The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

RIP Josephine Grabow

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Josephine (‘Jo’) Grabow is now the third bridge partner I’ve lost. Not only was she a much more frequent partner (I haven’t played with her in a few years, but we had 5-6 of us that would play practice and rotate houses, but she seemed in perfect health. She just performed the lead in a local theater production two weeks ago, and I saw her last weekend at the tournament. She played at the club on Monday, and Tuesday suffered a massive stroke. It’s infuriating and heartbreaking.

Written by taogaming

January 24, 2020 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Bridge

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Heat 1

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I had an arranged bridge partnership for the weekend, as I was skipping this years North American Open Pairs. My partner (from CA) was described as a nice expert and she was. After going to the wrong hotel (this tournament was in the same place for a decade …. ), I arrived in time to make a card and sit down to a simple sectional pairs game.

Not much happens in the early rounds,

Then I pick up (Red vs White):

S:KQ8xx H:Txx D:– C:ATxxx

My RHO gets things off with a 3D preempt. Since I have diamond shortness, it’s my obligation to stretch. There’s something to be said for double, but with 5=3 in the majors I bid 3S. If partner bids 3N I think I may pull, but she bids 4D as a slam try and I slam on the brakes with 4S.

LHO leads the diamond three and I see this in dummy:

          S:AT9x H:AKx D:KJ852 C:9

3D led

          S:KQ8xx H:Txx D:--  C:ATxxx

 

I think I’ve done well. I only have one loser (and third round at that), but winners seem thin on the ground. I cover the diamond 3 with the 5 (maybe RHO will mess up and play too high) but he’s there with the 6 and I ruff.

I could start ruffing clubs before pulling trump but I don’t think my communication is great. After some thought I pull a round of trump with my ace(*) and when both follow I risk playing a club ace and ruff a club with the spade ten. RHO plays the CJ on this. I play a spade to my king and both follow. Ah, that’s great. I ruff a club and RHO pitches a heart. I play AK of hearts and RHO follows with the jack once and then pitches a diamond. Now I only have two trumps and four losers, but I know everything.

                   S:-- H:5 D:KJ82 C:--

S:-- H:Qxx D:-- C:KQ                  D:AQT97

                   S:Qx H:T D:-- C:Tx 

RHO has only diamonds left.I lead the diamond deuce to his seven (pitching a heart) and when he cashes the diamond ace instead of ruffing I pitch a club. He’s forced to lead to my king, allowing my to dispose of my last club.

Not difficult, but I’m pleased to find this double loser-on-loser endplay.

(* Update) — I realized that starting with the ace was stupid, I’m not actually sure I did it, but maybe. Clearly if anyone has four trumps it is likely to be west, so I should have started with the King. So let’s all pretend I did that. Maybe I did, who knows?

Later, a near slam hand:

S:Jx H:AKJxx D:AKJ C:xxx.

Partner (in second seat) opens 1C, I have an easy 1H bid and partner bids 1S. I bid 2D, artificial and forcing to game. Partner bids 2H, showing 3 card support and I set trumps and show slam interest by bidding 3H. Partner bids 3S (first or second round control) and I bid 4D (ditto, also denying a club control). Partner bids 4H and we’re done. LHO (a relative novice) leads the nine of clubs and I see:

S:KQ9x H:Qxx D:xx C:AQJT

I see that slam was roughly 50/50, and with that lead the club king is likely off sides. I’m a bit stuck because there’s a chance that LHO has the king is has done something weird. I decide to risk the ruff and play the queen.  It loses and when a club comes back LHO follows low. I pull trumps (which break) and then lead a small spade to my queen, planning on claiming +650 when the ace takes it. But it holds. Hm. Now I have a chance for six. I cross back to the diamond ace and play two rounds of trump, pitching spades. When I play a club to dummy I see LHO follow, meaning he led top of nothing. I’m really starting to like my chance for six, now. My gut is that LHO has the diamond queen and is squeezed. When I cash the clubs I come down to an automatic squeeze position in spades and diamonds.

Dummy has the spade king and a diamond and two good clubs. I run the clubs and come down to KJ of diamonds. LHO has a good poker face, but my vibe is telling me he’s got the queen. Since he led top of nothing from xxx, he was looking for a safe lead, so there’s also a restricted choice argument. (If he had nothing in clubs and diamonds, he’d pick randomly, at least from my point of view. But if he had the diamond queen and decided to lead nothing, his choice was restricted). I lead a diamond to the king and am rewarded when the queen falls. +680.

Later on I’m defending a game with a 2C opener declaring on my left, trumps are pulled, and partner has only room for one card.

Dummy has T8x of hearts and I have J9 tight. When declarer leads the low heart off the board I’m ready and fly with the jack. This is the position I’m hoping for:

 

        CHO: Kxxx

Declarer: AQxx   Dummy:T8x

        ME:  J9

(The ace and king could be reversed). Declarer covers my queen and partners king wins. Partner exits safely and declarer, having no place to discard her two small cards, takes the ‘marked’ finesse of the heart 8 and is off. Note that if I’d followed with the 9 then declarer would simply drop my jack (or go back and finesse by leading the T or 8. Since that was bound to work, my falsecard gave declarer and obvious (and losing) alternative.

Sadly, I’m off by a card since declarer only has three hearts (AQx), but I’m still happy to have spotted the mandatory falsecard. As the day goes on I realize I’m in Zia’s “Heat 1,” where everything you do seems to work out, your analysis seems sharper. I’m in a good mood, and that makes it easy to play well. Even though our scores are only mediocre (our opponents are bidding their thin slams, and there are a few questionable bids by each side), but I’m in the zone.

Then, my LHO is a solid local expert who has been an expert for my entire bridge playing career, I decide to make a sign-off on a not-so-borderline invitational hand, because the signoff will accurately show my shape and the invite will see partner force to game before I can provide the news. (This follows Woolsey’s advice of “when choosing between two bids and one is a mild over/underbid, make the one that shows your shape.” I had lobbied for the convention to let me show that at a low level, but we’re playing a simpler one where partner may jump with a maximum hand before I can finish….)

Since I’m in the zone, my underbid gets a lead directing penalty double from the S.L.E. (she doesn’t expect us to end up there, and she’s right), meaning everyone who is going high will get massacred with bad breaks and offside suits.

Even more amazingly, my RHO (an imaginative and sometimes flighty player), misreads the double is takeout and informs my partner as such. So partner passes and when he bids I come out of the woodwork and make a double that must be penalty. The smoke clears at 1700 points, although 500 was enough to make the top cold. LHO is still griping (justifiably) at her partner when I pick up.

S:Kx H:QJ8 D:AKJx C:JTxx

This is an easy 1NT, so I have an easy auction. Partner will be captain. The auction proceeds:

LHO CHO RHO YHN
--- --- --- ---
             1N
X*   P  2C** P  (*Alerted as Meckwell, either a long minor or both majors. **Forced relay)
2H*  X  2S** P  (*Both majors, **Correcting to preferred major)
 P  3S*  P  3N  (*Do you have spades stopped. 3N= Yes)

I get a small spade lead and see that this is as touchy a contract as the auction (coupled with my tenous spade stopper) imply.

Dummy has S:J9x H:KTx D:xx C:AK987

I call for a low spade and gratefully cover RHO’s queen with the king. Nobody is vulnerable, so LHO may have risked the bid with only 4=4 in the majors, but in any case the club finesse isn’t likely to work. Still, its my obvious source of tricks to attack first. I carefully lead the club jack. LHO plays the deuce. She can see dummy so she may have ducked the Qxx, but I fly with the ace and play the king, finishing the unblock with my ten. LHO shows out on this, so I lead another club and RHO wins the queen, LHO discarding two hearts, presumably encouraging. RHO continues with spades and LHO wins the queen and knocks out the jack (as I pitch a diamond). When I cash my two clubs RHO follows with a discouraging heart and then pitches his fourth spade.

That confirms what I already knew. He doesn’t have the heart ace. People with sure entries don’t pitch winners.

I get rid of my low diamond on the fifth club and LHO (after pitching a diamond on the fourth), pitches her fourth spade.

I run through the bridge syllogism again.

RHO pitched a spade winner, therefore RHO does not have the heart ace. And since LHO pitched a spade winner, LHO does not have the heart ace.

Maybe I have it? I double check. Nope. I can’ t quite work out why its going on, but that’s not necessary. I simply lead a heart and when LHO wins she returns one and I can pitch my jack of diamonds and avoid the finesse. Ah, now I know. If she kept the spade winner and pitched a diamond, her queen would fall under my AK. And if she pitched a low heart she’d be endplayed after cashing. But in either case she’d have held me to 3N instead of letting me make an overtrick. An uncharacteristic mistake, probably caused by fatigue and annoyance at partner.

In both matchpoint sessions we do OK, but in the Swiss teams the next day I confirm I’m in zone one, as our pickup team just gets edged out of first with a 5-1 score, the loss being very narrow match 13-15 (mostly decided at the other table). I’ve often been in zone three (where you seem snakebit at the table), so its nice to have some time in the sun.

Written by taogaming

January 20, 2020 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Bridge

More thoughts on 1862

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A local did not care to keep his pre-order, so I took it off his hands and (while I was messing up the solo game), the TaoLing expressed interest.

