AGA Rules about handicap stones


Hi there!

In your rules comparaison matrix here, it’s said the AGA rules forbids free placement when you have handicap.

However, according to Sensei’s Library (for example here and here, the AGA rules allows the free placement.

But in this document (Official AGA Rules of Go), it’s said "Unless otherwise specified, handicap stones shall be placed in this fashion. ".

So… Who is right ? (I know I have the “official AGA rules”, but I wanted to be sure :slight_smile: )


These rules are not as thoroughly written as some I have seen. There is no rule which says that lower numbered rules supersede higher where conflict arises. And conflict they do.

  1. The Board and Stones: Go is a game of strategy between two sides usually played on a 19x19 grid (the board). The game may also be played on smaller boards, 13x13 and 9x9 being the two most common variants. The board is initially vacant, unless a handicap is given (see Rule 4). The two sides, known as Black and White, are each provided with an adequate supply of playing tokens, known as stones, of the appropriate color.

The board is initially vacant, unless a handicap is given. This will conflict with the later rule four which prescribes (as should be expected by any go player above 20k) an empty board for 1 stone handicap games.

  1. Compensation: In an even (non-handicap) game, Black gives White a compensation of 7 ½ points for the advantage of the first move. This compensation is added to White’s score at the end of the game. In handicap games, Black gives White ½ point compensation. This avoids draws.

This rule assumes prior knowledge of komi for adequate comprehension. The word “give” normally implies the loss of the gift by the giving party. But in go white gets the 7.5 points free, not from black. If she got them from black, komi would be twice as high as it should be, in effect. You could handle komi by black giving white stones, but that would require a lower komi than 7.5.

In handicap games, Black gives White 1/2 point compensation. This will conflict with the immediately postceding rule which only prescribes 1/2 point komi for one stone handicap games.

  1. Handicaps: The game may be played with a handicap to compensate for differences in player strengths. The weaker player takes Black, and either moves first, giving only ½ point compensation to White, as in Rule 3 (this is known as a"one stone handicap"), or places from 2 to 9 stones on the board before the first White move.

and either, giving only 1/2, as per rule, OR places. This would imply that placing handicap stones and moving first/having komi of 1/2 are two mutually exclusive options. As any go player above 20k knows, this is not the intended interpretation, but it is the natural one.

And this is just what I noticed on a cursory reading of the first four rules at 6:00 am after having been unable to sleep the previous night.

As to your question, your quotation is taken from non-bold typeface, which was stated in the introduction to indicate comments. But throughout the document, even in the introduction itself, they seem to use the non-bold typeface for actually rules and regulations. So in conclusion, while a strict reading of the rules should indicate that no comment is made on correct execution of handicap, strict reading of the rules also requires that I give 15 points komi and two handicap stones if I play a handicap game against someone 2 stones weaker than me.


SL also refers to this commentary by the AGA Rules Committee, which says the following:

Placement of Handicap Stones:
Our rules allow free placement of handicap stones, but tacitly favor
the Japanese placement of handicap stones by describing it as “traditional”.
Clubs and tournament directors wishing to make traditional Japanese
placement a requirement can easily do so.

I guess that means that free placement is permitted in principle… but if OGS wishes to make traditional placement a requirement it can easly do so. :slight_smile:


Ok ! Thank you for all those informations :blush: