Ask the Stronger Player for a Game


If a weaker player wants to play a game against a stronger one, he should simply ask for one and not wait until the stronger one makes the first step.

Any opinions ? -- Dieter Verhofstadt

My opinion is, that this holds in general, not just for weaker players. -- Andre Engels

Yes, I would say that it is in general a good habit to ask for games rather than to linger around - whether your opponent is stronger or weaker than you. (And sometimes you don't know in advance :-) -- Morten Pahle

I find it awkward. I'm about 15k, at least, that's what I'm entered for a tournament next week at. My club has no one around my level - I don't have a problem asking the 9k players for a game, or offering one to the beginners, but people above maybe 5k, I don't want to _bore_ them. So I'm embarrassed to ask them for a game. -- Jenny Radcliffe ;)

Charles Matthews: I think etiquette permits anyone in a club to ask anyone else for a game. I think it also says that if the disparity in level is large, the weaker player should play quite quickly - it is clear that problems may occur for Black that seem harder than usual to solve at the board, and that Black should accept this rather than take a long time. Resign when a long way behind - this applies to everyone, really. Handicap games are a form of 'sparring', and should be played in good spirit on both sides - an obligation by no means restricted to the weaker player.

Bill: The first year I played go I did not play anyone weaker than 5-kyu. (OTOH, I did not play in clubs, only with friends and acquaintances.)
If you're feeling a bit shy, why not kibitz a game between two of the best players at the club, and then, when the game is over, listen to the post-mortem, and then ask one of the players for a teaching game? For better players to play teaching games is not just a courtesy, it's a duty, IMHO. Anyway, most of them will be glad to do it.
As for being boring, play interesting moves. When I was starting out I attacked like hell. Nobody ever thought it was boring. ;-)
Good luck!

Jasonred: Well, challenging someone stronger than you is often the best way to go cause:

a) You don't always get to play people around the same strength, which is a pity, IMHO.

b) Challenging a WEAKER player sometimes makes you feel bad... like, bullying or something. What's the diplomatic way of offering a handicap anyhow? Since I'm a MUCH lower (higher?) kyu, you should take 5 stones? SHOULD you, in fact, be playing with someone who has that large a strength gap? Worse, won't you find it boring? Cause, since YOU made the challenge, you can't really ask your opponent to play quicker, don't think so long, etc etc, right? And don't you feel bad if you challenge someone, KNOWING he's weaker than you, and then forcing him to resign after 20 stones?

As for the whole wasting a stronger players time, or boring him, yeah, I gotta go with the 'play quickly' idea. If the disparity is too large, play 10 second go, at least it'll be painless (for your opponent!)

Bignose: If you feel that giving 5 stones to another player would bore you, or bully them, then give them more. The whole point of the handicap system is that it levels the strength difference so that the game is interesting for both players. If they're feeling crushed, and you're feeling bored, after giving them 5 stones, then it wasn't a large enough handicap.

As for "should you be playing someone 5 stones weaker"; the fact that the handicap system is standardised (stone-placement differences aside) and universally accepted, shows that it's certainly a normal way to play. The beauty of the handicap system is that it *does* allow players at different levels to get a challenging game without greatly distorting their play; you just need to find the right handicap level for the two of you.

The common limit of 9 handicap stones is about the point where you should stop considering the game a challenge for both; beyond that, *still* play the game, but acknowledge that it's a teaching game for the weaker player.

In short, play everyone in your club, as often as you can stand it. That's the only way the rankings can mean anything at all, is if the players are regularly testing each other's relative strength. Otherwise the club separates out into different strata of players, separate groups who never play one another.

I'm always at a loss on how fast to play a teaching game. If I'm the stronger player, I don't want to rush the beginner into making mistakes. However, I don't want to play only one game (for three hours) for the entire night, countering hopeless invasions and the like.

On the other hand, I don't think I would learn from a teaching game if I didn't try to read the situations out. If I play ten-second go, I would miss some of the things I would be able to read out normally. For post-game analysis, they would end up pointing out mistakes that I might see, given enough time to think...

Does anyone have any opinion about the speed of the game? Does a guideline of one minute per move maximum sound about right? Perhaps the stronger player might ask to speed up the game or give hints, like "that invasion probably won't live," without sounding too rude.

I don't think that this should keep anyone from asking for a game, however.

--Chris Hayashida

Tamsin It seems to me that handicap stones fulfil two separate purposes: the first is to make a competitive game possible for players of disparate strengths; the second is to help the weaker player develop his skills (the hoshi points encourage him to attack, to play for influence, etc.). I don't think it matters too much who asks whom for a game, but perhaps it should be clear from the outset whether the game is intended as a contest (thereby equalised by the handicap) or as a lesson. If the game is to be a contest, then it is probably better to wait until the weaker play asks for advice before you give it, but if the game is to be a lesson, then mistakes should be pointed out straightaway to help the weaker play deal with them promptly. If the stronger player is behind in a teaching game, and feels the need to try for a "rip-off" in order to catch up, then I would argue that they should tell their pupil what they are attempting, lest the pupil come away with the damaging impression that the rip-off sequence was in fact good, honte play. In the end, it all depends on the priorities agreed upon for the type of game you are playing: are you playing to win? Or to teach? Or to learn?

