Is Go difficult to learn?

(Note:  We may earn commissions from products/services you click on.  This is at no extra cost to you.)

Table of Contents

Go has a small syntax compared to most other high-level languages, which makes it easy to learn. Ideally, the syntax’s smallness means you put most of the things in your head; thus, you only spend a little time pointing out things. Beyond that, Go is very easy to read – anyone who has some programming knowledge, especially in C-languages can understand it.
While Go is generally easy to learn, it is not an ideal language first programming language. If you are learning programming, beginning with Go can make things a little weird when you switch to other programs. The primary reason is that other languages do many other things that may not be in Go.

Right from the interface to the handling of issues, Go is somewhat different from other languages. But if you’ve dealt with C languages before, then dealing with Golang might be a little easy because Go has a C-style syntax.
Like any other programming language, learning Go takes time and effort. And, if you want to be effective, it will take much practice. Go offers a manual to guide programmers on how to use it. What’s more, Go Tour is an excellent tool to help master the details of Golang. The entire Go specs are only about 55 pages, which is much less than that of Java but still can be difficult.
The good thing with Go is that it has lots of specific How-to resources. That means that learning to deal with the specific thing rather than the rules of the entire language makes it grasp Go’s fundamentals. Besides, there is an array of empowering resources that coders can access via forums and blogs.
If you want to learn faster, learn by building instead of concentrating on the rules. Go’s a playground is excellent – no debate about it. However, learning the syntaxes one after the other might get boring quickly. But seeing something you’ve created gives you the much-needed motivation.

Is Go difficult to learn
Is Go difficult to learn

Is Go programming hard to learn?

The ease of learning Go depends on how much you know about programming and the types of programs you’ll be developing using Go. Typically, Go is somewhat straightforward as it lets you work close to the skeleton. Additionally, it lets you implement abstract concepts quickly. 

The primary issue is that you need to have prior knowledge and understanding of the concepts you need to implement. For instance, if you want to use the interface to implement dependency injection, you must understand the dependency injection principles. Otherwise, nothing within the code can teach about it. 

While Go is easy, it is somewhat obscure. But after seeing the same pattern repeatedly, you may get a clear picture of what it is. However, if you have excellent knowledge of other languages, Go might be very easy to learn because implementing whatever you need becomes much easier. 

If you have some knowledge about C, C++, or Java, learning Golang is much easier. Programmers with Python or JavaScript backgrounds will find things a bit weird in Go. Such backgrounds make Go less evident and difficult, more so when adapting to the Communicating Sequential Processes (CSP) programming model. Python is more compatible with Julia.

Consider what you are implementing—for instance, writing a simple Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) scripting is similar to many other programming languages. However, getting into the depth of the languages reveals apparent differences. 

Where does the real power Go lie? Go’s trickiest part is the CSP, i.e., Multiple Distinct Threads (MIMD) way of accomplishing tasks – working on multiple data and communicating via Go primitives. If you don’t know this programming module, it can be tough for you. Erlang is another language supporting this model; so, if you’ve dealt with it before. 

Go rules

The rules of Go keep on evolving over time and from one region to another. However, the rules are broadly similar in certain aspects. Keep in mind that the differences between rule sets have a certain degree of consequences on occasion, but they do not alter the game character. Typically, these different sets of rules usually lead to a similar game result, provided the players make minor changes towards the end of the game. The probability that the changes will cause problems usually is one in 10,000 games. 

So, what are Go rules?

Rule 1 (players). Two players per game – Black and White.

Choosing between the two players is a matter of chance between the player of similar strength, and the method of selection is Nigiri. Player A picks a handful of white stones while player B places 1 or 2 black stones on the board to indicate odd or even. Then player A counts the number of stones he/she has to determine if they are even or odd. B plays black stones if they match other player selection; if not, B takes white stones. 

In the case of different strengths, the weaker player takes black stones. 

Rule 2(board). Go is played on a board with 19 horizontal and 19 vertical lines. But the player can also use a nine × 9 or 13 × 13 board. 

Rule 3 (Stones). The playing tokens on Go are called stone. Black has 181 stones, while white has 180 stones. If the stones are inadequate, additional stones are provided. 

Rule 4 (Positions). An intersection is either occupied (with white or black stone) or empty – that is the position. 

Rule 5 (Initial position). The board is empty at the beginning. 

Rule 6 (Alternation of turns). The black is the first to move; after that, players alternate.

Rule 7 (Moving). A player may pass (announce it) or play. Playing involves playing a stone on an intersection, removing an opponent’s stone that lacks liberties or removing owns stones with no liberties. 

Rule 8(Ko and Superko). A play becomes illegal if it creates a position that previously occurred in the game. Pass is a move but not play; thus, this rule doesn’t prevent passing. 

Is Go game hard to learn?

Go rules are pretty easy to follow, but the Go game depicts beautiful complexity because its simple rules generate extraordinary depth. While learning Go rules is trivial, understanding these rules and their implications of the game might take a lifetime. 

So, that means learning Go can be a little hard for an average player. Placing a single stone at an intersection of the vertical and horizontal line on a 19 X 19 board may seem easy. But the accompanying movements come with massive implications – that stone can move in a completely different area on that board.  

