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The bad former #3 commandment "In handicap go, defense is more important than offense" [#9190]

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Uberdude: The bad former #3 commandment "In handicap go, defense is more important than offense" (2020-05-13 07:25) [#11526]

Uberdude: I have removed #3 "In handicap go, defense is more important than offense" from the list on the main page as I too think it is bad advice, and was added by an unsigned user IP on May 23, 2006 - 06:39 so we should not immortalise such bad advice as though it is gospel.

Discussion on it copied below.

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!

reply ((no subject)) (2020-05-13 16:29) [#11529]

Simply removing that part may not be the best solution. Also in a handicap game W is likely (much) stronger, so there is some merit in a bit more defense or more careful play than usual.

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