Offensive vs. Defensive Posture

Being fairly new, a good number of my games are played with a handicap. I have found this to support and encourage a solid, slow, primarily defensive style of play, in which I am spending most of the game just defending my opening lead, and either being whittled down to dust if I am not successful, or winning mostly by virtue of my advantage. This has led to my offensive capabilities becoming woefully underdeveloped. I find that when I do make aggressive plays, more often than not it diminishes my advantage rather than advancing it.

I know that one natural solution is to play more even games, or handicap games where I am white, forcing the issue. But I’d love to hear any advice on offensive style, or engage a discussion of the principle distinctions between offensive and defensive play. In my case, I think some of it comes down to a weakness in life and death situations- and so more practice there. There seem always to be higher levels of thought about it, and if any float in your minds, I invite them here.


There’s this awesome book I’m reading called Breakthrough to Shodan which talks about this compulsion to defend territory. Here’s an excerpt:

If one listens to the complaints of people who are not making progress, one gets
the impression that most of them are convinced that the purpose of the handicap
stones is to defend the corners. With this terrible misconception for a start, they
can hardly expect to make progress. It is only when the handicap stones are used
for attack that they deliver their full power.

Perhaps a shortcut to making progress is to learn to be defiant enough to play in
the opposite direction from the sound of your opponent’s stones.


“Be defiant enough to play in the opposite direction from the sound of your opponent’s stones.”

This is an awesome sentence, and because I am sure I do not fully understand it, I will expand on what I do take from it. Forgive me if it diminishes the simplicity of the instruction.

My opponent plays stones, which by their relationship to other stones on the board have an implied direction- I am still working out the concept of “direction of play.” A complex of such stones may endeavor to coerce my play in a direction of their design, and I presume this might be called the “sound” of the stones. It might be a sound which encourages me to make certain moves- moves that in a limited context seem profitable, but ultimately play into my opponent’s agenda. The wisdom in this, then, would be to recognize the implied direction in my opponent’s stones, and defy that sound by striking at points that neutralize my opponent’s agenda, and create a counter-frequency which pulls the momentum of play back into my court, or at least into equilibrium.

This may be an overly intellectual (or not nearly intellectual enough) extrapolation of the concept, but it spells out the instruction as clearly as I can understand it. I would invite edits, expansions on points, and an opening further of the discussion to bridge the gap between sense-concepts like “sound”, “direction”, and “defiance” into concrete principles of play.

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That explication sounds right. The book is aimed at SDK players, obviously, but the idea is the same. Attempts to make territory may give white an easy development. Failure to take the initiative may give white a chance to plot schemes of her own. It’s not so much that the moves are bad as the intention behind them to defend.

“‘Take the lead and attack’ is the safest short road to victory. It goes without saying
that attack serves also for defense. Keep your opponent off balance and attack with
all your might.”

I wish more people would try playing handicap from time to time. There’s so much to learn on both sides of the handicap.


One type of defiance you may be looking for is referred to as Kiai. Playing in the opposite direction can be dangerous if you do it blindly. There are plenty of times that your opponent’s move is a forcing move that you should definitely respond to. For example, if your opponent plays a move that threatens to break a group that was reasonably strong into a collection of disjoint weak groups, it is almost always in your interest to respond.

There is not any one thing that can help you to make your attacking moves more successful, or to make your defensive moves more aggressive. One skill that you can develop in order to be able to play more confidently is your ability to solve life-and-death problems. Understanding when a group is or is not alive, and where its key points are is critical in both attacking and defending. Otherwise, you can easily be tempted to overplay and give up sente.


the first idea in handicap games is that you have to use your stones from the very beginning or these X handicap stones will just sink with all the bad moves and won’t help you to win.
How to use them?

on low handicap, with 1 to 3 stones it’s going to be hard to win if you don’t face the challenge like an even game. No way to back off, you’ll need to invastigate your full power to show that this few more stones you got are going to balance the game in your favor.

on high handicap 6 to 9, you have to use the structure already in place, with this idea of boxes already in place. To keep white in the boxes and not being yourself in some white boxes is all what matter and for that you can’t just start to delimitate some territories. If you do so, be sure you’ll finish under the dominance of white.

Quite a necro! Well done! And also a good reminder since I’m trying to play more handicap games.