2017 Australian Go Survey results

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2017  Australian Go Census Report

Report written by Allan Hunt

Special thanks go out to David Mitchell, Horatio Davis, Cary Jin and many others who helped construct and spread this survey and analyse the resultant data.

Several weeks ago, we conducted an informal survey of as many go players who currently reside in Australia as we could. We specifically attempted to get those who did belong to a club, as well as those who do not, primarily by reaching out through online go servers like KGS and OGS. While links to the full (anonymous) data survey can be found at the end of this report, this report is going to go through some of the findings of that survey.

First, we will examine who, exactly, answered our survey, and how we handled some of the data. As with any dataset, some data ends up excluded (the datasets linked below contain the full set, with only potentially identifying information such as IP address removed). While we believe that the choices made here are justified and do not significantly affect the degree to which this survey represents the people who answered it, ultimately there is a degree of subjectivity and judgement at play. All tables have their relevant number of responses noted for ease of interpretation.

Demographic information

The gender distribution can be seen in Table 1. The participant pool is fairly male-dominated. While of course speculating as to causes for this discrepancy in these numbers goes well outside the purview of this survey, if we assume that the data is representative in this area, this does potentially indicate that trying to recruit more women could be an effective strategy for those trying to spread their love of Go.

Table 1 Gender identity (N=81)

Gender Absolute number %
Male 75 92.6
Female 5 6.2
Other 1 1.2


While the ages ranged widely, it would appear to be somewhat concentrated around the 20s to late 30s. There were also an unusually high number of 27 year olds, making up 9% of the sample for this question, the single most common choice. For reference, the next most common ages were 20, 25, 28 and 48, all making up 5.1% of the sample. Given the findings that long time playing of go can reduce incidence of Alzheimer’s, this is obviously heartening to see. How long participants had been playing go (Table 3) varied similarly widely. Interestingly, there was a very strong correlation between age and how long they had been playing (r = .65, p < .000), potentially reflecting a lifelong tendency to playing Go, or a low rate of recruitment as age increased. Either explanation has implications for potential growth for go clubs and organisations. This also ties into the uneven skill distribution among players reported in Table 4.

Table 2 Age (N=78)

Mean Median Minimum Maximum Standard deviation
38.7 32.5 17 78 15.8

Table 3 How long have you been playing go?

               Mean                           Median                       Minimum Maximum Standard deviation
               13.41                              10.00                                0.1 60.00 13.48


As can be seen below, the ranks seem to cluster around 5 to 9 kyu. Only slightly more than 10% of participants admitted to being 15 kyu or weaker. While it is obviously heartening to see that people are strong, this could actually pose a slight concern: if a new person discovers go, they will rapidly become aware that they are much weaker than the average, to the point where comprehending why they lost is very difficult; a problem exacerbated by the lack of players of comparable skill. We all know how discouraging it can be at the start of learning any new skill, and how much difference a kind word or a bit of help can make.

What is particularly interesting is the 5.3% of participants who indicated their rank as the sometimes-controversial zeroth kyu.

Table 4 Rank? (N=75)

Rank Absolute number %
21-30k 1 1.3
15-20k 7 9.3
               10-14k          10 13.3
5-9k 19 25.3
1-4k 10 13.3
0k/0d 4 5.3
1d 6 8.0
Rank Absolute number %
2d 4 5.3
3d 4 5.3
4d 6 8.0
5d+ 4 5.3


While the majority of participants (60.5%) indicated that they had been born in Australia, there was a range of other birth countries, with the most common being China (11.1%), the UK (7.4%), Hong Kong and South Korea (3.7% each). Within Australia, the geographic distribution of participants broadly followed Australian population distribution more generally, although NSW was slightly under-represented and Victoria slightly over-represented (Table 5). Table 5 Which state do you currently live in? (N=82)

State Absolute number %
NSW 21 25.6
QLD 17 20.7
ACT 2 2.4
Vic 27 32.9
WA 7 8.5
SA 7 8.5
Other/NFA 1 1.2


Playing Go in Australia

One of the major areas of interest with this survey was trying to find out how people play go. We know there is a strong online presence of go globally, but does this generalise to Australia? How does it compare to those who play go through local clubs?

While there was a strong attempt to recruit from outside the normal formal club system, it seems plausible that those groups would propagate the survey to their members more readily than could be done through anonymous, online servers. So caution must be exercised in interpreting these figures with regard to representativeness.


