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 force...deal 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!