Anyone intending to play the Go game effectively will need to understand the rules and the games’ goal. Besides, having a deeper understanding of how to play with the general direction towards a goal. 

It’s true; rules in Go are fewer than in Chess. In tournaments, the rules can be as few are 15 points, but they aren’t clear. That makes the game a little obscure. For the beginner to truly understand the rules, they need lengthy explanations. That’s why people who play Go for a long time say it is easy, but not beginners. 

Additionally, GO has special cases, meaning special rules apply – Ko, Seki, super Ko, and Eternal life. Simply put, Go rules aren’t self-encompassing, natural, and easy to understand.

The considerable hurdle in Go is understanding the goal of the game. It is impossible to clarify a victory set without the Go board. Here is the thing; you can use a direct statement to explain how a win is attained in Go. This is much harder than Chess. 

Explaining the nitty-gritty of Go to a beginner can be difficult because you may skip some parts, such as counting the rules you require to get a win. This explains why Go game tutorials breakdown the entire content into up to 10 different classes, and it takes days to learn. 

How to play Go

To play Go, you need a Go board, a standard board being 19 by 19 lines. However, if you need to play a quick game, a 13 by 13-line board is the right option – as it still retains the essential characters of the game. 

Most experts say that beginners should begin with a smaller table – a nine by nine board before moving up to a 13 by 13 board or a 19 by 19 board. A 19 by 19 board should be used if you are comfortable with the strategic concepts and can play the game within 15 minutes. 

Here we use the nine by nine board.

The game begins with a blank board and the two players having enough stones. One player takes white while the other player takes black. The game’s main objective is to use the stones to create territories, i.e., surrounding the empty areas of the board. 

Players take turns to play-they place a stone on the vacant intersection in turns, black playing first. Once a stone is played, it isn’t moved but can be captured. If a stone is captured, the player who captures it removes it from the board and keeps it as a prisoner. 

To get the score, players count vacant points in their territory, the stones they have captured, and award a point for each of them. The counting is done at the end of the game. The player who has a large territory and more prisoners is a winner. 

The intersections surrounding a stone, if not occupied, are called liberties. Stones on edge have fewer liberties than those at the center of the board. An opponent can capture your stones when he/she places his/her stones on all intersections around your stones. 

Stones at adjacent points make a string, which is treated as a single unit. You can only capture a string when you occupy all its liberties, just like isolated stones. 

Is Go harder than Chess?

Go is more ancient than Chess. Though it looks simple, Go is much more complex beneath it. The fantastic thing is that Go is well balanced detailed, detailed, and flexible. 

Go is a board game similar to Chess, with bot being strategy games. While Go looks simpler than Chess, it’s more complicated. Its simplicity stems from the fact that you only use two pieces – black and white stones, and these pieces do not move on the board. Its simplicity ends there.

On the other hand, Chess is a hierarchical game with the objective of capturing the king, unlike Go, which is an imperial game, i.e., each player wants to enclose a larger territory than their opponent on the board. 

The complexity of Go is because there are virtually infinite ways of using your stones to capture your enemies and enclose a large territory. And, this is what guarantees you more points. So, Go is highly flexible, has many freedom orders and many possibilities. 

So, is Go harder than Chess?

Learning Go is harder than Chess. Though Go rules are much fewer than chess rules, they are much harder to understand. To beginners, they may seem abstract. Most rules in Chess are quite logical. The rules are lengthy, covering many cases in a precise, clear way. 

The straightforward nature of Chess makes it pretty easy to learn and an exciting game to play. For instance, explaining how a win in Chess is achieved is much simpler than in Go – you win a chess game by capturing your opponent’s king by moving your piece into the king’s square. 

You can capture other pieces to support your win, as it weakens the defense of your enemy. This is easy for a beginner to accomplish. By contrast, Go allows you to capture, but the win is not determined only by how much you capture but by a combination of capturing and encircling more territory. So, balancing is essential. 

How long does it take to learn the Go game?

It takes approximately 140 hours to understand the basics of Go. When you immerse yourself into the game, you’ll realize that the game offers a lot of things. 140 hours applied efficiently can put you in between a beginner and an intermediate player. And, that means you have a lot of things to learn still. 

Though Go is a simple game, it comes with numerous hidden complexities. Most importantly, a player needs to balance between two aspects – surrounding a wider territory on the board and capturing many of his/her enemy’s stones. 

Go has a raking system, starting from beginner (30Kyu) to 1Kyu. Another one began from 1-dan (elementary level pro) to 9-dan (pro gamer – similar to a 9th-degree black belt). So if you invest 140 hours efficiently, you can achieve between 8 and 10Kyu. 

To reach 1-dan is an entirely different story. That would probably take a whole year of daily practice. But if practice Go intermittently, even if it is with hard work, it will take you close to a decade to attain 1-dan. To move to 2-dan, give it probably two years of additional daily practice and study. 

Even the strongest players make many basic mistakes, meaning they still have a lot to learn. That makes the Go game a sort of a logarithmic scale rather than a linear scale. Go is a deep game requiring tactics, strategies, and employing various philosophies. 

