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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.