Refuse To Take Handicap

Paths: <= Bad Habits =>   ·   <= Go Humour =>   ·   <= Handicap =>

Well, I don't know whether this ranks among Bad habits, but it gives me the occasion to tell the hilarious tale of a player who used to come and play in our club in the early days. I'll call this man Ernie.

Ernie had just learned to play from a book, and as always, we suggested that he'd start to play on a 9 by 9 board. He saw the others playing on a large board, and decided that there was no reason for us to deny him the real stuff. He wanted to play on a 19 by 19. The best player in Gent at that time was a 6 kyu, and even if that is a modest level, he has been an invaluable teacher, with a Go attitude that I rank top class. I'll call this man Bert.

Bert submitted to the pressure of the newcomer and granted him a "real" game. He kindly offered Ernie to take nine stones in order to compensate for the difference in level, as we all know is very common.

Ernie was offended by this proposal. He started an exposÚ about the virtues of Zen Buddhism, and that in a Zen spirit, inequality did not exist and was not celebrated by something as tangible as stones. He added that Go was an oriental game, and as such was embedded in Zen spirit, making the idea of handicap stones an utter violation of the true spirit of the game.

Every decent defense we came up with in favour of the handicap system was countered with another chapter of Ernie's Zen library. He concluded: "You can't force me to take a handicap."

The other tables had not remained unaware of this discussion, and another 6 kyu said "That's true. Likewise, you can't force us to play with you."

Ernie now really started to lose his temper, and Bert accepted to play an even game. And off they went. Ernie, who at least had taken black, played his first stone. It was now Bert's turn. He passed . . .

He explained to Ernie that a pass was a legal move. Ernie played another black stone, looking at his peacefully smiling opponent with an eerie feeling.

Only when nine black stones were lying on the board, Bert played his first stone.

Dieter Verhofstadt

Depending on the scoring rules, Ernie could've won if he'd passed on his 2nd turn. But I'm 28kyu and don't know what I'm talking about.


Scartol 25k: How very Zen of Bert.

As a neophyte of both Go and Zen, this may not be for me to say, but I'll say it anyway: It doesn't strike me as being in the Zen spirit to read a book about something, locate a group of people who practice it, and demand that they play by your rules. As I understand Zen, students are supposed to learn from teachers by doing, not by whining.

Bill: That's a great book title: The Zen of Whining. ;-)

Skelley: We have had beginners who woudn't take handicap at our club several times. What we usually tell them is that without a handicap they won't be able to measure their progress in the game over time and that it is not interesting to play them for any of the stronger players. That helped in all cases so far, especially the 'progress' part :)

His inequality point is ofcourse nonsense. The handicap is there to make the game more equal, did you tell him that?

MrKoala Two-figure k:

What happens in this case when :

  • Black plays
  • White passes
  • Black passes ?

Kungfu : Two passes should never be used to end a game because a pass is a valid ko threat (since a pass is a valid move, see above).

Schnitte My interpretation of the rules is that the game would end. The result would be either a win of Black by one point (in area scoring - the stone that's on the board), or a jigo (in territory scoring - neither player has any territory). Assuming, of course, that there's no komi.


In the event that Black (Ernie) passes after White (Bert) has passed, you have to check the rule system that is being used to score the game. In some rule systems, the game is over; in others a third pass is required to end the game. Regardless of the rule system, assuming that Black actually wants to play a game, White (Bert) can use this method to "force" Black (Ernie) to accept a handicap.

Stefan: Practically speaking, I think they would end up not playing their club game. It's probably also unlikely they would evolve their relationship into eternal friendship.


It can be frustrating to play weekly with weaker players who refuse a handicap. This has been happening for a few weeks in our go club, and I'm afraid it's having a detrimental effect on the games I play. It's not fun for my opponents, who lose by a large margin, and it's not fun for me, since much of the challenge which is in the spirit of Go is lost. In the final analysis, I think the handicap is needed by the stronger player just as much or more than the weaker player. It is only polite to respect your opponent's desire for a challenging game, even it if hurts the pride a little.


