beginner's notes on how to analyze positions in Morelli Morelli

35 replies. Last post: 2016-05-30

beginner's notes on how to analyze positions in Morelli
• stepanzo at 2015-01-14

Hi!

Recently Richard pointed to me that I was the first one to reach 1800 rating in Morelli here on LG, so I’ve decided to have the impudence and to share some notes (obviously, they are short and incomplete as not so many games were played by the community) which, I hope, can be of some use for those who have learned the rules of Morelli, played 2-3-5 games and want to avoid some typical beginner mistakes. (as far as I know, there are no guides for beginners in Morelli, if there are, please post links in comments)

I’m sure those who played more than that, some 20-30-50 games, already have their own strategy and style how to play this beatiful and smart game, so they will find the following useless, but I hope they will also share some points.

1. Make sure you can win

By rule, you capture the center when you form a 4 stone symmetry (if you make it the latest you win). So, first thing in analyzing any position is to make sure that you have opportunities to build that symmetry. In the beginning of the game there are obviously lots of those opportunities, but after very first moves their number start to decrease very fast, that’s why it’s very important.

Necessity to form a symmetry also means that you can prevent your opponent to win the game if you can eliminate all of their stones from one of the quarters of the board.

Figure 1.

To see if you can form a symmetry it is useful to divide a board into 4 symmetrical parts (which can be made in different ways, even like in Fig. 1). White have no ways to place their stones in the area within red borders so they have already lost despite there are some moves left.

It’s worth noting here that there are actually only 12 winning stone combinations on small 9x9 board, so these are really fast games. (20 combinations on 11x11 and 30 combinations on 13x13).

Figure 2. Another example: white cannot make it to the dark blue area so they lose.

2. Make sure you eat more than your opponent

The best way to eliminate your opponent from one of the quarters is to eat their stones.

Figure 4. Just an example: white ate stones on half of the board and black obviously lose.

If you keep positive surplus, your chances to win usually are better. As your opponent will seek to do the same, second thing on your checklist should be looking for your pieces that your opponent can eat so you can defend them.

Also you don’t want to make moves that lead to the losses.

Figure 3.

With move I7→H6 in Fig 3. black just gave up their first stone with white eating I6→H7. Why do that?

***

If you count the number of possible moves that you can make in the beginning of the game you’ll see that this number is pretty big, the bigger the board, the bigger the number. During the course of the game that number increasingly reduces (which means btw that positions at the end of the game are more easy to analyze and understand). It also means that by eating your opponent pieces you gain more possible moves which leads to gaining more opportunities to win.

The third thing to notice is this:

3. Make sure you give up less possible moves than your opponent

Rushing into center of the board may be dangerous because when your stones swarm around center where they cannot make further moves, and your opponent will enjoy the sparsity on the perimeter.

Figure 5.

In Fig. 5 you see that with their first 2 moves black gave up 4 freedoms (if I may call possibilities to make moves like that) and white only 2 of them. It will cost in the end as white will try to attack black stones from the outside.

Figure 6.

Black are trying to defend their pieces and consume even more freedoms (F6). I think later in the game sides exchanged some inaccuracies so I will not continue to analyze this one, but I hope my point is clear.

Figure 7.

Another example: white rushed into center and ate many black stones but black have their I2 which gives them more freedoms and they have an opportunity to make 2 combinations: B2-B8-H2-H8 and C2-H3-G8-B7 (also B3-G2-H7-C8 was available before I8→H8).

***

So these are three very simple and basic things I wanted to share, and I hope some of new players may find them useful. Please comment :)

• Richard Moxham at 2015-01-15

Stepanzo,

Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to compile these extremely helpful notes.

[ It’s also rather generous of you to have quoted what is just about the only game between the two of us that you didn’t win. :) ]

As far as other guidance is concerned, I have for some time been gradually adding notes to a strategy primer as part of an eventual Morelli website which itself is still very much a work in preparation.  One day it will actually appear!

Amitiés,

Richard

• Carroll ★ at 2015-01-15

Thanks, this is very helpful and well presented!
If you had to put weights on these different hints, how would you rank them?Being able to win is the most important, but what about preventing your opponent to win?
You seem to have a style of play where you are very cautious not to lose tempi in the opening.Is material advantage more important to you or not giving away freedom?

