In what felt at times like the making of a David vs. Goliath story, the first round match between EVRNjayhawker vs. Fwwwwibib (Fwwib) was certainly a “standout performance” for a new face in the Tak world: EVRNjayhawker. At the time, he was ranked #809 on the unofficial rankings and his opponent, Fwwib, was ranked in the top 10 and riding high expectations for his tournament performance. Fwwib went on to clinch the title, finishing the tournament nearly undefeated.
During an interview with the Tak Times after the tournament, EVRNjayhawker commented that he had only played one or two games on a 6x6 board before registering for the 2020 Open; he had played a few games online, and had never been in a tournament before. Despite this, he went on to hold his own against Fwwib, far better than expected and better than similarly experienced players would, but ultimately did not pull off the upset. In the end, EVRNjayhawker finished 6th out of 14 participants.
While it may seem odd to give such recognition to a player who lost both games in the match, as we all know, the point isn’t always to win, but to play a beautiful game. And if a beautiful game is one where a scrappy and inexperienced player, brand new to the tournament scene, goes toe-to-toe with a titan, then EVRNjayhawker’s match against Fwwib earns the accolade.
What should be clear is that Fwwib did not slip up or have an uncharacteristically poor performance. In a post-match interview with the Tak Times, he said, “I was definitely impressed with EVRNjayhawker's level of play. Like many less experienced players, he perhaps captured with his flatstones a little more than he should, but overall he played two very solid games, and had me on the back foot for a good part of the second game.” As Fwwib acknowledged, EVRNjayhawker didn’t simply have a few miraculous moments. Rather, it was a solid, exciting performance where EVRNjayhawker showed a strong grasp of strategic fundamentals and stuck to it. Only in the endgame did Fwwib’s experience in board evaluation and ability to create double or triple threats carry him to victory.
Fwwib (white) vs. EVRNjayhawker (black)
R-0; 30 turns.
The game began with opposite corner openings and initial center placement. EVRNjayhawker brought out an early Capstone on turn 6 at e3 (fig. 1 below). Playing as black, EVRNjayhawker began at a disadvantage, but his early Capstone in a strong position helped give him a fighting chance. The Capstone’s position allowed it to cut off any vertical or horizontal threats that Fwwib could develop through d3.
Turn 7: Fwwib created a potential N-S and E-W road threat with strong center development and supporting stones. Turn 8: White Capstone at c5, also a strong position with the ability to cut off any future horizontal threat from EVRNjayhawker on row 4 and bolstering Fwwib’s own horizontal and vertical positioning. As Simmon noted during his live commentary, Fwwib’s capstone placement allowed him to circumvent the disruption caused by EVRNjayhawker’s capstone. EVRNjayhawker made the first capture (fig. 2 below: d5-), but it was unforced and created the game’s first road threat.
That prompted the first forced capture of the game, from Fwwib using his Capstone, to stop the road threat (fig. 3).
With EVRNjayhawker’s first threat easily handled by Fwwib’s capstone (c5-), and a couple stone placements later, Fwwib created a strong position on the board, with Simmon noting that it looked like EVRNjayhawker would be “scrambling quite a bit, but he also has some opportunities” to regain positioning against Fwwib. And indeed, he soon seized those opportunities.
Turn 12: Fwwib presented a straight threat on the C column, which EVRNjayhawker was prepared for, cutting off the threat with a capture (b2>).
Turn 15: Fwwib placed the first wall at b1 (fig. 4 below), presenting EVRNjayhawker with one of his first significant tests of skill. If EVRNjayhawker failed to respond carefully, Fwwib could be 2 moves away from victory.
EVRNjayhawker saw the looming threat and placed a defensive wall at d5 (fig. 5) with the ability to cut off Fwwib’s potential road on the C column.
Turn 17: EVRNjayhawker made a risky capture, setting himself up for a Tak threat 1 move away, and putting more pressure on Fwwib. While Fwwib had the momentum most of the game, Simmon noted that EVRNjayhawker was starting to take some of it back. Fwwib effectively fended off EVRNjayhawker’s threat, simultaneously creating threats just 2 moves away, but EVRNjayhawker summoned his Capstone into play (fig. 6: e3<) in what Simmon called his best move of all his options, because it “keeps things aggressive, and it stops all those different Tak threat opportunities that [Fwwib] has been building towards.” EVRNjayhawker was reaping the benefits of a strong initial Capstone placement, and left Fwwib without many options through the center of the board.
With EVRNjayhawker’s Capstone locking out the center, the focus shifted elsewhere. Fwwib placed at e1 and d1 (fig. 7), developing a threat along the bottom row.
