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    A Go board

    How to play Go online in 2021? [best Go mobile apps, Go websites & tips]
    Last updated: October 1, 2021

    The Go game is 25 centuries old, hard to master, and quite mysterious. Millions of people all over the world play Go every month regardless of their skill level. Check out the best Mahjong apps 2021 if you wish to try another legendary board game that originates in the far East. Now, strategy games like Go and chess are quite addictive but which online platforms are the best? How to play Go online and which are the best Go mobile apps in 2021? Today, we’ll find out.

    We here at TechACake.com decided to ask Go players how and why they play Go online and we combined the best answers we received with our personal experience and some in-depth research. The Go board game is awesome but we live in an age of mobile technologies so why not try playing the Go game online? Make sure to check out our Mobile category on your way out and discover the best mobile games of any category. Maybe you’ll discover your next favorite mobile game today!

    Go game overview

    The Go game is associated with Japan in our times. However, the game originates from 4th century BC China which makes it 2,500 years old today. A professional Go game can last for hours when a casual game can take around 20 minutes. Go is played with the so-called “stones” - not unlike chess they come in white and black. Each location on the Go board can be defined as white, black or empty. The classic Go board measures 19x19 grids and the stones are placed on the intersections instead of in the squares themselves. 

    Ancient picture of Japanese women playing Go The game is known as “Go” in the Western hemisphere. However, did you know that Go has different names in different countries? The game is called “baduk” in Korean (meaning literally “flat and wide board”), and “weiqi” in Chinese (“the surrounding game”). In the old days, Go was recognised as one of the four cultivated arts of Chinese scholars - calligraphy, music, painting, and weiqi. 

    Go is actually considered to be the oldest board game in the world with its two and a half millennia behind its back. In comparison, the other ancient strategy game we know and love today, chess, is around 1,500 years old. We’ve added a short comparison of the world’s greatest strategy games later in the article - Go vs chess is quite an interesting topic to discuss.

    Go is considered to be the most complex game humans have ever played. There are several theories on how the game came into existence. The board was presumably used by a Chinese general who wished to map the position of his enemies. Another theory suggests that the Chinese emperor Yao (2337–2258 BCE) wanted to teach his son patience and diligence by playing an easy game that’s hard to master. Regardless of its origin, Go became a phenomenon in China and thousands of years later, people all over the world still play the game.

    What makes Go so difficult to master? It is said that the number of possible board configurations in a game of Go is larger than the number of atoms in the universe. Not unlike chess, throughout the years, Go players have come up with labels for the different strategies and situations in the game. In order to become a professional Go player, one has to be aware of each and every possible Go strategy and to be able to predict the outcome of it. 

    Since when can we play Go online?

    In 1996, a Deep Blue computer beat the chess world champion Garry Kasparov. Other less complicated games had already been defeated and mastered by artificial intelligence but the ancient game of Go remained a challenge for some time. Let’s take a short detour and see what made the Go game so difficult to master by an AI?

    One of the fundamental problems of the game is whether a position is “legal” or not. Compared to chess, Go offers 10 times more choices of moves and the fact that technically the stones can be placed anywhere on the board makes the game extremely unpredictable. Deciding who wins the game poses another challenge, since it’s a matter of who has occupied the most territory.

    Artificial intelligence made a significant breakthrough, when in 2016, the Google AI DeepMind beat the professional Korean Go master Lee Se-dol. They played on a physical 19x19 Go board when the person standing opposite Lee Se-dol played the moves of the AI which he saw on a screen beside him. And they made history. 

    Go is a deeply philosophical game which has inspired people and businesses all over the world. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the one of AI, people can finally play Go against a computer and consequently, they are able to play Go on their mobile and desktop devices. 

    One of the most surprising things about the match was that the AI actually chose creative moves which left the opponent, the public, and the commentators of the game very confused. The reasoning behind those decisions was mathematical - the chance that someone would make a move like that would be 1:10,000. Google’s DeepMind had played the game with itself millions of times, learning from its mistakes and improving its game every time…  

    … so this is how the era of playing Go online began. Not that people have stopped playing the game on a physical Go board, of course. 

    Go players on a physical Go board

    Image © SFCCA

    How to play Go online?

    “It's truly a mind-bending sport that puts together mathematical probability and genuine creativity,” says Alexander Reeves, DnD player from DiceCove.com. “Playing the online version is a fun way to pass the time especially when it’s against bots. You don’t feel the pressure of someone waiting for you to make a move. “

    “You are free to think for yourself and just have fun with the game,” continues Reeves. “While some would argue that Go is a social game that requires you to understand the opponent, there is something relaxing about just putting stones on a board without having to give it your all!”

