Korean Games: How to Play Baduk

Written by on February 19, 2013 in Lifestyle

So far this month, Steve Miller has introduced a pair of traditional Korean games suitable for all ages. This week he continues his gaming series by introducing the most popular game in Korea. No, it’s not StartCraft or AniPang (while both are incredibly popular). This week’s game even made it into PSY’s Gangnam Style video.

That’s right, this week The Korea Blog introducing probably the most popular game in Korea of all time: Baduk (바둑). The game is so popular that many daily newspapers have Baduk challenges in them and networks devote time on air for competitions. In fact, as depicted in the image above, many older men (아저씨/ajeosshi) gather in parks to play this game for hours. Just how is Baduk played? Well, despite what many will say, the rules are quite simple, but more on that later.


The Game

Baduk is a two-player board game originating in China some 2500 years ago. Today, while the Korean name for it is Baduk, it is more commonly called Go around the world. It is noted for being rich in strategy, despite its relatively simple rules. Emanuel Lasker said, “The rules of Go [Baduk] are so elegant, organic, and rigorously logical that if intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, they almost certainly play [it].”

A regulation board consists of a grid measuring 19×19. This creates 361 intersections or “liberties.” Two players then take turns placing white or black stones on vacant points. Once placed on the board, stones are not moved. The object of Baduk is to gain territory by sectioning off areas of the board and surrounding one’s opponent’s stones. When doing so, the stones are removed from the board as prisoners. The game concludes when all territories have been claimed (or a player resigns). The winning player is the one with the most liberties within their territory.

Baduk originated in ancient China and archaeological evidence shows it was played on a 17×17 grid, but by the time the game had spread to Korea and Japan, the larger boards we see today were standard. It should be noted that beginning players usually play on a 9×9 or 13×13 board while becoming accustom to the strategy and rules. The smaller playing area makes the game easier to manage.

As of mid-2008 there were well over 40 million players worldwide, the overwhelming majority living in East Asia. As of May 2012, the International Go Federation has a total of 74 member countries and four Association Members covering multiple countries.[Wikipedia]


The earliest written account of the game dates back to China during the 4th Century BCE in the Zuo Zhuan. The game was also mentioned in Book XVII of the Analects of Confucius. In these texts, the game is referred to as yì (弈). In China today, Baduk is known as Weiqi (圍棋), literally the “encirclement board game”. [Wikipedia]

Legends trace the origin of the game to Chinese Emperor Yao (2337–2258 BCE). Rumors say the Emperor had his counselor design Weiqi for his unruly son, while other theories suggest that the game was derived from Chinese warlords who used stones to plan battles. As time passed Weiqi became one of the four cultivated arts of Chinese scholars.

Weiqi was introduced to Korea sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries. Given the close historical relations with China, it should pose surprise the game became popular with members of high society. In Korea, the name changed to Baduk with an off-shoot version called Sunjang Baduk appearing around the 16th century (rules of play were mainly the same, but scoring was different). This version of the game was popular until Korea’s annexation by Japan.

As with many other traditional games around the world, Baduk enjoys a certain status in Korea. Many begin learning the game in their youth, attending academies to learn strategies. Many who play their entire lives feel the lessons learned from the game have direct implications on how to address life: when to be aggressive, when to wait, and when to retreat.

Basic Game Play

Two players place stones of their respective color on a vacant point on the board. These intersections on the Baduk board are called liberties. Black moves first. If there is a large difference in skill between the players, Black is typically allowed to place two or more stones on the board to compensate for the difference (aka handycapping). Once placed, a stone may not be moved to a different point. As with traditional Chess, once a player removes their hand from the stone, it is set. Until that time, the stone isn’t in play.

Vertically and horizontally adjacent stones of the same color form a chain that cannot subsequently be broken. This allows smaller stones to act like a larger entity. In Baduk, direct points connect stones. Diagonal lines cannot be played. Chains increase in size by adding stones along adjacent liberties. It is also possible to connect two smaller stone chains into a larger block.

Image by Steve R Tingo, used with permission.


A chain of stones must have at least one liberty to remain on the board. When no liberties are present, the opposing stones capture the chain and the defeated stones are removed from the board.

This comprises the first rule of Baduk. The Rule of Liberty states that every stone remaining on the board must have at least one open “point” (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. Stones or groups of stones losing their last liberty are removed from the board.

The second rule of Baduk is The Ko Rule. It states that stones on the board must never repeat a previous position. Moves doing so are forbidden, and thus that move must be placed elsewhere on the board. This prevents an endless cycle of turns being played and the game ceasing. [Wikipedia]

Believe it or not, that’s it. Baduk only has these two rules. The rest is strategy. Games between new players seldom last more than 90 minutes (in reality only a matter of minutes, although novice players can have a single game of more than an hour); however, during tournaments, experts can play in excess of six hours per match.

Baduk is incredibly easy to learn, but takes many hours to master. Have you played this classic game? What’s your favorite game of strategy?

Next week, Steve concludes his series by introducing Korea’s other game of strategy. Be sure to return to learn more.

About the Author

Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.