Large Handicap Games Discussion

    Keywords: Strategy

Some thoughts on large handicap games


Between players of large difference in playing skill, large handicap is offered to make the game as close (and therefore interesting) as possible. By no means is it a won game for White: nine stones are a lot, always. And you can never say whether the opponent will not exceed herself. You must take care and remain focused, even when having captured a large group, or when having secured a thick, winning position.

That's the beneficial side of handicap Go. Too often, however, it happens that the weaker player loses all confidence by being crushed even with nine stones. It can also become quite frustrating for White. Games are long lost, but resignation doesn't come. Or sometimes Black is unable to appreciate White's efforts.

After a few years of playing such games, I think they simply should not take place.

OneWeirdDude: I disagree. White should just use this as an exercise in patience, if you ask me. As for Black...well, let's just say Black needs to learn to "lose his first 100 games quickly" first. But that's just me.


What are the alternatives ?

1. Start a game with nine stones. At various occasions, when you feel the player is uninspired, guide him or her towards positive play asking questions like "If I say you have to cut my groups, where would you play?" or "Do you think it is necessary to answer my move, or can you play elsewhere?". In brief, make it a teaching game, but be inspired in your teaching. When the endgame has started rather early (no whole-board fighting has occurred), ask "Do you think the endgame has started?", and say some words about the endgame.

2. Start a game for real (nine stones), and as soon as you have reached an irrevertible winning position, resign the game, or say: "You should resign, for this or that reason". Forget about Oriental politeness, forbidding you to resign in someone else's place. Rather, think of yourself as the karate teacher who won't fight his pupil until the bitter end.

3. Play 13x13 or 9x9 +

This avoids whole-board fighting or whole-board decision making, in which White is obviously much stronger. It also avoids hours wasted on long decided games. It enables you to play several games in a row, which increases the probability that your opponent wins by their own good play.

4. Make the handicap placement vary (free handicap). That way, you'll encounter many more variations than with the hoshi stones.

5. Play the shape game, with Black stones on every second edge point and White having to try and make a live group.

6. Play fast games. It is my experience that people who dislike fast games, tend to remain weak.

-- Dieter Verhofstadt (1k)

7. Play slow games to improve your judgement. Use time to consider strategies that you dont have time for in fast games. Its my experience that people who play fast games tend to make a lot of simple mistakes.

-- Yoke

8. Use more than nine handicap stones, according to the placements on the Handicaps Beyond Nine Stones page. -- Hu

lavalyn: When even nine handicap stones are insufficient to cover the difference in skill (think 2d versus 15k), White will be giving Black a teaching game (or just dominate and force the resignation early). Should White play to keep the game close, or just punish every mistake Black makes? We assume that White will review the game afterward.

Confused: Speaking from the perspective of the victim, I prefer it if White keeps the game at a level that I can understand.

I prefer having those mistakes punished in the most graphic way, that I can fix in the short term. And for that, a solid demonstration why a move or an idea was bad is usually very instructive.

I think this would mean for White to select those mistakes that are most instructive to punish while going light on more advanced problems. No need to worry about aji and light play, when auto-atari roam the board.

Browncow: I have found that allowing free placement of handicap stones is a very good way to play large handicap games. This allows for handicaps larger than 9 stones. Also it forces the weaker player to think about opening strategy when placing there stones and also during a game. Since the traditional 9 stone placement is so artifical it has always given me difficulty playing both against and with. Although this type of placement is less formal I think that it may be better in a teaching game.

Chris Hayashida: I teach a beginner's night. The problem I have with free placement is that the weaker player might be making a mistake with where the handicap stones are being placed. Also, by adding an additional variable, I think the student might have another place to go awry. Fewer strong players can explaing convincingly to a beginner why shimari with extensions on the side are worse than the typical placement. Beginners often think that these formations cannot be invaded.

ChessWhiz: Actually, I suggest a reverse komi, with maybe 10 points for each additional rank difference. It worked well in my game against Dnerra, although we didn't get far enough for it to make a difference. :-)

Jan: I agree with ChessWhiz, reverse komi is a nice system. We use it at the Go Club Utrecht for games which theoretically should have more than 9 handicap stones. (As we have a fairly small group of players of widely ranging strength, these tend to come up quite often). So sometimes the stronger players have to win by (say) 60 points on the board, starting from a 9 stone handicap. I've played a few of these reverse komi games, all except one as black, and winning most of them on the board left me happy (and wondering whether I was underrated :-)

Going beyond nine stones seems a bit pointless to me, although I can't argue why exactly. Maybe it's the idea that if Black can't win with nine, he probably won't win with eleven stones...

Chris Hayashida: I don't know what to think about reverse komi. I think it only works if the weaker player is actually counting the board.