Often, perhaps only because of being accustomed to playing without handicap, my opponents do actually play better without handicap stones. What could be considered fair komi to make equivalent a "two stone handicap" or such? (Usually I take -9.5)

SAS: I think reverse komi of about 13 points should be about right. Bill Spight says on the Handicap page that he once estimated that an average handicap stone was worth about 13.5 points, so you may prefer to use that instead (and it has the advantage of avoiding jigos). In any case, 9.5 seems a bit low.


I suppose bert has won. How did Erni react?

Jasonred Passing is not the answer... if White passes, then Black also passes until the game is over by the rules... Well, Black actually wins, because his one stone counts the whole board as territory, since there isn't a white stone in sight... a win by 360 moku, not bad... Or they could just keep passing ad infinitum.

There's actually a simple solution for this, unlike chess. Forget handicap by stones, use handicap by komi. And if they refuse it, just nod your head and ignore them, and play as there was komi. When the game's over[1], figure out who won based on that komi, and whatever you do, don't argue with them. It doesn't matter if you have differing views on who won, just your own satisfaction. (Don't bother about the stubborn twits.) Also, komi has the advantage that halfway through, the two of you can decide what the strength disparity is like and set the komi then.

Charles Games with a large komi aren't the complete answer to anything - though they are worth trying every now and then.

I wanted to say that many Chinese players aren't interested in giving or receiving handicaps; and that therefore one should be careful about applying the principle, that handicaps are always applied, across cultures.

Ben well actually, in the ernie and bert game, if ernie passed instead of placing again, the game would be "in dispute," as the yahoo go server calls it. The other day I sat down at a table with a fellow lowly ranked player to play an even game (tired of being utterly destroyed and trying to see how i could fair against my own level) and clicked the start button before noticing that black had a handicap of 3, and since this was a 9x9 board, and i was playing as white, I realized that i was going to be very quickly destroyed. My opponent, said they would pass, and I did not realize that the purpose was to catch me up, and passed myself, the server chimed in saying that the game was over, and tried to calculate the score, but since black actually didn't surround any territory, the score was zero zero and thus in dispute. So it said we had to continue the game, at which point i just asked for a cancel and then turned the handicap off.

BobMcGuigan: One way out of this dilemma is to consider the game a "teaching" game, as is probably the case whenever there is a large difference in strengths. Mr. Yang Yilun, 7p, and an excellent teacher for players at all levels, generally plays teaching games without handicaps, even allowing his students to take white if they want. This allows for teaching opportunities not possible in handicap games. If there is a large enough difference in strengths White can make certain situations occur to provide problems for Black to solve.

  • pwaldron: With all due respect to Mr. Yang, he is being *paid* for playing the game. If a beginner wants to pay for lessons, he can take whatever handicap he feels like. The discussion here seems to centre around playing weaker players for free.

Bill: I owe a great deal to stronger players who agreed to play me, whether the handicap was sufficient or not, and who went over the games with me afterwards. Reviewing games was the rule, so that almost every game was a teaching game. I carried on the same tradition when I became stronger.

I understand how those who have not received the benefits of that tradition might not feel like taking on the role of teacher without getting paid for it. However, I think it's a great tradition, well worth preserving or reviving.

Dolgan: Once shortly after I learned go I asked my teacher (about 1dan) to play without handicap. And though I lost it helped me (The weakest player in the club was 3kyu) to play a game without handicap. My teacher once asked me to give him(!) 9 stones and try to get one living group (I didn┤t manage). So playing around with handicap seems sensible and I┤d consider every game between 1dan and 20+kyu a teaching game. But of course most of the time we used a handicap of 13 (the normal 9 + all 3-3 points)

Cyclone?: A pass from black would not necessarily mean a loss for white even in a 2 pass rule system. All white would have to do is blatantly say that the played black stone is dead (say if the 30k played the 1-1 point), or that his territory is larger than white's. He'd of course be asked to prove it - and, well, game on. :-)

AndyPierce: It may also be useful to give Ernie a non-handicap game to give him a reality check on just how strong he really is. Unlike other games of skill, where Ernie will simply lose each and every time, go gives an opportunity to quantify how badly you are losing each and every time, which gives an objective way to quantify Ernie's strength so that more appropriate opponents can be selected for him to play (without a handicap). Personally, I think the handicap gives a game that resembles, but isn't, go, but that's another issue.

