The Ethics of Playing Provisional Players

Original title: Small ethics/diplomacy question

So, in case whoever’s reading is not aware, one issue that makes the current rating system unwelcoming to beginners is that they have to face much stronger opponents until their rank adjusts.

Since I am 15 kyu and I like helping beginners, I had this galaxy brain idea: what if instead of playing an unranked teaching game with them like I usually do, I make it ranked and make sure I win, so that it helps their rank go down while also helping them learn?

It would work better if I had an even lower rank, but I genuinely think this is a pretty good idea.

So the question that naturally arises is that it might look like I’m farming newcomers for rating points. Or, regardless of what my intentions are, I might end up doing it unintentionally.

From my understanding of how the rating system works, I shouldn’t really gain too much from winning games against provisional players, or at least that’s what I thought. Yesterday I tried this, and the bump up to my rank I got from winning against the [?] player was small but arguably not insignificant – 0.2 kyu. Maybe with the volatility of our current rating system that doesn’t mean much, I don’t know. At the moment I don’t play many ranked games, so it would definitely build up if I kept doing this.

So there are two questions:

  1. Do you think there’s any “ethical” issue with doing this?

  2. How do I explain it without making it sound suspicious? :laughing: I believe in transparency so I feel that I have to tell the beginners that I’m intentionally making the game ranked to help their rank go down, but on one hand I don’t want to have to explain how the rating system works, and on the other I don’t want to say “trust me bro, it’s best for you” :laughing:


Definitely no one cares.

Do you get a lot of “?” players? It doesn’t seem like there’re a lot of game offers from “?”.

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If they’re losing against a player who is much stronger than them, it shouldn’t “make their rank go down” too much, but rather “help stabilise their rank and remove their question mark”. Perhaps phrase it like that if it helps.

There is also the question of whether you play in the same way in a ranked game than in an unranked game. I’m sure there are people who would play “pedagogical moves” in an unranked game, but would mercilessly crush their opponent in a ranked game. If you decide to play ranked games with beginners, be aware of whether that influences your play style.

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A game is based on a contract between two players.
If you set a challenge and another player accepts, that seems to me all right.

You write that you

Can you define beginners?
Beginners at OGS or just learned the go rules?

Not every newbie at OGS is a beginner who just learned the go rules.

It’s not so much an “ethical” issue as a rules of conduct issue.

If it is a teaching game, with advice given during the game, then it is not allowed to be ranked.

Players are not allowed to receive assistance in ranked games:

Terms of service “You cannot receive ANY outside assistance on live or blitz Go games.

Of course, if it is only a teaching game in the sense that you explain things to them afterwards, then there is absolutely no problem at all…


How about correspondence games?

You will see, in the linked terms of service, that correspondence games have an exception stated to this rule which is that you are allowed to use joseki dictionaries.

That is the only listed exception to this rule.


Further note: the problem of beginners having to play “too experienced” people was supposed to be solved by “Humble Rank”.

Something went wrong along the way with that - I lost track: maybe it wasn’t fully implemented?

I think the real answer to the actual problem is getting that thing fully implemented…

Didn’t know this and probably have broken this rule many times.
Wondering if SDK players who request a teaching game (and usually send the challenge) are aware of this rule.

Maybe a message or an extra option on the Create Challenge page?

Something like:

  • extra option: besides private and rengo a learning game option that automatically disables ranked game.

  • message: after ranked field a notice (teaching games should be unranked)

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If we’re to put work into “teaching games” there are is raft of good ideas waiting to be done :slight_smile:

I imagine most people aren’t really thinking about whether or not they can use a joseki dictionary live either…

In most cases these things don’t matter, and no-one is really fretting about them.

However, since the OP asked, I think this is the actual answer…


I reread the whole page to be sure, and I found no reference to ranked and unranked games. It looks like those terms do not make a distinction between ranked and unranked games at all.

So, giving advice to beginners doesn’t seem “more forbidden” in ranked games.

