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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Open Comment Game #1 -- SultanPepper vs. rabbitboy84

I think all who participated (players and spectators alike) enjoyed the open comment game. We plan on having more.  A few things to note:
  • It took longer than I expected. We will have to allot more time for the next game. I had assumed since most of the tournament games with commentary were an hour or less, that we could get by with that same time frame. I did not take into account that because each move was being discussed by the players, instead of just the audience, we were busy typing and not progressing through the game. I think we barely made it into the mid-game since there was a capture and a Tak. But, we could have easily gone another hour. So, we could perhaps pick up the same game and break it up that way if 2 consecutive hours is too long for most viewers.
  • I would like to move it to a streaming platform with audio (and visual overlays) once the initial kinks are worked out. I think this would offer something more informative and interesting to the viewers, especially those that are not overly familiar with the basic/intermediate strategies and taktics.
  • If we could bring in someone with bot access/know-how, it might help to have that input on what a computer would do differently.  More fuel for discussion is always a good thing!

So, overall, I think it was a good first foray into the Open Comment style. I would certainly like your input on how it went and the future potential of this style.

Thanks again to all who participated today!

Here is a link to the game started today: 

And here is the commentary to go along with it:


rabbitboy84: Ok Sultan...I have about an hour. size 5 or 6?
SultanPepper: 6
rabbitboy84: Ok; it's up.
Syme: Why corners?
Abyss: Are you doing this on Discord somewhere?
Abyss: Shaddup Syme.
SultanPepper: Just text chat right now
Syme: :D
rabbitboy84: Not for this one. I have no access to Discord at work.
Abyss: Ah I see.
Abyss: That does restrict things a bit more, but I think this will be a good, say "warm up" for future endeavors.
rabbitboy84: That's the idea. See if it works at all and what we can do differently.
rabbitboy84: Was debating between that and e2.
Abyss: This is the standard move here, probably for a reason.
SultanPepper: nah, after e2, I can just play e3 or d2
SultanPepper: I like 3/4. Cd2 for black sometimes.
SultanPepper: 4. but as white, I'll just crawl on D until black does somethinhg to stop me.
rabbitboy84: Agreed.
rabbitboy84: And I'm just trying to stay relevant to that threat unless you change direction.
Abyss: So here I guess the only options are to challenge via either d2 or e3.
rabbitboy84: I was thinking e3 or Ce3.
Abyss: Because the longer this goes on the less I like black.
timerot: I like the early cap as black
Abyss: But of course white will be inclined to respond on 5 and 6 instead.
SultanPepper: After black 4 C/e3, I'd switch directions and play c5
rabbitboy84: Problem with Ce3 is that he can easily change directions.
timerot: Cc5?
rabbitboy84: What he said.
SultanPepper: Looks like we're preaching to the choir
rabbitboy84: Now Sultan can either push to force me to capture or change directions.
rabbitboy84: Or both...d2?
SultanPepper: I like forcing people to capture
rabbitboy84: It usually has good consequences for you later in the game :)
rabbitboy84: I know that's an early wall.
SultanPepper: It might be worth it.
rabbitboy84: You were looking pretty strong in that corner.
rabbitboy84: And the problem with continuing to flat is that you will have the upper hand.
SultanPepper: In my mind, the only way you get out of this situation is by making a couple of moves that reduce my tempo lead.
rabbitboy84: I'm thinking early cap capture.
rabbitboy84: Or e4.
SultanPepper: e4 followed by c5>, d5- is ok
timerot: I was thinking somewhere around a2/b2/b3 to build vertical pressure, but I'm not sure if that's enough pressure to matter
rabbitboy84: That would be the sequence I was looking at.
SultanPepper: but it takes a while to do
rabbitboy84: True.
SultanPepper: Ya, the vertical threat is definitely a good option.
rabbitboy84: The problem is tempo. I have none...4 right now.
rabbitboy84: And Sultan has 2.
SultanPepper: It has the plus of stopping me from building a horizontal threat easily.
Syme: Don't really like the position of the white cap
rabbitboy84: c3> cuts the road and tempo.
rabbitboy84: But seems temporary to me.
rabbitboy84: You can respond with c3 and not miss a beat.
SultanPepper: yep
Syme: the cap is good to keep a hold on a vertical thread by going up though
Syme: After e3 for instance
SultanPepper: I like d1 here, then swinging to an EW threat
Syme: Yeah
rabbitboy84: As discussed before, a slow response, but a planned one.
SultanPepper: hmm, so b2 or e1
rabbitboy84: e1 in my opinion is stronger.
Syme: This is also slowly setting up some e/w thread for black
SultanPepper: I don't want you taking b2, so b2 looks like the more long term option
rabbitboy84: My initial thought is to Se1.
rabbitboy84: I have a gut reaction to wall...not a rational one.
timerot: e3 is a pretty good counter to Se1
SultanPepper: e1 is a square where a flat is just fine
SultanPepper: The e2 walls defends the e1 flat
Syme: ^
timerot: ^
rabbitboy84: My 2nd gut reaction is to d5-.
rabbitboy84: To give my cap some reach.
rabbitboy84: But I'm behind enough on flats as it is.
SultanPepper: Now I need a stone on the E file, if I want an EW road
rabbitboy84: Now, I feel I should d5-.
rabbitboy84: I can flat e3, but then you can just e4 in response.
Syme: No, flat f3 is just fine
rabbitboy84: sorry, f3
Syme: Then cap down
rabbitboy84: I think I overthink captures too much.
rabbitboy84: Or maybe give threats more power than they actually have.
rabbitboy84: Now, is f4 a good response to that?
SultanPepper: I'm having doubts about the EW road panning out
rabbitboy84: Still gives you a tempo of 2.
rabbitboy84: But it's a weak threat.
SultanPepper: I'd take f2 ofer f4
rabbitboy84: Ok, it is more consolidated.
Syme: White kinda has to hold on to it, otherwise black has faster tempo to build an own
Syme: White cap> can also do things
Syme: Some time in the future
Syme: Sometime*
rabbitboy84: I like that move.
rabbitboy84: Starts another N/S and cuts into my E/W.
rabbitboy84: And hints at another E/W avenue for white.
SultanPepper: The longer I hang on to the EW road, the more time I give you to set up your own road
Syme: Me too, nice one!
rabbitboy84: Right now, I feel if I don't get something on A/B, I won't have enough of a presence there.
SultanPepper: yep
rabbitboy84: b3 is my first thought.
SultanPepper: I like b5
Syme: I would anyway
timerot: b3 is the best for tempo, but b5 is playing into more open space
SultanPepper: My cap can move up to b3 and cut off b3
Syme: B5, otherwise white is free to build a two way road
rabbitboy84: I noticed something the other day watching Doodles play.
rabbitboy84: I tend to put my flats right in the thick of things.
SultanPepper: hm I like a5 or c5
SultanPepper: c5 is a little too close to you cap.
rabbitboy84: He will place his where the road is going, not where it is.
Syme: Thanks for sharing the update BenWo!
rabbitboy84: a4 is my first thought.
rabbitboy84: I like a capture here.
rabbitboy84: b5-.
rabbitboy84: b6 is another thought.
Syme: I'd say not yet, c5 is still fine to me
rabbitboy84: Wait until he places b5?
Syme: Yeah
rabbitboy84: Sorry..b6
rabbitboy84: Not used to 6x6.
SultanPepper: since I'm not in tak next turn, I'll stay on the offense
rabbitboy84: I like a4+ here.
rabbitboy84: Or b5-
Syme: I kinda like c3- here 'cause the other options invite a wall to be played and take back many flats
SultanPepper: I'm tempted to play c2+
Syme: Or spread over man*
SultanPepper: or Sb5
rabbitboy84: I have about 10 minutes.
rabbitboy84: We didn't get as far as I thought :)
rabbitboy84: Of course, we didn't start quite on time, either.
SultanPepper: It still works as a test run
rabbitboy84: Agreed.
rabbitboy84: I like it.
rabbitboy84: Any thoughts from you onlookers?
rabbitboy84: Worth doing? Maybe with Discord or some platform like that?
SultanPepper: I'm going to have to head out as well
SultanPepper: like now.
rabbitboy84: :)
Syme: I liked cap up even better for white
SultanPepper: but gg
rabbitboy84: I enjoyed it!
rabbitboy84: Thanks for participating!
Syme: Liked it, too!
rabbitboy84: Add comments to the thread on r/tak and we'll get some other participants going.
rabbitboy84: fwwwwibib is game after the holidays.
Syme: Probably gonna do so:)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