• vstjrt at 2015-01-15

Thanks, You and Dryad are good players ahead of rest of us. I know these tips but I have question for you. Are some other strategic important principles at your level or it’s mostly application and better tactics or pattern recognition?

From me I fully agree with first and second advices, but third is problematic. Of course move potential is good thing, but at the same time your “wasted” freedoms if block your opponent correctly ultimately take even more freedoms from your blocked opponent and in many positions “rushing into center of the board” is key strategy. It’s obviously more risky strategy than making small moves, and it mostly depend from position – if position is greatly mixed (in this situation you rather make small moves, although it’s difficult) or it’s mostly separated halves (here you block your opponent road to center and your side).

I would add another rule – cover your opponent lines/routes so you reduce his moves possibility. It’s especially good in places where opponent have little pieces (and little options already).

I’m not stepanzo but MY answer to Carroll is: first rule is absolute – if someone have completely blocked quarter and have not center he will not win. Second rule is very important too and if you convert your opponent piece you have another freedoms and opponent have less just from conversion, and it’s easier to take another pieces. Third rule is the least important (and I wrote before that it not necessary advantage), but of course there are exceptions.

• _syLph_ at 2015-01-15

Thank you stepanzo.
Principle 1 is definitely correct and important. The second one seems to me to be a very good guideline especially for starters, however I’m very sure there’s many exceptions where it’s better not to capture, e.g. if it requires you to move a stone out of a sparsely occupied quadrant or if you end up blocking your own movement routes.
As for the third principle I tend to disagree. My current believe is that with perfect play Morelli-Size 9 probably results in a first player win in almost all starting positions, basically because of what vstjrt pointed out: By moving your stones over to the opponents side you can block his movement routes and additionally strengthen your presence in a previously less occupied quadrant. So doing that as quickly as possible should be very advantageous for the first player which is why I believe that first player has a huge advantage in some starting positions; for example on a board that is cleanly divided in a white and a black half from the start it should be important to enter the other half quickly so you won’t get shut out which though requires you to rush across the board.

• stepanzo at 2015-01-15

Thanks guys for your replies! Very interesting and instructive!

Richard,
I very much hope to see your playmorelli.com soon! ;)

Carroll,
I don’t think it’s correct to put weights but if I had to, that would be 40 to eating and 60 to not giving up ‘freedoms’ (as having possibilities to win is a must :). And sure, preventing your opponent’s win is pretty much as important as to win yourself. Thank you, let’s call it 1.1. Make sure you can make symmetry later than your opponent :)

vstjrt,
Thanks. I think those who have played more than 30 games are now quite equal in their strength but I was quite lucky to gain those points so I dont think there is some ‘level’ for now.
I think your point that analysis have to take into account the distribution patterns is perfectly fine but it’s already more complicated thing than just basics.
And my intention was like: ‘hey, why some of my very respected opponents keep doing those strange things that make me win so easily? I have to write something to help them avoid simple mistakes’ :)
So m
y thoughts on this topic are that when you have a situation
with mostly separated halves, you have to locate some of your pieces on your opponent’s side not only to block their freedoms, but generally to have chances to win and if you don’t do that quite fast, it can be too late very soon, and your later attempts to get there will end in being eaten. So here you give up more freedoms than usually knowing that your opponent will do the same or they will lose chances to place stones in ‘your’ quarter/half.

purgency,
Sure, there are many exсeptions, like in chess they teach us beginners not to make castling too late in the game or when you don’t have enough pawns on that side, but with experience you understand that you can break those rules if it’s justifiable.
‘Morelli-Size 9 probably results in a first player win’ — well, yeah, I tend to think that too! Thanks gods, none of us is perfect :) and, like I said in reply to vstjrt, what you are describing is a rush by necessity which arises from need to win (point 1). So, imho, your point is actually not in contradiction with what I wrote.