So I’ve now played four 2p games. To my surprise, 1862 plays well at 2p. The opening reminds me of pro Go players spending half their time on the first 10% of the moves spending it analyzing the long reaching implications of a particular fuseki/joseki. (I don’t do that, but I do play much slower in the first Parlimentary & Stock Round). During our second game I realized that practically any opening move I chose in the first parliamentary round (that I set cheaply) could be countered by a nearby company parring slightly higher and cutting me off (the first 8 companies were crowded along the northern border of the map), and so I passed.

Re-reading my earlier thoughts, I’m pleased with the variability, I think this is borne out by my plays — we’ve tried several different strategies and the random setup has given games different feels — a knife fight in a closet (that North map), a more languid game with locals stacking up cash in slow trains. We’ve had players open 1 company in SR 1, I’ve opened four companies in SR 1. And I have no reason to feel that these aspects are limited to 2p games. (I do wonder how well an 8p game works, but the mere fact that it may be possible impresses me).

Having also read some of discokings articles (while not being sure I understand them), I think the financial decisions are interested. In one game I dumped a company on the TaoLing (after taking its train cheaply for my other company) and got the worse of the deal. I sold at 1/2 price, and then he simply refinanced it and now its earning well. (In fact, one of the interesting things about 1862 is that a company without a train may be in a better position than a company with a non-permanent or even permanent train).

I see Eric’s comment on BGG that 1862 lacks the bomb of forced train purchases (and I worried about it myself). Now I’m leaning towards believing that the financial mechanisms contain equally powerful (but more subtle) bombs. If you make a big mistake in ’62 you’ve lost just as badly as any other game, but it won’t be the going-into-pocket of bankruptcy, just slower growth or halving shares.

Whether that’s a pro or con depends on taste.

My big thought about ’62 (and with ’46) is — do I need to play 1830 again? The (US) original’s totally fixed opening, coupled with multiple dozens of plays means that — while it’s the local father, I think it has been surpassed by the newer titles. (Certainly I had already preferred to explore newer titles, but now I think its clear). Anyway, still looking forward to more plays of ’62, hopefully a few with 3-5p.

Slay the Spire — Tomorrow the new version drops. I’m at Ascension 14 with Ironclad, 6 with Silent and 7 with Defect.

Written by taogaming

January 13, 2020 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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City of the Big Shoulders

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During the annual-local-New Years Eve-gaming-bash, I got to try City of the Big Shoulders. I’m assuming most of my readers know/are aware of this, so let me just summarize the rules in a few lines:

  • An 18xx like system (of Stock Rounds and Operating Rounds) but no track, and exactly five turns.
  • In between in SR/OR there is a Worker Placement stage where each player can take 2-5 actions, each one affecting a company they control (with the company often paying money).  These workers (called patrons) can take actions on the board (pay to the bank) or a player-built building (pay the owner). Among those actions is a Power-Grid style labor market, and you’ll need workers (or automation) to get your factories to run. There are also specialized workers (like managers, who provide a bonus to a run factory; or salesmen, who increase the price you deliver goods for).
  • Companies can also acquire Capital assets, but most only have one asset slot (if at all). Assets have an immediate benefit (usually a worker or automation), as well as a once/turn power. A company with no asset slots can still be one for the immediate bonus.
  • The Operating Round has a mini-game where companies buy raw ingredients to turn into finish goods and deliver them to tiles. But companies can also get ingredients/goods during the WP stage.

Scoring is — as in 18xx — total cash plus stock value at the end.

This game is simpler than its rulebook, at least, to anyone with knowledge of 18xx. But the book managed to scatter rules around in odd places so that I wasn’t quite sure until I’d scanned it later. I’m still not sure if we handled the worker market right, because it felt like a glut happened. It may have just been random chance, but I feel like we missed a rule.

The components look nice. It may have been a blinged out Kickstarter copy.

And after the game — I’m not sure. I enjoyed it, but there are some concerns:

  1. The aforementioned issue with workers.
  2. The typical Worker Placement problem of someone getting more workers may be problematic.
  3. The way that goods are bought (bins of $10-$20-$30-$40-Futures where once a bin empties, the remaining bins slide down), coupled with the way companies are ordered is very chaotic.
  4. Companies without the ability to own Capital Assets seem much worse, but that’s just a snap judgement.

Each system works, I’m just not sure they work well together.

I looked at my geekbuddies comments and I like Eric’s comment that the lack of train rusting means that they’ve removed a critical bomb. I think they bomb may still be there (in the nature of the goods market) or in the race to get a 3rd/4th/5th Patron.

And there are some things I do really like:

  • The 20% preferred share that can be owned by anyone but the director of a company. (That would be delicious in an 18xx that encouraged dumping!)
  • The “bonus dividend” action

Rating — Right now suggest until I get a better feel for the game. This would also make a great introduction to people who wanted to try heavier business games.