Although not perfect, EVRNjayhawker was often able to foresee future threats that were a few moves away, and make a strong decision that effectively defended against Fwwib’s growing positional advantage. By turn 25, commentator Simmon was wondering if Fwwib had shifted his strategy to seeking a win on flat count, conceding that a road win was the less likely option against EVRNjayhawker. With Fwwib’s 11 flat count to EVRNjayhawker’s 7 and EVRNjayhawker’s Capstone and wall placement closing off many avenues for a road, this seemed like a realistic possibility.
Turn 27: NohatCoder - one of the best players in the Tak world - commented that EVRNjayhawker was “playing a lot better than their rating would suggest.” Nevertheless, despite exceeding both Simmon’s and NohatCoder’s expectations, he was still playing against one of the best. With plenty of time remaining on his clock, Fwwib took longer than usual to make his next move, carefully analyzing the board, and eventually went with 3c2> to create a double road threat (fig. 8) that left EVRNjayhawker with only one possible move to escape immediate defeat.
It was unclear if, this far into the game with his clock ticking down and facing a more complex board state, the inexperienced EVRNjayhawker would see his way out. To some spectators' surprise, EVRNjayhawker momentarily did just that and delayed Fwwib’s eventual victory for another turn. He cut off both Tak threats with a single move (b1>).
Turn 29: Despite playing what Simmon later called “a phenomenal game,” each game of Tak against an opponent like Fwwib is played on a razor's edge. EVRNjayhawker’s turn 29...2a2> (fig. 9) was a mistake, as he missed Fwwib’s threat.
With no mercy expected and none given, Fwwib’s 30. 4c4-211 handed him the road win (fig. 10).
We can only imagine how much longer EVRNjayhawker could have carried the game if he had not missed Fwwib’s threat. Nevertheless, the first game was well-played.
EVRNjayhawker (white) vs. Fwwib (black)
0-R; 23 turns.
After seeing how well EVRNjayhawker played as black, expectations had risen a bit higher and the spectators were curious to see what he could do with white’s first player advantage. In terms of maintaining momentum in the early game, he didn’t disappoint.
Turns 1-4: The game began with adjacent corner openings and mostly center placement. As with the first game, EVRNjayhawker came out with an early Capstone in a strong position near the center, alongside Fwwib’s initial road development (fig. 11).
Turn 6: EVRNjayhawker began to develop a horizontal road and Fwwib made the game’s first capture, unforced (fig. 12).
Turn 12: EVRNjayhawker maintained momentum as white. He developed a vertical road, adeptly placing stones that served both offensive and defensive purposes. Commentator Simmon marveled at how well EVRNjayhawker was playing.
Turn 14: Fwwib had already played 2 walls (fig. 13) and, although he wasn’t forced to, his use of these early walls is evidence of how seriously he was taking EVRNjayhawker’s skill and ability to make threats.
Turn 15: EVRNjayhawker makes a road threat on the ‘e’ column; Fwwib brings over his wall (f2<) to cut off the vertical threat, right below EVRNjayhawker’s capstone. EVRNjayhawker couldn’t resist the bait, smashed the wall (e3-) and Fwwib seized on the opening to throw up a third wall (fig. 14: Se3) cutting EVRNjayhawker’s capstone off from his N-S threat and leaving him with a soft cap.
Before turn 17, Fwwib had placed three walls, and made 3 capture moves. EVRNjayhawker had the lead on flat count, and had been carefully placing stones, developing threats, and remained in a decent position despite Fwwib’s efforts to stifle his road development. At this point, Simmon again commented that he was “very impressed with Jay’s play.”
Turn 20: Despite this noticeable performance so far, EVRNjayhawker made a mistake, missing an opportunity to make a powerful move that would’ve created two citadels (2e2+), cut off a black wall’s access to his vertical road, and potentially could have put Fwwib on the ropes.
Instead, he placed a flat (fig. 15: e3), leaving Fwwib’s wall at f3 with free reign to continue disrupting the white vertical road on the ‘e’ column. Fwwib immediately took advantage of the opportunity on the next turn.
The tides had turned. This one mistake shifted the winds into Fwwib’s favor, and he seized on it to pin EVRNjayhawker in a tough spot with a tricky road threat (fig. 16).
EVRNjayhawker didn’t see it coming, moving 22. f4- and 23. F6. With 23... 2a2> Fwwib seized his second victory (fig. 17 below).
Overall, even in defeat, EVRNjayhawker played two outstanding and beautiful games against the tournament’s eventual champion. He showed a knack for placing an early and effective Capstone, avoided capturing when unnecessary, and focused instead on stone placement. He didn’t make the beginner’s mistake of placing too many walls, and he showed an adept ability to evaluate multi-pronged threats. Although he did make mistakes that cost him the game, he avoided simpler mistakes earlier in each game that similarly experienced players would have made. His performance shows promise, and we will be following him closely in future tournaments. No pressure EVRNjayhawker.