• stepanzo at 2015-01-15

Sorry, some lines are broken

• _syLph_ at 2015-01-15

Okay, I think the point you want to make with the third principle is that you should have some stones left around the edges so you won’t be imprisoned in the center (or maybe I’m just too slow in understanding once again)? The thing is that I wouldn’t say “don't rush into the center” because not getting into the the center at all will be bad as well since symmetry in the inner rings should be possible still. What originally confused me was Figure 5 showing a very early position in which rushing to the center doesn’t actually look that bad and in Figure 6 F6 is just protecting the F7 stone maintaining blacks presence within the northeast quadrant so I don’t know if this is bad really (although I must say I would not haven chosen to move the A7 stone but rather one within the black crowd and threatening a recapture might have been stronger than playing on F6).

• Richard Moxham at 2015-01-15

In order to facilitate this sort of analytical discussion and keep it free of ambiguity, I want to introduce some small but important refinements to Morelli  terminology – refinements which I intend to formalise as soon as possible in the official ruleset.

My proposal is that henceforth the following be adopted as standard:

• the word “square” should be reserved for references to individual board cells;
• symmetrical arrangements enabling occupation of the Centre should be known as “frames”.

The system of notation illustrated on this 9x9 board should prove useful:

• Board squares continue to be identified by grid co-ordinates (a6, d2, etc), shown here in white;
• Every frame can be uniquely identified by a band colour and positional number, counting clockwise from corners – Blue 2, Green 5, etc.

I myself have found it a helpful practice, in any game where blockade seems likely to be a key strategy, to keep by me a list of the possible frames, checking them off as and when my opponent is denied access to them.

Sometimes, as in the next diagram, the blockaded frames may be neatly gathered together in a contiguous block:

#1683797 Lip smacking talkers vs. Richard Moxham

This was a game with a highly unbalanced starting position, where White’s strategy was: (1) establish a bridgehead in the SW; (2) take the Centre with a frame on (probably) the Indigo band; (3) build a blockade to exclude Black from the NE quadrant.  By the point in the game shown in the diagram, all this has been achieved, with the sole caveat that White must be careful to gridlock himself (!) by getting the f9 piece to g7, otherwise zugzwang will eventually kick in, forcing him to unblock h7 and enable Black access to the Green 6 frame.

In the following game, poor play by Black in the opening saw any realistic prospect of a victory disappear at quite an early stage.  From that point on, he was playing for the draw, which necessarily entailed excluding White from all twelve of the possible frames.

#1668695 Richard Moxham vs. Carroll ★

But this position is much harder than the previous one to keep track of.  Looking just at one colour band, for example, we note that White is definitively  cut off from frames Green 3 and Green 4 by the distribution in the N, but from Green 1 only in the SE.  His exclusion from Green 2, Green 5 and Green 6, meanwhile, is contingent upon Black’s managing to avoid forced unblocking in several different parts of the board.   It’s easy to see how, in such a situation, a clear and simple system of terminology such as the one proposed here is an invaluable aid to staying in control.

• Richard Moxham at 2015-01-15

My apologies for the incorrect game diagrams in the previous post.  I thought I had correctly followed the instructions for keying-in the appropriate stage of play in each game.  But something evidently went wrong.  For anyone interested in following up, the first game quoted (#1683797) should have been shown at Move 33, and the second (#1668695) at Move 25.

But in any case the general point about nomenclature should (I hope) still be clear.

• Carroll ★ at 2015-01-15

Test to see if broken:

#1683797 Lip smacking talkers vs. Richard Moxham
Move: 33

#1668695 Richard Moxham vs. Carroll ★
Move: 25

• Carroll ★ at 2015-01-15

I lost the titles I intended.
I also recommend Morelli 31x31, much fun and an impressive 140 possible winning configurations:  (n-1)(n+1)/4

• Carroll ★ at 2015-01-15

Typo 240...

• Richard Moxham at 2015-01-16

Thanks, Carroll.  Very nice to have the general formula for the number of possible frames.
[Moving temporarily sideways from there, a query for the mathematicians.  Although Literature rather than Maths myself, I am curious about numbers and shapes, and enjoy pattern-spotting.  So I was interested to notice that 31x31 (961) is the reverse of 13x13 (169).  Of course I immediately checked it against 21 and 12, which gives an analogous result: 441 and 144.  But it doesn’t seem to work anywhere else.  So is this just a coincidence?  Is there something I’m missing which is obvious to everyone else?  Please tell me.]

