, that people worry about doing something wrong. But it is quite simple: you are allowed to go on as long as you like and stop when you like. So just go on until you are sure there is no point.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 22:32
  • @PJTraill for me it certainly is partly a dear of doing something wrong. It took me quite a while to distinguish between alive and dead territory as a concept to the point where at first I didn't understand why running a line across the middle of the board wasn't an auto win.
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 23:04
  • I first learnt Go from an encyclopedia and misinterpreted the rules as meaning one’s had to be joined (by the lines) to the edge of the board to be alive and hence that one had to cut one’s opponents stones off from the edge to capture. I only later realised that stones have to be joined to vacant points to be alive, with all consequences of that. On a similar note, territory is points only joined to one’s own colour. You might be interested in the Tromp-Taylor or ‘logical’ form of the rules.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 13:01

3 Answers 3


Under Chinese scoring (AKA area scoring), you can (and with new players should) play until each player has no move they can make.

There is no downside under Chinese scoring for a player to play stones into untenable positions, nor is there downside for a player to defend a position inefficiently (so long as they don't fill in their eyes). As a result, a new player should try to attack any area they think they can and you should attack them on any area you can, even if those areas are too small to build a live group. This will help them get a more concrete sense of why certain groups are alive or dead, understand what territory can or cannot be viably contested, and learn how defend their own groups from attack without losing their eyes.

For these reasons, I actually recommend Chinese scoring for new players. In addition, I believe it's easier for new players to understand. Japanese scoring requires players to understand the concept of territory, which is much easier once a player has played several games. The overall strategy and techniques of Go are not substantially affected by which scoring system you use (it mostly matters in terms of endgame play), so learning to play under Chinese scoring should not be an impediment to later learning Japanese scoring. See What are the difference between Chinese and Japanese rules in Go? for more information.


There are two logical places when to stop (with Japanese or European rules in mind):

  1. When there are only dame points to fill

  2. When all dame points are filled

The score does not change between these two stages, there are just zero-point moves in between. I think 2 is easier to see and teach in the beginning, while in practical play passes occur when 1 is reached.

Even beginners should never fill their own territory with unnecessary more additional stones, those moves are diminishing the score by one point.

  • What do you mean by more unnecessary advanced stones? Such moves do indeed effectively diminish your score in both Japanese and (as long as the boundaries are incomplete) Chinese scoring, the former because you reduce your territory, the latter because you miss a chance to expand your area.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 22:20
  • thanks for catching this, I meant to writte "additional". Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 10:39

This seems like a much harder problem than it actually is. The key is the undecided territory.

You know that you loose points when you play into your own territory (Japanese rules). You also loose points when you play into your opponents territory without requiring an answer. Consequently, virtually all moves go into undecided territory. Once the undecided territory is gone, both opponents will pass to avoid loosing points.

It is perfectly possible that beginners see some territory as still undecided when a pro would see it finished, and vice-versa. That's not a problem. As long as one player thinks there is undecided territory, they keep playing. For both it's just a part of getting better to realize "oh, I don't need to answer that move anymore, I can save that point", or "nah, if I play there, my opponent may not even answer it anymore, I can save that point".

My experience is, that the place where the undecided territory is gone is very easily recognizable after playing just a few games. And it will definitely change as players progress. The greater uncertainty for beginners is to agree on which groups are alive and dead. Especially, when seki is involved.

I guess, the question of when to finish is much more pressing when a strong player and a newbie play together. In such a setting, the newbie will frequently play end game moves that just loose them points. Simply because the newbie still sees some territory as undecided while the stronger player already knows to whom that territory belongs.

In such games, the newbie will learn to avoid playing moves that their opponent ignores, and thereby which territory is indeed still undecided, and which is not. In any case, it's not a big problem when players disagree about when to pass. It'll just turn into a learning experience for either player when they do.

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