Handicap etiquette?

Is there any etiquette about where you place handicap stones, when you are given a choice?

When I’ve played handicap in the past, the stones have magically appeared on the star points.

However, in a recent game I had at OGS I was given free placement of my handicap stones.

Are you supposed to put them on star points, or are you free to place a configuration that seems more to your liking?


My understanding is if it’s free placement you can put them anywhere you want


In Japanese tradition, the star points are pretty much iron clad rule, afaik. Chinese rules allow black to place them anywhere, but the star points are still the most common in my experience.


Thanks - maybe that explains my experience (the latest game being Chinese).

It somehow felt wrong thinking about making an enclosure or similar :slight_smile:

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Just to add my five cents - AFAIK (well sensei told me) “official” Chinese rules do not really talk about handicap. One of the most common interpretation is “free placement” which you really can then use to your liking.

But in my experience this usually tends to “turn the tables” for the handicapee (not a word?) a little, as I find it easier to win with free placement than with the regular one.


I have experimented with different placement under Chinese rules, but I ended up settling on the star points in the end. I can’t recall where I read it (I think it was a book about playing handicap go), but the purpose of the handicap stones on the star points(in the sense of strategy, not the sense of evening out the skill disparity) is to practice attacking.

Since black already has high stones, black has the advantage while attacking. Once I learned that I started using the traditional Japanese placement exclusively.


Firetruck you’re greedy! What makes you think you get more than the standard 2 cents? huh!? :stuck_out_tongue:


What about komi?

I would have thought white still should get Komi, but my kind opponent took none in our recent game where I had handicap stones …



Moderator’s pay :wink:


I find free placement the better system. If the weaker player is already taking handicap, then why force them to take it in a way which they might prefer not to? That’s a shifting of the balance of handicap back towards White, which works against the purpose of the handicap premise.


For learning purposes of course! :slight_smile: If they just put three moves guarding one corner, they will never learn how to defend it with only one stone present, which is the usual case. But I do not care much for HC games overall, so maybe I am prejudiced :smiley:


If it’s online game, place them wherever you want. If it’s OTB, place on stars unless specifically agreed upon.

I think this is the way to go.

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If I recall right, in Hikaru No Go comics is said that handicap games have no komi (so it’s possible for Akira Toya to manage multiple games as tie against powerful opponents).

These aren’t five cents, I fear. Not even two. :wink:
And that’s japanese rules I suppose.

If the purpose of the HC stones is solely for the two players to hopefully have an even chance at victory, I think free placement works best to that end.

However, the standard placement of HC stones helps teach an often unintuitive aspect of Go for kyu players, that being the relationship between influence and sente.


There’s been a bit of an assumption that the giving of handicap stones is “to give as much advantage as possible”, in which case of course free placement would be best.

But in some ways my question questions this assumption.

If handicaps are traditionally star points, and the space between kyus is calibrated that way, then allowing free placement could be arguably too much advantage to give…

Anyhow, my sense is that somehow star points are appropriate, I went to consider doing something else and it felt gamey :slight_smile:


I don’t think free placement is a seriously stronger handicap than default placement. Default placement is good. DDK would easily get over-concentrated if you allowed them free placement.

I was the referee in a tournament with handicap games. It was EGF rules, so free placement. But actually, most players don’t even know it’s free and put them as usual.
However, one player came and ask me about it. After I told him he was free to place them however he wished, his opponent was pretty mad about it and tried to convince me to forbid it, even calling it “disrespectful of the game”. (So here you go about etiquette, some people really don’t like free placement).

It was a 9 stones games. Black made something like 4 shimari + tengen (I don’t remember exactly, but that was the general idea of his formation). White won. I think 4 shimari is decent, but not better than 8 hoshi.


One should mention that with free placement and Chinese rules you have to add points to white score for each handicap stone to have the same score as with the Japanese rule.

On my experience with white, free placement is usually nice to play as white because it tends black to overdo his liking and not put a so good balance on the board. And it’s still not that bad as a teaching tool too.

I’d like to see free handicap placement as more of a norm on OGS.

eg. I dislike that OGS’ interpretation of the Japanese rules is as purist as to disallow it. It’d be more accomodating to have it as at least a toggle for the game creator.

Then again, I respect the argument that the “gentlemen’s handicap”, the free placement caused by a number of white passes at the start of the game, is available in all rulesets.

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I think it comes back to this at the end of the day.

I think if you want to calibrate the ratings system off of something it should be in some ways standardised. If Black ends up winning more games with shimaris than star points or vice versa and both are played equally as much, it’ll mess up winrates. Or maybe the winrates are completely configuration dependent.

One can imagine high ddks or TPKs placing nine stones in one corner to get solid points, and then that’s not so comparable with 9 star point stones (I know the focus should probably be on 1-3 stone handicaps or generally low handicaps rather than high).

Edit: I’m not against free placement though necessarily.