For some people, a better metric for hitting 1-dan is not the amount of time but rather the number of games they play. A dedicated player, i.e., a player that plays many games in a day, can hit 1-dan in a year. On average, playing about 500 to 1000 games a year can push up the ladder. Combining talent and many games, undoubtedly, can push much faster up the ranks.

Why is Go so complicated?

Though a two-player game, Go remains one of the most complicated games around that even AI machines cant beat. While playing, two things should be in mind; capturing much territory and stones. If you concentrate on one, the one might fall into the hands of your opponent. That might result in a loss. Capturing stones means you surround them. 

So what makes Go so complicated?

Capturing a stone isn’t easy – you need to apply different strategies to minimize losses and capture your opponent. The Go board has hundreds of different places where you can place the stones. Again, there hundreds of ways in which white can respond to the movement of black. Similarly, black has several hundred ways to respond to each movement that white makes. This creates a massive search tree with thousands of possibilities. 

After the first two moves, Go has approximately 130,000 moves, much higher than the 400 possible moves in Chess. Therefore, the Go search space is vast, and navigating it can be very complicated. 

You can’t play Go with calculations only. As a player, you need to understand the right moves, which are relative to an individual. Players most often choose moves that click with them or makes more sense to their brains while playing. 

Keep in mind, strategy and objectives in Go are abstracted from the rules. Compare this to a game like Chess – the rules are complicated, but you can understand how they relate to winning. Ideal, the path to capturing the king is pretty straightforward. 

By contrast, Go states that place stones at intersections, surround an opponent’s stones, remove them, and don’t repeat a position on the board. Simple! But how do they relate to winning? Quite difficult to explain because you do always want to capture but also capture territories. 

Go online

There are many types of software that allow you to play Go online. Mostly, there are two mechanisms to play Go. First, you can play by correspondence, meaning you don’t need to log on to play. In this form, players send their moves whenever they like. 

The second option is playing in real-time. Here, you and your opponent log on the server simultaneously and are mostly played under a strict time limit. Therefore, moves are made instantly. 

Real-time Go Servers

A real-time server is the best and the most enjoyable way to play Go. There are different kinds of real-time servers available in English. However, you can get servers available in Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Standard real-time servers for Go include:

  • Go Quest: it supports 9 x 9 and 13 x 13 games only, making it a suitable beginner option. The server counts for you using Chinese counting. At the end of the game, you should capture all stones. The time limit per game is 3 minutes for the 9 by 9 and 5 minutes for the 13 by 13. But you can get a handicap game by setting it as one of your options. 
  • KGS: it comes with an easy-to-use client, but it comes with the Javanet safety warning message, which can be annoying. Its advantage is the review facility allowing players to discuss the game after playing. 
  • Pandanet: it’s the oldest and most popular feature player of all levels. It transmits live moves for professional titles. 

Correspondence Go

This is a less common way of playing Go as it consumes lots of time. You can play it via Turn-Based Go Servers, a group of servers that lets you log on at will to play. 

Besides, playing Go online is possible with the online software that lets you play against a dedicated Go AI machine. 


GO is a game with a rich history dating back to 2500 years ago. The game is purely cultured, and the massive community around it proves that it’s one of the classics games to play. 

The elegance of Go is In its simple yet comprehensive set of rules. While you can explain the rules in minutes, you’ll need more than a concentration to attain wins using the same rules. Look, playing Go is as simple as placing a stone of your choice color – white or black, one at a time at intersections of lines on a board. And once you place a stone, you cant move it. 

How do you secure a win? Simple, surround your opponent’s stone, and it’s yours. But that not all; you need to partition a vast territory on that board. A payer with the biggest territory alongside many opponent’s stones is the winner. It’s not simple as it sounds, especially if you lack a balanced mind and eye. Besides, there are exceptions to the rules, which makes everything complex. So, simplicity doesn’t make it simple. 

Go game can be played on a number of boards, the common one being 19 by 19-line board. This is the largest board and is for professionals. If you are a beginner, start with a smaller board, i.e., five y 5 or 7 by 7-line board, and then proceed to the intermediate 13×13 board. Playing Go can be miserable if you don’t understand a thing. However, it’s quite fun for people to understand rules and strategies. For most people, Go sets the tone for the game. 

There is GO the game and Go, a programming language – they share the name Go. However, the programming language can also be called Golang. The similarity between these two how simple they appear, but beneath them, they pack unimaginable complexities. 

Luis Gillman
Luis Gillman

Hi, I Am Luis Gillman CA (SA), ACMA
I am a Chartered Accountant (SA) and CIMA (SA) and author of Due Diligence: A strategic and Financial Approach.

The book was published by Lexis Nexis on 2001. In 2010, I wrote the second edition. Much of this website is derived from these two books.

In addition I have published an article entitled the Link Between Due Diligence and Valautions.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information published on this website is accurate, the author and owners of this website take no responsibility  for any loss or damage suffered as a result of relience upon the information contained therein.  Furthermore the bulk of the information is derived from information in 2018 and use therefore is at your on risk. In addition you should consult professional advice if required.