    What are the best websites to play Go online? 

    Here we Go (pun intended):

    Online-go.com screenshot

    Online-go.com

    “One of the best places to play Go online is called Online-go.com, a.k.a. OGS,” says Conner Arvidson from Online-go. “It's one of the largest Go servers out there and you can play with people all over the world - very similar to chess.com for chess enthusiasts.”  

    Playing Go online has its huge advantages. You don’t have to be careful how you put your stone on the Go board, you don’t have to clean up the stones you collect away from your opponent, and when the game ends - you don’t have to separate the stones into their respective bags. There’s also a convenient dot which appears on top of the last stone which was put on the board - you can look for it on each and every screenshot we added to the article. Today, everyone can play Go on their mobile or desktop devices.

    KGS Go Server screenshot

    KGS Go Server

    Another way to play Go online is the KGS Go Server. Users need to sign up first. “This will allow them to access a server of people who want to play, '' says Katherine Brown, founder and marketing director of Spyic.com. “You can register an account with your email and set your level of playing experience from beginner to professional.”

    “When registered on one of these servers, you can open your game and right-click on the board to set up your preferences. You will be able to see other players join or create games.

    On the right side of your game window, you will see the player list to choose other players to start a game,” continues Brown.

    19x19.com screenshot

    19x19.com

    “Overall, there are three ways to play Go online in China,” says Ciki Liu, marketing specialist at iBoysoft.com. “There are Go websites, mini programs on WeChat, and Go mobile applications. There are plenty of options for each choice. Among the three platforms, playing Go on desktop is my favourite.” One of the best things about this platform is that it can be used by both Chinese- and English-speaking users.  

    “The best website for me is 19x19.com. It offers an intricate yet comprehensive layout, three playing modes so that users can decide which level they would like to play, analysis of your rounds, and even basic Go exercise to get new users started. It’s a go-to website that comes with excellent game experience. Gamers of every Go skill level will find what they are looking for on 19x19.com,” continues Liu.

    Best Go game mobile apps 2021

    “Though the number of young people playing Go has decreased because of the influence of mobile games, there are still gamers who are fascinated with this elegant sport, and I'm one of them,” says Ciki. “The reason I come back to Go time and time again is quite interesting - one TV show about Go named Qi Hun (a.k.a. Hikaru no Go) went viral in China. The exploration of the spirit of Go and the portrait of the character struggling to learn the game deeply touched me, inspiring me to learn more about this ancient game.”

    When it comes to discovering the best mobile apps in any category, the matter at hand can take quite a long time. Our team of gaming enthusiasts went through every Go mobile app on Google Play and the App Store. We compared them in terms of quality, how fast-paced they were, levels of difficulty, and design of course. Here’s our list of the best Go mobile apps 2021. 

    BadukPop Go screenshot

    Image © Google Play

    BadukPop Go

    This is one of the most popular Go game mobile apps in the world. And there’s a good reason for that. The Go game is both simple and incredibly complex so this mobile app will help beginner players get the initial techniques relatively fast - it includes a ton of interactive tutorials and explanations. And if you’re an advanced Go player - the app won’t hold you back. The more you win - the faster you’ll level up. 

    More than 100,000 people have installed BadukPop Go on smart Android devices alone but the app is also available for iOS gamers. The app is curated by professional Go players and includes over 4,000 Go problems. There’s a Go online leaderboard so you can play with Go players from all over the world. Unlike other Go mobile apps, BadukPop Go players can also personalize their Go boards with a new background theme.

    Go Game - 2 Players screenshot

    Image © Google Play

    Go Game - 2 Players

    If you wish to play with a friend or a family member, this Go app is for you. It allows users to select between single player, multiplayer, or even watching other players play. The interface of this Go game mobile app is quite simple but somewhat sophisticated. Users of all ages can play Go on this app. 

    Players should be aware that this is not a teaching app like BadukPop Go -  there are no tutorials and explanations on different Go strategies and situations. However, the app is perfect if you already know how to play Go. Users can choose between different board sizes (9x9, 13x13, 19x19) but they can’t personalize their boards in any way other than that.

    SmartGo Kifu screenshot

    SmartGo Kifu

    This is a paid Go mobile app but it’s worth every penny. “My favourite Go app is SmartGo Kifu. It's the perfect bridge between the online and offline world,” said Rob Palmer from TheGameChair. “One of my favourite features about this app is that you can take a photo of your real life board and convert it into an app on the board - which you can play over and over, perfecting your strategy!”

