Monday, April 08, 2013

chess and Reversi

On my smart phone, I've got several small but entertaining games: along with the frenetic, kinetic Death Worm, about which I've written before, I've got thinker's games like Free Cell, Chess, Go (which I still don't know how to play, despite several tries), Hangman, Sudoku (which I still haven't quite figured out), and Reversi, which I knew as the board game Othello.

I've played thousands of chess matches, mostly at Level 1, which is plenty challenging. I've gotten very fast, and can now predict the tenor of a game based on the computer's opening moves. Most games, over 95%, last under three minutes and end with my smashing victory. There's good and bad in this: on the one hand, knowing the computer's patterns makes it easier for me to defeat it. On the other hand, should the computer do something that breaks its normal patterns, I'm forced to think (ye gods!), and there's a small chance I may lose, especially if I make a stupid mistake. Even at Level 1, the computer is merciless about taking advantage of one's mistakes. In any event, playing chess on my phone is a familiar, comforting experience. Should I lose a rare game, I just play the computer twice more to stay ahead of it. No sweat. And here's the weird thing: Levels 2, 3, and 4 play just like Level 1.

Reversi is the newest addition to my game collection, and unlike chess, it makes me tense every time I play it. Even on Level 1, the game is very challenging, and victory is never guaranteed. Game play runs exactly as it does in Othello: two-sided discs, black on one side and white on the other, are placed on a 64-square gridded board; players take turns placing their discs one at a time on the board. The goal is to "surround" the other player's discs. In doing so, in bracketing a row of white discs with two black discs, for example, one gets to flip all the surrounded discs to one's home color. To win, one must exhaust all legal/possible moves and have more discs of one's own color on the board once the board is filled up. Alternately, one can win before filling up all 64 squares if one succeeds at turning all the pieces on the board to one's color.

I've been mentally compiling a list of Reversi strategies, and so far, they amount to only three crucial maxims:

1. Get the last word.
2. Gain the edge.
3. Corner the market.

"Get the last word" means that, if game play extends toward the edge of the board, it's better for your color to reach the edge first. If your opponent gets a foothold in a edge row, you're likely screwed. Try to prevent this from happening by placing discs close to the center of the board as often as possible, then leap to the edge when your opponent puts a disc one row away from the border. Get good at counting what's happening as the turns alternate.

"Gain the edge" is almost the same maxim, but in this case I'm referring to controlling the entire edge. If you can successfully occupy an entire edge, your opponent has no "anchor" from which to convert your pieces to his color, but you can convert his pieces at will.

"Corner the market" is a life-or-death maxim. You must gain the corners—at least three of them—if you hope to win the game. The corner positions are great because they provide you with a wide field of fire, and also because, once you've gained a corner, your disc in that corner can never be turned. It becomes a permanent anchor.

With these three basic strategies in mind, I've seen my win rate go from nothing-but-losses to mostly-victories. At this point, I'd say I win at least 2 out of 3 matches against the computer on Level 1. Not a record to be especially proud of, but it's an improvement.

All the same, Reversi doesn't give me that welcoming, down-home feeling that chess does. Far from feeling relaxed, I find that, while I'm playing Reversi, my breathing becomes rapid and shallow, my brows furrow in concentration, the edges of my lips curl downward in tension, and I swear at my phone every time the computer manages to gain the edge or a corner. But the gratification of a victory is too great for me to stop playing, so I continue to stress myself. Ah, the human ego.


No comments: