Handicap wasted - advice

I’m not posting any specific games because I’ve noticed this is an overarching theme.

The AI score line is consistently going downfall in all my handicap games.

No matter what I try, I never seem to be able to secure territory, with as much as 9 stones on the board for me!

Of course the opponents have better overall understanding of the game, so I’m not expecting to win or anything, however I don’t understand how I can consistently lose all the handicap advantage!

Any general guidelines, advice or whatever applies, welcome.


I think playing vs much more higher ranked opponents often is bad idea. Its better to do it only rarely.
They can kill anything. You may lose confidence in your own skills. You may start to afraid to place stones far from each other. And without placing stones far from each other in even games you will have not enough territory.
Its better to not hope only on help of your handicap stones, you should hope on help of your fuseki skills instead. Handicap stones may interfere with fuseki learning. And to win even game, don’t choose much higher ranked opponents.


Games with a lot of handicap stones are generally somewhat weird, since Black starts with a huge positional advantage, and White must make outrageous overplays and count on Black to make a lot of mistakes, in order to neutralize that advantage.

If you are very consistently losing 9 stone handicap games, it may just be due to playing at too large of a rank gap, i.e., more than 9 stones are actually needed.


Tournament games, I can’t really choose.


White will win in high handicap games by either (or both):

  1. White manages to threaten and kill large Black groups, which opens up enough space for White to gain the edge.
  2. Black is overly cautious in keeping all of their groups safe, letting White build much more efficiently to eventually secure more territory quicker.

It’s worth constantly reevaluating the safety of one’s groups and trying to watch out for large scale scheming by White. For example, one strategy by White is to start multiple unsettled positions, seemingly putting stones all over the board with reckless abandon, but aiming at some sort of larger scale encirclement of territory and/or threatening a weaker Black group by building up power and influence.

Another aspect is recognizing and exploiting weaker White groups. It’s often worthwhile to not be too passive towards White. If White has some weaker groups that they seem to be neglecting, then there is some opportunity to threaten them a bit, in order to gain some initiative in the game, while building up territory along the way. Since White has to overplay in handicap games, they do often wind up juggling a few weak groups.

However, Black should generally be careful when considering and attempting big decisive kills. White may routinely sacrifice some small groups along the way in a high handicap game, but will be very careful about their large essential groups. Anyways, in some big and complicated life-and-death battles, White may have a significant reading advantage, so Black should be careful about not getting into too costly of a fight that may be likely to backfire on them.


I don’t think this is true in general. Some white players may do that, but my impression is that players who are fairly good at playing white against handicap don’t play like that, and I’d advice against it.
You can check this by looking at the AI review graphs of handicap games and spotting outrageous overplays by white. The AI review graph would show a spike to black’s advantage, because it assumes black will punish it.

But if the AI review graph just goes down gradually without major spikes in black’s advantage, then I’d say white was just taking advantage of inevitable minor mistakes and inefficient moves by black, slowly grinding down the handicap advantage.


white may always do “outrageous overplays”. In even games too. Its possible to not be able to to distinguish when you do good moves and when you do “overplay”.


If the handicap is fair, you would expect the AI score line to drop from black’s huge advantage at the beginning to around 0 at the end of the game, with it ending up either side of that 0 point about 50-50.


You are doing pretty well maintaining your advantage in our games… :sweat_smile:

But yeah I think the descent is just the nature of handicap games. Here is my graph for my most recent 9-stone match against our 5d:

If there were no descent, then it wouldn’t make sense to play handicap!


ideas for handicap games… hmm

Whites goal in large handicap games is to cut off your stones from each other.
So don’t try to build territory as primary goal, try to stay connected first and foremost. White will have a very hard time if she struggles to cut you apart.


Note that in the standard handicap system all of the handicap stones are on the 4th line. As you may know from your general go fundamentals, 4th line stones are most efficient when they are used for building influence and attacking, rather than making territory. This is a hint for how to play with a large handicap: don’t try to make territory too quickly, but rather respond to white’s first few approach moves by building a lot of thickness, and then later try to use that thickness to make territory. You will still have to attack your opponent if they invade the area you’re building with your big walls, but you will have a big advantage in the fight.

