In Fight or Flight – The Problem, I discussed the easy part: situations where you might fall into the trap of playing a bad move (specifically a compound error), and what kinds of moves might be bad in these cases. The hard part is recognizing these specific moves, and finding better alternatives.
The key to finding the right play is usually considering tempo. Tempo is an advanced topic which will have some posts all to itself at a later date, but for now we can think of it as meaning counting turns, and guessing moves for our opponent on those turns.
Lets say you are Y/G and your opponent has just made a good move with B to gain a large amount of space. Your instinct might be to want to use Y to play a cut move attacking some B territory. Before making the play, you should try to imagine all three of the following turns (up to and including the next B turn). What you ultimately want to find out is: “what will be the next move for B?”. If B is definitely going to ignore your cut, then it is (probably) a good time to play it. On the other hand, if B is free to attack your cut, a less aggressive move might be in order. Making this judgment requires looking at all the areas of the board where blue might be tempted to play, and finding out which of them are important (for your opponent!). If you can put yourself in your opponent’s shoes and figure out what positions he/she thinks are most important, all the better. Remember not to expect a move just because it would work out well for you – wishful thinking doesn’t pay off very often in blokus.
Let’s consider the following concrete example.
In this example, B has just played the T5, which leaves Y/G in an unpleasant position, since B now has a large area to itself on the left. Here, Yellow might be tempted to play the Y to cut B and try to minimize the space B can gain.
Before Y makes this play, he/she should try to consider what the B response to the Y will be. Since G is not threatening B in any way, it is quite likely that B will respond to this cut on the next play, with the N for example. By that turn, the board might look like this.
This move does not leave Yellow in a good situation. There are no great moves for Yellow here – in particular there is no move that both blocks B out of the top right, and also allows Yellow access to the top left. Further, Yellow absolutely needs to respond to the B N immediately, and then R will have a chance to kill Yellow on the right. A better play than the Y for Yellow is probably the X as seen here.
This move is not as aggressive as the Y, but it will leave Yellow in a better position after the B response. On the next B turn, the board might look like this:
Now B has a tough choice to make with no great move. B can either kiss Yellow (with the B V5 for example), or cut Yellow (with the N5 up for example). If B kisses Yellow, Yellow can ignore this spot and attack red on the right, knowing that there will be space for Yellow inside of B later on. If B cuts Yellow, there will definitely be a “great” move for Yellow right after – a move that will both completely block B out of the top right, and also give Y some access into the top left.
In this example, there was nothing G could do to pressure B, so Y needed to play the X to make it harder for B to respond on the next B turn. An important point to remember in cases like this is that G will play before B. If the situation was slightly different, Y might have more options. Consider this alternative situation, very similar to the first:
In this situation B played some slightly different pieces meaning that G can attack B with the i2. Yellow might decide to play the Y after all, thinking that if G attacks B, B will want to defend G and yellow will get two pieces into the B territory. That might look something like this.
When two colours both attack the same colour in the same round like this, we call it a double attack. This strategy can be very powerful if used at the right time, since it means one of the opponent’s colours (in this case B) will have two important things to do at the same time, and can only choose one of them. When a colour gets into this undesirable position, we call that colour overloaded. In the above example B was overloaded, and had to either defend against G or Y. B decided on defending against G, and Yellow got a chance to follow up the Y with the X, putting B in a bad position in the top left.
There is still more to consider however. In this new example, G was able to attack B. However, R might have anticipated that, and played a move other than the Z5 to take advantage. One possibility would be for R to play a cut move instead of a kiss move on the bottom. Then G would be overloaded, needing to decide between attacking B as planned, or defending R, and this would take the pressure off B. Another possibility is for R to attack Yellow, with the i2 for example. In that case, G would still attack B, and B could still defend G, but then Yellow would be the one overloaded, deciding between playing from the Y to attack B, or defending against the R attack, as in this picture:
If Yellow chooses to defend against R, then things are basically back to where they were before, with R playing the Z in the bottom, G defending with the U, and B able to play the N up to cut the Yellow Y.
In these cases, R was able to overload either Y or G without needing a double attack. If you plan on your colour making a specific move on its next turn, it is possible for that colour to get overloaded with just a single attack, since there will still be two things for that colour to do.
In general, here is the situation: When one of your opponent’s colours makes a strong move, seeming to gain a large zone, your first instinct might be to play a cut move on that same colour to try to reduce his space. Before you do you must consider if he will be able to respond to that cut immediately – maybe there is already a more important move that colour will need to make on its next turn, and you will get to follow up your cut. If it seems that the opponent will be able to respond to the cut immediately, you might consider playing a kiss move instead. Before you switch, you can consider the option of using your other colour to create a double attack, and make it hard for your opponent to respond to the original cut. This can work very well, but if you are considering this, you also need to consider your opponent’s other colour, and see if it is going to be able to play an attack in between your double attack that will remove the pressure.
If it seems like there is a lot to worry about here – there is. The good news is that considering these things starts to become automatic if you practice. In games between two very strong players, a lot of time will often be spent planning out long chains of pressure like this, and the momentum can seem to swing from turn to turn.
That was a really long post, but we’re finally at the end. Here is a summary:
1) When you plan to play a cut move, remember to try to figure out if your opponent will respond to it or not. This is especially important after your opponent just made a strong move to seal a large zone somewhere else on the board, as there is usually less for your opponent to worry about in that area, and responding to your cut will often be a big priority for him/her.
2) If your opponent seems able to respond to your cut, consider the turns in between. Maybe you can use your second colour to overload the opponent, and make it difficult for him/her to respond to your cut right away.
3) If you plan on a double attack, remember to consider the opponent’s other colour as well, and make sure he/she won’t get to overload you instead of the other way around.
4) If you can’t find a good way to prevent your opponent from responding to the cut move you plan to play, consider playing a kiss move instead. Often times things are not as bad as you might think, and you don’t need to immediately respond to the strong move of your opponent. Be patient, and a good opportunity to regain the advantage will hopefully come later.
If you are interested in seeing some more examples of compound errors, take a look at Real Game Comments – 2. And don’t forget to read about how to stop the other major type of compound errors in Fight or Flight – The Solution (part 2).