Written by taogaming

January 1, 2020 at 7:28 pm

Tik-Tok goes the clock

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Forty-Seven and Forty-Eight of the “Fifty-by-Fifty” arrived over the weekend….

Written by taogaming

December 31, 2019 at 9:23 am

Posted in Session Reports

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Slay the Spire

During the Steam Winter Sale I picked this up for $12 ish. This is another rogue-like (similar to Dicey Dungeons), except that your character is basically:

  • A Dominion deck, plus
  • A Collection of power-ups, plus
  • a few stats (HP, max HP, $$, etc)

And as you “Climb the Spire” you gain new cards, trash a few old ones, and get the power ups.

Like FTL, the game isn’t impossible to beat, but it definitely takes some finesse. And while there’s no “Easy/Normal/Hard” once you finally beat the game with each character you can start trying to be the “Ascension” game with increasing levels of difficulty. I thought after 20 hours it was getting some what samey, but even Ascension Level 1 adds a fair amount.

And — you know — $12.

Rating — Suggest

Written by taogaming

December 24, 2019 at 10:36 pm

Problematic hands

While I think that Polish Club is a good system, it has a few weaknesses. One big one is strong hands with primary diamonds and a secondary major, or two suited hands with the minors. (Standard American also has problems handling these in the strong and artificial 2 Club opening). So … while we open 1 Club with “Most” 18 point hands, we will sometimes open 1 diamond with a hand up to about 20 or 21 HCP. But normally those only show up a few times a year.

Playing at the club, I pick up S:x H:AK D:KQTxx C:AKJxx

Tough. If I open 1 Club I won’t be able to show both minors below 4 Clubs, when 3N is the right place. So I open 1 Diamond. Partner bids 1 Heart and I bid an artificial 2N. (Since we open all balanced hands 1 Club or Notrump, this bid is free). This shows an strong (18+) hand, either primary diamonds or a minor two suiter. Partner bids 3 Diamonds, showing that if I have a minor two suiter, he prefers diamonds.

That’s excellent news. Unless partner is 4=3 in the minors he likely has a doubleton club and 3+ diamonds, taking care of a diamond loser. No point in fooling around. I bid 4 Hearts, key card blackwood in diamonds (kickback) and partner bids 4 Spades, showing one ace. Since we have a loser,  I settle for 6 diamonds, which should be pretty reasonable.

LHO leads the spade king and I find out that partner has pretty much the worst hand.

S:ATx H:T9xxx D:8xx C:Tx

Partner took a shot at improving the contract, but not only does he have the ‘wrong’ ace he has no extras. But he could have a lot more points and this would still be dicey, so I have no complaints.

I win the ace and have to decide how to play. I can finesse the clubs, but then I’ll need something good to happen in diamonds and I may still have a club loser. But if the diamond ace is onside (or maybe the jack) I don’t really need much in clubs. Any 3-3 break or the long hand to have the long trump. So I play the diamond off dummy and RHO follows with the jack. I win with the diamond king.

If the diamond jack was stiff I’m down, but I think it was from AJ tight, so I can make if RHO has two or three clubs (because if he over-ruffs dummy he won’t be able to pull dummy’s last trump). I lead the AK and a small club and LHO stares at this and shows up with the diamond nine. Ah well.

Amazingly I pick up another problematic hand later the same session.

S:AKxx H:– D:AQTxxx C:AJx

I open 1 Diamond again, and LHO bids 1 Heart which goes Pass Pass to me. I bid 2 spades, which could be weaker than what I actually have but partner will strive to keep the auction alive. Partner bids 3 Spades and I reveal the monster hand by making a slam try with 4 Clubs. Partner bids 4 Diamonds — possibly a singleton but likely the diamond king. I don’t have quite enough to force, but I try again with 4 Hearts. Partner bids 4 Spades.

After some thought, I pass. If I give partner the diamond king, what else can he have. If he has the club king and the spade queen (as well as four spades), he wouldn’t have passed over 1 Heart. Even with two kings he may have bid with a spare jack, especially). Realistically the best hand he could have is the spade queen + diamond king or two kings.  And Hank isn’t shy. If he had that he might have taken control.

I don’t think he has it.

I get a spade lead (the ten) and I see I’m right:

S:9xxxx H:Qx D:Kx C:Txxx

I win the Spade A and K (RHO following once, but then discarding), so I have a spade loser, but when diamonds break I can pitch three clubs from dummy and make six.

Still — a club lead would set the slam (unless spades split) so it’s reasonable to not be there.

Even though we were in the non-making slam and out of the making (on this lead) slam, I still feel like we acquitted ourselves well enough.

Written by taogaming

December 21, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Bridge

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