• Lip smacking talkers at 2015-01-16

12x12 etc, not a carry on (there is no carry to more significant columns), for 23 and 32 to work you need to be working above base 12 (i.e. grow 3 more fingers) 4C9 & 9C4 (where C=12 (9+3rd letter (quite easy to go up to base 46 using A-z))) :)

• Richard Moxham at 2015-01-16

Thanks, Burglar.  Not that I understand much on first read – but I shall ponder and scribble a bit. :)

• Carroll ★ at 2015-01-16

(10a+b)(10a+b)=100a²+10(2ab)+b²

By symmetry:

(10b+a)(10b+a)=100b²+10(2ab)+a² wich is written is base10 by the three digits b²,2ab,a² if they are digits (reverse of a²,10ab,b²):

Wolfram alpha shows you the nice shape of 43 solutions:
https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=a%C2%B2%3C10%2Cb%C2%B2%3C10%2C2ab%3C10

• stepanzo at 2015-01-16

purgency,

sorry for my bad explanations, I struggle with it even in Russian :)

• mmKALLL at 2016-05-22

This was very useful, thanks!

Commenting in hopes of attracting more looks at the advice offered here :)

Are there any other places where there is structured information available on the strategy?

• Richard Moxham at 2016-05-22

I think the general principles of winning play at Morelli are now understood by the strongest players.  In particular, it’s known to be decisively advantageous * to acquire and conserve a net supremacy in three closely inter-related domains: mobility, material and coverage.

[ * I say “decisively advantageous” with one small but important caveat: namely that positions exist – and more commonly than might be supposed – in which those advantages can be counteracted by the judicious use of blockade and gridlock.  These are essential skills for the aspiring expert to master, with particular reference to the very different properties distinguishing diagonal and orthogonal axes of the board.]

If your opponent is a player of the stature of, say, stepanzo or William Fraser, then ignoring these principles – i.e opening your game with long, mobility-consuming moves towards the centre - will result in defeat, whether or not you enjoy possession of the Throne in the short term.  It’s as simple as that.  As a consequence, the opening phase of games between strong adversaries now consists almost exclusively of cautious single-step moves for (I’m talking 13x13 here) the first fifteen or twenty turns on either side.  But at the same time both players will be looking out for opportunities to steal even the smallest advantages, be these material or positional, and quite soon board states will be reached where contact is unavoidable.

From then on, the really difficult judgements must be made, these having principally to do with the net outcome of capture sequences, and the long-term influence of given moves upon board coverage.  Especially given the huge variety of starting positions, these are fathomless deeps.

• _syLph_ at 2016-05-22

Mobility is an interesting point, I think people focus on that in a very one-sided way. There’s 2 sides to it: 1. Not losing your own and 2. Stealing your opponents.

"cautious single-step moves for (I’m talking 13x13 here) the first fifteen or twenty turns on either side"

This clearly focuses on not losing your own mobility, but it completely ignores the possibility of decreasing your opponents mobility. I actually really dislike how it’s being advertised as good play, it was actually one of the main reasons why I stopped playing Morelli. Very slow, unexciting and without trace of personal playstyles.

Let me actually point out to one of my expired but unfinished games, since that gives room for discussion on whoever has the upper hand without knowing the outcome:

http://littlegolem.net/jsp/game/game.jsp?gid=1735296

This one seems to be a good example of my point. You see stepanzo playing lots of these 1-step moves while I don’t (because I hate it). As a result his sum of the distances of his stones towards the center is by far greater than mine which is a good thing for him, but you can also see that many of his stones are caged on the right and it should be rather hard to get stones positioned on the left. That’s what I mean by “stealing your opponents mobility”. Well it’s arguable whoever is ahead there, but at the very least I don’t feel that any strategy, besides using 1-step moves at the beginning, is crappy and as such I would like to see a variety of opening strategies. Something slow like 1-step moves, something aggressive like what I did and things in between, maybe mixed versions of the two. Many games have a manifold of openings and I think that’s definitely a good property.

• _syLph_ at 2016-05-22

dude, I hate the formatting on lg-forums, the thing with the huge gaps happens everytime to me lol.

• stepanzo at 2016-05-29

purgency, thank you for your observations. Lack of personal playstyles and slow begginings are indeed weaknesses of the game. But the rumble in the middle can be pretty fun. I think 1735296 would have been very interesting game :) (btw, there is no way i would have played 11.b13g8 now :) )

• _syLph_ at 2016-05-29

Since you brought it up and I’m kinda curious: Is there any way you would play moves 5, 7 and 9 now?

