Citadel Attacks

Four flatstones (possibly with some captives, possibly with a cap instead of one of the flats) arranged in a square are called a citadel, and it’s a strong defensive structure. If the opponent captures one corner, not only is it protected by two neighbors, but often such a capture won’t even interrupt the road that goes through the citadel. For example, in the screenshot below, it doesn’t matter if black takes c2 or d3, and d1 and c3 are both well-protected.

tak_citadel_cropped

However, there are also cases where a citadel can be used offensively to great effect. Behold:

tak_tinue_cropped

It’s white’s turn to move, but there’s nothing to do — black has won this game. This is perhaps not immediately obvious, so let’s go through some of the options white has.

  • b2-

White takes b1, black immediately recaptures with 2c1<. The situation remains mostly unchanged.

  • e1<

White takes d1, but there’s a citadel, so black places at e3 and wins.

  • e2<

White takes d2, black plays 2d1+, recapturing d2. Black now wants to place on either e2 or e3, which means white can’t block it with a wall, and he can’t take any important pieces.

  • Se3

White places a wall, black plays d4 and wins

  • c3>

White takes d3 with his capstone, and this is where the citadel really shines. Black responds with 2d1>, giving us this board:

tak_tinue2_cropped

Let’s go through white’s options again.

  • b2- is just as useless as before.
  • 2d3- or e1<

White takes d2, black plays on d1 and win

  • e2-

White takes e1, black plays e2 and wins

  • Sd1

White places a wall on d1, black plays e1+ and wins

And that’s really it. So, in conclusion, if you can get a citadel right next to an edge, you probably own that edge.

The game that these examples are taken from was between me and ShlktBot, and can be seen in full here.

Tak Basics: Gaining footholds

Last time, I talked about how you need to play aggressively, even when you’re forced to defend.

Every defensive move must also build towards an offense.

We saw a few examples in the analysis of the Pat vs. Amanda game, but those were very specific situations. In this post, I’m going to show some situations I’ve seen in various games, as well as some completely constructed ones, and talk about general techniques for defensive play.

In the early game, assuming no terrible mistakes, White will either be working straight towards a road threat, or trying to dominate the center of the board. Black, meanwhile, will be doing damage control. Black needs a way to halt White’s relentless march towards victory.

Surrounding squares

Let’s say we have some fairly standard opening game, with White going for the center, and Black trying to surround him as much as possible. It might end up looking like so:

grid0_0

Then White makes a mistake, and plays b4 instead of e2.

grid0_1

Why is this a mistake? Because it allows Black to play e2, giving him influence over d3. A foot inside White’s door. This means that once Black is forced to capture, he might actually come out on top. If Black ever gets the chance to go d1+, he’ll have three pieces in a row, with a fourth waiting on b3. That’s quite the step up from pure damage control.

(Black can also just capture d2 right away, instead of playing e2 first, but this risks drawing his influence away from c3.)

If White doesn’t make a mistake like the one above, he will eventually make a road threat, and Black will have to disrupt it. Here’s an example of a game where that happened:

grid2_0

This game is from the ongoing tournament, with SkippyThePenguin playing White and dove_queen playing Black, and it brings us neatly to the next topic.

Disrupting road threats

Dove’s problem is that while she has tried to surround Skippy, there aren’t actually any squares that she can take, except for d2, which is unimportant at this point. What she can do in this situation is capture either b4 or c3, which are both vital to Skippy’s threats, and will at least force a hole in his road. And that’s exactly what you should be thinking about, when you’re trying to defend against a road threat – how can I get rid of it, not just for this move, but for the next as well?

Here’s a road threat (from a different game). In this game, Black has the advantage, because White made some mistakes earlier in the game. We’ll be looking at how White can turn the tables.

grid1_2

It’s White’s turn, and there’s exactly one move that will disrupt Black’s threat: c3<. Black recaptures from b2, which creates a nice big stack on b3. This seems bad for White, but a big stack can sometimes be a vulnerability – Black wants very badly to keep that stack, so White can scare him by playing his capstone on c3.

grid1_3

Black could still renew the threat by playing 2b3-, but this would allow White to get his capstone on top of a stack with two of his own pieces in it. In order to avoid giving White a much more powerful capstone, Black moves the entire stack one square down (5b3-).