The other key point is to not let yourself panic or get distracted. You don’t need to save all of your handicap stones to win: if your opponent picks a fight in an area where their strength is equal or greater, the best decision is often to sacrifice a few unimportant stones rather than giving your opponent a target. Take sente and use it to fix other weaknesses or consolidate your position elsewhere on the board. I would go so far as to say that it is basically impossible to win against a player with 5 or more handicap stones unless you can get them to overcommit to some stones that they could easily have sacrificed in favor of a bigger move elsewhere.


I dont have that much experience on handicap games, but when im playing high-handi games as white, i try to isolate blacks stones from eachothers and then attack them. If black just keeps their groups connected and alive (including the tengen stone) and builds some territory while doing so, i simply dont have the room to make enough territory anywhere.

So how to not lose the advantage of your handicap stones? Dont allow white to split those stones into multiple small groups which may or may not survive.


This reddit post contains an interesting discussion of a 9-stone handicap game between a pro and a 1 kyu player. https://www.reddit.com/r/baduk/comments/64dzlk/1k_losing_to_a_professional_with_a_9stone/


Pretend that the handicap stones where played by you and were not there beforehand.
Players that have handicap stones tend to be protective of them or play differently from them, in comparison to the moves they’d make if they had placed those stones themselves.

Totally fictional example (I do not really play handicap games so I do not know what is optimal for White):

But if you had placed those stones yourself, would you play A again or would you be more keen to choose more aggressive choices like B, C or D?

I wouldn’t say that D is better than A, by the way. It is just an example of reacting in a different mentality.


In that game, Black was too defensive (that said, I don’t think I’d win a 9-stone handicap game against Kageyama either…).

In a handicap game, I’d say that Black should try to keep his stones strong and keep White’s stones weak… On the other hand, that’s how you should always think about a go game, with or without handicap. The only difference is that in a high handicap game, until late middle game, Black generally has stronger groups (if he doesn’t, then he must have done something wrong), White can’t make a moyo, so Black doesn’t need to worry about invading anything but rather fight against invasions.


Connect your handicap stones. Keep white in pieces. If you can’t extract one of your edge stone to the center, sacrifice it and let make this white territory as small as possible by forcing moves from the outside.

Don’t think about your territories, think to harass white and develop your handicap stones together. Your territories will come naturally (magically?)

A bit more
Be smart (don’t search for difficulty )
Be global (learn to tenuki and keep the pressure)
Anticipate (When you have no idea where to attack, prepare yourself for the next white attack)

And get your game reviewed.


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Obsolete Post

[emphasis added]

Did you mean “Games with a lot of handicap stones”?


I’d say that when there is a large gap in playing strength, the gradual score downfall is expected to happen.
Handicap just helps to change a downfall like this:


… into downfalls like these:



That last graph is from a 7 stone game between me and @yebellz from 3 years ago where he managed to fend me off by not giving me much of a target to attack.
I’d say that white didn’t play outrageous overplays.

That 2nd graph is from a 6 stone game between me and @teapoweredrobot. It seems that he and yebbelz are of similar strength and 1 stone less handicap may have been just enough so that I could win this game, while I lost that other game.
Also in this game, I’d say that white didn’t play outrageous overplays.
I’d say that black playing some point losing moves between move 83 and move 93 was enough to make the game close enough for white to win in the endgame. The cause of black’s loss was not like black letting some big group die all of a sudden.


Apologies if this was already said and I didn’t absorb it … an important thing to realise about handicap is that it does not stop your win rate dropping. That would be the “wrong expectation”.

Rather, it compensates for it.

So what you are aiming for, if you have the correct handicap, is that the score has dropped to +5 in your direction and/or the win rate dropped to 51% at the time that the game ends (in your favour :slight_smile: )

That would be the outcome of a “correct handicap” IMO.


Oh, gennan just said this too :slight_smile: