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Topic: game of mistakes
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Posts: 64
Registered: Jan 20, 2019
From: Salem Oregon
Age: 48
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game of mistakes
Posted: Mar 10, 2019, 3:26 PM

In the aesthetics thread, the idea of mistakes has been mentioned a few times. I thought it might be better to put my longish thoughts on this in a separate thread as the game exchange over there is picking up.

While I think play free of glaring errors is certainly ... aesthetically pleasing ... I'm not sure that humans can play mistake-free when every move is a choice. I sort of think that Pente is closer to chess than tic-tac-toe in this regard. Or at least it certainly should be until you get to the upper echelon where the white win percentage breaks 60% even if not past that point.

Anyway, I'm an old tournament chess player, nothing flashy, solid A game. Started when I was 11. Played off and on for years. Stopped when I got married. (I hadn't played Pente in 25 years either until January.)

Before these discussions, I mentioned a chess book to watsu privately...Catalog of Chess Mistakes by GM Andrew Soltis. It's available free via archive.org here:


This is one of the books I recommend to aspiring club or tournament players. It's my belief that there are nuggets in this text that apply to any similar game against human opponents., including Pente. If you're a chess player as well, they will be easier to mine of course.

The core tenet is that errors are unavoidable and the winning player will often be the one able to minimize and incorporate their own errors while maximizing and focusing on those from the opponent. The book covers failings in board sight, candidate move selection, forced sequence construction (combinations in chess parlance), psychological pitfalls and exploits, move timing, and more...all of which seem applicable to Pente.

As an example of board sight, people see moves towards the opponent's side as aggressive and towards their own side as passive or retreating. Now, orientation obviously plays a part in pawn movement in chess, but it's a common error to mis-categorize candidate moves based on "towards me" and "away from me".

This remains true in Pente, even online Pente, in part due to the game notation. With more seasoned players, they might compensate for it consciously when assessing a board. Once you get two or three moves into a combination though, this is an area ripe for creating error opportunities in the opponent's calculations. (BTW, one way to help this would be to give options in the game to rotate, flip, or shift the board. In real life, you can stand up and walk around it...not so online.)

An example of candidate move selection might be watsu's cork popping. As soon as he said it was rare, I started actively looking for it deeper within positions...and had several wins with it since then. If people like watsu didn't notice it often, I knew it'd prove an effective tool.

9...F6 is an explicit threat of cork popping, but "backwards", towards me. A rare tactic in a difficult direction makes for something harder to see.

10...M6 likewise threatens the cork popping "backwards" towards me. I think black is fine here as white must sacrifice a pair to slow the attack: 11 L6 P9.

Move timing is not about the on-the-board timing (tempo in chess, initiative here), but rather how long to take to make a move within a calculated combination. Once you have a combination created and it's in motion, the amount of calculation each turn is minimal. It is often beneficial to obfuscate the strength of your combination by making an opponent wait at the board. Sometimes it's useful to move as fast as possible so they spend less time than they should looking for candidate moves. This is particularly done if you want them to make the "principled" or obvious move when it is losing,

Actually, I used several ideas from this book to swindle back a lost Pente game recently...

This is not our best play. I play a terrible

9 ...F5

(9...H6 better)

My only hope is a repetitious and eye-diverting forced sequence, timed in a way to make me appear lost, like a fish on a hook. One that gives my opponent the best chance to make the errors human opponents tend to make.

By the time he gets to make his open four with 17. J5 we have toured the board in a way that rapidly changes the center point of conflict. This is something easier in Pente than in chess. He's had no control and quite ready to exert his dominance of the position. He's assessed it as a sure win after all.

A key maxim of Pente play is when you get that open four, you replace it with every capture until you win. (There's also a book, Chess Maxims, with counterexamples for every maxim.) Creating positions where the normal move becomes the wrong move is a key method of helping opponents into error.

White still wins with 19. M10. I did everything Soltis taught me to help him not see it. And it worked.

Is it a pretty game? An aesthetically pleasing game? No, not so much.

It's a win though and I think it shows how Pente, at least between humans, is often a game of mistakes, with the winner being the one who manages those mistakes best.

The idea of playing to your opponent and not the board is an anathema to some, I understand. At the upper echelon of chess, at any rate, the opponent is often the target. Check out Bobby Fischer Goes To War for a good look - or read a book by the delightful Mikhail Tal. Tal-Botvinnnik 1960 is available for free online too.

And, yes, I realize pente isn't chess...I still think much of what I learned from chess is applicable here.


Here's the intro to Catalog of Chess Mistakes...

Chess is a game of bad moves. It is, in fact, the game that most depends on error, No game has a greater variety of ways of going wrong or gives you as many opportunities...dozens on every move. Other games depend heavily on chance or on the mastery of some relatively limited skills. But a chess game is decided by the failings of one of the players.

Yet we refuse to recognize this. \Ve like to think the game is a battle between good moves and better moves. When we win, we tell ourselves-and anyone who wlll listen-that the critical difference was our fine maneuvering, our positional cunning, or our tactical ingenuity. When we lose, weIl, it was a stupid mistake-as if errors were an aberration, an extraordinary accident. Mistakes can only be messy, ugly, and disruptive, we say.

Regardless of our own success, we like to think a chess game should be won, not lost. We thereby ignore that most vital skill, the ability to exploit enemy mistakes.) We try to elevate the game to some level it can never achieve-at least not while it's being played by humans.

The masters know better. They know that a well-played game is not an error-free game. There are errors of varying magnitudes, and each game is sure to hold some smaIl mistakes. "Chess is the struggle against error," said Johannes Zukertort, one of the greatest players of the last century. Victory belongs to the player who struggles best-not just against an opponent, but against himself.


Message was edited by: haijinx at Mar 10, 2019 4:03 PM


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Re: game of mistakes
Posted: Mar 10, 2019, 6:14 PM

I have quite a bit to say on this topic, a lot of it I already shared in email exchanges with haijinx, but I'll start with something which I didn't already mention in our discussion. Looking at and analyzing one's own mistakes (whether in real time or TB games) is a vital tool to improving one's game. Every lost game as P1 is an opportunity to improve one's knowledge of oneself and the game. I'll list a few examples of player weaknesses leading to mistakes which one may find (either within one's self or in opponents) below.

Sub optimal opening moves as first player - this is one of the key places where master players have a leg up on players who are at even a slightly lower level of play.

Not taking sufficient time to analyse an unfamiliar position.

Not being aware of the current expert level thinking on shapes, openings and positions (whether to learn from or exploit).

Focusing on a small part of the board rather than the entire board.

Not being sufficiently familiar with how to win as P2 if P1 deviates from the wedge sequence and P1/P2 wins along other popular lines (this is mostly applicable to real time games, since the database is helpful for this).

To some degree, I'm guilty or have been in the past of all of these and it has cost me some games which I should have won easily.

Knowing these things about myself helps improve my game, which allows me to reach a higher potential of play, should I choose to do so.

Retired from TB Pente, but still playing live games & exploring variants like D, poof and boat
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