Ten Commandments of Handicap Go

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The Ten Commandments of Handicap Go was published by Bob Terry (5 dan) in "The American Go Journal", Vol. 27, No. 2: 1993.

This article is not reproduced on SL due to copyright reasons. Bob Terry may be contacted [ext] here

Couldn't we, here on Senseis, make our own 10 commandments?

  1. Connection brings strength
  2. Fear is a poor teacher
  3. In handicap go, defense is more important than offense
  4. Take the initiative; do not follow your opponent's lead
  5. Attacking moves are not contact moves.

LukeNine45: I'd like to hear a stronger player's opinion of #3-- at 5k AGA I disagree. A purely defensive play in a handicap game allows white to catch up, possibly by quite a bit if it's early in the game. Yes, white will possibly hurt you even more if you don't defend a real weakness, but the solution to that isn't defending, it's making the correct shape to begin with. When I give people 6 or more stones, generally they lose because they are too defensive; i.e. they treat moves of mine as sente when they aren't.

Alex: I agree with Luke and disagree with #3. Black must use his handicap to stand up to White and fight back and not play a passive/defensive game.

Bill: As I remarked on Six and Seven Stone Fuseki, it is important to play solidly instead of passively. There is nothing wrong as Black with securing your own stones, and then attacking White's weaknesses. OTOH, timid play can fritter away Black's initial advantage.

Bob McGuigan: As usual, proverbs oversimplify situations, but I'd like to put in a word in defense of this one. I think defense is definitely more important than offense. It is a prime kyu-level mistake to attack when your own groups are weak or thin. Haruyama and Nagahara remark in Basic Techniques of Go that in a 2 - 3 stone game Black's play should be 55% defense to 45% attack, in a 4 - 5 stone game 60 - 40, up to 85% defense to 15% attack in an 8 - 9 stone game. And don't forget that most of the time you can make moves that solidify your position while threatening something else, i.e. there are defensive moves with offensive potential.


Dieter: In one move you can increase the liberties of an existing stone by two but only decrease your opponent's group's liberties by one.

Bill: And you can increase the liberty count of your own group by one while reducing that of your opponent's group by one. That's a net gain of two liberties, just like increasing your own group's count by two.

LukeNine45: My criticism is directed at the way I think that "defense is more important than offense" seems to be understood by players I give around 6 or more stones to. I see a lot of unnecessary moves that they call "defensive"-- depending on the stage of the game those actually lose huge amounts of points, because white gets a play elsewhere. But of course you all know that already...

Tamsin: It depends what is meant by "defence". When I play White, I feel confident of winning when I see Black make moves that have the sole function of trying to defend a corner or some other piece of "territory". From the teacher's point of view, it is more encouraging to see Black play moves that create potential territory. If Black connects his stones or patches up weaknesses so that he can attack in the future, then that is the kind of defence that has value. I would think that playng creatively not passively, and defending weaknesses in order to attack later are good principles for go in general, and not only for taking a handicap.

xela: I think this is a subject where fashions have changed as our understanding of thickness develops. Older books (such as Basic Techniques of Go) do advocate a very defensive style for black, but newer books (such as Get Strong at Handicap Go) suggest that black can do better by attacking. Of course, it's a very complicated issue, as Bill's comment suggests--the line between "securing your own position and getting ready to attack" and "defending passively" is very thin!

tderz: #2 is very vague: the parole 'A cow has four legs' is true too
and helps you as much playing your handicap game. Vagueness thus increases validity, but does not help playing a good game.
No. #3 has already been commented on.

Warfreak2: My suggestion: White's greatest weapon is confusion. Black does well to play simple moves and keep the situations as understandable as possible.

bayesian: I don't have Bob Terry's original list, so I am not knowingly violating any copyright issues. But my list would include:

- Defend now to attack later
- Favor connecting stones over taking territory unless your opponent makes you an unbelievable offer
- Plan to win the game on move 115, not move 15

Alex: My suggestions...

- Some of your stones will die. Make sure they die small, in sente, and preferably with aji. Don't try to save stones unless you're fairly sure you can, since it just compounds the loss.

- Don't let White get thick; trade the side territory for centre influence.

tderz: First of all, this list - any list - should make clear to whom it may concern.
Tamsin's, Warfreak2's and Alex's comments seem to address White's side,
while LukeNine45, Bob McGuigan, xela and bayesian have suggestions for Black.

In many games it helps very much if you have seen your opponent's style at least once.
White, having more experience, can adapt his/her style more easily to the opponent's For White, the advice from an Ishi book 'Don't play book moves' can be helpful.
Having once heard of Iwamoto's 'Machine gun' or 'Scattering Go' style,
I also like to have a foothold on every part of the board (in high handicap games), even if the stones look weak.
In my personal experience, Black then decides often on unefficient attacks which leave me more freedom. If, on the contrary, had been finishing sequences with book moves (if worst, in gote) then Black would be able to secure more corners with standard moves s/he knows.
Coming back to the styles, it helps me, White (because I play few games, I very seldom receive handicap) so much to know that a certain player will 'crumble' if the positions become more dense.
OTOH, I played a 2-kyu (EGF) in a long Biergarten pub game (Aug. 2004?, Turandot, Berlin), giving him 4 stones. I didn't know him, playing for the first time. I play at a rythm that one would expect to finish the (pub!) game in about an hour and he commits a small Joseki deviation, which I wanted to punish forcefully, perhaps too immediately.
Then he switched to a playing rythm of a 3 hour game (we were playing without a clock), while EGF 4 dan C.W. and 3 dan H.L. were happily commenting on my moves. True humour is when you are able to laugh about yourself, so I had no problems with that, but the kibitzers really see more. In the end I resigned despite some nice shinogies, which were necessary after my initial attack was counterproductive.
What would be my conclusions for a future game vs. this 2 kyu?
First I would only play with a clock, because he might be totally unable within time limits (although I recognized something of myself in him, I also can play fast),
secondly I would not force things with him, rather play patient.

If I receive handicap myself (Japanese style, hoshi stones) I use them for attacking.
I often play side hoshi pincers to any White corner kakari, awaiting the white double kakari, then playing the split (easiest with kosumi), then wait for the free flow of moves.

Alex: Actually, my comments were meant for Black in high handicap games. My experience playing White is that, if I win, it's either because Black a) gave me a couple of ponnuki or strong walls early on so I could fight strongly, or b) tried to save a small group, which then became a big group prior to dying, when Black would still have had a large lead if the group had died small. Thus, my advice is: don't let White get thick too early, and when you're doubtful that you can save a group, let it die small.

WillerZ: If either player has all four corners, Black should resign

Phelan: This is not a certainty, and therefore not a commandment, I think. See Black Should Resign If One Player Has Four Corners.

Path: <= Handicap =>
Ten Commandments of Handicap Go last edited by on April 9, 2009 - 00:01
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