The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

I’m pretty sure that the TaoLing is a better Mage Knight player than I am….

with one comment

(at least, in co-op).

How quickly they grow up.

Update — Also, just passed 350 plays of MK. But to show that I am not totally washed up, one was a solitaire victory vs cities of 10 and 18.


Written by taogaming

November 6, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Mage Knight

Mainly Factorio, still

(This is the sort of thing that only someone who plays Factorio will care about).

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Written by taogaming

November 4, 2017 at 10:12 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents

Tagged with

Essen Shmessen

Nothing (gaming wise) interests me more than the previews for Dominion: Nocturne. This looks to be an excellent expansion. Dominion is one of those games that rarely gets played, but is steadily good and continues to have new ideas and argument #1 for varietal expansions.

Also, Halloween is almost ‘pon us and I haven’t been to the game club/store since summer, so I have no idea if anything else good has arrived/is around the corner.

Written by taogaming

October 28, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Open Thread

A Lowenthal lead

It’s the final match in the Sectional Swiss, and it’s been an odd but not particularly fruitful day when I pick up:

S: 9xx H:J9xx D:KQ8xxx C:--

I could preempt this (we’re white vs red), but I’d have to preempt 3 Diamonds and honestly I’d be happy to support either major, so I pass. LHO opens 1 Club.  These opponents play a weak NT, so a minor suit opening shows either extra strength or extra distribution (or both). Partner overcalls 1 Heart, and RHO passes.

I bid 3 Clubs, showing 4 hearts and 7-9 HCP or so. I may shoot game opposite partner’s signoff (because of the void) but I want to be clear about my strength. Partner may shoot the game anyway and I’ll accept an invite and I’ll get another round of bidding, so this seems reasonable.

LHO isn’t done, and bids 3 Spades. Partner bids 4 Hearts, RHO bids 4 Spades.

I’m not going to the five level. Not with three spades. I pass, as does LHO and partner doubles, ending the auction. I’m actually quite pleased with this turn of events. I’m void in LHO’s suit, so I suspect partner has clubs behind declarer. I only have six points, but they are mostly working (defensively). Points in hearts wouldn’t be valuable.

Partner leads a small spade and a disturbing dummy hits:

          S:T8x H:T8xx D:Jxx C:KJx

Small spade led                  S:9xx H:J9xx D:KQ8xxx C:--


Ruh-rho. Dummy had clubs behind partner. And four hearts, meaning declarer is likely void (although partner may have overcalled a good 4 card suit). Declarer calls for the spade ten, so I follow suit.

Declarer the calls for the somewhat surprising diamond jack. I cover, declarer plays her ace and then the wheels come off for LHO.

Hank ruffs and leads a small club. I ruff, cash my diamond, lead my smallest diamond for Hank to ruff in case he has a 3rd spade. He does ruff with the spade King and, noting my play, leads another club so I score my 3rd spade ruff.

Poor declarer had a decent hand:

S:AQJx H:-- D:AT9x C:ATxxx (not sure about club spots)

Anyway, as we’re putting the board away I say something to the effect of “Cool, a Lowenthal lead.”

The bridge expert John Lowenthal died right as I started playing, but I had stumbled across an online tribute years ago, and it includes the following:

Henry Bethe warned me about John’s opening leads. Henry had observed John’s tendencies over the years and had formulated what he called Lowenthal’s Laws:

  1. The lead of an honor denies a touching honor.
  2. The lead of a low card promises an honor sequence somewhere in the hand (though not necessarily in that suit).
  3. The lead of a trump shows a side singleton or void.
  4. The lead of a short suit is an attempt to force declarer to draw trump.

(If you play bridge regularly, you’ll know that each of these laws is ….  strange).

If poor declarer knew that the ghost of Lowenthal had dictated the lead, she could have escaped for less by pulling one more round of trump, but not expecting a 6-0 diamond rail …. ah well. Then again, this was the day where we’re in 4 hearts twice with a 5-0 break and on both hands our opponents inexplicably stopped short of game, so what came around went around.

Remembering Lowenthal” is a riveting read.

Written by taogaming

October 22, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Bridge

This moment of “I’m old” is brought to you by Ars Technica

Ever since its first edition was released almost 20 years ago, Twilight Imperium has been one of the most massive propositions in tabletop gaming.

Ars Technica Review of TI4

(I have nothing to say about TI4, but a simple linear regression says I probably rate it a 5 or 6).