A standing stone would have served some of the same purpose, of course. It wouldn’t have been nearly as intimidating, so Black might have allowed him to capture a stack on b3 with it. Regardless, the threat would have been gone for the time being. The center square is the perfect position for a capstone, though, so there’s no reason for White to limit himself to a standing stone.

Anyway, this allows White to  fill the newly empty b3 with a new piece of his own. Black could recapture, but White would just retaliate with the capstone, so he doesn’t. Instead he builds close to the center square, so he can have a secondary road threat there.

grid1_4

Black wants to force White’s capstone away from the center with a road threat, then place his own flatstone there. However, as we’ll see, this trap has no real edge, and White does indeed walk confidently into it by making his own road threat:

grid1_5

Thanks to White’s capstone, Black is never actually able to make good on his threats. From here on out, White has the upper hand. He wins a few turns prematurely thanks to Black missing a dual threat, but Black did not have a comeback anyway.

In summary

  • When your opponent goes for the center, try to gain control of individual squares, to get a foothold.
  • Be on the lookout for squares you can gain control over even without capturing.
  • When your opponent has a road threat, make a hole in it, and take control of the freed-up squares.
  • Your capstone can be used to force a big stack to move away or split up.
  • Don’t play your capstone unless it’s in a position that will continue to be useful. Use a wall instead.

That’s all I’ve got for today – questions and comments are welcome below, and I’ll see you all in two weeks, if not before.

I have my own Tak set now

Here are the pieces, made of Fimo clay:

And the board, drawn in black gel pen on red leather:

takboard

And here are each set of pieces, in games against a friend who’s playing with her own pieces:

(The brown capstone in the picture on the right was a joke one made from the leftover clay – she does have one in the same style as the white one from the picture on the left.)

The plan is to turn the board into a drawstring purse to keep the pieces in. I’ll probably also get some wooden pieces at some point, but the Fimo ones are a fine solution for now.

Pat vs. Amanda, 5×5 (first game)

On May 19th, Pat Rothfuss, one of the creators of Tak, played two games of 5×5 Tak against his assistant Amanda. The games were streamed on Twitch and should be online for a few weeks – if you want to watch them, now is the time.

I’ll be using PTN (Portable Tak Notation) throughout this post – if you don’t know how it works, I recommend reading up on it over here.

With the formalities out of the way, I want to talk about one of the positions they got into, which incidentally illustrates the first beginner lesson of any abstract strategy game pretty well. Spoiler alert: Amanda wins this game. We’re going to try to retroactively rescue Pat. At least a little.

01

This is what the game looks like after 15 moves from White (Amanda), and 14 moves from Black (Pat). If you want to play along, you can copy and paste the following TPS string into playtak.com:

[TPS "x5/x,1,x3/21,21,1S,x2/1S,2,221212C,21S,2/x,2,2,x2 2 15"]

(Seriously. Go do that now. I won’t be posting pictures for every single move, so go get yourself a virtual board to mess around with and look at. Or a real one, if you have one.)

Pat has a capstone on top of a nice, big stack, but Amanda has walled it in pretty well. Aside from the capstone, all he has is four flatstones, and none of them have anywhere to go. Amanda also doesn’t have much – half her pieces are standing stones – but she does have much more control over the board. She can expand on the a and b columns with support from the pieces she already has there.

Worth pointing out, as it will become relevant several times: If Amanda gets a stack with two of her own pieces in it on b2, she can get tak by either playing b5, or moving one of her pieces from b2 to b1, leaving the other on top (the notation for that move depends on the exact stack).

Pat’s actual move in the game was 1c2+, crushing Amanda’s standing stone on c3, followed by Amanda’s 2c2<.

02

Yeah, not so good for Pat. There are ways to salvage this situation – we’ll get to those – but Pat plays b1+ instead, which is basically just a free capture for Amanda. It’s not just a wasted move, it gives Pat one less flatstone, and gives Amanda that stack on b2 that we talked about.

So, salvage. What should Pat have done instead, in the above situation?

