Playing White In Handicap
Does anyone have any tips on playing White in a handicap game? I just started playing on KGS because I never get any handicap games on IGS, and once the handicap reaches 4, I always tend to lose. I really don't know how to fight a handicap all that effectively. -BlueWyvern
HolIgor: White does not need any tips in a handicap game. If the handicap is justified it will show eventually. The advice to play lightly is correct but White does not really have a chance to play differently in the beginning of the game and in the end the difference in the levels will show through.
Davidka: The same could be said for black. No need for advice there either.
BlueWyvern: Then is one stone a level really a good handicap? In the club, I've pretty much determined that I can play evenly at 5 kyu. Then on KGS, my level settled at 7 kyu. I started out at 5 kyu, and held my own against other 5 kyu's, but my level dropped because of my inability to play White in a handicap. An 11 kyu will give me quite a run for my money at 4 stones. On the other hand I played 4d at 9 stones and he resigned 12 moves in, saying there was no way he could play me at that level because my play was just too solid, and pegged my level at 2-4kyu. I also notice that I tend to win the majority of handicap games where I take Black. Thus I can only assume that there must be some skew in my abilities and the weak ones become manifest when I play White in a handicap game and the strong ones when I take Black. I was wondering the difference so I could develop my weak abilities instead of the strong ones in some other way than simply playing more handicap games.
lavalyn: I tend to see that, when playing Black and seeing White try for too solid play. Playing slow (or wasted) moves when already down 4/5 stones handicap is devastating. Your rating at 5k should mean you are playing more efficiently than a player at 6k or 11k. This must become manifest.
Players that tend to play Black with handicap get this condition rather often, I also notice, growing accustomed to making solid but inefficient (honte?) plays with supporting stones everywhere. The only way to correct this is to play White more often and force yourself to play sabaki, keshi, and in general disrupt the opponent's plans more often.
In any fair handicap game, White must seek complication for her superior strength will (usually) shine in these conditions. Taking fifth line influence in an even game may be of advantage in an even game opening but giving Black secure fourth line territory in no way combats the opponent's plans, with other handicap stones ready to fight your influence. This complication typically comes from throwing stones around in sabaki play and developing more good aji.
BobMcGuigan: I've heard pros say that white should be able to win in handicap games without making gross overplays or trick moves. If the handicap is appropriate then Black will make enough mistakes that White can catch up. In particular, White should not aim to win early but instead play to gain on Black steadily and only catch up in the endgame. Seems easier said than done, though. Another piece of advice I heard is that every time Black gives up sente inappropriately it is like losing one handicap stone.
I think it is important for White not to play too unreasonably in handicap games. I know a dan ranked player who got a reputation for being able to give weaker players a higher handicap than they would usually need for the rank difference. This dan-level player was good at trick plays and making overplays that worked. The problem is that he got used to playing that way and now does better in handicap games as white than in even games and is stuck at his current rank. He developed too many bad habits.
mafutrct: I strongly agree with BobMcGuigan. Unless black himself begins a fight, white should be able to catch up without any problems by just playing better moves than black. If black does no big mistakes (dying), the game will come to yose and be about even. But now white can catch up a lot again by just playing a better endgame.
"How to play handicap Go" by YuanZhou has a lot of excellent advice on what White should do in a handicap game.
tapir: Don't play aji keshi and don't make your opponent strong prematurely. That is look out that you have black groups to attack left and leave possibilities. Also ko fights are an area where strength differences (positional judgement, threat value etc.) show with bigger effects than elsewhere.
Bass: There are two very important things to remember when playing white against a high handi: influence and "fluidness". Firstly, in the beginning white must gain outside influence. Black's correct strategy is to look for fights to utilize the handicap stones, so white must be prepared. Secondly, (as tapir says above), it is important to keep things fluid. Do not play any forcing sequences that you do not yet have to. Do not try to make black defend his territory, because he will. Instead try to have "backup plans" for your stones, and try to leave all kinds of aji lying around, because correctly utilising and removing aji are very tricky things to do. When a board region has been "played out", the result is equally clear to both. In contrast, when things are fluid and "everything is miai", it is very difficult (and educational) for the weaker player to try and find the best strategy.
tapir: Just watched a very strong player playing a simul game giving plenty of handicap (I did not play so had the opportunity to watch). It impressed me how he used ko fights (lingering kos, played out kos both won giving only small compensation and lost taking huge compensation and profiting of point losing threats played by the opponent either way) to win those games. (More than half involved ko fights.)
Also, play honest moves for your opponent to be able to learn from it as handicap games are always a kind of teaching game as others said before.