    “It's great for learners and experts alike,” continues Palmer. “There are thousands of challenges and problems to solve to help learn the game, or famous game situations you can recreate to take on the Go Masters! The only downside is it's Apple only and works best on iPad. For me that's a plus, as the larger screen helps me visualise the board but it's not for everyone.”

    WeChat mini-games Go screenshots

    Images © Ciki Liu

    WeChat Go mini-games

    The third most popular messaging app in the world, WeChat, offers Chinese-speaking smartphone users the opportunity to play live Go mini-games with real players. WeChat mini-games are a cultural phenomenon which changed the way people play games in China. Over 1 billion people use WeChat and many of them use the platform to play video games. 

    Casual gaming on WeChat is widespread in China and Go is no exception. The popularity of the game has increased in its mother country since the introduction of Go mobile apps and people use the social platform to play with their friends and family members. 

    Why did we add this platform to the list? If you’re neither a Chinese-speaker or a WeChat user, you should know that the platform includes a vast library of articles and materials you can learn from. For example, you can go to Search and type “weiqi” (the name of the game in Chinese) - so many search results will appear for you. If you’re looking for more information on the game - install WeChat. The platform is free-to-use and has much to offer.

    Go vs chess

    Images © YouTube/Dragon’s Temple

    Go vs chess

    We compared the two games on several occasions earlier in the article, so here comes the time to have a closer look at them. They are so similar and so different, like Yin and Yang. Go is played mostly in China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Chinese Taipei. In recent years, it gained some popularity in the western world as well. However, chess is definitely more popular in Europe and the US. The game became trendy once more after the release of the Netflix adaptation of The Queen’s Gambit, of course.  

    Now, let’s see what are the differences and similarities between the two games. Go vs chess, here we go:

    Go vs chess similarities:

    • Both are ancient strategic board games.
    • Both games feature black and white pieces.
    • Both games feature an elimination of the opponent’s pieces.
    • Both games have a deeply philosophical aspect.
    • Both games are a part of the World Mind Sports Games.

    Go vs chess differences:

    • Chess is more popular in the West, Go - in the East.
    • Each chess piece abides by strict rules of movement. Go pieces are static.
    • Chess starts with all the pieces on the board. Go starts with an empty board.
    • Chess features a variety of 6 types of pieces. Go features one simple piece.
    • Go pieces do not move on the board unless they are captured by the opponent.
    • The target in chess is to seek the King. The target in Go is to conquer more territory.
    • A game of chess ends with a checkmate. A game of Go ends when the players decide.
    • Chess is easier to pick up while Go seems unintelligible for the beginner.

    BONUS: how to play Go?

    Mastering Go is like mastering chess - it takes a lot of time and effort. People who have played both games say that chess is more like a battle while Go resembles a war. Now, our team loves a challenge - that’s why we wrote a special article about the best 2048 mobile apps 2021. If you’ve never played 2048 and you like games like Go, chances are that you’ll love 2048 as well.

    Not every Go player needs to pursue a career as a professional in order to be able to appreciate Go. People can enjoy the game without being advanced players for sure. If you need some free coaching, check out the Sunday Go Lessons YouTube channel - it’s informative and extremely helpful.

    The rules of Go are simple at first glance and the more you play - the more and more difficult they get. Basically, the difficulty derives from the combinations of tiles. Not unlike chess, the Go combinations have names and professional players know all of them by heart. They know how to block them and come up with the next combination along the way. Here are several Go rules and strategies to help you start playing the game if you’ve never tried Go before:

    Start your first Go matches on smaller boards (e.g. 9x9) - you’ll finish the game sooner and you’ll start feeling the game as you keep playing. The person who has chosen the black stones plays first. One of the Go rules to be aware of from the beginning is that you can’t replicate the moves of other players immediately. Meaning, you players can’t mirror the other player’s movements right after they have made their move. Conquer more territory but play by the rules!

    It’s a good practice to familiarize yourself with some of the Go combinations and situations before you start playing the game. Use a Go mobile app like BadukPop Go for some free tutorials and/or go on YouTube and watch some Go matches (you can also do that on one of the online platforms we recommended but you’ll need someone to explain the moves in the beginning. 

    Wrap up

    Go has survived the test of time and people still love and play the game after 2.5 millennia. The strategy game is popular all over the world but mostly in the far East. Professional and amateur players compare Go vs chess - both are deeply philosophical and extremely difficult to master. 

    Today we recommended the best Go online platforms and Go mobile apps 2021 for users of all levels of skill to enjoy. You already know how to play Go online so check out our recommendations and start exploring the most challenging board game in the world.  

    Visit TechACake.com for more mobile games every week!