RGG FAQ Part 1 Section 8
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In matches between players of different ranking, a handicap is used so that the game will be balanced. The handicap consists of a certain number of stones placed on the goban before the game begins. On a 19x19 goban, the difference in ranking gives the number of stones of handicap. 9 stones is usually the maximum handicap used on a 19x19 goban, although it is fully possible to play with more handicap stones if black and white agree on this.
A handicap means that two players can both enjoy the game, although they are of different levels.
In tournaments, players are normally divided in classes ranging over several rank levels, with handicap given within the class. If 20 Kyu and 11 Kyu players are in the same class, a beginner at 20 Kyu can win the tournament in his class (if no handicap were given, the probability of this would be very small).