Alex Weldon: I like fuseki, so my objection to handicap games is just that handicap changes the nature of the game by eliminating the fuseki. The whole game is essentially just one of moyo invasion and reduction. Black will learn a bit about defense and fighting, but won't really learn much about attack, or building a moyo in the first place. Imagine a player who learned to play Go only by playing 9 stone handicap games. Imagine then that he tries to play against another player of supposedly even rank, who learned by playing even games. The player trained on handicap games would do quite well if he could build a large, loose moyo early on, but would have no idea how to go about building that moyo in the first place, most likely.

Chris Hayashida: In my experience, though, the middlegame is more important than the opening. The experienced gained from the fighting, invasion, and reduction is more important than learning fuseki theory. From what I've seen, if a player doesn't know fuseki, they end up just taking all the hoshi until it's like a handicap game again...

Hyperpapeterie: I'm presently just reaching the point (perhaps 17 kyu) where I'm starting to play games with no handicap at my local club, so I can offer one testimonial to what playing only handicap games does to your sense of the game. What I've noticed is that over the past several weeks, I've continued to move up against the players I'm playing handicap games against while stagnating in the even games. In particular, I've noticed that I'm consistently getting in bad positions that come up after my opponent plays at the 3-4 point.

Bill: If Black doesn't learn about attack, it's his own fault. Handicap stones are well placed for attack.
And for learning, I advocate playing with inadequate handicaps. If you want to learn some fuseki, take a 4-stone handicap forming a ponnuki shape around tengen. :-)

Jesse: I actually find fuseki in handicap games quite interesting. For example, which corner play should white choose in a 2 or 3 stone handicap game, or how should black respond to a kakari in the beginning of a 6 stone game? (I do realize these questions may not have definitive answers, but I think the issues involved can also apply to even game fuseki.

Ranjit: I learnt about Go this January this and started playing on bigger boards some time in March.

Initially I also assumed that with large handicap stones, I wouldn't learn about fuseki, and several other concepts about opening. I guess, if you just focus on the black plays, you will not learn as much as you should about anything. If however you focus on the white plays, you will realise (for instance) how White makes approach moves on two adjacent sides and takes the entire side. In a 9 stone handicap game. he may add a capping move on the centre stone.

You learn a lot of techniques on countering moyos - not letting them emerge.. All this is of course useful in openings.. and gives you significant conceptual basis for Fuseki. Though of course you need to supplement this understanding to get a fuller understanding.

Jasonred: At a 25 stone difference, the weaker player should be allowed to do whatever he likes, or perhaps should be playing on a smaller board. To be honest, I don't see how a 25 stone handicap makes any sense. I'm probably 20 kyu or something, and I don't see a 5 Dan player giving me a 25 stone and winning, especially in the arrangement you just showed, I have no idea how ANY stone my opponent puts down isn't dead.

Confused: I advise you to find a 5-Dan player willing to play such a game and give it a try. The last high handicap game I played was a very humbling experience for me (I'm also around 20 kyu strength).

unkx80: It might be possible for a 5-Dan to beat a 20-Kyu at a 25 stone handicap, although IMHO the game would be rather meaningless (either the Black player plays much too weakly or the Black player blunders horribly).

However, a good exercise for single digit kyu players is also a 25 stone handicap, but free placement, and the objective is not to allow the stronger White player to have any living group. That is, if White manages to make any living group, White wins the game. Some years ago when I attended Go classes the instructor Yang Jinhua suggested such a game during one particular lesson. It was a very interesting experience.

Frs: [ext] Large handicap examples demonstrating that it possible to win against 20 stones handicap.

Warder05: I've finally played my first game against nine stones. At 14kyu, my friends who I've just introduced to the game takes nine stones from me (I'm not sure that I could actually beat 16-stones). Nine stones has its advantages in both directions. While it might not be much use to dan players, I find that my sabaki skills improve with each game. Moreover, I find that instead of discouraging older players the games spark their minds a bit. Without prompting, he discovered the power of a large corner; when he tried to win by refusing to engage, he learned the relationship between thickness and momentum. I've also played a few of the reverse-komi games. They're a little different. I've found that setting the reverse komi to what it should be worked rather well. I actually play much differently (less violently and more honestly) in these situations. Therefore, my friend gets a chance to see how his moves help his play, not how my attacks make his life difficult.

I've also played my share of large handicap games at the club. These days the games are actually much shorter. The two-dan I played against recently cut the game off after it was clear that I botched attacks on two parts of the board. When I realized I was crushed, we stopped the game and went over specific overplays. Despite the incredible difference in strength I learned a whole lot even in the environment of nine stones. For what it's worth, I still think they have value.

Large Handicap Games Discussion last edited by on January 27, 2015 - 05:30
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