He who controls the stacks...

Without stacking, Tak would be a game only played at the table of a Cracker Barrel while waiting for your food. Stacking is one of the things that takes Tak from a simple game to an elegant one. So, in this post, I'm going to delve into some observations about stacks and their importance to your game play.  I find stacks to be so fundamental and important that they entered into my mnemonic The Fox Prances To The Barn, Smelling Turkey. If you don't check them every turn, they can cause big upsets.

All stacks begin with a capture. The first stack is usually created to slow an opponent's tempo and/or to block his/her road threat. Creating early stacks for other reasons should be avoided if possible due to Future Potential Flat Count Differential (FPFCD), unless you have a strategy in the works requiring the capture to attain proper board position.

As the game progresses, more captures occur as each player jockeys for better board position, performs tempo-hampering moves, or attempts to create road to Tinue opportunities. Some of these are simple captures (moving 1 piece or stack over 1 square) while some are moves that spread an existing stack over multiple squares, creating even more stacks.

Below are some stack terms which I use and/or I have heard used by others:

Reach - usually this is divided into effective spread and max throw - effective spread is how many consecutive squares you can spread a stack and retain control of all squares along the path of the spread. Max throw is how far you can spread your stack without regard to controlling all the squares spread across. This is normally only done as a finishing move (ex: crush-mate), a setup for a road to Tinue or other longer term strategy, or as a somewhat desperate attempt to stop a very strong road threat by your opponent. Performing these moves in other situations can cause immediate recapture and swing flat count and board control to your opponent's favor.

Max Stack - a stack that is at carrying capacity (or -1 from carrying capacity and will be at carrying capacity once captured).

Over-Stack - similar to overstocked; it is a stack that has more stones than can be carried in one move.

Straggler Stack - an over-stack that, after max capacity is removed, leaves one of your flat stones showing. This variation on a stack essentially gives you +1 effective spread.

Skyscraper - a ridiculously tall stack -- baweaver/keyslemur has a supremely ridiculous example here.

Hard Stack - a stack under your control with a greater than or equal to number of your flat stones vs. your opponent's. "Hard" can be thought of an adjective describing the amount of threat potential your stack has. A harder stack has hard threat vs. a soft threat from a soft stack.

Soft Stack - the opposite of the above; a stack with fewer of your stones than your opponent's.

Deputy Stack - a stack controlled by your capstone with the first flat stone underneath the capstone being one of your color. Deputy stacks are the only stack structure in Tak that can flatten a hurdlestone and yet leave you in control of the remaining stack.

