|| Here we go, the most controversial article ever written about Tak - should players announce Tak prior to winning? For those who are unaware, “calling Tak” refers to stating the word “Tak”, much like a chess player would state “check”, to indicate being one move away from a win. This topic is covered in the original Tak rulebook, which states:
The controversy around this seemingly innocuous statement arises from the first line: “...it isn’t strictly required.” If it is not required, why would I give my opponents an advantage? I want to win, damn it! This optional rule is thus often ignored, reserved only for very lax games or teaching new players. However, could calling Tak actually improve the community, make Tak easier to learn, and improve the quality of gameplay? I argue yes to all of these, and by the end of this article so will you!
Now, calling this "controversial" is a bit of a misdirect. Controversy implies there are approximately equal sides debating a topic, while a quick trip through the Tak discord will tell you I stand in a very, very small camp. The primary camp, where most players on the Tak discord currently reside, argues that calling Tak is fundamentally flawed and would, in no uncertain terms, destroy the game. A smattering of players fall in between these opinions, calling Tak for some games under certain circumstances. To make the rest of this article clear, what I am arguing for in this article is:
- to encourage calling Tak during friendly games and to make it a core part of the community, in the same vein as calling “check” in chess.
- to make illegal any move that would result in your own loss (more on this later).
- to make calling Tak a part of
some tournaments and ranked games.
Any one of these statements is enough to get me tarred and feathered in most circles, but I will press on and discuss the arguments for and against these positions.
As I understand it, the primary argument against calling Tak is a belief that it will lower the quality and skill of gameplay in general. This is because spotting Tak threats is seen as a core skill to develop when learning the game. Players need to see the enemy win coming, and learning to predict this win several turns in advance is what separates the good from the great. The Tak puzzles we all love so much rely on this same concept, and playing against bots is hard because they are good at doing so. While I agree with the importance of spotting threats, I argue that calling Tak will actually increase the level of gameplay, and the reason is pretty simple - it does away with “sneaky” wins.
Sneaky wins are currently a big part of Tak, and while there is some guilty pleasure to be gleaned from them, I think this is a problem. A sneaky win refers to a win that a player could have blocked, but failed to notice. Another, more honest term for this concept is a blunder. “Sneaky win” implies the credit should go to the attacking player; that in their cleverness they disguised their attack and made it hard to spot, granting them the win. “Blunder” more clearly places the blame with the losing player. Their failure to evaluate the board state and spot a threat is what resulted in the loss, and little to no credit belongs with the winner. Personally, I find this style of gameplay terrible for both parties. It is unsatisfying to win because your opponent made a mistake, and it is frustrating and non-productive to lose in the same fashion. There is little to learn from such a loss besides “read the board better”, and it makes it harder for players to grow in skill.
Conversely, this problem is solved by calling Tak. If a player alerts their opponent to an impending road win, it gives the opponent an opportunity to avoid it. As such, in order to win, a player now needs to lock in a win several moves in advance - i.e., win via Tinue (or Gaelet, but let's stick to roads for now). This is much more valuable for learning purposes, and I believe creates a better overall game. Games would no longer suddenly end after a simple mistake or missed threat, but would become the beautiful battle of wits we see among high level players, spotting threats before they have even formed.
“But Matt, this just shows that calling Tak is a tool for teaching, and once you get better the training wheels should come off, right?” Wrong! Calling Tak should be embraced at every level of gameplay. It is definitely useful as a teaching tool, but also elevates the gameplay at nearly all levels. Where I will concede this concept should not be used is during high level tournaments (Intermediate or higher, using our current system) or during certain invitationals. I still think calling Tak would add to the quality of those games, but also understand the need to stand on your own at such a level.
“But Matt, I like my sneaky wins! Why do you want to take them away?” Simple, they are bad. Sneaky wins can certainly be fun and entertaining to watch, but you know what is better to watch? Advanced gameplay. A player setting up Tinue, seeing if you can spot it, and trying to avoid it while also building your own threat. To me, that is the beauty of the game. Don’t cheapen it by claiming to be “clever” when your opponent blunders.
By now, I assume you are convinced and want to implement this fun new change! However an obvious issue remains - Tak threats are hard to spot. Unlike chess, where you can evaluate a single piece and determine if anything is threatening it, Tak has many different ways to win, hidden behind layers of walls, capstones, and towers ready to spread in many directions at once. How can you possibly evaluate the board state and be sure of calling Tak everytime? Not to mention, what happens if you miss it? Well, the honest answer is to act in good faith and try your best. The goal here is to make games better, and to welcome new players more easily. If a player is a huge stickler for it and becomes upset because Tak wasn’t called in time or was missed, maybe don’t play with them again. For some games you may want to rewind moves if a threat is missed, and ideally we would eventually get playtak.com advanced enough to spot some threats for us automatically. Doing so would also enable my third and final point - some moves should be illegal.
Calling Tak only really works on your turn - you make a move, it establishes a threat, and you alert your opponent. But what happens in those cases where your opponent blunders and moves in such a way that you can now win? I believe this situation falls into the same category of winning via blunder, and so it should be done away with. The simplest solution to do so is to alert your opponent that such a move would result in a loss, and make such a move “illegal” to make, unless all available options would also result in a loss (i.e., Tinue). To beat this dead horse further, in chess you cannot move your King into a position that would get it captured the next turn. Adding this concept to Tak, while again much harder to spot than in chess, would remove another source of blunder-based wins from the game and will make overall gameplay better.
In conclusion, call Tak. It will make you a better player, stop your over-reliance on “sneaky” wins, and force you to look more moves ahead. It will make your opponents better. It will make the game itself better. And who knows, you might actually like it.