I have to admit I was one of those players who refused to take handicaps a big mistake on my part. another bad habit of mine was always playing stronger players without handi which really put me behind go wise and i found out that i really barely improved at all which really angered me. I then realized that i had not learned a thing so i decided to start from scratch and now i am finally doing better ;-) naruto3

Steve Urick:

If people won't accept komi, another thing you can do is uchi-komi. How it works is you start from scratch with an even game, and the loser plays black without out giving a komi next time. If the same person wins next time, the black player takes a handi of two stones next time. When things settle down, you can keep the same handi untill the weaker player wins three in a row for example.

Gabaux: This is not az easy point of learning go. I have very good experiences with n-1 handicap. It means, not all the difference is balanced, but basicle the eaker is not faced with the full poer of the opponent. On the other hand, the traditional position of the handicap stones is rather important. Sometimes it can be very useful to let the pupil place the handicap stones according to her or his liking.

Boomcoach: Taking a handicap never seemed to bother me. When I was a child, my dad would play some games left-handed (Anyone remember Jarts? :-). When I asked about it, he said that it allowed both of us to play to win, and so made the game enjoyable for both of us. I do the same with my own son, when we play Air Hockey.

I find it is more enjoyable to play when both of you are trying to win. It is also a great feeling as you see the handicap begin to go down, just as it was a proud moment when my Dad had to switch top his right hand. (I found it felt even better when I had to switch hands against my own son, when the little snot started taking me to the cleaners!)

ilanpi: Recently, a couple of players weaker than me on KGS seem to have been "insulted" when I proposed a game with them at the default handicap and they challenged me back with the same handicap but colours reversed. Of course, I accepted, which made them realise the error of their ways. The subsequent games were quite pleasant for me and extremely distasteful for them.

Gochizzle: I don't see the problem. So I'm 47k. So the Pro I played was 9p. So he took so many stones from me as prisoners that I had to borrow extra bowls from other tables in the club. The important thing was I kept my dignity. And then I hit him with the goban. So it all worked out fine. Handicap? I laugh at the idea. ;)

[1] tderz(reacting to Jasonred's good remarks): Unfortunately the problem with these guys/girls is that they do/want to torture you further and think for hours - as if that could make a difference with too few handicap. After all they realize soon that there are problems on the board. If you're polite yourself you're likely to get the problems, but actually you're left with several options:

  • say "I have to take now the last trolleybus (was true) & work tomorrow" and never return to the club (which I did after a ~19k tortured[2] me for 3 hours in a 9H game, while I wanted to play with others as well. I told him friendly that he could play somewhat faster and we'd more time to analyze the game afterwards);
  • play simultaneously with someone else (I would do nowadays)
  • resign and play other games (difficult, because you don't know how much time he will spend).
  • this resigning is equal to refusing the game, just realizing it a bit late.

[2] I can be a slow player too, but stay within my time or acept loss on time => which brings me to the next option

  • adjust the clock to 15-20 minutes and get an impression how to proceed further.

Onurcem?:I am teaching the new players at my club. I ask if they want the handicap or not.If they want the handicap then I play them with full strenght. If they don't want then I play weaker than normal, making some mistakes that they can understand and learn not to make them themselves. and it isnt really important for me to win or lose against a player which is not at my level. In that case I think if ernie won, it wouldn't change anything for Bert.

OneWeirdDude: So, when my weaker opponents refuse, should I dumb my performance down somewhat, or just show them just how impossible it is and convince them that way?

Mikey?: I apologize for suddenly posting on the site (haven't before) but would like to toss in 2 cents. When I was THAT novice to the game I had a great opportunity to play a far more experienced player without a handicap (we couldn't due to the software). I'm not devoted to the game, but I really enjoy it, and getting absolutely destroyed by my first opponent was a great experience for me because I learned greatly from that onslaught. Progress can be seen without a handicap, new players can develop their own style of joseki better without a handicap, but in the end making it interesting for a teacher is what will spread the game to more people, and so it is vital to employ it. Let the student practice joseki on his/her own time.

Dan <that is my name XD>: well whenever i play higher rank i prefer not to take handi (so i argue for like 10 sec before i play handi or even :P) but i think handi game or no handi game learning is same. However I think white enjoys the game more if there was a handi when there is a lot of skill difference (well i do :P) so depends on who you play i guess ^^. I played even and handi game with beginners before and i don't really see why he have to play handi (although in my case it is less fun for white :P). Depend on the person i guess ^^.