I primarily play 5x5 board size right now, so some of my strategies may need to be altered for those that play larger sizes.

But I find, in general, once a stack reaches 3-4 flats high, it becomes valuable. Not just nice to have, but valuable...especially if it is situated near the center of the board. Valuable because it can not only swing flat count so drastically, but can also be threatening in multiple directions without having to even move and is not easily stopped by opponent flat placement.

And, as with all valuables, those that have them want to keep them. And those without them covet your jelly doughnut.

If this valuable stack is currently controlled by you, it can become "too big to fail" and you may find yourself expending a large part of your mental energy thinking of ways to keep control of it and utilize the potential flat count differential that it holds. Conversely, if it is under the control of your opponent, you may find yourself spending just as much energy trying to devise ways of making the stack ineffective or taking control of it.

Here is a game which shows how useful a valuable stack can be. I even make a sacrifice and drop my prisoners in exchange for the power of having a deputy stack. Because the stack capture also gains me a tempo of 1, white never has a chance to use the valuable hard stack I leave behind.

Behold the Power of a Deputy Stack

Here are some methods I have used and have witnessed to 1) keep possession of your valuable stacks and 2.a) gain control of your opponent's stack or 2.b) render it ineffective (temporarily or for the duration of the game).

1) Playing for keeps:

- jumping away from a noble or flat by moving and/or spreading your stack.

- if your opponent places a wall next to your stack; you can place your capstone adjacent to your stack to ensure you come out on top if your opponent decides to capture your stack.

- placing flats around your stack to reduce negative space and threaten immediate recapture if opponent captures your stack with a flat.

- making Tak threats that require your opponent to move or place elsewhere, therefore not using their turn to take control of your stack. 

2.a) What's yours is mine:

-using influence to boost your chances of winning a trade war (capture/recapture scenario).

- placing or moving a noble to threaten a stack

- spreading or throwing a noble-lead stack to gain control of a valuable stack.

2.b) Castrating a stack:

- drawing the action away from the stack, thus making it no longer worthwhile for your opponent to spread the stack.

- similar to the above; if you gain a tempo of 1, you can keep your opponent from spreading or recapturing a valuable stack, as long as your road threats are not stopped by your opponent spreading said stack.

- placing an adjacent flat to softly threaten stack and lure your opponent into splitting the stack. The stack split will move part of the stack closer to one of your waiting nobles or at least lessen the effective reach and max throw of the stack.

- cornering a stack; just like it sounds, maneuvering a stack into a corner and placing nobles around it to contain it.

- nobling in a stack - similar to the above, but without the corner to help. This involves building a barrier of nobles around a stack...these don't have to be yours...remember, a stack cannot run over your opponent's own nobles either.

- in the end game (flat count game); making sure a stack can only spread over opponent's pieces, thereby giving no FCD advantage.

- stack poisoning - sometimes you cannot win a trade war, but you can still make the stack unwieldy for your opponent. This can be called stack poisoning; adding your flat stones to the stack to make the stack softer. If you stack enough on there, the stack becomes an over-stack and cannot be as easily moved. You can force an over-stack and then place a noble beside the stack. When it jumps away, the stragglers can be scooped up by your noble to lessen the victory you opponent took when gaining control of the valuable stack. Plus, a softer stack has more FPFCD for you if you can capture it later in the game with a noble.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!"

As mentioned in my last post, I have decided to separate the Tak playing stones into 2 groups. This is partially due to laziness - I'm tired of typing "wall or capstone" in my blogs and want a clean, appropriate, one-word classifier. But, also, walls and capstones share a lot of qualities. I am not saying that they are interchangeable, just that they share enough that I think we can group them together in certain discussions. The commonalities are:  They cannot be captured with flats, cannot be captured with walls, have very similar movement options, and do not contribute to flat count.

So, without further ado, my collective name for capstones and standing stones (walls):  Nobles.

In my future write ups, I will now specifically type "wall(s)" or "capstone(s)" when the distinction matters. However, when it matters not, I will use "noble(s)".

Why nobles, you say?

Well, I messed around with Upright Stones vs. Flatstones and Vertical vs. Horizontal Stones and even laughed about Erect Stones....because penis jokes are almost always funny.

I settled on Nobles for the walls and caps because it fits with my idea that the flatstones are peasants. Not pawns, like in chess; but peasants.  I would like to talk a little about peasants and a little about nobles and in the end, we'll see if this analogy holds water.

A pawn is someone used to further your own means and nothing else. A peasant is a vital part of the kingdom. Without them, you have no hope of ever exploring new lands, feeding your people, or having someone to attend your executions. They are much more powerful than pawns and help to prove why Tak is a much more civilized and egalitarian game than chess :) Peasants are usually content to build and grow their small estates, and only enter into land disputes when threatened or when they are sure of an easy win. With superior numbers, they can overrun any single noble. But, while peasants are vital and powerful as a class, they do have their limitations. For one, they lack the ability to stop charging armies (spreading noble stacks) and mobs (spreading flat stacks). For another, they require either a large number of like-minded neighbors working together or a competent noble to be truly effective (usually it takes both of these things).

A noble is only a man. He only occupies 1 space and moves in almost exactly the same way as a peasant (except he uses coconuts). However, his influence is stronger than a peasant's. He will gladly claim ownership of the surrounding area unless other nobles decide to occupy them or if his skills are needed with other matters. A noble is similar to any ruler; he can be effective or ineffective based on the situations he is put in and whether or not he receives good directions. If you drop a noble in the middle of nowhere with no support and expect great things, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Likewise, if you advise him to capture a lot of prisoners, not only is he less effective at building and maintaining his fiefdom, he becomes a liability because of the risk of your adversary breaking those prisoners out.  Because of his fortified land, a noble can be used to safeguard part of the peasant population (sitting on a stack) and also move them to safer pastures (He can guard more than he can move (which is one reason I like the carrying capacity seems intuitive...traveling/building/fighting is almost always more risky than digging in)). Above all, a noble's power shines when he amasses loyal followers and uses them to work towards a common goal with other nobles.

