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NoMess Maxims

by Tobias D. Robison
tobyr21 at gmail dot com

Basic Skills

The Cookie Game  -   In Praise Of The Long Game

It is remarkable how one can gradually learn to play NoMess better and better. Initially the board just seems to develop into a shapeless mess! But with experience, patterns and types of situations take shape in the mind. There is really only one principle in NoMess -- to choose the move that has the highest probability of leading to a clearer, more open board. But this abstruse mathematical principle implies many easily grasped concepts. The following maxims will help you to play NoMess better. With experience, you will learn how to apply them to them to many different kinds of situations that arise. These maxims apply to the standard NoMess game mode with no cookies turned on.

Note, in the following text:

*  Do not undo in the opening
Try not to use your "undo" moves in the opening. You can usually untangle the pieces with patience. If not, just start over.

*  Don't worry about blocked lines in the opening
Early in the game, be aggressive about building blocked lines that you hope to unravel and complete. If you succeed, you're off to a fine start; if not, just start a new game.

*  Make your waste moves count
A "waste" move is a move that does not make a five, a four, a three, or unblock a three that already exists on the board. In the opening, you may have to make a few waste moves; later on they should be very rare. When you must make a waste move after the opening, plan it very carefully, and make it count strategically, improving the position in many different potential ways.

*  Always make three or more
Strive to make at least a three-in-a-row (open or partly blocked) with every move. When you must make only a two, choose a move that makes several twos and keeps board lines open.

*  Keep the board open for long moves
Keep lines of communication open on the board (to enable long moves) as best you can. When building up to a new five, you often should choose which pieces to move, and where to put them, in order to keep the lines of movement maximally open.

*  Use "undo" moves to avert catastrophe
Use "undo" moves after an extremely bad, uncorrectable piece drop; or when a piece has been added that blocks a crucial five, and there are no prospects of moving the blocked piece to a useful square.

*  Be flexible
Replan on every move; the new dropped pieces may require tactical or strategic changes. Do not move quickly without absorbing the implications of the new drops.

*  NoMess means no mess
Avoid large clogged messes in the corners, especially the dreaded "four in a row" diagonal. Strive to find ways to use the pieces at the edge of a clogged mess, to gradually thin it out.

*  Beware of building diagonals
An orthogonal five is usually better, because it opens up paths, and an incomplete diagonal blocks the board. But a diagonal is often the only way to reach into a mess and begin to clear it. Use diagonals aggressively in the opening and the endgame.

*  Hasten to make three; tarry to make four
Until the board is half full, it rarely pays to make a four in a row if there is no piece available (or about to enter play) to complete the fifth at once. (Of course, if you have no way to make a three or five, make a four to avoid wasting a move.)

*  Make four before unblocking
If you have three pieces in a potential five, and a blocker must be removed to make the five, it usually pays to make four, then move the blocker, then make the five. (If you move the blocker first, there is a higher probability that a new blocker will be dropped in your way.)

*  Plan the move after five
Before you choose the piece to make a five in a row (if you have alternatives) DO NOT CHOOSE YOUR MOVE until you have planned your next move. This very important principle is hard to follow, it contravenes human nature; but try your best. Immanuel Lasker, one of the world's greatest chess players, said, "If you see a good move, DON'T MAKE IT! Look for a better one."

*  Minimize the chance of blockage
Choose your moves to minimize the probability that the next piece drops will block you. If you need to move a piece a long distance, do not leave it until you have four in a row, lest it get blocked.

*  Keep a door open
Avoid situations where, if a four in a row gets blocked, you have no hope of moving the blocking piece. Leave a path to move the blocker away when it obstructs you. (You can ignore this maxim when you have lots of undo moves remaining.)

*  Make two threes at once when you can
It is very good to make a move that creates an open three in a row, and, by removing an obstruction, creates another three as well.

*  Go for sixes when the board is open
Early in the game, be aggressive about getting sixes in a row. (Typically, you "find" a row already filled with three of the six, and you add the other three. It is usually not worth moving four pieces to make a six) If you have trouble filling the sixth spot, it is often correct to take just a five instead.

*  Concentrate! Find the hidden three!
Once the board starts to fill, it is easy to drop concentration for a few moves and lose control of the game. Look carefully for new threes and fours at every move.

*  Dig deep to open heavily blocked lines
When you have heavily blocked threes and fours in the layout, work hard to gradually free the obstructions.

*  Strive for 500
To score 500, you need to get your SPM up to about 1.8 by a score of 200, and then keep the SPM up there. This implies rarely making a "waste" move, and taking advantage of every three that is created for you. It is certainly possible to score 500 at difficulty level 5.

*  Don't break up twos
When choosing pieces to move, try not to move a piece that is already in a two-in-a-row. (Keeping lines of movement open is often more important than this maxim).

*  Attack with dual threes
If you have several different ways to make an open three with some kind of piece, see if you can move one piece to make two open threes (involving five pieces of the same kind); if one is then blocked, you can complete the other.

*  In the middle game, try to work with the pieces that are dropping
When moving to make a three or a four, you are more likely to complete your five if one or two of the next pieces to be dropped are of the same kind. This consideration becomes more important as the board fills up.

*  Do not accept defeat
You may get discouraged when the board suddenly clogs up afer a few unlucky moves. Take a break and come back to the position. Analyze carefully and find the best move among bad alternatives. One good "waste" move, a little luck, and you may fight your way out of trouble.

*  Assess a position's potential
A position has high potential if it contains many twos, threes and fours, even if they are heavily blocked. Your SPM is better than it seems when the board has much potential, and worse than it seems when the board has none.

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