Why byo-yomi?

As a 9k eternal beginner, I’ve always been puzzled about why anyone would want to use byo-yomi timing instead of a fixed maximum time per move (here called Fisher timing). Is advanced player thinking time so variable that they need to average it out? But even if you want your time averaged out, a fixed maximum total playing time for each opponent for the entire game (here called absolute time, I believe), would take care of that averaging, no?

A related question is, is it really helpful to have a time pressure at all when making moves? Wouldn’t it be sufficient to provide a button to click to urge your opponent (in their chosen language) to please make their move already?

  1. Are you talking about Japanese or Canadian byo-yomi?

  2. People who play go are usually busy, if they think they have at most 1h of free time ahead then they don’t want their opponent to think forever.


A lot of it’s tradition. Byo yomi has existed since before Bobby Fischer. It literally means “counting the seconds” which is what people literally did before fancy game clocks.


Byo yomi is essentially the same as the fixed time per move just that you can break that time limit a few times in case you need the time to read something very important.

As to why, I think most of the reason would be tradition.


In case anyone is into etymology and things,

Actually it’s a compound noun made of “a second” and “a read”, and it’s a very niche term for “countdown” that is only used for board games (namely go, shogi, othello) and nothing else. This is because it uses an obscure meaning for yomi (nounified verb “to read” which otherwise is a normal verb in modern japanese) in the meaning “to say”, something similar to the “to read out loud” in english, which isn’t used in modern japanese anymore. So if you were to use the rules of english regarding compound nouns, the closest translation would be “secondsay” or “secondread”. But not the corresponding versions with -ing, because, firstly there’s no continuative form of verbs in japanese (teiru isn’t that although it’s a convenient beginner shortcut for understanding) and secondly the nounified form in japanese doesn’t act as a weak noun as would the -ing form in english in this case, but rather as a proper noun, like for example “a say” would in relation to “to say” in english.


I think there’s already some good answers so here’s a related question that I think is close to the OP. Forgive me if off topic…

As another 9k-ish beginner, I think byo-yomi does seem a bit counter intuitive of a time control. Given 10-30 min and 5x30s how should a beginner think about using this time? It feels like you can waste a lot of time in the opening, because inevitably you’re spending your main time, but really you need that time for middle game fighting and reading. Maybe pros are doing deep thinking in the opening but I don’t think it’s great use of time for beginners… on the other hand don’t want to blitz the opening either

Not anymore they don’t. In the last 10 competitive games I watched live, over a half of them had opening played in less than 10 minutes (with 1-2h main time), and in one game (ichiriki vs shin jinseo was it?) it was played in less than a minute even, but that was a variation of the opening that both players have memorised from an AI.

Edit: it was ke jie vs shin jinseo - the opening was played in just 2 minutes.


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I agree that Fischer time is better than byoyomi. I consider Canadian overtime already an improvement when having only an analog clock with IRL games.
But given that electronic clocks are becoming more and more common even IRL, I don’t see why anyone would prefer byoyomi (except maybe for tradition).


Fisher timing has got a flaw. It’ll be disgusting if your opponent play useless moves in no time and stubbornly refuse to count the territory. To make it worse, the definition of the end of go game is suprisingly vague.

The flaw you describe is not unique to fischer time. Players can stall with “Pointless stalling moves” using byo-yomi as well. Actually I reckon I could stall more effectively with byo-yomi because the fischer increment can be smaller than a byo-yomi period to achieve the same overall rate of play.

Obviously willful stalling is against site rules and does ultimately lead to accounts being suspended.


The main reason for time controls is to ensure games finish within a certain time. Absolute works for this but can be rather unsatisfactory at the very end due to the hard cut off. You can argue about the pros and cons of this but the more complex time controls enable games to be finished off more elegantly.
I have heard for players even older then me that the way time controls are used, especially byo yomi has evolved somewhat. Originally you’d have main time and some number of byo yomi periods with the expectation that the bulk of the game would be played in the main time with byo yomi just for (later?) endgame to enable the last bit of “tidying up” and enable clean scoring. But nowadays byo yomi is used more as part of the main game time. Partly due to faster games online and also because it can provide an advantage of enabling more time to be used earlier in the game without timing out (for those who are able to keep up a regular playing pace for a good while)

You are right that Fischer is becoming more popular I think but byo yomi is quite a nice solution.
It ensures that play continues at a reasonable pace but allowing a bit of a buffer for more complex positions. Fischer does this too but the buffer can get quite large which might be a drawback.