That, in a very wordy nutshell, is why I think the standing and cap stones should be called nobles.

So, what do you think? Am I full of it? Or did I fulfill some deep need in the Tak community with this post? Probably neither...but it was fun!

Seriously, let me know what you think...

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Space Available

Immerse yourself in the scenario below:

You have been working on your opening game and are 8 turns into the game, on the way to crafting a robust road and a powerful board position. Your spirits are high and you are looking ahead a few moves and seeing good things happen. You make a capture with a flat to reduce your opponent's tempo and smirk a bit to yourself. But, then your opponent drops a wall or capstone in the open space your piece just vacated. He/she just found the one chink in your armor. Your hopes crumble just like your road is about to.

You opponent was only able to do this because there was an empty space on the board in which to slide his/her knife. What makes it worse in this case is that you opened that chink in your own armor.

Most of the time, I view the board by focusing on the filled spaces; looking at numbers of flats, patterns of flats (ladders, partners, trios (groups of 3 contiguous flats), triangles (a ladder in a triangular shape), citadels, etc.), types of walls that are placed, tempo, Tinue patterns, et al. I guess you could call this the positive space of the board. But, lately I have tried to force myself to look at the negative space as well; the murky unknown of possibility surrounding the filled board spaces. 

And the murky unknown is scary. What is already on the board is a known quantity; you may not know exactly what your opponent has in mind, but you certainly know what moves can be made with the pieces already in play. You opponent can move this or that in these ways, and that's it. So, placement becomes the murky unknown.

So, how can you fight back against this fear and bring the murky unknown into the light? Here are a couple suggestions:

1.  Keep your tempo up, especially with moves that force flat captures by your opponent - If your opponent is too worried about about stopping your threats by moving pieces, he/she will not have the opportunity to place threatening pieces. And each time they make a forced capture, they have opened up an empty space which you can fill with your own threatening piece and gained a liability in the form of a prisoner.

2.  Try to fill the board - not all the way, of course. If there is not an empty space, there is not an opportunity for your opponent to fill it.

3.  Get your capstone and a wall on the board early - I would advise finding a way to do this that increases your board strength; don't just throw a wall or capstone onto the board because it's turn 4.  Make sure all your placements are relevant.

4.  Always ponder what your opponent could place in negative space to trip you up. If you consider all the possibilities (or at least the likely ones), then you can change that childish fear of the murky unknown into an adventurer's wariness. The better you get at spotting what he/she might do to you, the better you will get at knowing ways to hamper their game.

5. Leave bread crumbs - When moving a stack (especially with a wall or capstone*), consider leaving pieces behind you, even if they belong to your opponent. There are situations ("icing the cake" Tinue pattern jumps to mind) where your win depends on you not leaving any negative space around you.

* As an aside - I'm getting tired of typing "wall or capstone". So, I'm going to start calling these pieces the Noble Pieces or Nobles. I will make a full blog post about this later

The following is a game where I use a deputy wall to disrupt black's roads and then use lack of negative board space within my road to get to Tinue.

Negative Space Cadet

And, as always, let me know if you have a good example to add or a question/concern brought up by my blog.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tinue Terminology and Classification

There are many win conditions in Tak. There are times in a game when I will cross my fingers and hope the opposing player misses a sneaky threat of mine. There are other times that a stupid mistake leads to a win, like missing an obvious threat or letting the board fill up. Then, there are flat wins, which can be very elegant and make for a tense end game. Finally, there is Tinue.

Those of you that have been following The Fox Prances To The Barn, Smelling Turkey before each turn, have probably noticed a decrease in unnecessary losses (time, sneaky threats, obvious threats, and board fill) and an increase in the two remaining win situations: Tinue wins and flat wins.

If you want a good article on End Game play, with a focus on flats, read this by Turing/sectenor.  Supplement with my article on Future Potential Flat Count Differential (especially if you have trouble getting to sleep).

The remaining concept, Tinue, is one I thought I would focus on in this week's episode. Attain this board state and you really have your opponent by the short and curlies. Below, I would like to define Tinue and explore a few different types, in order to help us better understand this unstoppable win.

Tinue - the board state where no matter what move is made by player x, the win goes to player y on the next turn. Analogous to checkmate in chess, though, in Tak, it is customary to play through to the end (we like to twist the knife).

Road to Tinue - the board state where no matter what moves are made by player x the win will go to player y within 2-5* ** ^ turns. The countermeasures made by player x have ready retorts by player y and are considered only to be delaying the inevitable. These countermeasures are usually capture/immediate recapture scenarios.

* The best players can see 3-5 moves ahead with enough degree of accuracy to see a true Road to Tinue (vs a Potential Road to Tinue as explained below). Some bots may be able to spot it further out...we'll see. If that's the case, I can always update the blog.

** I'm excluding repetitive wall hopping and similar moves (wall captures flat, opposing player places flat in wall's former spot, wall captures new flat, rinse, repeat).

^ there are special cases where one player will have 2 ranks or files almost completely under their control and the Road to Tinue can be spotted further out. u/timerot on r/tak gives this example: Snowball's Chance 

Potential Road to Tinue - the board state where if player x does not play 1 or 2 certain countermeasures, then player y will attain Road to Tinue in the next turn or two.

