|| The U.S. Tak Open, in some ways the Super Bowl of Tak tournaments, has come to a close. This biennial tournament is open (hence the name) to all active members of the U.S. Tak Association and crowns the U.S. Tak champion until the next Open. Although the winner is named the U.S. Champion, participants come from all over the world and the winner is effectively the world champion as well. This tournament draws in many top players and is often the height of Tak skill, with entertaining games, upsets, and high stakes. This year was no different.
As a quick primer on tournament structure: the tournament saw a total of fifteen players register (including one drop out) and was split into three rounds using the Nohat system, a modified Swiss match-making system developed by NohatCoder, one of the top Tak players. The first round contained four matches per player, the second round two matches, and the final round a single match. Each match required two games, with each player going once as white and once as black (to eliminate the dreaded first player advantage), with games worth 2 points to the winner and ties worth 1 point to each player. Games were on 6x6 boards with a time limit of 10 minutes and a 15 second increment per move. In addition to bragging rights and the title of U.S. Tak Champion, first place also came with a beautiful set of granite and marble pieces. Second place commanded a set of palm and oak pieces, and third place the metal hawk and wolf capstones. Bored? Don’t worry, the drama is about to begin.
First place marble pieces crafted by Patrick Bailey of IronwoodCarolina.
Going into the tournament, there were plenty of predictions and thoughts about ranking. For most people, the number 1 seed was NohatCoder, looking to defend his title. Other top ranked players included Fwwwwibib (“Fwwib”) and Nqeron, both expected to do rather well. However, these three were far from certain success. Returning players such as myself (Orfane), ManaT, and BenWo (founder of the USTA), posed potential threats, while newer players like EVRNjayhawker and Nitzel were wildcards. With the field set, the matches were ready to go.
The first round offered a few surprises at the top of the bracket. Fwwib swept the first round undefeated, coming away with 16 points, while Nohat gave up a game to ManaT, leaving him with 14. Nohat losing a game isn’t unheard of, but it added some much-needed uncertainty to the top players. Nqeron managed to keep things close, also splitting with ManaT and coming away with 14 points. With the top three seeds scoring all within a single game, and yet to play each other, the top was becoming quite interesting.
However, the middle of the bracket was where things were really heating up. Despite shaving a game off Nohat and Nqeron, ManaT ended the round with only 10 points, thanks to the difficult schedule. BenWo slipped early on, finding himself with only 4 points, while yours truly managed 10. The source of the struggle - the newcomers. EVRNjayhawker ended the first round with 12 points, while Nitzel ended with 10. This was already looking to be an incredibly competitive tournament.
The simplest way to explain Round 2 is to say that it ended with a 4-way tie for fourth place and an improbable-but-not-impossible 8-way tiebreaker being set up for the end of the final round. There were no major upsets in this round but it highlighted how competitive this tournament was. Nohat, Fwwib, and Nqeron all played each other in this round, leading to some of the highest skill-level games of the tournament. Nohat and Fwwib split their wins in the most anticipated match of the tournament, while both managed to sweep Nqeron. This locked Fwwib and Nohat somewhere in the top three spots, while Nqeron was now in a fight for third.
In the middle of the bracket, the games stayed close, with no major upsets. Multiple players ended the round with 14 points over 6 matches, while I maintained a slight lead at 16. The final rankings were going to be dependent on the final round and, more importantly, the matchups.
The final round was limited to single matches, with high stakes at every level. Nohat and Fwwib had secured placement in the top three, but where they placed in that top three was still anyone’s guess. The battle for third consisted of myself, Nitzel, Nqeron, EVRNjayhawker, Subhog, and LieutenantHammer.
In some ways, the most impactful game of the round was decided early - Fwwib easily swept his two games against me, securing his position in first and knocking me from the running for third. One for the Tak history books, the final game which secured Fwwib’s victory ended in a “Dragon Clause,” a rather uncommon way for the game to end. The commentary from Simmon on this match is quite good in my biased opinion.
Shortly after, Nohat swept EVRNjayhawker, despite an impressive display from the newcomer. This win gave Nohat second place and killed EVRNjayhawker chances at third. Still, four players remained in the running for third and they were all about to play each other. Nitzel, the newcomer, and Nqeron, the veteran and an early favorite in the tournament, were able to defeat LieutenantHammer and Subhog, respectively, both sweeping their games and leaving the two players tied. The fight for third then moved into the tie-breaker phase, with Nitzel and Nqeron playing Blitz Tak for the final match of the tournament. This match was once again a set of two games on a 6x6 board, but with only 3 minutes on the clock with a 5 second increment. Blitz Tak can feel like a completely different game, and even the best can struggle under the time constraints. After two heated games, each one taking a win against the other, Nqeron and Nitzel remained tied. After another round of two Blitz games, Nqeron emerged victorious.
This year’s USTA Open was another showing of top-shelf talent, with experienced veterans, impressive newcomers, and beautiful games. I highly recommend reviewing some of the games or watching Simmon’s commentary. Every match was entertaining and informative for new and old Tak players alike. Personally, the Tak Open was a Capstone (pun intended) to an otherwise rough year. But the community and the games helped make the most of it all. Here’s to another great year of Tak, and a better year for the world.
Which game was your favorite? Who did you have your bets on coming into the tournament and why?