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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)