Havannah - tips for improving Hex, Havannah

9 replies. Last post: 2022-03-10

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Havannah - tips for improving
  • scottsitar at 2022-03-08


    I'd like to canvas for ideas on how to keep improving at Havannah if I feel like I've reached a plateau. For context, I've only been playing for a few years at this site and one other turn-based site, but I'm finding the duration of the games combined with never playing a game in a single sitting is causing me to repeat mistakes since patterns aren't really sinking into my memory.

    I've also tried reading through the excellent hex strategy book that's been posted in the forums here, but it also causes me confusion since a lot of the strategies there seem to fail when transferred over to Havannah due to the presence of the other winning conditions (specifically the ring) and the race aspect of the game.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to break past this mental barrier? There are really strong players on this site, and I'd love to know part of what went into you getting there! :)


  • David J Bush ★ at 2022-03-08

    At the risk of being obvious, the trmph.com link on every Havannah page allows you to examine and store a tree of variations. You could save to your computer, and build up your own database.

    It would be nice if someone were to write a companion book about Havannah, wouldn't it? Or puzzles? The sudden shifts in tactics do take some getting used to.

    I'm not familiar with the post mortem process for Havannah. Hex players sometimes pass a long URL back and forth in their discussion, so I guess we could do something similar. If you have specific questions about a completed game, I could try to answer them.

  • scottsitar at 2022-03-08

    Thanks! Yes, I've used trmph a little bit (and in fact wrote something similar for myself before I knew it existed), but I find it hard to figure out whether the lines I'm exploring are reasonable given the wall I seemed to have hit in my understanding of the game. Here's a specific game where I find I'm not really sure about how to proceed:


    For the first 12 moves, I think I'm pretty happy with my position, but then white starts to make a pass at making a fork along the right side, so my thirteenth move seeks to gain some influence over there. However, after that, it seems to just fall apart and I'm always behind in the race to connect. Was there another idea for my move 13 I should have considered? Or maybe is my position after move 12 not as good for me as I thought?

    Thanks again!

  • Tom Ace at 2022-03-08

    trmph does trees now? and lets you save them?

  • Tony at 2022-03-09

    Hi Scottsitar,

    Looking at your game against lvdb:
    move 3 h2 does not yet claim the bottom-right side. i2 would have been much stronger.

    In general:
    Keep in mind that Havannah is quite a straightforward race game. Learn to count your shortest path! Any move along the shortest path is a forcing move. Any move that your opponent cannot add to his shortest path is an advantage point for you.
    Don't try to win by rings. Use ring threats only as forcing moves to gain or regain the lead.

  • scottsitar at 2022-03-09

    Thanks Tony!

    That intuitively makes sense. I'll try to go over my games and draw out the shortest path for each player after each move to see if any patterns jump out at me. That would be a cool visual aid on an analysis board to colour in the hexes of these paths for each player!

  • Mirko Rahn at 2022-03-09

    Hi, I very much agree with Tony.

    Let me share a technique I use to learn: Read games of (strong) players. Start at the very end and answer the question: “What is the reason to give up the game?” If that is clear to you, then start at the beginning and watch the final situation unfolding. That helps to understand strategies and tactics and their relations. Also you will learn standards and (new) tricks. If you keep spectating, then you will also recognize trends and fashions.

    Counting makes sense at every stage in a game. I find it very difficult to get exact numbers and typically don't believe in numbers greater than 5 or 6. Smaller numbers are more sensitive to timing and tempo. As Tony already mentions: Rings and bridges are almost never a strategic goal but great tactical tools to speed up frames. Beware: Fast frames might be faster than ring/bridge threats.

    One more remark: When I started playing around 2010, I was lucky enough to get a board(*) and spent quite some time doing analysis. Nowadays I use the mobile phone most of the time and only occasionally do analysis using online tools. To use a physical board is somehow different though and I highly recommend it.

    (*) https://photos.app.goo.gl/C3qvQtxGLWg4W2BJ6

  • scottsitar at 2022-03-09

    Nice looking board! I ended up getting one of these a few years ago (squares on one side, hexes on the other):


    Combined with some aquarium stones from a pet store, I can play physical versions of lots of games with a single set.

    Thanks for the reading advice! Another thing I like to do when reading is to play “guess the next move”, but with such a high branching factor, I find I'm very rarely getting it right. Maybe it works a lot better for games like chess (which I've done over at chessgames.com) than in these kinds of games?

    At any rate, I've got my work cut out for me. Thanks everyone for all the help!

  • Tony at 2022-03-10

    Ha, nice to see your boards!

    Here are mine

    There is a size-8 havannah board based on the design of Richard Malaschitz. With a nice game of Atoll from Mark Steere on the back. I do not sell a lot of them, which is a pity.

    If you want a size-10 havannah board, you can construct it with two modular hex sets.

    (I hope nobody disagrees with these links to etsy. I only intend to make these games available to a wider public.)

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