Okay, so we have a straightforward definition of Tinue and the road to it. But that doesn't really do justice to the concept. So, I would like to flesh out the definition with discussion of 2 main categories of Tinue: Single Road Tinue and Multiple Road Tinue. After that, I will classify some subgroups of each and give some examples.

A philosophical note before we start:  Some may argue that all Tinue board states are multiple road threats. They would say that a forked road Tinue is really 2 roads that share almost every stone in common. Player x can block the potential road 1, but you simply place the missing piece to complete and actualize road 2.

I would reply to this by saying, yes, that is technically correct, but does little to help us classify (and thus comprehend) different Tinue patterns. So, I have labeled forked roads, bypass roads, and bi-cardinal roads as Single Road Tinues because the 2 potential roads overlap in almost their entirety. I feel that this makes intuitive sense -- but I welcome views to the contrary!

Single Road Tinue

To attain Single Road Tinue, your road must be:

1.  Untouchable by movement of your opponent's pieces. (We have seen that a road can be delayed and tempo diminished with a single opponent flatstone lying adjacent to a road (a highwayman), not to mention what a wall or capstone can do...).

How to reach untouchability:

a. Your road is more than 1 space away from your opponent's flatstones

b.Your road is further away than the reach of your opponent's stacks

c.Your road is blocked from stack capture by any combination of walls or capstones (not necessarily your own walls or capstone)

d. If part of your road is threatened by a highwayman capture, then you have an adjacent partner (or spreadable stack) ready to immediately recapture.

e. Or, you have a spreadable stack and no opponent's pieces able to stop it (i.e. the space between the stack and the end of the road is filled with flats.-icing the cake


2. Unable to be stopped by placement of any opponent piece (flat, wall, or capstone (if not already played)).

This is usually done by 1 or more of the following (a through c are unbroken roads; d is a broken road):

a. Building a forked road. -forked road

b. Building a bypass road. -bypass road

c. Building a road from a corner (possessing the option of completion via north/south or east/west).- bi-cardinal road

d. If there is a hole in your road and your opponent has already played his/her capstone, then placement of a wall in your road must be able to be answered immediately by crushing with your capstone. -crush-mate

* the immediately part is important. If your tempo drops below 1, then you do not have Tinue.

Multiple Road Tinue - building the road less traveled

To attain this board state, you must have 2 road threats that do not share a weakness The method of completing each road can be different (ex: placement for 1; movement for the other), and the roads don't have to be untouchable; your opponent can stop 1, but not all of your concurrent threats.

It is harder to describe how to attain this board state. Each instance will probably be different from the last. But, below are a couple examples to get you in the right frame of mind for spotting these marvels.


Single Road Tinues:

A Forked Road Tinue - this particular example has 3 forks, but 2 are sufficient. Placement to block 1 fork does not block other fork(s). Remember that for a Single Road Tinue, your road must be untouchable by opponent pieces.

A Bypass Road Tinue - placement at c2 results in a road via placement at b3 and vice versa. I named it Bypass because the 2 roads look like they will bypass one another and also because the completed road simply bypasses the placed countermeasure attempt.

Another Bypass Road Tinue. As you can see, it does not matter where in the road the bypass occurs.

*image needed

A Bi-Cardinal Road Tinue - As the name implies, it can be completed either North/South or East/West.

This is an example of a Road to Tinue. Note that white's only move it to capture e2 by e3-, and black has an immediate response with e1+. After this exchange, the board state will move to Tinue proper.

This is another Road to Tinue. Black just placed Sc4 in a belated attempt to stop Tinue. White's response is an immediate crush-mate with 2c2+11. This leaves black with a tempo of 2 vs white's tempo of 1. White's Single Road Tinue is untouchable by any of black's pieces and in the bypass pattern.

The above is an example of icing the cake. White has nothing to stop it's d2 stack from running north. Even a capture with 2c4> would not stop the cap stack.

One last example of Single Road Tinue. This is what I call the voila Tinue pattern. It is named such because whenever I see it done, I imagine a master chef pulling the silver cover (standing stone)  from his best dish, revealing it to you, while smiling and saying "Voila!"

Okay, on to Multiple Road Tinues:

Here we have a simple Multiple Road Tinue. Black can place or move whatever he wants, but it will only block 1 of the two road threats. You can see how this differs from the untouchability required in a Single Road Tinue.

Above is a very sneaky Multiple Road Tinue. White has just captured the stack at c4 and now black's response will only be able to stop one of the road threats. White has 3 road threats here, I believe. He can ice the cake in either direction using his stack at c4, or use a leaping voila (moving 3f2<12 to reveal his road).

Potential Road to Tinue:

Lastly, I thought it important to go over a potential road to Tinue. The below example hinges on 1 move by black. If black chooses poorly, white gains Road to Tinue. If black chooses wisely, he can stave off death for at least a while longer.

It is black's move. Placement cannot help him; so he must capture. Let's see what happens if he captures poorly.

 --pictures were taken on a phone, and the orientation changes halfway through. Sorry, I'll fix it sometime.--


And, bypass Tinue.

I haven't played out the other tree, but here is black's other option for a capture (you can see that it does not lead to an immediate Road to Tinue):

And just for fun, here is a game with FriendlyBot where he gets a nice dual road Tinue. On the last few moves, you can see the difference between two roads that share a weakness and two that do not.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Fox Prances To The Barn, Smelling Turkey

Hello fellow Takolytes,

You know that bruise that you have in the center of your forehead? No, not that one; that one is from walking into a pole while playing Tak on your phone. I'm talking about the one that seems to be exactly the size of the heel of your hand. Yep, The Bruise of Stupid Mistakes. It's a painful one that mirrors the bruise to your confidence every time you slap your forehead and go DUH! after forgetting something simple.