• stepanzo at 2016-05-29

Well, they are not so bad, but I think I’d try to put more my stones to the left. Or try not to let you build that wall :) Who knows :)

• _syLph_ at 2016-05-30

lol, you got it about right: there’s no purpose behind those moves. Which is why actually I’d call them moves that are clearly bad.

I find this interesting, Morelli-players seem to have a mindset of looking for the least self-destructive move, which makes sense since moving is generally kinda bad in Morelli; like, you would pass all the time if you could. However, I have always thought that a winner should have a mindset that makes him look for the most beneficial move instead, even if there may be a risk to it.

That stone on c10 was actually well placed from the aspect of coverage, you choose to move the one stone that had the best placement among all your stones. Even if you would only consider 1-step moves there’s others clearly better. Like 3.m10l09 which since it’s a threat would be a somewhat forcing move, which is usually good, and then 5.l09c09 or something like that and you would get another stone on the left; well, you did say you would try this. ^^

If I was looking for the very best move in the sense of perfect play, then there’s no way I’d think that the optimal move is one of those stones you played. But people don’t seem to think about this kind of stuff anymore and instead just play 1-step moves at random, while judging anything that is 2+-step as automatically bad. Well, 1-step moves don’t seem very self-destructive after all. :)

• _syLph_ at 2016-05-30

*5.m10l09 and 7.l09c09

• Richard Moxham at 2016-05-30

Purgency, I’m always pleased to see discussion taking place around and about Morelli.  As a young game in a minority sector of the field, it can do with all the publicity it can get.

But having said that, it seems to me that in your recent post (2016-05-22) and the subsequent exchange with stepanzo, you’re wrong on several counts.

The most important points to address here are the tactical/strategic ones, but if I may I’d like to start by defending the game (well, I would, wouldn’t I?) against one or two of your general criticisms.

You describe Morelli as “slow, unexciting and without trace of personal playstyles”.  As far as “slow” is concerned, I understand what you have in mind – conservative play is essential in the opening, at least – but it’s worth pointing out that all games are pretty slow (often glacially slow) in a turn-based format.  Moreover, every single placement game (by far the most popular species of abstract nowadays) is ‘slow’ by definition.  So I dont  know why you’re attacking poor old Morelli for this, when in something like Hex 100 new pieces on the board means 100 single placements at a rate of one per turn and never even as few as 99.  But listen, I’m not criticizing Hex here, and the reason I’m not is that excitement (your word) doesn’t necessarily have to consist of fast and flashy movement and violent explosions on all sides.  In the course of what may well be the finest BGG appreciation ever written, Fritz Juhnke writes of Arimaa that it is often referred to as a chess variant, but it plays very differently. Blockade and breakthrough are critical themes. Capture is often more like a dam breaking under pressure than lightning striking from across the board. The point, I say again, is that theres room in the ludic universe for more than one type of excitement, and most experienced players of Morelli will tell you, I think, that its a game whose spring keeps on tightening the longer play progresses.  Even that opening phase which apparently bores you is a critical struggle of its own kind.  Get it wrong, and youll experience a premature release into speed and excitement all right with yourself on the wrong end of it.  And then, finally, what you call playstyles. Im not entirely sure what you  mean by this , and Im not sure that you really know either.  Every game of Morelli is different because the setup itself is different, but (more than this) the individuality of players will always express itself in the net result of the decisions they take, even if the totality isnt something you can find a style label for.  I suspect that if you were to ask someone like Carroll or Galbolle whether the games theyve played against me typically felt the same as those against stepanzo, they might testify to a difference which one could only call a matter of playing style, even if they struggled to define it.  There are many shades of colour in between the Primaries, you know.

