Only playing Black - never playing against weaker opponents


<rant mode on>

KGS has the nice feature of displaying and saving game records of every game played. It's easy to identify how often players take Black or White. Now, for some reason or other, there are players that only take Black, against stronger opponents. I understand their desire to improve by playing stronger opponents, but feel that this is not good gamesmanship. After all, White is playing a weaker player for every game Black is playing a stronger one. Return the favour!

What's worse is that the "improvement" in playing Black all the time is balanced with the loss of fighting spirit. Having grown accustomed to defending a four-stone handicap to victory, they have lost (or underdeveloped) their ability to make sabaki, take sente, or invade - making them easy targets when suddenly facing an equal opponent.

I play White most of the time - so I typically make quick work against players like this when I play Black.

Sai commented on how playing against the handicap is instructional on attacking, while Hikaru was training for the exams.

<rant mode off>

-- lavalyn

Kungfu 3k : Out of my last 100 games, I was white in about 90 of them. I play on IGS. 'Go' figure.

jared 3k : Ouch. I am white over 60% on KGS, but 90% ... wow

I think playing only weaker players is bad, too, because it neglects your own development. It may help your win total, of course, but only by playing stronger players can you learn new techniques, and see the flaws in your current ones. MHO, of course. YMMV.

-Blake (24k KGS)

After the recent update, KGS gives players who always take black a ~ after their names. I'm not sure what's the use of showing this to everyone, though.


Alex Weldon: Saves weaker players from wasting their time trying to get that person to play a game, perhaps?

The use of this is that there are a lot of players who flat out refuse to play opponents who only take black. --BlueWyvern

Jenny Radcliffe: I always think that not providing help to weaker players is indirectly bad for your own game in any case. Any help that you provide to an individual ultimately benefits the Go-playing community. And anything that benefits the Go-playing community is good for your game.
Also, Go is a game which relies strongly on good feeling, and wilful good-nature. Breaking this - just isn't "cricket"!

Charles Matthews I'd agree with that. One of the hardest aspects of promoting go is the hidden one, of creating a good 'atmosphere'. That's really an intangible, imponderable kind of thing. But it is obvious enough that it is helped by having some countervailing forces to set against the hierarchical aspects of rank. Everyone doing a little teaching is good.

Fhayashi Sometimes I wonder if people only play black under the misconception that one can gain in rank only by beating stronger opponents... As I understand it , you can gain rank by winning any fairly handicapped game (under 7 stones).

I believe the misconception is rather that one can only gain in strength by playing stronger opponents. Thus, those who selfishly expect others to teach them without returning the favour to weaker players, will seek to take black disproportionately often. -- Bignose

Fhayashi I think there's lots to be learned by playing weaker players - especially how to punish bad moves... I frequently have games where I KNOW that my opponent's last move was horrible, but frequently I am unable to punish it correctly.

victim Just an additional argument for the selfish ones out there: A professor I had once said, "When I want to learn something, I'll lecture about it." I agree - you learn a lot when you try to explain something, since this forces you to think clearly enough to turn your knowledge into intelligible sentences. You will identify points you don't really understand yet. So, playing weaker opponents and giving a commentary may well help your own game.

spazdor I have been guilty of this at one point; Seeing how high I could get my KGS rank up, I played quite a few games against bots rated 11k-13k. As my strength at the time was 18 or 19k, this meant a considerable handicap. GNU Go Bot seems quite bad at attacking handicap stones, so this often meant I could get away with playing a smaller handicap than was technically appropriate; Though I played even games with other 18k players, I could beat a 12k bot with only a 4-stone handicap. I still exploit bots from time to time. So there's another possibility for the proliferation of ~'s around KGS.

Centaur: I wish I had read this earlier. I came to KGS and saw all those “no ?” and “solid rank only”, and thought, well, I can get a solid rank playing bots. And so I did, although it took quite a while. Now, I am ranked 19k, but, when pitted against another 19k, lose by considerable amounts. Makes me feel like a… what’s the antonym for sandbagger?