Table 6 Where do you play go? (N=114)
                            Venue                                        Absolute number Percentage of respondents
               Local club                                                              55 48.2
               Local tournaments                                            28 24.6
               Online                                                                    97 85.1
               Non-local clubs                                                    8 7
               Non-local tournaments                                   12 10.5


Table 6 shows that online servers such as OGS, KGS and Pandanet are easily the most popular venue to play go. As can be seen in Table 7, the main reasons are convenience and availability of players. This is particularly telling in comparison to the responses to the question “Why do you not play at a local club?” (Table 9) in which participants noted not only was there either no club in their area or it was inconveniently located or scheduled, but 22% indicated that they did not know if there was a club in their area. This would seem to indicate that a major, though not definitive, limitation to clubs expanding their membership is simple obscurity. Creation and maintaining of pages on social media can be a very effective way to reduce this, among many others.

The major draw of club play was the most obvious: club go gives the opportunity for pleasant social interaction (Table 8). One participant noted that it was “better than online. Playing with people is way more fun in person”, and another said that “it’s nice to be in a room with players. Online communities can be quite toxic. There’s always a really interesting mix of people at clubs.”

What was interesting was the low rate of participants who indicated that they participated in tournaments: only 27.2% of respondents indicated that they played in tournaments at all, either in their area or not. This may indicate that respondents, generally speaking, do not play go strictly competitively, with tournament players and other players representing distinct approaches. However, this dataset obviously cannot answer such questions by itself.


Table 7 Why do you play online? (N=93)
Reason Absolute number %
Convenience 85 91.4
Player availability 67 72.0
Prefer correspondence 15 16.1
Easy ranking system 29 31.2
Other 7 7.5

Table 8 Why do you play at a club (N=58)

Reason Absolute number %
Convenient location/schedule 21 36.2
Player availability 35 60.3
Social element 45 77.6
Equipment 13 22.4
Other 9 15.5

Table 9 Why do you not play at a local club? (N=54)

Reason Absolute number %
No local club 11 20.4
Local club inconvenient 22 40.7
Interpersonal 5 9.3
Don’t know if local club 12 22.2
Other 4 7.4


Participants were also asked what they saw as the most promising and concerning aspects to Go in Australia: those things that were most likely to help get more people interested in Go, and things that were most likely to reduce the interest in Go in Australia, as well as the things most likely to affect their playing in the future personally.

Four main areas of concern arose from the responses: lack of general awareness of go in the public consciousness, the difficulty in learning and improving, lack of available players, and lack of time generally.

Table 10 Possible blocks to personal playing (N = 76)

Concern Absolute number %
Learning 17 22.4
Not enough players 19 25.0
Nothing 3 4.0
Places to play 4 11.8
Time 24 31.6
Other 9 11.8


Table 11 Possible blocks to playing generally (N = 66)

Concern Absolute number %
Awareness of go 19 28.8
Lack of functioning clubs 9 13.6
Distance 3 4.6
Enough players 16 24.2
Equipment 2 3.0
Learning difficulties 7 10.6
Other 7 10.6
Schools 1 1.5
Time 2 3.0


In terms of promising elements, however, was recognition that awareness of go was increasing from a combination of immigration and publicity as a result of AlphaGo. Also noted was the work of clubs to introduce people to go and making learning it accessible and fun. This was noted to be leading to a “critical mass” of friendly players, which itself makes new people willing to learn the game. Other promising elements identified were educational and learning programs (such as the teaching done by Younggil An at the Sydney Go Club), engaged organisers and public events.

 Table 12 Promising elements of play generally (N = 71)
Concern Absolute number %
Publicity/increasing awareness 29 40.8
Enough players/friendly players 15 21.1
Clubs/schools 9 12.7
Other 18 25.3



As seen in Table 13, 72% of participants indicated that they knew what the Australian Go Association is, with 8.8% being unsure. Of those who indicated they were aware of the AGA, however, less than half indicated that they knew what it did, with a quarter being unsure.

This would seem to indicate that the role of the AGA is very unclear in the mind of the average go player, even if they are aware of its existence (remember, while efforts were made to recruit from non-club sources, it is plausible that those spheres are over-represented in the data relative to the actual population). Playing at a local club was associated with being significantly more likely to be aware of the AGA to some degree (χ2(2, N = 108) = 6.21, p < .05). This would seem to indicate that outreach to online players could be a feasible way to improve the visibility of the AGA. Table 13 Do you know what the AGA is? (N=108)

Answer Number %
Yes 78 72.2
No 20 18.5
Unsure 10 8.8

Table 14 Do you know what the AGA does?