Anyway, to come at last to the principles of actual play.  Had you summoned up the interest / stamina to actually complete Game 1735296, you would almost undoubtedly have seen stepanzo emerge victorious.  By the end of Move 20, he already has a mobility advantage (8 increments, to be precise) that could even be enough to win the game on its own.  Youre right (and he himself concedes the point) that his Move 11 is not the best – but its a bad move purely and simply because its wasteful.  Ironically, it would have been more advantageous to take five moves, not one, over getting that piece to g8.  And dont delude yourself about your wall’ over on the right.  Its stepanzo who actually has the upper hand there – as he very well knows, despite being courteous enough not to say so.  Hes definitively in behind you in the east, and will gradually force that wall inwards and/or capture bits of it, while all you have achieved is to weaken your own position in the west, where he is far from blockaded.  He has plenty of freedom to move pieces in diagonally from north or south, though if you carry on making long moves he may not even need to, winning perhaps with a straightforward Orange 7 or Orange 8 frame.

Its important, you see, to distinguish between the concepts of mobility and coverage.  Its stepanzos coverage which you have tried to reduce by your wall.  His mobility is only limited if you can succeed in keeping those pieces of his permanently out on the orange band.  But that can only be achieved by a commitment of your own material so significant as to allow him domination of the other three quadrants – in which case hell win by some other simple means like the one suggested above.  Youre right in saying that reducing adverse mobility is as important as conserving ones own, but you dont seem to have grasped the ways (admittedly quite subtle) in which that is likely to be achieved.  One reason why the b13g8 move was unnecessary is that stepanzo could afford  to leave in place a situation where the two central pieces were mutually en prise – and he could afford that precisely because the situation was win-win for him.  To spell it out, you would have had to expend 5 increments of mobility to capture a piece that in any case had exhausted its own power to move – whereas he could get to yours in 3.  From this can be observed the important strategic principle of making threats which an opponent has the means to counter but dares not because of the net mobility loss which that would entail.  When this kind of stocktaking is applied not just to a single threat and counter-capture, but to the triggering of a whole sequence,  the complexity of the decision will readily be understood.  The entire game can easily turn upon a single such miscalculation.

Anyway, theres some food for thought.   One final point, which I hope doesnt seem too ill-mannered.  Really dislike” ... without trace of ... crappy ... I hate – quite a lot of emotive / imprecise / exaggerated language in evidence here.  In a discussion which aspires to careful  and considered analysis, thats usually not an auspicious symptom.

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• vstjrt at 2016-05-30

I think that blockade strategy instead of 1-step move can be good, but only when game become denser. So you need wait for middle game in 13x13 Morelli.
I understand criticism that game doesn’t prefer classical “winner mindset”, but rather one with better “survival instinct”. Well this is question of deep psychology, but this is rather subjective argument than objective.
I however have some big doubts about Morelli. Games are diversified by starting position, but I think that Morelli doesn’t allow for different game styles on the same level like great classics Chess and GO.
But I think that this is general problem with modern ASG. They are finite and push you too much forward, so you don’t have this diversity in strategies like in Chess. GO copes with this by being organic game (like Christian Freeling named it), it give feeling like “Conway's Game of Life”.
It is interesting how diverse would be Morelli without randomizing at start. This probably would be real test of how much diversity in styles is in this game. I have hunch that games would be too similar.

• Richard Moxham at 2016-05-30

Interesting points from vstjrt.

But look, every abstract game is what it is – its own individual thing.   It possesses qualities A, B & C and doesn’t possess X, Y & Z.  Both of those facts contribute to defining its identity.  And who’s to say that any particular quality is the key one?

I think it’s beyond dispute that Morelli is a very distinctive game.  Actually, if you add up centripetal movement, remote custodial capture, and a last-to-achieve win condition (all of them essential to it, and all – as Galbolle pointed out recently – mutually interactive) I would defy anyone to name a more distinctive abstract conceived in the last century.  (I really would be interested to hear that debated, by the way.)  But those distinctive features in themselves impose certain patterns on the game.  Centripetal movement in particular, though it also enhances gameplay in a number of ways.  If you’re denied that freedom to move in or out which chess pieces enjoy (and you don’t have their differentiation either) then obviously in some respects there will be greater consistency of ‘shape’ from one game to another.  And the variable setups are there precisely to balance that.  (They weren’t originally, or weren’t in precisely this form, but as soon as Richard Malaschitz came up with the mirror principle I recognised it as what was needed .)  So it makes no sense to say “Aha! But if the setup rule didn't exist we'd see how much variety there is in Morelli”.  You wouldn’t see anything of the sort, because it wouldn’t be Morelli you were looking at.  The setup is (an inseparable part of) the game, just like any other rule.