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It’s definitely the case that anyone with a mind to do it will be able to pick apart the TOS language.

There are more ways to do it than you mentioned.

My understanding is that the intent of them, and the implementation of them by the moderation team AFAIK, is as I have said. But anyone can appeal or debate that, it’d be interesting to get a recent ruling.

Well, in a way that’s actually where the ethical issue may arise. I often hang out in the chat, and when a beginner comes to say hi, if I have time I ask them if they’d like a teaching game – so it’s almost like I’m “fishing” for them in practice.

Yes, it is a bit of a problem. Since I’m only 15 kyu, it can be surprisingly difficult to play a “gentle” (and principled, so not fight-oriented) game while also making sure that I win – that’s why when I tried it yesterday I played a 13x13 game, since I feel that in a 9x9 game the only way to ensure winning is often to play pretty aggressively.

To answer @Atorrante’s question, by “beginners” I mean “Go beginners”, not just “OGS beginners” (which I usually call “newcomers”). Since I talk to them before offering the game, I can ask them directly how much experience they have, and of course I only offer teaching games to actual beginners.

I had an inkling this would come up. I can’t find the topic now, but there was a similar situation with a player who asked “how do I get to play beginners” and someone, @Uberdude if I’m correct, perhaps jokingly, said “make a new account, all the beginners are 6 kyu”, and a moderator replied that intentional rank manipulation is not allowed.

I imagine the same issue would be brought up if I proposed to teach beginner newcomers how to manipulate their rank to get down to 25 kyu as quickly and painlessly as possible.

 While I don’t like to start a fight, I have to say that all of this is absurd: the site has set up a system that forces beginners to go through a kafkaesque rigamarole to be able to do the main thing that they usually want to do coming here, playing other beginners, and most if not all of the attempts to help them go through that as painlessly as possible are marked as against the rules*, and implicitly threatened of moderation measures even though they’re clearly meant in good will.

*I do understand that they’re marked against the rules because the same behaviour could be performed maliciously, such as for cheating or intentional rank manipulation.

I think you don’t need me to tell you that I don’t agree with this kind of position. I won’t respect the rules if the rules are being enforced in a mindless way that hurts the community more than it helps it.

For the most part, the terms of service of OGS were clearly intentionally written to be vague, so that it would be up to the good sense of the moderators to only enforce them when a malicious intent was detected in a user, or to quench behaviours that would hurt the community even without malicious intent.

So in the context of OGS, I believe it is quite tone-deaf to point out that the rules do not allow something if that something is both done in good faith and doesn’t hurt the community.

I believe the initial proposal (usually attributed to you?) was meant to bring the initial matchmaking rank to something like 18 kyu (6 kyu minus twice the initial deviation), but it was implemented as “6 kyu minus once the initial deviation”, so the current initial matchmaking rank is 12 kyu.

But the humble rank seems to be working – although with the fact that it’s displayed in the profile page and that there’s also a glitch causing the real provisional “6 kyu” rank to be visible in game thumbnails, it also often causes confusion.

Also, related to the humble rank, is the fact that 12 kyu established players (and surrounding) are unwillingly tasked with the burden of dealing with all the newcomers on OGS. See this topic around that, and this reply of mine if you’d like to know my proposals to improve the system.

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IIRC the thread in which Humble Rank was first proposed was a thread that I started where I was raising exactly this kind of issue :smiley:

IIRC it was something like “we are doing harm to beginners with this system”.

I didn’t think of Humble Rank, but when it was suggested I definitely got behind it.

AIUI, without going back over history, there are two problems with Humble Rank.

  1. It isn’t applied in all matchings. I can’t recall where it is and is not applied

  2. the rating system changed after it was implemented, and as you say, the effect of this means that the humble rank might still be too high.

I still think that it is the “right kind of answer” to this problem:

It just needs to be fully implemented and adjusted so that humble ranks are suitably humble.