 (N = 84)
Answer Number %
Yes 39 46.4
No 24 28.6
Unsure 21 25.0


Club Status & Needs

Participants were asked whether they were a club convenor/president/runner, a tournament director, both or neither. In the event that they acted in at least one of these roles, they were asked a series of questions regarding the attendance and growth of their club over the last 12 months.

Table 15 Most common attendees at club meetings (N = 11)

Mean Median Minimum Maximum Standard deviation
9.36 8.0 3 23 5.46

Table 16 Number of regular attendees ch

anged? (N = 11)
Answer Number %
Increased 6 54.5
Remained steady 3 27.3
Decreased 2 18.2


While over half noted that the number of regular attendees at their meetings had increased over the previous 12 months, this rate of increased seemed quite low: 72.4% of club runners estimated that the number of unique new attendees was less than one new attendee per meeting. In addition, in response to questions about the largest concern to the ongoing operations for their club, 62% of club runners highlighted lack of engaged membership; either recruitment, volunteers to help manage operations or simple attendance.

Related to this were questions of equipment (boards, stones, containers etc.) and how well the clubs needs were currently met. Respondents indicated that their needs were generally currently met, with 54% indicating that they never ran out during regular meetings, and the remainder noting that they “sometimes” have concerns about lack of equipment. Table 17 summarises how affordable and convenient sourcing new equipment, which highlights a possible concern for building and maintaining clubs in the long term. Interestingly, although quantitatively convenience was described as a larger consideration than affordability, when asked what the largest barriers to sourcing new equipment were, 50% of responses highlighted affordability concerns (mostly shipping costs). Assistance in sourcing equipment was credited largely to either online sources (50%) or other overseas sources such as family or travelling members (38%).


Table 17 Convenience/affordability of new equipment (variable N)

Item Number convenient (% responses) Number affordable (% responses)
Board 2 (17) 6 (46)
Stones 9 (29) 12 (40)
Stone containers 7 (58) 4 (33)


Club runners and tournament directors were then asked, disregarding affordability and convenience, how many of various pieces of equipment they would need to source cover their needs for 12 months, taking into account growth and damage to existing equipment. Consistent with the low degree of growth indicated, listed needs were low. Interestingly, a higher degree of need was indicated for glass stones rather than plastic (average of 3.35 and 1.80 respectively), possibly indicating a preference for that material. This interpretation is supported by 44% of respondents indicating that they do not use plastic stones in their club, in comparison to 18% for glass stones. Table 18 Needs for new equipment (N = 13)

Item Mean Median Mode Minimum Maximum Standard deviation
Boards 3.08 1.0 1 0 10 3.32
Stones 2.41 1.0 1 0 10 2.69
Containers 3.42 2.0 1 0 10 3.32



Overall, it is uncertain what insights can be derived from this data; likely its real value comes from the ability to compare it to future datasets and track how the go-playing population in Australia grows and changes. It would appear that go in Australia is heavily concentrated online, with a lesser presence at local clubs, with only a small number playing at tournaments to any degree. It would further appear that while go appeals to a wide range of ages and geographic regions, women tend to be under-represented relative to the general population. Skill is distributed unevenly, with clusters around 5 to 9 kyu, possibly as a result of most players having been playing go for at least 10 years. The AGA enjoys poor recognition of both existence and role, with this lack of awareness particularly present among players who play primarily or solely online.

Clubs report a low but steady rate of increase in attendance, with comparable levels of new equipment to meet their needs. Barriers to sourcing this new equipment seem to be primarily viewed as matters of convenience rather than affordability, although this finding is mixed, possibly as a result of the preference for the more expensive glass stones over the generally more affordable plastic stones.

In conclusion, while go in Australia certainly has areas it could capitalise on in order to improve the number and diversity of people who play, there are also good reasons to be optimistic. Awareness is generally spreading, attendance at clubs is increasing, and there is a healthy online presence for those who may not live in an area with a local club, or who cannot attend meetings for one reason or another. These online platforms also offer a way for people new to the hobby to learn in a low-embarrassment environment without investing a large amount of money, increasing their confidence and enjoyment of the game. Since they serve fundamentally distinct needs, online and club play should be viewed as playing complementary roles rather than competitive.


Links to full data:

CSV format: http://tinyurl.com/ydbcujsu

TSV format: http://tinyurl.com/y845ca44

SAV format: http://tinyurl.com/ydgccogz