As for game ‘styles’, well no – Morelli isn’t open to those in quite as obvious a sense as, say, Chess.  Just as centripetal movement influences the way the game plays,  so does the unusual win condition.  If the victor is the guy who gets there last – and each player’s stock of moves is finite – then starting out in a hurry is a virtual guarantee of defeat.  There is such a thing as attacking play in Morelli, but it doesn’t consist of heading straight for the earliest possible Throne capture.  But as I said to purgency, it’s easy to talk about a lack of stylistic variation without really being clear, even in your own thinking, what such variation might look like.  I suspect that those who talk about it mostly have in mind some kind of coarsely-drawn dichotomy like fast/slow or aggressive/conservative, without much idea beyond.  But shades of stylistic difference exist which are far more difficult to articulate than those.  If you think about it rationally, there’s so much sheer choice in a game of Morelli that, even if you were to stick entirely to unitary moves (which, incidentally, become less and less prominent as the middle-game sets in), it would be astonishing if different players didn’t develop differing personal approaches.

In the end, you can theorise endlessly about whether a game does or doesn’t conform to some arbitrary criterion of excellence, but there’s only one real question to be answered: when you actually play it, does each fresh game continue to make unique and stimulating demands of you, however much previous experience you bring to the table?

And if it doesn’t – or if it does, but for some reason that’s not enough for you – then don’t play.

• _syLph_ at 2016-05-30

What have I returned to? This turned from a strategic discussion into an argument on whether Morelli is a good game or not.

Richard, there’s nothing to defend, I didn’t even criticize the game. What I criticized is the current metagame. So in that sense I was saying that it could be even more interesting than it is right now, which would be a good thing, but I seem to be the only one who has an interest in bringing that side to light. And I really don’t see why you don’t believe in the potential of your game to evolve. Go masters from 1000 years ago were... masters and so are those from today, but the metagame has changed and hence there’s clear differences between the two. Why do you stop me from bringing different thought-patterns into it? “NO NO NO, you are a bad player, the game can be played only the way we do it and stepanzo would have totally busted your ass in that game.” Writing a completely biased post (going as far as to question the state of my mind) in a discussion “which aspires to careful and considered analysis”, making me out to be some kind of Morelli-Anti-Activist. Very unfortunate, that you seem to be more concerned about hyping up and defending your game, than discussing it’s contents, to the extent that it makes you completely misinterpret my main statement.

Finally, I’m shocked to realize that the wall in the game between stepanzo and me was actually beneficial for stepanzo all along and as it turns out he lied to me too since he realised it all: “Or try not to let you build that wall :)” Stepanzo, you sneaky liar, you knew I was helping you out in attacking me. :D

@vstjrt Yes, it is definitely easier to build blockades later on in the game, since the pieces on the board make up for good starting points to create walls while on the other hand the game is empty at the beginning, so you need to create it from scratch. This does depend on the starting position though, in that game between stepanzo and I you can tell that there is a clear white half on the left and a black half on the right and that should make it more important to invade early on. Accordingly 1-step moves should be more efficient in games that have black and white pieces equaly distributed among the 4 sides, since the need to invade anywhere isn’t.

• mmKALLL at 2016-05-30

Something interesting I tend to do as a heuristic is to find two or three solid 1-step moves, pick the one I like the best, and then think about the ways it could be improved upon by a possible multi-step move. There is little question in my mind that there would exist other than 1-step moves in perfect play – especially on 9x9, but also in the early phases of a 13x13 match. They might not be nearly as numerous as the steady advancement, but I think that anyone who agrees with this notion will have to admit that there are a lot of interesting possibilities out there. Possibilities that might be somewhat unexplored and underestimated currently due to their higher complexity.

• Richard Moxham at 2016-05-30

Purgency, could it be that I owe you an apology?  When you wrote " it was actually one of the main reasons why I stopped playing Morelli.  Very slow, unexciting and without trace of personal playstyles" I stupidly assumed you meant that Morelli was “very slow, unexciting and without trace of personal playstyles”.  Now it turns out that you meant that the strategic approach currently in fashion was “very slow, unexciting and without trace of personal play styles”.  Okay.  Got that.  So when in your latest post you explain your point as being  that Morelli “could be even more interesting than it is right now”, you presumably mean: even more interesting than “very slow, unexciting and without trace of personal play styles.”  Wow! Even more interesting than that? Do you really think so?

