Thursday, 20 February 2014 11:42

Four is the new three

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In my endgame statement for Game No. 9--played way back in August 2006 and also the Windy City Weasels debut for club stalwarts Matt Sundstrom, Kevin O'Kelly and Paul Pignotti--I wrote that "Every man has his price, and three centers is mine." I wrote it for the comedic value, but the statement did serve as a guiding principle for my approach to alliance play. When I committed to an ally, I was in...unless I saw a three-center stab.

A game I played in the third round at the 2012 WACCon changed my philosophy. In that one, I three-dotted our own Tony Prokes. If you look at the final count, you may wonder why that result would change my philosophy. It looks like the stab worked out pretty well for me. It actually didn't. 

 

Until his dying breath, Tony made my life a living hell in that game. He helped reopen the port of St. Petersburg for Russian fleet-building, and the R/T sent fleet after northern fleet at me. I had to whine and wheedle my way to that final result. Had they wanted to, the R/T could have ground me down substantially. One of them might have even soloed.

So, I learned my lesson that night, and since then, I've tried to consider the long-term ramifications of potential three-dot stabs. As Tony proved to me, stabbing for three isn't always worth the trouble that follows.

I found myself thinking about that lesson last night at the Red Lion during the Spring 1905 turn of Game No. 237. France and I had just killed off Russia, and now I had two choices: I could spend the final two game-years grinding down Russia's three northern centers--Berlin, Sweden and St. Petersburg--which would give me a likely board top of 11 centers, or I could stab France for a potentially larger result.

I had been working with Keith Ammann in Russia, who was beleaguered in the south, and had earned his trust by standing by him when his other three neighbors were hammering at his home centers. It was possible that he'd even welcome my attack. He had made noises a few turns earlier about throwing me the game. So mopping up his northern centers was certainly a viable option and was probably the easier play.

Roland Cooke in France and I, meanwhile, had been working well together from the start. He supported my convoy to Belgium in 1901 (which was unopposed by Germany), and the only hiccup in our relations was some brief mistrust over my fleet in the Channel. But he had committed five of his six units to the Italian campaign, and he had failed to gain the necessary Austrian support to garner a build from Italy in 1904. So he was vulnerable.

Plus, he had grown complacent with my fleet in the North Atlantic. At this point in the game, he was just happy that it was somewhere other than the English Channel, a space I occupied in Spring 1902 and remained in through 1903.

If Roland covered the Mid Atlantic and Burgundy (from Munich, his only unit not engaged against Italy), then he'd limit a stab to one certain center, Brest. But he was heavily invested in Italy. Rather than realign his units to defend against a possible stab, moves that would virtually eliminate any chance of building, I figured he'd push the attack for another year in hopes of gaining the center or two that would deter a stab. So I pulled the trigger.

North Atlantic moved to Mid Atlantic. North Sea moved to English Channel. Ruhr moved to Burgundy. And Kiel and Denmark followed. In the fall, I walked into three French centers and forced Munich for a fourth.

I even picked up a fifth center from Berlin, although I hadn't intended to take that one from Keith. My stab for position seemingly galvanized the entire board against me. I told Keith that I'd be moving to Berlin and that he should just hold. I wanted to cut a potential support against Kiel. Keith came back to me a minute later and suggested that we bounce in Prussia instead to cut off a potential Austrian retreat from Warsaw. I agreed, but I was certain that he was trying to talk me out of cutting that support.

Turns out I underestimated the value of loyalty as a currency. Keith's offer was sincere. I had been loyal to him, and he was reciprocating in spades. He moved to Prussia, and I walked into Berlin to go from eight to 13. I felt bad about that, and I made it right by helping Keith take Warsaw in Fall 1906, which was the final turn of the game, and by not making a play for Sweden, which Keith was not in a position to defend.

Sadly, I was unable to add to my count in 1906, partly because I was reluctant to take the one from Keith, and partly because my stab and subsequent positioning was such that 1906 was going to be a year of consolidation. But fortunately, 1906 was a lousy year for Peter Lokken in Austria. He went from eight to five, which helped my score a little.

So, the game ended by time limit in the following center counts:

Austria (Peter Lokken): 5; 9.191 points.
England (Jim O'Kelley): 13; 62.132 points.
France (Roland Cooke): 1; 0.368 points.
Germany (Chris Kelly): 0; 0.000 points.
Italy (Don Glass): 6; 13.235 points.
Russia (Keith Ammann): 4; 5.882 points.
Turkey (Matt Sundstrom): 5; 9.191 points.