C.S. Graves: Centaur... would "paper tiger" be the appropriate antonym?

Tas: Or maybe something about hot air and baloons? Well, the solution to this problem is simple

I often get game requests from weaker ~ players, i don´t really want to play weaker ~. Some time ago i refused to play any ~, but i ended in playing 75% black, so i have to play ~ to avoid getting ~.

Tapir: I once met a guy on KGS who challenged me for an even game. After Nigiri I was black he white, then he instantly left the game. I read his player profile afterwards and learned, that he always plays black - in even games!

Warp: Not as bad, and maybe not even impolite per se, but very common: Requesting games with people with a rank at least one less then one's own rank. You can see that all the time: For example a 2k with a game comment like "3k+" (ie. "I want to play a 3k or stronger"). This is very common and it means that people don't get to play against much stronger opponents so much. Imagine that this was the case in a real-life go club: People refusing to play with players who are weaker than one stone than themselves. That wouldn't make too much sense, and would probably be considered impolite.

MrTenuki: If that's a KGS player, they're probably exploiting the "tilde rule" (since one can only get the ~ mark if he/she plays fewer than 33% of the games against weaker players, and a one-stone difference is enough for the game to be counted as one against a weaker player.)

Herman Hiddema: On the other hand, they may dislike playing handicap games, and a game against an opponent 1 stone weaker is still an even game (though without komi).

ThorAvaTahr: Exactly, although they do not mind taking handicap from a stronger player. One could say that this behavior indicates that they believe that handicap is too severe, or that the rank difference is too small. But I have no objection against this behavior. As long as one shows the will to play lower ranked players.

Tapir: Since when do stronger players challenge for handicap games on KGS? This happens in one out of a hundred games in my experience, so the 3k+ means basically "I want even games."

Tas: I regularly challenge people of lower ranks, as I like to play handicap games once in a while. However I found that I never challenge stronger players because they always reject me, which has let me to always play white except for even games.

Dieter: the comparison with a RL club is flawed. I go to the club to have nice lasting games with people I know, and to teach. KGS is literally 100 times larger than my club, making my duty as a stronger player vanish. The social security is much reduced online, so you're unsure about your being nice to be returned. So using the server to find even games which you cannot find IRL, makes perfect sense to me.

Hylebos: I found requesting opponents that are within one stone of me essential to getting out of the high ddks, as handicaps in that rank area are often very inaccurate, for example, a 22 kyu usually cannot give two stones to a 24 kyu and expect a balanced game, as the skill gap between the two often consists of luck and mistakes. By playing games against people only your rank, you speed up the time it takes to get out of the really high ranks, though I do agree it is a bit silly to do this once you reach 13 kyu or beyond, because if you don't know how to play a handicap game, then you will be screwed when you eventually be forced to play one in a tournament.

BobWhoosta: There's an interesting ranking problem on KGS that I believe hinders the interaction between players with more than 1 rank difference. That is, if you beat a player that is stronger than you, you get more of a rank difference than if you beat someone who is weaker than you. I believe this is flawed, and creates a few problems/trends that I don't like:

1) Players who are seeking to go up a rank (such as myself, currently 2k, maybe 1d strength) have a difficult time finding higher ranked opponents to beat up on because they know this difference.

2) As mentioned earlier, it becomes more of a risk to play someone weaker than yourself. Therefore it is good "strategy" to play against opponents who are stronger than you. This is then "rewarded" by a '~'. (I myself do not have one...)

3) The difference in strength between ranks begins to increase, as players will compete more with opponents of similar strength, and "rank drift" will occur in a general sense.

4) So I think '~' players are just attempting to "exploit" a system which imo has a few defects, and while they are getting their due in being labeled as takers and not givers, the very system that labels them is also set up to create them.

It's an interesting conundrum. Anyone have any thoughts??

Anonymous: Are you sure this is true? Most games on KGS are handicapped, and thus estimated close to 50% to win for both players. Many players will decline improperly handicapped games because they prefer a challenging game. It is not a 'risk' to play against somebody weaker than yourself if the game is properly handicapped.

It is still not a risk even if the game is not, because your winning chance in an improperly handicapped game is much higher than 50%. The imbalance in rating points you stand to lose/gain simply reflect your winning chances. Your EV is the same. (Unless the only people that want to play improperly handicapped games are those that believe they ought to be ranked higher than they currently are.)

In the rating system KGS uses, you do not gain or lose anything by playing weaker players. The rating system is optimized to estimate your true playing strength. If you play more games, your KGS rating will more accurately reflect your true playing strength. It's not so that you will rank up or down simply by playing more games. The way to get a higher rating is to get better at go.

It may be useful to note that KGS' rating system (decayed history rating) is far more accurate than ELO, and has far less glitches. Some of the problems you note have been known to be glitches in ELO implementations, but so far as I know they are no problem on KGS. I am curious how you reached the above conclusions.

One glitch that KGS' rating system does have, and this is the problem you have run into, is that players that play many more games than the average player find that their rank gets stuck even if they are rapidly improving. The rating system incorrectly believes it has enough evidence to have estimated your rank well and it therefore does not need to be adjusted much anymore with new evidence.

There are rating systems that do much better in such situations; see Whole History Rating. KGS is not perfect, but I am glad that at least we have a modern system instead of ELO.

tapir: Assuming your (Bob) assumptions are correct. Why on earth should the difference between ranks increase and not decrease? If anything the kyu ranks at KGS are closer to each other than a real stone, imo. And if this is the case it would make perfect sense (if you were a rating optimizing bot) not to play weaker players and only stronger players who pretend to be 4 stones stronger, but in reality are only able to give you 2-3 stones at best.

BobWhoosta: Maybe I'm wrong, it's just something that I and another guy have noticed. When you play a stronger player (and I'm assuming correct handicaps here) your wins count for more and your losses less. When you play a weaker player your wins count for less and your losses more. We noticed this by watching the reaction of the rank graph to wins and losses against different players over a long period of time.

symplicity: This makes perfect sense, because the handicap system is slightly off.

When you play against a player 1 rank stronger, KGS has you take black with no komi, because that's the "traditional" way to do handicap. But really, no komi is only a 1/2 stone advantage. To balance for 1 rank properly you should be taking black with reverse komi. So the stronger player, still on average has 1/2 stone advantage remaining.

Similarly, if you play against a player 2 ranks stronger, you get 2 stones to start with as black, but *white* gets the first move, and there's no komi. So white is down 2 stones on the board, but has the 1/2 stone advantage of moving first, so white is still favored. Again, to make it really balanced, you need reverse komi.

But I'm pretty sure the KGS ranking system properly takes this into account. In handicap games, on average, the traditional handicap is 1/2 stone too low, so if black can overcome that in order to win, his win counts for more, and if he loses, his loss counts for less, because he was already at a disadvantage. Vice versa for white.

I only play as black. I post open challenges for ranked games vs anyone the server I'm on will allow me to play ranked against, anyone considering joining one of my games can see the rules in advance and is free to join, spectate, or ignore.

I also always play no handicap regardless of my opponent's rank, which I often try to avoid looking at until after the game ends. The reason I always open as black is simply that I'm bullish about always playing my 8-8 opening. For background, I didn't play a single game of 19x19 until after I hit 5Dan on 9x9 (No color preference in 9x9) and someone finally talked me into trying it. From my first 19x19 game onward I've always played black no-handi ranked vs anyone on the big board. I also tend to prefer longer games. Due to my unusual playstyle, It's not uncommon for me to win vs stronger players or lose vs weaker players.

See also: [ext]

-- Elmindreda_Go19x19 (2Dan OGS) and Elmindreda_Go (4Dan OGS 9x9 account)

Only playing Black - never playing against weaker opponents last edited by on November 7, 2022 - 21:37
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