The Tak Times (virtually) sits down with the legend: NohatCoder
|| Among veteran players, NohatCoder needs no introduction. He is indisputably one of the top players currently known to the Tak world: the reigning U.S. Tak Association’s (USTA) champion since he took 1st place in the USTA 2018 spring, summer, and fall qualifying tournaments and 1st place overall in the 2018 U.S. Tak Open. He is consistently ranked among the top three human players on the unofficial rankings; he took 3rd place in the 2017 U.S. Tak Open, went undefeated in the 2018 Komi Tak Open, took 1st in the 2019 Tak Blitz Open, was a semi-finalist in the COVID-19 Cup, and leading up to this year’s tournament he was considered a clear favorite to win the 2020 U.S. Tak Open (among a few others). [Update 12/20/20: Since publication, top player Fwwwwibib secured first place in the 2020 U.S. Tak Open, dethroning NohatCoder and becoming the new USTA Tak champion.]
His introduction to basic Tak strategy is a highly-regarded primer for novice players and his efforts to maintain and update the unofficial rankings have been an enormous benefit to the Tak community.
Despite living outside the U.S. and busy with the ongoing tournament matches, he graciously agreed to an interview with the Tak Times. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Tak Times: Tak is known as “a beautiful game.” What do you consider to be a beautiful game, or what qualities are present when you say: “now that was beautiful”?
NohatCoder: The game has to be well played by both sides, with no obvious mistakes. And preferably with an even position most of the way through, to make it exciting. It would include lots of road threats by both players, to keep them on their toes. And then the final kicker, the unexpected move that wins or ties the game in a clever way. Whether the game ultimately goes to flats or a road doesn't matter much, as long as the game leading up to the outcome was exciting.
T.T.: As already mentioned, you’re one of the best players out there. How did you become one of the best? Did you have prior experience with abstract strategy games? Simply put more hours put into understanding the game?
Nohat: I don't know exactly. I think part of it is that as a new game it came with no established strategy. Learning by exploring and trying to reason for myself definitely appeals more to me than trying to apply strategies invented by other people. I think that definitely gives me an advantage over most people. But a large part of it I can't explain. I was one of the best players pretty much immediately, Tak just felt natural to me in a way that, for instance, chess hasn’t. It varies from game to game, but usually I'm pretty good at board games. I can often work out a decent strategy on my first play.
T.T.: Sorry folks. No secret sauce to Nohat’s success (that he’s willing to reveal, anyway).
Since you’re keeping your method for Tak domination close to the vest, tell us one piece of advice that you would give to a new player?
Nohat: Try to avoid capturing. Simple advice, but often hard to follow as your opponent will force your hand. In order to avoid the bad captures, it helps to think about your opponent's potential threats in advance. If your opponent makes a threat on their next turn, how will you respond? Can you prevent them from renewing that threat over and over again? If not, you should probably prepare a better response now - maybe drop a wall in a critical spot. When building a road of your own, the order of moves matter. If you delay capturing moves in favor of placing moves, you might force your opponent to respond without ever making the captures.
T.T.: What about yourself? What common mistake do you often see yourself and/or other veteran players make?
Nohat: Not calculating enough is definitely one of my weaknesses.
Nohat: Calculating is trying to predict how the game will play, plan what moves you can make depending on what your opponent does. It gets much harder when there is no concrete threat from either player to form an objective for the game's progression. The moves seem much more interchangeable. So the lazy solution is to not really bother.
Spending the time figuring out which of the possible boring moves are best doesn't always feel that interesting to me, but it is how you get an opening advantage that could make or break a game against an equal opponent.
T.T.: How do you train or improve your skills and how often do you do this?
Nohat: I typically don't do much training, besides just playing, which probably isn't the ideal training strategy. I'd like to do puzzles, but they are unfortunately in short supply.
T.T.: Let’s talk about the future. Where do you see the game headed and where do you see the Tak community headed?
Nohat: It seems that the community has been relatively stagnant for the last few years. Hopefully, with improvements to Playtak.com, especially in terms of mobile phone support, we can make the new player experience better. I'd also really like a proper automated puzzle training tool. I think it could really help general player strength, myself included.
T.T.: What kind of board do you enjoy playing on the most (virtual or physical)?
Nohat: I unfortunately rarely play in-person, so my favorite board that I use is a digital one. White and black pieces for maximum contrast, and board in a different colour so that the pieces don't blend in. Small pieces and a lot of angle make it so that usually everything is visible.
I also have my 2018 U.S. Tak Open prize board and pieces, with some nice capstones that I won in the 2019 Tak Blitz Open.
T.T.: Beautiful board and Capstones! Thanks for your time NohatCoder. One final question: do you call “Tak” when playing in-person, against a similarly skilled player?
Nohat: I don't even call Tak against beginners. They can get takebacks, but everyone should learn to spot a threat for themselves.
Who should the Tak Times interview next?