You’re right.  I’m not apologising at all.

Look.  Irony aside, here’s the thing.  I was attacking your point of view, not you yourself.  That’s been a perfectly respectable intellectual activity for several thousand years.  It’s what’s supposed to go on in universities and in the correspondence columns of good newspapers, and its hallmark is moderate, balanced language.  You may not have liked what I had to say, but if you calm down you’ll see that I was simply making statements of an analytical nature.  You, on the other hand, are still doing things like calling my post “completely biased” (Completely? I.e. there was nothing about it that wasn’t biased? Can you justify that claim?) - which is using language more like a baseball bat than a rapier.

Just to be clear: I wasn’t trying to stop you doing anything.  I was simply disagreeing with you.  And I answered (or tried to) all of your points, in a clear, rational manner, whereas you haven’t answered any of mine.  For what it’s worth, I’m still saying that stepanzo would have won that game, for reasons which I set out in some detail but you have so far chosen to ignore.  And I have never claimed that there are no circumstances, even in the opening, where a multi-increment move is optimal – only that it would need to offer compensation which outweighs the increments lost, because those increments lost are always, in themselves, a minus.

As for alternative styles, stepanzo is on record (on BGG) as saying "I think the only tactic that works is ‘The less you move the better’ (especially in 13x13)", and I can’t see him changing that general approach unless and until someone demonstrates that a different way is more effective.  The same, I imagine, goes for William Fraser.  So if you think you have a superior playing style, surely the thing to do is to take those guys on with it and demonstrate superiority, rather than just resigning or timing-out as a protest against their boring methods.  Ultimately, no-one’s likely to be very impressed with claims that Eldorado must exist.  They’ll want to see the gold nuggets.

• _syLph_ at 2016-05-30

Ok, sure. Let’s get back to how you tried to answer my points. There’s one part that I thought mattered:

"And dont delude yourself about your wall’ over on the right.  Its stepanzo who actually has the upper hand there – as he very well knows, despite being courteous enough not to say so.  Hes definitively in behind you in the east, and will gradually force that wall inwards and/or capture bits of it, while all you have achieved is to weaken your own position in the west, where he is far from blockaded.  He has plenty of freedom to move pieces in diagonally from north or south, though if you carry on making long moves he may not even need to, winning perhaps with a straightforward Orange 7 or Orange 8 frame."

You’re right that he’s exerting some pressure from the right of that wall, but you also make it sound easier than it is when saying that he can just push the wall inwards. First of all, in order to capture stones of the wall he needs to move stones to the left of the wall, since that’s how you capture, get stones onto both sides of the piece you wanna capture. Hence he needs to move something to that left side of the wall, which because he can’t move his stones from the right through the wall are logically the stones that he has on the left. Involving these left-side stones of his into the fight surrounding the wall would further decrease his already sparse material on the left and that’s worsening his coverage even more. Next you said that I have weakened my position on the west, which is simply not the case, I count 7 of my stones on the left-side border alone so where is the missing material? And since you seem to like nitpicking on however people choose to phrase: “all you have achived” is clearly exaggerated.

"you would almost undoubtedly have seen stepanzo emerge victorious."

You see, nobody can actually give an estimate such as this one, including the word “undoubtedly”, without an insanely elaborate analysis and that’s clearly a sign of bias which is one the reasons why I didn’t bother answering to it before.

Ok, so was there any other point I made that you answered, aside from the wording issues (which I don’t care about)? I don’t think so. Actually there’s one thing that I would have liked answered which wasnt, namely that apparently I was wrong when I said, that moves 5, 7 and 9 are clearly bad. Or at least that was the only statement that I made in my exchange with stepanzo where apparently I was wrong.

And then finally moving away from that game, to the general principle that reducing the opponents mobility should be good there has been this:

"reducing adverse mobility is as important as conserving ones own, but you dont seem to have grasped the ways (admittedly quite subtle) in which that is likely to be achieved."

And of course I’d be interested in being enlightened; where am I wrong and how to do it correctly?