Written by taogaming

October 16, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Linky Love

CHO is a bigger threat….

Mrs. Tao and the TaoLing had a day trip, so I called around the usual suspects and find a partner I hadn’t played with a few years. When I arrived at the club she’s talking to Hank, asking “What does Brian play in this situation?”

“He’ll play whatever card you put down in front of him,” Hank says. He knows me pretty well.  Despite our reputation of being weird bidders (because of the Polish Club) for the most part I just play whatever card my partner plays, with a quick review of what I’m playing before hand.

I pull out our old card and we play that. To make sure I remember what “that” is, I hand copy it more legibly into a new card before the game.

It starts well enough. Against Hank and his partner, my CHO passes my 1NT opener with 9xxx KJx JTx Kxx. A flat 8 count means that we have 25 points maximum. I turn up with an average hand that combines for exactly seven tricks with no hope of an eighth, and my +90 is good for 7.5 out of 8. On the next hand 6 Hearts can make, but it’s tricky and lucky. I’m in four hearts, but one of only two people to find the line for six.

Then the bad hands start.

On one hand, I’m two levels too high because CHO didn’t respect my first or second signoff.

Dummy: S: AKxx H: 2 D: KTxxx C:AQx

Me   : S: Jxx H:QJ87653 D:9 C:Jx

1D   1H
1S   2H
2N   3H

I could have shot 4H over 2N, but I was expecting more points for partners 2N bid.

LHO led the H4 to RHOs Ace, and RHO returned the diamond 5 to LHO’s Ace, and then LHO tracked the five of clubs.

And there it is. My opponents are a married couple. LHO is the wife and a better player, arguably good enough to know that if she’s underled the club king, she just handed me the contract (if I have the jack). I doubt she has a stiff club, that looks like an automatic lead. But if she has the spade queen as well, she may have a tough lead.

This is the worst part of my game (apart from obvious inattention) — understanding how others think. If LHO is looking at the club king, this seems like a mistake, but she may trust that I can’t take the finesse. Urgh. My options are let it ride to the jack, which will let me make if trumps behave, or fly the club ace, pitch my remaining club, and then try to navigate my spade loser, which is unlikely.

I honestly have no idea what’s right, and in any case, I get it wrong. The finesse would have worked.

Partner then forgets that we play support doubles (what else could it be, I wonder. It turns out the answer is an SOS double, which practically nobody has good agreements on) so I’m in the wrong contract. Another zero.

Later on I pick up

S:Axxxx H:Ax D:Jxx C:Axx

I open 1NT and LHO (the strongest player in the room, but also prone to hideous hog style masterminding, trusting his card sense and skill to save him) bids 2 Clubs alerted as a single unknown suit.

Partner bids 3 Hearts.

I copy the convention card in order to look at it carefully, so I know the following:

  1.  After our 1N if the opponents bid 2 clubs, we play “systems on” (with double being stayman)
  2. After 1N, our system defines 3 Heart as 4=1=4=4 distribution (stiff heart) and game going values.

I’m just not sure I believe it. But I duly alert.

RHO passes and I’m in a pickle, but my rule is “When in doubt, assume partner didn’t forget.” And LHO could have six hearts (or seven bad ones) and RHO may not have doubled with four hearts. She didn’t ask what the alert meant (possibly correctly guessing that we’re on rocky ground).

I bid 4 spades.

Partner lets me play it in four spades, but my rule has failed me again. Partner has forgotten the card, and assumed that Lebensohl applies (so 3 Hearts was a forcing heart bid). Thankfully we don’t play kickback. I have to play the hand wide open, but with spades 5-1, its hopeless.

(In hindsight was a bit hasty, I should probably bid 3 Spades to see if partner can cue bid if she really has a better hand. Ethically 3 Spades is probably the right call, then treating 3N as a serious slam try. In either case the rails would have come off).

I shrug and mention my rule and LHO archly replies “Even when playing with a woman?”

My partner laughs noticeably more than his wife. The other two hands against them are thankfully straightforward, and on one hand LHO makes a masterminding pass instead of a game try with a good hand (but terrible trumps) and buys the wrong dummy, so makes +200 instead of +650. Who knows how we are doing? I do know that too little of our good results are our own fault.

I botch a contract when I miscount a hand, so its not all one-sided, and we are playing against the lovely LOLs (one of whom is a great-aunt of mine) that have no idea what’s going on. On the first hand I open 1 Spade, LHO bids 2 Spades. I have no idea if they play that as Michaels or strong. Apparently neither does RHO, because she passes. I know enough to not double and just take the vulnerable undertricks.