I think the point is that having some way to enable a game to be finished off elegantly is felt useful. Which of the options available is best will depend on the circumstances of the game. Is it more important to end by a particular time? Is it more important to enable to players to finish properly at the cost of a longer game in some circumstances?
What are the players preferences?


I prefer byo-yomi and it’s nothing to do with tradition.

The problem I have with Fischer and Canadian is that it’s one extra thing to manage, and I find that difficult.

If I use up too much time say I’m in the last 10s of time with 5s or 10s increment I will probably not get back above 5s or 10s and will likely time out (at least it would take a lot of consecutive moves or not thinking, and that’s enough to lose the game). A similar problem with Canadian is that I read out a few sequences and my opponent then doesn’t play what I expected, and now I’ve to make 10 moves with like 2 seconds each on average.

I much prefer just having a fixed 30s for every move with maybe the possibility of going over 30s a couple of times.

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I understand that a 5s or 10s increment is much more stressful than 30s byoyomi, but I don’t consider that a fair comparison. I think it’s more fair to compare 30s byoyomi to a 20s increment, and a 20s increment already seems more comfortable to me than 30s byoyomi.


Even if it sounds more comfortable it’s still one extra thing to worry about while reading, managing whether you have spent too much time on one move or if you can compensate that with some forcing moves if needed to gain time.

Or one can use a ko-suji, the ultimate way to gain time in Fischer :slight_smile:

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Could not find definition online. What is it, please?

Playing a ko not because it’s a good sequence, but to gain time.


I think the problem here is that too much time was used, rather than the time controls as such.

The balance between main time and increment (Fischer, byo yomi, Canadian or whatever) is different for each time control.

I played in two class A EGF tournaments which used Fischer. One used 45m +15s and the other 65m+5s. These are supposed to be equivalent (75 minutes for 240 moves) but the 15s increment resulted in longer games, in particular for the slowest game in a round, which is what matters for a tournament.
The point being that at +5 seconds you need to be closer to finishing then with +15s after an hour or so.

Would it be easier to keep time with 72m+3x5s byo yomi, 65m+5s Fischer or 45m+15s Fischer? How about 60m + 10 stones in 5 minutes, 20 stones/5m, 30/5m, etc accelerating Canadian?
How about 75m sudden death? These are all EGF class A equivalent I think.

I think there would be combinations of main and increment in any system that different players prefer or not. And this might affect things more than the choice of timing system.


Probably a portmanteau of ko + tesuji, and in this case tesuji in a sense that it lets you stack up on time because every other move in a ko fight is the retake of the ko stone which doesn’t require any thinking.

Another bit of trivia that nobody asked for

Suji is a very old word that has gotten a lot of metaphorical meanings somewhere around 16th century. I’m not sure why as I haven’t studied old japanese. But either way, in modern japanese it means just a “line”, for example a line on a piece of paper. However it had leveraged a ton of metaphorical meanings from the ancient times, one of which has the meaning of “line of reasoning” and the related phrases such as “suji o toosu” (to make a path by a “line” → to proceed logically). This is also the etymology of the term when applied to go and shogi (with or without “te”, which in these contexts means “a move”) - a logical/reasonable move.
However I’m telling all of this because this term is also used in mahjong (not the american one, the real one, e.g. riichi mahjong) in a more literal sense. It’s used to describe a line of numbers, or maybe it would be more suitable to call them a row of numbers, consisting of triplets. One of the objectives of the game is to collect consecutive triplets in your hand, e.g. tiles marked as 2, 3, 4, or 7, 8, 9. This term is used to refer to the tiles that are related “by suji” to a tile in a discard pile. For example if somebody discards a 3, it means that their suji is 2 and 4, meaning they’re not going for that triplet.
You could do the same for a ko if you order moves in rows of 2, and then understand the meaning of “ko suji” as the complete line of a ko sequence (that always ends in a ko retake).


Sorry, I’m not understanding how playing a ko could be unsportsmanlike, or used to waste time. A ko can only be retaken after a ko threat, and there are only a finite number of ko threats available at the start of any ko (ignoring rare events like quadruple kos not recognized by the software). Therefore, a ko can only result in a finite number of moves elsewhere, each of which is in sente.

So, if my understanding is true, ko is just as valid a move as any other, and arguably more valid than, say, playing a stone inside the opponent’s living territory.