W.S.Clark, 16k [Benutzu's Dojo]: I couldn't help but feel what a biblical/Shakespearean/Zen/Aesop/something story this was. Bert ended up giving a "free" handicap instead of a "fixed" one.

I also couldn't help feeling amused that my problem tends to be the opposite one: Whoever I play with (usually in Yahoo! or somesuch "strong amateur" site) won't take a Handicap from me. It's kinda frustrating.

Tas: Play on KGS in stead then.

DeathWind: It's fine with me whether or not my opponents wanted extra stones. One thing about handicap game especially 4 stones games and above is that they are very different from normal games. People who are too lazy to study fuseki of professional games would feel less stressed in the fuseiki aspect in a handicap game. If it's a very weak opponent at the level of beginner or slightly better, I suggest that he or she spent a few weeks doing basic go problems before starting to play.

kevinwm: I can understand a much weaker player not wanting to take a very large handicap. I have been on both sides of this, and have requested or suggested that we not play a 9-stone game because in my opinion, a 9 stone handicap changes the nature of the game. There are things you can do with that big a handicap that don't promote learning.

Instead I've said, "Give me 4 stones, and try to beat me by 50 points". Or "let's play even, but we'll say I'll try to beat you by 90." Essentially, increasing komi.

If a player who was obviously new ever refused to take a handicap from me, I would accept his game and simply play him as hard as I could and beat him by 300 points. Then I'd suggest a larger handicap, a 9x9 game, or study materials after that. But if a pro ever offered me a 9 stone game, I'd gladly accept ... and try to whoop his butt!

raganwald: I am not even a Go player, I have not lost 100 games against humans yet. So please feel free to shorten or even remove my comments if they are not contributing positively to this page.

My perception is that when I play 9x9 and am given three or four stones handicap that the nature of the game is altered drastically. I do learn something about connecting and playing in the shadow of my existing influence. But every game seems to have a similar feel: My opponent attacks one or more of my handicap stones and a good strategy is to abandon it and build my position elsewhere. But when I subsequently play with no handicap, I have very little skill in defending my stones against attacks, because I never really practice having a single stone alone in an area.

I am sure that in time this feeling will go away, but for the moment I am trying to find other absolute beginners I can play with no handicap so that I will learn some things that seem absent from playing better players with a handicap. So it is not a case of my refusing to take handicap from better players, but rather that I am seeking to play better players with handicap and also lesser players without handicap rather than just handicap games.

tapir: Of course the nature of the game is altered. However connecting stones is so major a lesson to be learned, that it is worth it. If you win with handicap, reduce handicap. (With 4 stones just by staying connected you should by able to kill the opponent with some experience.)

isd: The nature of the game is not altered significantly by handicap stones if you ask me. Anyway, the purpose of playing with handicap on 9x9 is to learn. So if you want to play even games on 9x9 then just learn quickly. :)

Just make sure to play with someone who explains one or two issues / key mistakes after each game. Tapir.

SmoothOper? Once I beat a 1 dan as 8kyu or 9kyu at an even game. I had been reading a Fuseki and was able to force a big group to have no eye space he was more of Joseki style player, and didn't think about whole board development much. At a later date he called it a teaching game. He learned his lesson however and now requires me to use traditionally placed handicap stones.

Dent? I have played a grand total of two full 19x19 games, one against GNUGo on a computer, and one against a human opponent. Based on my personal style for games, competition, and challenges in general, I would prefer to play my next 100 games without handicap. Why? I find it perfectly reasonable that I should lose my next 100 games in a row. Why not? They are essentially my first 100 games in life, so who cares if I lose all of them? That said, I would never refuse a game with a stronger opponent who strongly prefered to give me whatever handicap she liked. I agree that to insist is rude. But my personal preference is to lose 100 non-handicapped games quickly, rather than maybe win half of 100 games all played with 9 stones up.

Paths: <= Bad Habits =>   ·   <= Go Humour =>   ·   <= Handicap =>
Refuse To Take Handicap last edited by Schnitte on October 30, 2020 - 16:34
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