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Topic: Define and explain Initiative and momentum in pente
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Define and explain Initiative and momentum in pente
Posted: Jul 16, 2011, 12:19 AM

the title speaks for its self. i'll leave it at that and see what people can come up with.

Scire hostis animum - Intelligere ludum - Nosce te ipsum - Prima moventur conciliat - Nolite errare


Posts: 542
Registered: May 9, 2002
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Re: Define and explain Initiative and momentum in pente
Posted: Sep 20, 2011, 12:59 AM

The terms "initiative" and "momentum" have been discussed before so I won't go into great detail about it here. But, I have been meaning to think about and update my ideas on the subject. This post is likely to contradict some earlier posts that I have made on the subject and if that is the case so be it.

Like other terms discussed, I don't believe we should be trying to tightly define these terms to have an exact, specific meaning. The terms "initiative" and "momentum" have come about through casual conversations about the game of Pente and from some published literature about the game. I remember specifically seeing the word "initiative" or "initiate" in the old Pente newsletters which analyzed some of the key matches from the World Championship events in the early 1980s. Usage of the word "momentum" seems to stem from more recent forum and chatroom discussions within the last decade and is frankly a bit more vague.

There is a very important concept in Pente which is often described by these terms. Pente is a turn-based stone game with a relatively quick, finite ending which has no reasonable chance of ending in a draw. One player or the other always wins and at any point in time during the game one player or the other is winning. At the very beginning of the game, before any stones are placed, Player 1 is winning the game and is said to have a "first move advantage". This is due to the inherant properties of the game itself and the specific ruleset by which we choose to play it.

From this moment forward, the players take turns placing their stones and after each move the game state is such that one player or the other has a winning position. This will typically influence who is playing offensively and who is playing defensively. Keep in mind that good defense is often aggressive, but it is still defensive by nature -- attempting to stop and counter the opponent's intentions while trying to increase the chances for the opponent to make a mistake on a future move. However, an aggressive defense (such as forming a tria to set up a keystone attack) should not be mistaken for "having the initiative" in the game.

In my opinion, a player "has the initiative" once it becomes well established who is dictating the direction of the gameplay on an ongoing basis. This player is on the offensive. This typically occurs at some point (often near the beginning) of the midgame. The player with the initiative has many options at his disposal and will often choose moves which limit the opponent's options each step along the way.

The most typical example of when this has occurred is when an opening has been played and there are a small number of stones on the board and a player makes a tria "to initiate events", with the intention of continuing to make additional trias or capture across a tria or in some other manner force the opponent into defensive, unhelpful positions while expanding his own options, looking to find an opportunity to play a winning move that cannot be fully defended. This process of continuous forcing moves and building a strong position can be described as the player "having momentum". Informally, the meaning is "once it gets going, it's hard to stop". Often times you will see top players resign the game well ahead of the final stone being placed because the game has reached a point where both players recognize that one player has created a lot of momentum and is no longer defensable.

It is almost always the case that the player perceived to be on the offensive and who is initiating events is in a winning position and needs only to avoid the mistake of "giving up the initiative" in order to secure victory. However, the two concepts are not identical and need not be tightly linked. (I am probably flip-flopping on this portion of the debate here, but oh well.) It is possible for a player to be initiating events and still be in a losing position. We should not avoid describing the situation in terms of the player having the initiative just because the game position was later analyzed to be a losing position. Having the initiative in the game is an intuitive concept that should be relatively easy to observe.

There are a few places where using the term "initiative" is not appropriate. A player who makes a single forcing move or a very short sequence of forcing moves which will clearly not be able to sustain itself on an ongoing basis should not be described as having taken the initiative. For example, when a player extends a blocked tria into a blocked teserra, causing the opponent to momentarily stop what he was doing and block this singular threat but is otherwise still on the offensive and this player is still on the defensive, this is not taking the initiative. In fact, the opponent could accurately be described as maintaining the initiative through this process.

Also, while the opening sequence of the game is usually played to Player 1's advantage (Player 1 is winning throughout the opening), the very early moves should not be described using the terms "initiative" or "momentum". Despite the fact that Player 1 is winning, player 2 typically has a very large number of reasonable options available in his first few moves, and in fact, the defense chosen by Player 2 will largely dictate the direction of the game through the opening. Neither player has the initiative during the opening.

Similarly, in certain longer games where the flow breaks down into a battle of attacking pairs and using other disjointed moves to try to eek out a victory in the endgame, I don't think it is accurate to describe the situation as one player having the initiative, even though it is often clear that one player is still a half-move ahead and is the one with the opportunity to win the game with a well executed endgame sequence. Neither player has the initiative during the endgame.

Hopefully I've been clear about how I think these terms should be used. Others may have different opinions which is fine -- these terms are not set in stone, nor should they be in my opinion. There is a specific concept that occurs often in Pente that can be well described by using these terms, but their exact meanings will vary here and there depending on the context.

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