You went on to say:

… I dispute this. As I said in my previous post “In most cases these things don’t matter, and no-one is really fretting about them.”

By this I mean “there are few if any reports against people conducting well-intentioned teaching, and few if any moderation actions resulting, as far as I know”.

In contrast, what is generally happening is that obvious well-intended behaviour is allowed to happen, without painfully trying to write watertight rules that allow sensible things and disallow undesirable things: a thankless and unlikely-to-be-successful task :open_mouth:

But … maybe we could draft something now, since a few obvious holes in both the wording and intent of the TOS have been exposed here?


Points to capture/debate:

  • The “you can’t get assistance” applies to ranked games, not unranked games

    • And yet, do we want to tolerate AI cheating in unranked games?
  • There’s really no harm in the opponent (or a mentor) offering assistance to a player who is so far below their opponent in rank that the assistance will not change the outcome of the game (and therefore the rank result will not be “wrong”)

    • How do you quantify this?

On the the ethical/diplomacy issue, the old tale still rings true:
Once, in ancient Greece, there was a ship going on a trade mission. A huge storm went up and the ship sunk and everyone was tossed into the sea. The rich merchant that owned the ship started begging the godess Athena to help him survive the storm and if he did, he would made huge donations to the temple.

Then a nearby sailor that was treading water told him the phrase “Συν Αθηνά και χείρα κίνει” which means “With Athena’s help, for sure, but try to move your hands, as well”

The epimyth is that help is useful only when it is accompanied by some action from the recieving party. If OGS doesn’t want help in this issue, you are losing your time.

One person devoting their own time in helping a couple of new players is not really going to help. You have to enjoy the game as well, right? If instead of “I am here to play Go and have some fun” you switch to “I am here to play and fix the problems of OGS” you will burn-out, especially when you realised that the system is burdening a lot more players than you could possibly help.

Instead of you doing this, you could just tell the beginners to go play with an AI bot 5+ times, play 20 random moves and resign, so that it counts as a ranked game.
If that sounds bad to them, remember that it is their rank and it should be their choice.
If they dislike the system, remember that it is OGS team’s decision and it should be their problem. If the beginners leave and go to other servers, the OGS team will notice and rethink their decision. Until then, I’ve seen various topics with proposals for them to pick from and there is no shortage of them.

My take on this is that on your own time you can offer the beginners actual teaching games, if that is what you enjoy and you can both have fun. :slight_smile:

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I do usually have a tendency to want to “revolutionize the system” everywhere I go, and I failed at it and got depressed in every single community I’ve been part of in my life.

Catching the vibe, I was also depressed in the last few weeks at the realization that not only I don’t have the power to protect the world from climate change and political radicalization, but I don’t even have the power to significantly improve something as comparatively small as OGS.

I did my self-reflection to come to terms with that and the only thing I can do is focus on helping individuals. Of course it’s unlikely to change the system, but at least I’m helping someone, and it makes me feel better in the moment, it doesn’t matter how insignificant it is in the grand scheme of things.

I have not only thought of this, but I’ve done it in at least one occasion. The main drawback is that there are many little details that one needs to understand to do this successfully, and many newcomers don’t actually understand how a rating or ranking system works, even though some people refuse to believe that. I am wary of overwhelming beginners with too much information, so I don’t like it unless the beginner seems very quick on the uptake.

But even if I liked it, remember that intentional rank manipulation is against OGS’s rules :laughing:


That’s amazing. Seems to me that the TOS should be corrected to specify rated vs unrated and be in harmony with the use of OGS.

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I’m guessing the TOS-as-written never changed, but the TOS-as-enforced changed quite a lot over time.

In particular there used to be a relatively-official tournament on OGS that was meant to be played by players assisted by AI, so clearly AI-assistance was not against the rules. Then at some point AI-assistance became against the rules “everywhere, except in the official AI-assisted tournament”. Then at some point the AI-assisted tournament was deemed to be against the rules and discontinued.

But I don’t think any written rules actually ever changed.

Was it?

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