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On Trax
The New Zealand Trax Association Newsletter. Issue: 5

Technicalities

David Smith
It is hard enough to win a Trax game by selecting the right moves, yet many games are lost as a result of a technicality.

Players will be familiar with across the table games where one player or the other has played the wrong colour. There is really no excuse for it, however it happens just the same. Careful players build white or black circles immediately beside them and write their names and messages like "I AM BLACK" on their score pads. It is also a good idea to write your move onto your score pad before you make it as an added check of what you are about to do.

There is of course a reason why mistaking one's colour is more prevalent in Trax than in other games like Chess. In Chess, you sit beside your white or black army and the likelihood of a player reaching over and playing the enemy queen or bishop is nil. Even when an enemy piece invades your back rank, it is clearly not your piece.

In Trax, on the other hand, no such juxtaposition between player and colour occurs. Both colours are interwoven across the position. Even the tiles are common property with both colours on each and every tile. So players cannot be too careful about remembering their colour, especially early in a game where you are playing the opposite colour to what you played in a previous game.

Playing the correctly selected move in the wrong place is less common across the table, but it still happens. Again you will find it helpful to write down the move first correctly and take care to play the tile in the same place and right way up and oriented correctly.

Postal Trax is another thing again. With approaching 700 games played in recent times on the Internet, all sorts of added technical difficulties are being experienced. Special factors pertaining to e-mail Trax include:
  1. Playing up to 6 different games at any one time.
  2. Playing moves up to 3 weeks apart.
  3. Not having the position in front of one.
  4. Analysing potential moves ahead using actual tiles.
  5. Mistyping the move.
These additional difficulties have seen players
  1. Send the right move for the wrong game and vice versa (one player transposed the moves for two games and surprisingly, both were legal and one clearly lost!).
  2. Sending the wrong code for the right move.
  3. Resending the previous move.
  4. Playing the wrong colour for various new reasons eg confusion between two current games and so on.
  5. Forgetting a winning continuation after several weeks spent playing other games.
  6. Playing a move for a position that is different from the actual position. This can happen when a player has been analysing and has left a tile in play that has not been played.
Mel Nicholson of the Bay Area Club believes that all these technical errors can be broadly classified as keying errors, and others. He believes as I do that, if future tournaments are to provide a retraction option, it ought only to apply to keying errors.

The simplest rule obviously is not to permit retractions under any circumstances. But that seems very harsh where a player has clearly made an error, not in selecting their move but in conveying it to the server. An extreme example of this would be to send D3D which forms a loop attack for one's opponent whereas D2D wins with a loop for the player concerned. No one can have any doubt that D2D was the intended move, and across the table this is what would have been played every time.

At the other end of the scale, should that be extended to sending the move the player intended but which, either immediately or some days later, the player realised was strategically incorrect? In the 1994 tournament for example:
  1. Player A saw a several stage win for Black on about move 12 and activated it only to discover he was White.
  2. Player B made an L for White in an evenly balanced game but he was Black, once again well into that game.
  3. Player C had two L type threats in place. His opponent made a huge 16 tile loop attack out of one such threat which he had spent hours calculating was his only way of killing both threats in the next three or four turns. Player C activated the other threat, totally overlooking the single threat against him.
  4. After 1 A1C 2 A1D 3 A1D, player D played 4 1AL intending 4 C2R. Not so much a wrong colour fault as a symmetrically incorrect fault!
In 1 above, a request for retraction was made and granted with the opponent's approval. In 4, it was offered and accepted. In 2 and 3, it was neither requested or offered.

More will be heard about this problem as the 1995 tournament approaches. The point of this article is that Trax is a game of enormously demanding mental discipline. Part of that discipline entails selecting the right move for the right colour and making it correctly.

I have mentioned helpful ways of doing this across the table. With e-mail Trax, I keep the score for each game in a book even though the server also keeps it. I also keep analysis of possible future moves in another book to remind me what I had in mind when a reply comes back 3 weeks later.

When a move comes in, I play it to that game laid out on card tables in a spare room. I then select my move and write both the game number and move on a slip of paper along with other moves for other games in progress. I then log back on (I try never to make a reply in one session) and print out the positions of some games (the trick ones). Then I draw in the proposed move and check that the code I have written down for it is correct. Then I send that batch of moves from the send slip.

Other players use other methods. A fortunate few use Doby III to record, reset up, analyse and select their moves with the advantage that Doby will test your code for you. Players with few, or in some cases, no Trax tiles, no Doby, no printer etc are less well served by technical aids.

It is up to each player to determine his or her policy for selecting and sending moves and then stick to that policy however busy they may be at the time. That is all part of striving to be the best possible Trax player you can be. And if you never send a wrong move, you may still send losing moves but you will never be put in the embarrassing position of having to depend on the kindness of the referee or your opponent to retract moves you ought never have made in the first place.
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