Vincent: Absolutely! The reason stronger players in a teaching game become bored is because they think their goal is to win the game. But this is not what a teaching game is about. Your goal as the stronger player is to see the light of understanding dawn in your pupils eye. It is particularily rewarding to teach someone on an ongoing basis and see the steady improvement in their play. It doesn't matter who "won" the game. You both know you're the better player, that's why you're playing a teaching game in the first place.

Thinking you need to "win" a teaching game is about ego and pride. Get over yourself and focus on the needs of your student.

Jasonred- yeah , ten seconds is a little extreme. I'd guess that the bigger the strength disparity, the faster a game should go. AND, most importantly, in those cases, the weaker opponent should be given a chance to take back his moves if they're really bad. YES, I know it's a terrible habit to instil into newbies (or anyone), but really, there's no other way to avoid the weaker player scratching his head wondering how to get out of a situation. I'd say setting a quick limit on his thinking time, then advising him on better possibilities, is better than just telling him what to do. I think it's better to let them try something, then correct it, than just tell them the answer right off. Or to let them do something and NOT correct them. Tamsin, I dunno. When I play to win, I'm usually doing it for the challenge. And thus prefer playing players my own strength. At higher strength differences, it's all shidougo, or just one person massacring the other. Or sometimes a sort of "quirky" game where the weaker opponent sticks a ridiculous number of stones on the board...

Charles Matthews Well, I'd disagree with much of that. There are reasons to think; what isn't good is even-paced slow play, or just spending a long time looking at stuff that doesn't work. I certainly don't think that Black in a handicap game should be hassled - just that the game should be over in about an hour, to allow for some friendly discussion.

BobMcGuigan: When I was a beginner I was fortunate to have a shodan friend who was willing to play "serious" nine stone games with me. Sometimes they would last four or five hours! Neither of us was bored and the great thing for me was I could take the time to try consciously to do things I was learning from books I was reading at the time (mostly Basic Techniques). I don't see why a weaker player couldn't approach someone and say he/she would like to play slowly but the stronger player could stop the game after an hour or an hour and a half or so. But slow play also offers something to the stronger player, the opportunity to create teaching situations on the board deliberately rather than just play and see what happens. This is not so easy and the stronger player might learn a lot this way.

Velobici: Creating reading problems on the board is exactly what pros do when teaching. This is one reason the pro does not play a move immediately, he is reading out the variations to that the problem exists, is suitable to the level of the student and leaves the pro a way to win the game without resorting to brute-force.

Scryer A stronger player once told me "You may as well move fast -- you'll be making the wrong move anyway." Hmm, now that I think of it, that may have been the most recent face-to-face game I've played... and it was a couple of decades ago. (I won the game, for what it's worth.)

Charles Good for you. A player I know of used to preface teaching games with 'you might as well enjoy it, you'll lose anyway'. Quite wrong.

Coyotebd? - Basically, a stronger player will never invite a weaker to play. The student must ask for help before he will learn.

George Caplan It is extremely important to ask folks to play, regardless of strength. The weaker player should not be intimidated at all. It used to be more complicated, in my opinion, before the internet. When I only had two chances to play a week - I really wanted to play even games or stronger people when I could. So I went to one club, and was a bit stand offish to weaker folks, while at the other club, my club, I did more teaching. Today I can get my serious games online, so I try to be much more open to teaching at the club. It can be stressful when everyone is trying to play you, it is better when folks simply just ask, rather than sort of stalking the stronger player.

I do think you should try to play fairly quickly in these situations though. Paricularly when other folks are waiting for a game. And when the stronger player hints that it is over, take the hint, and ask for some advice. I have noticed that players will sometimes apologize for taking too long - but they usually do that in moments where they should be taking their time - important moments - while they never seem to be aware that they are in the tank over something simple.

On Handicap vs even games - I am convinced you should take the handicap - it is better for both teacher and student. If some folks insist, I will play one game handicap, one game even. Sorry about the length, bit of a ramble

Jan Stozek? As for handicaps, I'm a believer of games with reduced handicap, eg. by 2 stones. They have at least three advantages:

  • White can play in a more relaxed mood, so he can pay more attention to honte plays, proper shapes etc., rather than count on complications and trickplays.
  • Theoretically black has no chance of winning, so he may concentrate on honte plays as well, rahter then on trying to trick the white out.
  • Strenght of a weaker player may not be precisely known. With a proper handicap, there is an expectation, that the game will be more or less equal, while with lowered handicap there's no such expectation.

DA? I play in a club that is very informal and open to anyone asking anyone else for a game, with appropriate handicaps given and lots of room for people new to the game (like me). In situations where I've been playing in public and randomly met other players, everyone I've asked for a game with has been happy to play with me, even if they are much better. The last game I played like this my opponent actually asked me to play slower and think out my moves, even though he was much better than me (15k vs. 3k). After the game he reviewed with me and gave me ideas and then played out the first 60 moves of a professional game he had memorized!

Ask the Stronger Player for a Game last edited by on January 12, 2008 - 18:55
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