After the dust settles, LHO says she meant to bid 2 Clubs and only realized after my partner had bid. I inform her that — thanks to a recent rules change — she can correct mechanical mistakes until her partner bids.

(She didn’t have a 2 clubs overcall either, either in suit strength or points….)

On the second hand at that table, I pick up something fun:

S: -- H: xx D: KQ98 C: AQJT984

LHO opens 1 Club, CHO passes and RHO bids 3 Spades. I don’t know what the means, but I do know that asking won’t get me a good answer and may let our opponents figure it out. I honestly have no idea how partner will take 4 clubs, but in any case I think 5 clubs may have an outside shot and may be a decent sacrifice. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard these two make a penalty double in their life. I bid five clubs.

LHO bids 5 Spades and they play it there.

Five spades can make, but its not automatic. Even if declarer took full advantages of all the inferences, it would only point towards the right line. Off one. Five clubs would only be down one against typical defense, despite a 5=0 club rail.

We’re back up to average-ish.

It is not to be. A few more average rounds we’re in the home stretch.

Against a solid declarer I preempt with KQJTxxx xx xx QJ and declarer gets to 3N. I lead my spade King and when partner gets in she plays a club 8. I’ve already decided to play clubs randomly (as per Restricted choice) and partners spot makes me think declarer has AK of clubs, so I see no reason to change. I toss the queen.

Partner gets in again and … cashes the club king, killing my only entry. We both played deceptively, but I think partner could have gotten it right. The club jack was about as much as I could have, and an underlead would have been safe (in that the trick would have come back if my queen was stiff).

Next hand ….

S:xx H:KJxx D:QT97xx C:x

RHO opens 1N. I should pass this, but our system lets me show my two suits exactly. (Another one of my rules, “when your system caters to your hand, take full advantage.”) Yes, I’m light on points, but my shape is good. I bid 2 Diamonds, showing diamonds and hearts. I could go for a number, but LHO is a new player.

LHO bids 3 Diamonds … has she learned Lebensohl? Partner bids 3 Hearts and now I really may go for a number, but RHO bids 3N.

I feel like he’s got a double heart stopper, and decide to trust my instincts. Upon learning that LHO did know 3D was stayman (without a stopper!), I know that RHO didn’t show a spade fit, so I lead my top spade.

Dummy is S:Q9xx H:xx D:xxx C:AKJx. Impressive for a novice to bid so accurately.

The spades goes Queen-King-Ace, and declarer shoots back a spade to dummies nine and partners jack.

Partner tables the heart deuce. Declarer inserts the ten and I win with the jack and return a heart. Partner is showing an honor, almost certainly the queen.


CHO returned the 2 from 9xx2 and after my return goes to the 9 and declarer’s queen I’m riled. My spade lead wasn’t great (declarer hid a 4-4 spade fit) but only saved declarer a guess he’d likely get right (since I’d shown the reds). But partner had an easy return of the heart 9 and I practically hiss as much.

“I wanted to show my count.”
“Do you think I’d imagine you bid 3 hearts with only 3?”

Last hand at the table I pick up

S: KJxx H:AQT D:AQxx C:xx

Partner opens 1 Club (could be short, but shouldn’t have four diamonds unless clubs are real), RHO overcalls 1 Heart. This hand seems earily similar to last one. I also have a (possible) 4-4 spade fit that materializes, but I shoot 3N rather than looking for it. I’ve a flattish-hand and showing my 16 HCP (3N shows 15-17) seems more likley to help than hurt.

Also, I have the opponents suit double stopped. (With the AQT of hearts, in fact, just like the prior hand). If a spade fit does exist there may still be a 4-1 break that lets me take the same number of tricks in NT to win the board (since we’re also a bit heavy, that should help). And in any case I need to win back something.

When dummy hits I discover there is a spade fit, and its a near slam hand.

Only too late I realize my likely double stop inflated my HCP, my AQT are practically worth AKJ. But my “backup plan” pays off. Spades break 4-1, so I make the same number of tricks as I could in spades. I win a top board, but that still leaves two zeroes and a top, and we’re in too deep a hole for anything good to happen.

Written by taogaming

October 15, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Bridge

Time to make the ….


(Amusing, not necessarily fun. Universal Paperclips achieved in 7 hours 3 minutes 21 seconds)

Written by taogaming

October 11, 2017 at 10:22 pm