So, to help reduce the occurrence of these during your Tak games, I have assembled a list of things to check before each turn in a game. Please add to the list if you have something. (I'm a very list-y person and would appreciate it very much. (With enough lists (and parentheses(apparently)), I will take over the world!))

    1. a) Check your time remaining and recall your time increment for the game. This will determine how much time you can spend on each list item.
    1. b) Check your opponent's time. If there is little time remaining and a small enough increment, you may be able to speed up your analysis in order to run their time down more. Remember, they are getting to analyze the game while your time is running.
    2. Check/count pieces remaining for each player. I usually check them until they drop below 8-10, then I begin counting. If you have 1 piece remaining, it may be pointless for you to go through the rest of this list.
    3. Count flats for each player. Try to plan your next move with flat count in mind.
    4. Check for 'Tak'. A LOT of games are lost because a 'Tak' was missed. When I say check for 'Tak', I don't just mean your opponent's threats. Check and see if he/she missed one of your own threats. As a side note:  Capstones still count as road pieces.
    5. Check tempo. If you have control of it, what plays can you make to keep it or make it more robust? If you don't have it, would a flat capture or a wall/capstone placement/capture be more useful to reduce your opponent's tempo. Is there a move that can be made to reduce his/her tempo as well as making a threat of your own?
    6. Check for board fill. You can become so involved in your own schemes, that you accidentally end the game earlier than intended (or give your opponent the opportunity to end it on their terms).
    7. Check stacks. This includes single capture stacks. Check for:  who has control of the stack, carrying capacity, reach, hardness vs. softness, obstacles (capstones/walls that are in line with stacks), FPFCD, etc.
    8. Look for Roads to Tinue (for you and your opponent). Tinue patterns are many and varied and nothing but hard study and experience can make you a master of them (which I am not). Dove had started a collection of games ending in Tinue, but with the quantity of games played, I'm not sure how up to date it is.

    I'm trying to make this list a habitual game tactic of mine in hopes that it improves my game. So, I made a mnemonic to help remember: The Fox Prances To The Barn, Smelling Turkey.


    I'm upping my game; so, up yours! Wait, that didn't come out quite right. Oh well, I'm leaving it.

    Now, follow my list and we can all watch as those bruises fade through the rainbow and finally disappear! (except for those of us who play AaaarghBot...we need to come up with an AaaarghBot helmet)

    Saturday, October 29, 2016

    Toe-Tapping, Game-Winning Tempo

    After my Flat Count writeup, I thought I would address another pillar of current Tak theory, tempo.

    Tempo is another one of those words like "influence" that Tak has taken into it's folds and modified the meaning slightly.  In the non-Tak world, tempo is just the speed or pace of something. In Tak, tempo is similar; but is normally stated as:  the number of turns it will take to complete a road, assuming no interference.

    Now, how is that similar to the speed or pace of something? Glad you asked. I have a convoluted analogy to help out:

    But first, a couple definitions may be needed (Thanks to r/tak comment by Ikb879):

    Tinue - Similar to checkmate in chess...where all play options for your opponent still result in your win next turn.

    Road to Tinue - Usually refers to the sequence of moves prior to Tinue. Most of the time used when Tinue is inevitable, though sometimes only used as a general term to indicate a strong likelihood of Tinue.

    Squirrel - a bushy-tailed rodent that lives in trees, chitters at you, may or may not throw acorns at your head, and ranges in size from "awwww" to "holy crap, is that a cat?"

    Imagine tempo is a train and you are a person (I know that's a stretch, but just go with me here) who is trying to save a squirrel that has wandered onto the tracks. The squirrel getting killed is a metaphor for you losing your game of Tak. A low tempo is that train being far down the track, chuffing along without hurry. You have plenty of time to shoo the squirrel off the tracks. At this point, you might not even care about the squirrel. You figure that it will take care of itself (maybe the train isn't even coming this way?)...and you wander off to get a coffee at the station. As the tempo/train gets closer/faster, you begin to worry more and more about that squirrel. Sure, it was okay to ignore when the train was a cloud of steam 3/4 mile a way, but it is another thing when it is 100 yards out, barreling down on that poor, big-eyed, innocent squirrel, that is apparently deaf, (and oh, no...look, he only has 1 leg!). If you want the squirrel to live (please don't tell me if you don't), then you have to act. Now.

    Does that clear things up? No? Well, read it again, and this time, try caring more about the squirrel. When a train hits a squirrel, it doesn't turn out quite as cool as those pennies you used to tape to the tracks.

    Implied in this idea of tempo is that there is a tempo controller. In music, it's the conductor. In my metaphor above, it would be the train's engineer. In Tak, it is the player who is the fewest turns away from completing their road.

    So, if I look at the board and it will take me 2 turns to complete my current road and my opponent will take 3 turns, then I have control of tempo. If the number is even ( 2 vs 2) then control goes to the player which gets to play next. You could be sitting on an awesome road to Tinue, but if your opponent controls the tempo, then you may never get to realize it because you are using your moves to thwart Tak threats instead of building your road to Tinue.

    White player starts out with tempo control and a good player will keep that control for most of the game. Black player gets to chase squirrels and wait for the white player to run out of coal, switch to a dead end track, or some other such train metaphor.