  • He could have taken back the c2 stack with his capstone. It’s a smaller stack now, but it’s still something.
  • Even better, play 2c3<, getting right into the center of Amanda’s territory. The b3 tile is important to every single threat Amanda can make in the immediate future.
  • He could grab the a1 tile so Amanda can’t throw down new pieces there. This also helps him build toward a threat of his own on row 1 and 2.
  • He could block Amanda at row 5. This is still too passive, but at least it doesn’t actively help Amanda.
  • Seriously, though, 2c3< seems like a pretty solid move for Pat here.

What if Pat had made a different move back at that position we started with, the one from the first image?

Let’s say that instead of 1c2+, he played 2c2<11.

03

Amanda can take the stack now, but that doesn’t matter, because Pat can still reach it with his capstone. And yes, doing that allows Amanda to get tak (by playing b5), but then Pat can take his stack and spread it all over row 2. If he plays it right from there, he’ll win. Unless Amanda brings in her capstone and does something clever with it, in which case, well, it depends.

Alternatively, let’s say he plays 4c2<31.

04

We’re back to that situation with two pieces on b2. Amanda can get tak, right now, immediately, in two ways: b5, or 2b2-. On the surface, playing b5 looks promising – it allows Pat to snatch up the stack on b2 by playing 2a2>, but note that she can immediately follow up the threat by playing a2. However, that stack becomes far too useful for Pat. He can spread it all over the b file, which also leaves him with a citadel (four pieces in a square) down on row 1 and 2.

If Amanda instead plays 2b2-, then Pat plays 1c2<, leaving him two moves from a road, which forces Amanda on the defensive.

The Lesson

At the beginning of this post, I promised you the first beginner lesson of any abstract strategy game, and here it is: Be aggressive.

Pat consistently plays too passively. Sure, as second player he starts on the defensive, but that just means he needs to be extra aggressive if he wants to stand a chance. Every defensive move should serve a second purpose: To build up a threat of his own, to wrestle control of the game away from Amanda. This way of thinking works for Tak, it works for Chess, it probably works for Go (I don’t play Go, but I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t). It goes for the first player too – when you have the advantage, you keep pressing it, and when you don’t, you fight for it tooth and nail. If you don’t, you will lose.

Every defensive move should also build towards an offense.

That’s it for the analysis for today. If you have questions, disagreements, better moves for Pat, ways for Amanda to counter the things I’ve suggested, or just want to say hi, leave a comment down below!

See you in about two weeks for the next big post.

Tak Strategy Summer Invitational Tournament

TakStrategy is hosting a tournament! It’s invitation only, and will be running over the next week, with eight of the strongest players from playtak.com.

You can find more information about the tournament here.

[Edit: My first analysis post is a bit delayed, due to wordpress deciding to overwrite my near-finished draft with a much earlier version. I’m working on rewriting it, and, needless to say, will be storing my drafts elsewhere in the future. The post will be on Pat and Amanda’s game from the end of the Tak kickstarter, and will be up within the next few days.]

Some useful resources

Being new to Tak is a lot easier than being new to chess. The game itself is new, which means that there aren’t any really great players. You can catch up to the mid-range players fairly quickly.

However, it also means that we don’t know a whole lot of strategy yet. Collectively, I mean. People are proposing theories and trying them out, inventing traps and coming up with ways to beat them, but there’s still a lot to learn, even for the best players.

This video, by Ben from TakStrategy, explains one of the concepts we have figured out – influence. In short, influence is a measurement of how much of the board a piece (or player) controls.

Ditaktic is doing a series of openings – so far, he’s covering adjacent corner openings, probably with more to come.

Aside from this, lots of strategy discussion is happening over at /r/Tak, and of course, you can try out all of this on playtak.com, against real players or bots.

Welcome to Let’s Play Tak

This blog is about the abstract strategy game called Tak.

Here, you will soon find:

  • Posts about strategy – I’ll be writing them as I learn
  • Commentary on some actual games
  • Probably other stuff

I’m planning to have a regularly scheduled post every 14 days, with occasional extra posts thrown in between those. This rate may vary, proportional to the business of my life.

If you have anything in particular you would like to see, let me know in the comment section below!