The supply center chart is here. I have one or two more things to say about my game, but I'll share those thoughts in the Comments section below. I hope the other players will comment as well. I want to wrap up by sharing a few other noteworthy items about other players, as I've sort of hogged this summary with my endgame statement.

  • Roland Cooke, the British ex-pat living in Houston, played with us for the second time in a month. We hope to see him at even more Red Lion games in the next few months as he continues to work with a client in the area.
  • For perhaps the first time ever, Matt Sundstrom didn't employ the Sundstrom Opening as Turkey. Possibly because he played as Turkey against Keith's Russia in the last game or possibly because he just wanted to deter a Lepanto or possibly for both reasons, he opened with Ankara to Constantinople and Smyrna to Ankara. However, just as a scorpion stings because it's a scorpion, Matt was Sundstroming within a few turns.
  • Finally, for the first time since joining our club in March 2010, Nate Cockerill performed a magnanimous act. He volunteered to sit out so I could play. Thanks, Nate. I really appreciate that.

I'm looking forward to the next one, whenever that will be. And just so I'm not accused of unfairly manipulating the press, I'll single myself out as I did Matt Kade a couple of months ago. I'm now just the fourth person in club history to top back-to-back boards. Target painted.

Read 775 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 10:55

Comments   

# Jim O'Kelley 2014-02-20 12:23
As promised, an additional thought or two on this game. I find that the best way to improve your game is to turn a critical eye on your play, try to identify mistakes you made, and then learn from them. I'm pretty happy with my performance in this game--who wouldn't be with a 62-point board top--but I made two key mistakes in the final year that could end up costing me a Weasel of the Year title.

First, the obvious one. The final turn of a bar game is no time place for loyalty, at least not when you can really benefit from the misdeed. I could have played Berlin to Baltic in the Spring and then walked to Sweden in the Fall, dotting Keith for one with no consequence on the board in this game for that action.

Going to 14 from 13 increases my square by 27 and decreases the sum of the other players by seven (because Keith goes from four to three). By the way, for the math-challenged among you, here are a couple of easy tricks for calculating the change in squares. Of course, you can always whip out the calculator on your smart phone and use it, but a lot of players frown on that sort of thing and if you're obvious about it, you risk incurring their wrath.

So the tricks. First, you can quickly calculate the difference in a square for a one-center change by adding the two numbers together. So the difference between five centers and six is 11 (25 vs. 36); between 10 and 11 is 21 (100 and 121); 12 and 13 is 25 (144 and 169); and so on. Works going backward, too.

Second, for two-center swings, take the starting and ending numbers, add them together, and multiply by two. The difference between eight and 10 is 36 (64 and 100); 11 and 13 is 48 (121 and 169); three and five is 16 (nine and 25); etc.

This has been a public service announcement. Now back to the thoughts I was sharing.

Second, the more subtle error. On the final turn, I knew I could either hold Spain or keep Marseilles, but not both. Spain was France's center, so I was going to stay even on this transaction, assuming Roland and Don ordered correctly, and it's usually best to assume the other guy is going to play correctly and then maximize your minimum gain. I decided to deny Roland Spain and allow Don to take Marseilles.

That seemed like the best choice in the heat of the moment. After all, I was fighting France. He was the enemy, right? Why allow him to recapture Spain?

Well, the reason I should have risked Spain to save Marseilles is that I want the other players to have the smallest possible sum of squares so that my share of the pot is larger. If Roland finishes with two and Don, five, that's a sum of 29. Instead, I kept Roland at one but allowed Don to grow to six: a sum of 37. That's an eight-point difference in the sum of squares. Not huge, by any means, but over the course of the season, little decisions like this can add up.

Keep in mind that only your best three games count for score. If the score isn't one of your top three, then that's the time for loyalty in the final turn of a bar game. (Remember that your actions or inactions can potentially affect the composite score of a rival in the standings. Just because a score doesn't matter to you doesn't mean that the game doesn't matter to others on the board.)

I got 62 points. A great haul. Had I played that final 50-50 properly and had I dotted Russia for Sweden, I would have finished with 69.

Are seven points going to make a difference? Maybe. This score vaulted me into second place on the season. I need a 47 or so to catch Nate for first. That's a two- or three-center board top. If I were only looking at 40 points, well, I could possibly do that with a shared board top or a really strong second.

Point is, by not playing the final year to maximize my score, I hurt my chances of wresting the Weasel of the Year title from Nate's grubby hands.

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