Alternative handicap systems

I don’t really like playing with a traditional handicap. I dislike having all the black stones on hoshi, as it excludes a lot of nice opening strategies. But still I would like to sometimes win against the computer, so over time I have come up with some alternative handicap systems, to spice things up so to say. I’d like to present them here and ask if anyone can come up with some other fun things to try :wink:

  • For completeness: black gets a certain amount of stones to place on the board, but can also choose where to place them.
  • A regular game, but with ridiculously high komi
  • White is forced to pass every X turns (or equivalently, every X turns Black gets to move twice)
  • A variation of the previous ones, but a limited number of times White has to pass at a moment of Black’s choosing (possibly with a certain number of rests in between).
  • A weaker variant of the previous two: Black can decide a limited number of times that White has to play his second choice.
  • Black can decide a limited number of times that White’s next stone becomes black.
  • To make things more fun, any of the previous ones, but at random moments that Black also doesn’t know about

And then there’s some that are a little difficult to get working without a real board, or to teach to a computer program designed to bash human go players into the earth:

  • Black can choose a limited number of times to change the colour of a stone on the board instead of playing
  • Black can play an immortal stone, whose group cannot be captured.
  • Black can decide a limited number of times to move a stone to an adjacent point
  • Black can decide a limited number of times to remove one of the stones from the board (with possible restriction that it must be White / Black).

EDIT: Of course most of these are meant to be used very sparingly, so wherever I mentioned “a limited number of times” I mean anything between a single time and four / five times (I guess), as not to cripple the game too severely.


I would say the last four would stop being go entirely as they break key rules of the game.

As for your top group of suggestions, the first two and last point sound interesting and could be fair to a certain extent. but all the ones in the middle are RIDICULOUSLY open to abuse and I doubt it would be fun for either player. Black’s “handicap” is simply way too over powered.


It is open to abuse, that’s kind of the point of it. Actually it presents a nice challenge to the white player as well. If you give black the option to play twice a single time in the game, white must make certain that all his shapes retain at least two more liberties than any attacking group for most of the game. Black can even decide not to use his free extra move at all, just to keep white alert.

Also you can make it more interesting by giving both players the same options, that removes the “handicap” aspect of it all, though, which was originally my idea.

I’m not sure which is more overpowered, the ability to change a single stone of its colour at some point in the game, or starting with 9 stones handicap.

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At exactly 9 stones difference I’d say the stone colour change is more over powered as it can be any stone at any time. Though since 9 stones is kind of the ‘soft cap’ often the rank difference is much more than 9, in which case I think the stronger player could account for either scenario.

This essentially means white can almost never hane, certainly not near the edge… this really opens white up to a whole lot of abuse but even a semi-competent player.

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Of course White can hane, since black can only ‘abuse’ his power once. If black chooses to do so for a relatively unimportant hane, e.g. at the beginning of the game, he throws away his only handicap. And still then, if black uses it to capture a relatively large group (say 20 points), that still is nowhere near as powerful as 9 stones handicap

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Sorry I must have missed the point where we switched to talking about single use powers. I believe OP spoke more generally about multiple such moves being available at black’s discretion?

I mentioned a “limited number of times”, that could be a single time, or three times, or however difficult the handicap should be. :slight_smile: Perhaps I should clarify it in the OP

If you allow black free use of any of these you would indeed break the game completely


It would certainly be interesting, I think due to its incredible difficulty to balance it could only be played casually and probably not as an all the time method of play if the weaker player is hoping to improve.

The thing about handicap stones is that they teach an important aspect of go that weaker players usually lack (that being an understanding of the relationship between influence and sente). These other variants, while indeed sounding fun, move further away from developing and training real go skills.

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Park Jeong-Sang (White 3p) vs. Cho Han-Seung (Black 5p), Black gets 11 handicap, White gets 2 opportunities to order Black to play somewhere, komi 6.5.

Order moment comes at


For other types of freak matches, visit here: lifein19x19.


This is a very interesting idea because black needs to make sure there is never a game losing point on the entire board… that would be hard!

How about this:

Once (or twice) a game (prob within the first 100 moves), white can flip a coin to switch sides. Or roll a d20.

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That’s pretty interesting… Maybe give both the players the option and whoever asks first gets it? Although that makes both players susceptible to start playing suicidal in an effort to outperform the other in being terrible…

Or perhaps force white to flip a coin on the 100th move, that way white must try to keep the game equal until then.

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or fill the board with half resolved positions that they are confident they can gain an advantage from no matter which side they play


Yeah, so instead I was thinking have the weaker side (I know I said white, but I really didn’t care) choose when to flip it as long as it’s not too late in the game. (Move 100 is arbitrary).

If both sides can gain an advantage, then it’s still somewhat even. Also the higher the handicap, the more flips, and the later in the game they can make those flips.

Chinese rules allow this, and for high handicap games it is really fun ^___^

Or a negative komi, where white gets -6 points per rank difference! I think it would be great to have this as automatic option for handicap setting ^^

The rest of those feel like white will lose on first semeai, thus making the game almost impossible for w. Maybe they could work nicely and be fun for drunken club games xD

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We play ‘pepernoten’ go at our club around ‘sinterklaas’ (Dutch version of Santa Claus who comes on December 5 to bring children presents and gingerbread candy called ‘pepernoten’ . The candy is roughly go stone shaped, the name translates to pepper nuts). Both players get three of the pepernoten, to be played instead of a normal stone. The candy causes the intersection to become border, thus taking away liberties or an eye.

If you want to use it as alternative handicap, give the candy stone(s) only to the weaker player.


I got reminded of this topic in my discussion with @le_4TC during our Thue-Morse game, so here I revive it.

Anybody else who wants to try some of these weird alternative handicap systems or other strange go variants?

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Black can take any number of free placement handicap stones at the beginning of the game, but must take a shot of liquor immediately after placing each one.


Kill-all-go, but the attacker has to take a shot for every group they kill.

I’m open for those kind of variants too :stuck_out_tongue:


I like the first, second, third but the rest are kinda too strong for black

I like the second and the 4th.

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