    I usually count tempo out in my head while playing a game. This is probably second nature for a lot of you reading this, as well. If not, I would urge you to make it part of your game.  It is part of assessing the board before your turn (and the only way to save those cuddly, deaf, 1-legged squirrels)

    Tempo really becomes important as the number gets closer to 1...usually around 2 (or even 3, depending on whether or not you see a road to Tinue approaching). The player with the lower number can force the other to counteract his threats instead of forming ones of his own. At a tempo of 2 or 3, this is a soft force; meaning that the opponent can choose whether or not to respond to your threat. At a tempo of 1, it is a hard with the threat or the squirrel dies.

    Take this basic example of soft force:

    Black Player did not HAVE to place at e3; they chose to in order to detour white's edge crawl.

    And hard force:

    You can see that the black player has ignored white's edge crawl and now is FORCED into counteracting the threat or they will lose next turn.

    So now that you know what tempo is, what can you do with this knowledge?  Get better! At least, that's what I'm trying to do (and help you do as well).  If tempo is a key to controlling the game, then let us see some things we can do to 1) keep tempo control, or 2) disrupt tempo control in your opponent's game.


    Tempo control can be kept by continuing to place flats in a directly threatening manner. This will force your opponent to deal with these threats. And, more often than not, dealing with these threats comes with a cost...usually in the form of Future Potential Flat Count Differential (FPFCD) or less contiguous/weaker board presence.

    Black turns the tables

    This is an excellent example of black gaining tempo control and not giving it back. He gains it on turn 4 with a single capture and then uses soft force to push white into a non-contiguous flat placement followed by a wall. Then, he continues to wallop white with threats, ending in a nice Tinue.

    Just be sure to make threats that cause your opponent to act in deleterious ways and not threats that back you into a corner and gain you nothing. Take this botched game of mine as an example of what not to do when making threats:

    The Great Wall


    If you do not have tempo control, or are looking to gain more:  think about what moves you can make that will not just delay your opponent's road by 1 turn, but by 2 or more. This usually involves a capture (this is one of the exceptions to the FPFCD guidelines).

    Let's look at a basic example:

    You can see that black has used a single flat capture to delay a road build by 2 turns, taking black from a tempo of 1 to a tempo of 3. This then gives some tempo control back to black.

    Compare the above move choice to this one:

    Here, black placed a stone instead of capturing. This only reduces the tempo by 1. It also allows white to fill another space on the board (thus keeping black from placing there), continues to build flat count, and goes right back to threatening with a tempo of 1.

    A wall is a nice way to grind your opponent's tempo to a halt. But, just like the Highwaymen flats above, a Highwayman Wall must be in play before tempo reaches 1 to be able to be useful.

    I am by no means saying that a single capture is the right move all the time. But, the liability of negative FPFCD should be weighed against the tempo change of a move.

    Now that I have made you all aware of what is at stake...STOP LETTING ALL THOSE SQUIRRELS DIE!

    Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Wild and Wonderful Walls

    When I started playing Tak, I thought that walls were just something you used when you were out of options...a desperate attempt at delaying defeat. But, the more I play, the more uses I see for walls. Almost all games at higher levels employ at least a wall or 2 on either side. I would like to learn to use walls more effectively, but for that, I needed to find out some of the uses I see others applying.

    Everyone knows that Tak has walls. But, these are not your Momma’s walls. These walls don’t just sit in the garden and look pretty. Tak walls are antsy and schizophrenic--they rarely sit still and you never know which personality is going to rise to the surface. Below, I have attempted to categorize the wall personalities that I have come across. I’m sure there are more, and I welcome your additions.

    Detour Walls – placed at the end of a linear run of opponent’s road to force a detour or abandonment of his road. This wall can easily turn into a Hoarding Dragon Wall if the opponent tries to circumvent the wall. Or, another type of wall can be placed a turn later to hamper progression of opponent’s road.

    Deputy Walls – placed with the intention or threat of flattening with your capstone to create a deputy.

    Lurker Highwaymen Walls (thank you r/tak user humanalog) – placed beside a linear run of road with intention or threat of moving on top of the road. I’ve heard some people call these “assassin walls”. That name sounds cool, but there is nothing stealthy about them...I think of them more as potential muggers that just need the slightest prod to attack :)

    Peeling Walls – placed beside a single capture stack with intention or threat of peeling opponent pieces off to free prisoner. I believe Asgardiator called them Lego Block Remover Walls. I just tried to shorten the name.

    Dragon Walls – placed to take control of a stack and sit on a dragon :) There are 2 kinds: Flying and Hoarding. Flying Dragon Walls have 1 or more of your own recruits underneath and have the intention or threat of flying across the board, raining down fire and destruction to your enemies…umm...I mean...leaving flats of your influence behind them. The second kind is the Hoarding Dragon Wall. This wall (sometimes called a Hoover Wall) gathers and sits on a stack of opponent’s pieces and contemplates how awesome gold is.

    Bouncer Walls – placed in between opponent’s grouping of pieces and your own as a blocker. Especially effective against opponent’s Flying Dragon Walls.

    Cap Trip Walls Hurdlestones (thank you r/tak user humanalog) – placed with intention or threat of tripping up opponent’s capstone. This only works if the capstone does not have a deputy. Opponent cannot flatten your wall without leaving a stack in your control behind it.

    Notice the wording “intention or threat of” in the examples above. A wall does not have to perform the intended action to threaten it. It may never move from the spot that you put it. But, it can intimidate your opponent into shifting his focus elsewhere and give you some breathing room to contemplate your next moves.

     Always remember that there is a flat count cost for deploying a wall and a flat count cost each time you move it. So, make sure your walls are placed in relevant spaces and you would not be better served by placing a flat or capstone. Also, keep in mind, a wall cannot be built through by either side. So, be aware that what looks like a good move to stop your opponent can turn into a roadblock for your own road threats. Skilled opponents will use this to their advantage and build their own initiative while you figure out how to build around your own wall.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    Flat Count Differential Chart with Lots of Acronyms!

    After my post on Wild and Wonderful Walls, I got to thinking more about flat count. More specifically, I got to thinking about the cost versus potential benefit for each move (in flat count terms). I am not trying to reduce the game to flat count concerns only. But, since flats are what make roads and flats are also the determining factor when awarding a full board win or a material depletion win, it is important to realize that each move you make has a flat count cost and needs to pay for itself over the course of the game. For example: Your opponent decides to capture in order to contest a position on the board and you respond in kind, creating a stack. To create this stack, each of you paid flats, in hopes of a decent return on investment...or, at the very least, to keep the stored flat energy away from your opponent (For he who controls the stacks…). 
    Below, I have attempted to chart the Immediate Flat Count Differential (IFCD) cost/benefit for each basic move in Tak, as well as a projected Future Potential Flat Count Differential (FPFCD). Italics are needed because many times immediate threats leave you unwilling or unable to utilize the stored power of your stacks. Potential can also be dampened by your opponent’s well placed walls or capstones.
    If you are playing Takticianbot, you will notice how well it spends its flats. It tries to deplete its Reserve Pieces Remaining (RPR) as fast as humanly (computerly?) possible, only making moves that lessen the IFCD if they have great FPFCD or block or mitigate your FPFCD. You must spend your flats in the same Scrooge McDuck manner or you will lose...every time.


    Thanks to comments on r/tak by Bismuthsnake, I realized that I didn't really tell you how to use this chart (oops). And, also, I am changing the FPFCD to include the reasonable response of your opponent to place a flat (-1 to each FPFCD).

    So, as to how to use this chart...If you were considering a move:  find that move on the chart below, weigh the cost vs potential benefit in flat count, compare that to the strategic value (I don't know how to put a numeric value on this (ask TakticianBot)), and then proceed with play.

    If you see an easy response (other than flat placement which is now included in the chart below) by your opponent, let's say a recapture of the contested stack, look at the chart and find their potential move, reverse the sign of the differential, and compare it to your current proposed move.

    Formula would look something like this:  Potential move (IFCD + FPFCD) - Opponent's potential response (IFCD + FPFCD) = net flat count gain/loss.

    Also, keep in mind RPR and, in general, if you are ahead in flat count, lean towards moves that deplete your RPR.  **See sectenor/Turing's excellent blog on End Game for more on this.

    Immediate Flat Count Differential (IFCD)
    Reserve Pieces Remaining (RPR)
    Future Potential Flat Count Differential (FPFCD)

    Moving (no capture)
    -1 to 0
    Single Capture
    Opponent-controlled stack capture (stack less than 5 pieces (5x5 board size)):

    Prisoners = 1
    0, +1, +2, or +3
    Prisoners = 2
    0 to +5*
    Prisoners = 3
    0 to +7*
    Prisoners = 4
    0 to +9*
    Self-controlled stack capture:

    Recruits = 1
    0 to +3
    Recruits = 2
    0 to +5*
    Recruits = 3
    0 to +7*
    Recruits =4
    0 to +9*
    Walls and Capstone

    -1 (0 for Capstone)
    -1 to 0
    -1 to 0
    Single Capture
    -1 to 0
    Opponent-controlled stack capture (same caveats as for flats):

    Prisoners = 1
    0 to +2
    Prisoners = 2
    0 to +5*
    Prisoners = 3
    0 to +7*
    Prisoners = 4
    0 to +8*
    Self-controlled stack capture:

    Recruits = 1
    0 to +3
    Recruits = 2
    0 to +5*
    Recruits = 3
    0 to +7*
    Recruits = 4
    0 to +8*

    * Higher numbers are usually only seen when teaching or playing inexperienced Takkers (or some of Takticianbot’s ruthless finishing moves).

    I calculated the highest possible FPFCD by using an edge-bound stack without obstacles and opponent’s flats covering the linear path of the stack run-out.

    This chart seems to back up these currently held Tak theories:

    1. The basis of your Tak strategies should rely on flatstone placement. Flats are the only piece that can be played that both adds to your flat count and also depletes your reserve. And, since both are desirable, the foundation of your game should be to place relevant flats as much as possible.

    2. Single captures and simple movement (without capture) should be avoided unless there is a clear board advantage given to you by the move. Single captures only give you a +1 IFCD, do not offer any ROI (-1 to 0 FPFCD) and do not deplete any RPR.

    3. Capturing your own pieces should be avoided unless there is a clear board advantage given to you by the move. Capturing your own stack (usually with a Wall or Capstone) should only be done to protect said stack from your opponent, make a robust Tak threat, or as part of a long, devious strategy.

    4. Stacks are powerful; but, they are also a big liability. Stacks are inevitable in intermediate level play and above. Stacks have a the huge potential to swing the flat count for or against you. They also are the only entities in the game that can make threats more than 1 square away from themselves. But, they can be stolen away from you in the blink of an eye and leave you wondering how you ended up like Ozymandias. This is why you see most large, relevant stacks controlled by a wall or attempt to keep control of them. And I’ll say it again for all you Frank Herbert fans... He who controls the stacks...

    I realize that more advanced players have learned all (or most) of this through experience (or through coding bots). But, let me know what you think and what I might have missed.