How to play singles tiddlywinks

by Andy Purvis, age 25 1/2

The Rules for singles are just like for pairs, except that one player controls blue and red while the other takes green and yellow. Sequence of play is blue, green, red, yellow as usual (so you can't decide to play blue when it's red's go). The time limit is 20 minutes (plus 5 rounds). A word of warning: it is much harder to remember which colour won the squidge-off. If you are unsure about the rules, ask your opponent; if neither of you knows, agree on something or ask someone else.

'Doing Tactics' is more difficult at first, as you don't have a partner with whom you can discuss tactics, techniques or 'Brookside' (so it's not all bad news). It is, of course, Not The Done Thing to ask your opponent what shot to play. All games are different, and many are silly, so rigid formulae aren't possible. But some themes recur, so it's possible to give general advice. As Julius Caesar first recognised, "All games can be divided into three parts" (he was misquoted). This rambling excuse for not finishing my thesis gives tips for each bit. What I reckon to be the most important ones are highlighted. I'll finish off with some ideas for the National Singles.

Act I. The Opening.

"What are you doing, Piglet?" asked Pooh in surprise.
"Squidging off".

* Get as many winks in play in as many places within 9 inches of the pot as you can: claim areas on the mat by being there firstest with the mostest.

* Mingle your colours together. It will give you flexibility wherever the game develops.

* If you get offered an easy squop, take it unless you have a good reason.

* Such as six free winks near the pot - blitz, starting with the most threatened or most difficult

* Try to focus the action where you are strong. Piles and winks here are worth defending or attacking; those elsewhere may not be (because you'll be outnumbered there in the end). This way, you'll be playing a lot of easy, short shots while your opponent will be forced to take on harder shots from distance.

Act II. The Middlegame.

"Yes, Piglet?"
"Should I squop the yellow, or the green?"
"Yes, Piglet."

This starts roughly as soon as no colour can pot out quickly (though some winks may still be at the edge). From now until rounds begin, the game revolves around PLANNING and OPPORTUNISM. Planning needn't be difficult or long-term; you just need a short- or mid-term goal. Keep such goals in mind and you'll find that shots almost choose themselves. Good goals and how to achieve them:

Defending a pile you like:

Defend the most threatened and most unstable piles first, with both colours. Unless it's an easy shot, don't squop away from the pile to get attackers: use a wink from further away, which will now become a new guard if it misses. The more you like a pile, the more you should guard it.

Attacking a pile you don't like:

If it's undefended, use your nearest winks. Otherwise (unless your attacker is threatened) use more distant winks to suck in the guards, then finish the job from close range. Try to get on the pile with both colours; your opponent must then squop twice to save the pile. When you hit a pile, hit it hard (aim at a point 4 inches below the mat, and remember you can't raise the squidger more than 2 inches on a backswing). Make sure you get your winks out, especially your other colour (which won't miss a go if you go off the mat, and which in any case plays sooner).

Consolidate the position:

A general long-term aim. There are several things that are good ideas when you have nothing more pressing. Bring distant winks that are doing nothing into the area. Firm up on squops - it makes them more mobile and harder to attack. Move winks that are too close to the pot to be played easily.

Rescuing a dead colour:

If one of your colours gets squopped up, get it back into play as soon as possible: you are playing one against two until you do. Break piles you are on that contain your dead colour. Attack tenuous piles, even if they are only single squops.

Taking one opponent colour down:

If an opponent colour begins to run short of winks, try to immobilise it completely. You'll then get two shots to one, a huge advantage. Attack it (ideally separate winks) with both colours in the same turn. Concentrate on getting the flat winks, as they are more mobile.

Giving yourself an extra wink:

If you have two squops within an inch or two of each other, you may have time to merge them into a doubleton. Get up on top of at least one squop(best is a squop of a big wink) and start bristolling it towards the other pile. Click slightly off the other pile (not freeing the wink) to let the first pile take it over. Take your time, and try to keep a guard handy in case things go wrong.

Exchanging squops:

If you're running out of one colour, take over one of its squops with your other colour.

Opportunism takes many forms. Things happen that interrupt your current plan. Deal with them and, unless the situation has changed a lot, go back to the plan. Opportunistic tactics include:

Keep taking easy shots that present themselves, unless you are too busy. If an opponent's next shot is forced, you can attack another wink of that colour at no risk. If an opponent goes off, you can approach and squop that colour before it gets to play again. If your opponent has a tenuous pile you can gain at least time by hitting it on approach shots.

Act III. The Endgame.

Pooh sighed. "Well, it could have gone either way."
"Yes" said Piglet, "They could either have squopped us up or potted out."

At or around the time limit, the end-game begins. Now positional advantage is converted into tiddlies, particularly by potting winks (= 3 tiddlies). Count the tiddlies (it makes their day), both realised and potential (so count flat winks near the pot as 3). Your aim is to maximise your expected number of points (1st place = 4 points; 2nd = 2; 3rd = 1). Most tournaments are leagues not knockouts, so a 3-4 loss is not bad at all. So, if your opponent has one very strong colour and one weak one, your best bet might be able to get 2nd and 3rd easily. But if your best colour is miles ahead of your opponents, try to promote your second colour too or take your opponent down below it. Don't leave potting too late! It's sad to see people lose games by missing round 5 pots that they could have played in round 0.

General tips:

* The best way to improve is to play games with people as good as you or a bit better.

* Before the game starts, practise a few pots, squops and bring-ins on the mat you are about to use.

* If you really don't know what to do, do what you think you can get.

* Play according to your capabilities. You can win a lot of games with 1-inch squops and 3-inch pots, and you can lose any game with missed 2-foot bristols.

* Concentrate when playing medium to long-range approach shots - it's really easy to mess them up.

* Play reasonably quickly. You should be playing most of your shots within about 15-20 seconds (you can be slower in rounds), and never ought to take as much as a minute. (That said, don't rush.) Fast games are more interesting and more fun.

* Don't get annoyed by a miscalculation or a missed shot, as it only increases your chances of doing it again.

* Discuss the game with your opponent afterwards. What were the turning points? Why did you win or lose? If your opponent played any shots you've not seen before, ask how they're done.

The National Singles.

"What a lot of tiddlies!" exclaimed Piglet, as he watched Pooh play Larry Kahn.
"Yes, what a shame none of them are mine", sighed Pooh.

If any tiddlywinks tournament can claim to matter, it is this one. On the Saturday, the field is split into 4-6 leagues of 8-12 players. Each league is an all-play-all, with the top 2-3 going through into Sunday's 12 player all-play-all Final. For non-qualifiers, there's a much more relaxing random pairs event, with handicaps and a different partner every round. Saturday's leagues are seeded so that likely qualifiers play one another at the end. That means they'll play you first. Things do get easier, but most players in your group ought, let's face it, to beat you. If you can average 1 point per game against the top 4 in your group, you are doing extremely well. They're very good. But sometimes it's possible to cause an upset (bearing in mind that a 2-5 loss, or even 1-6, is something of an upset in such games). Experienced players may underestimate you and try to blitz (pot out quickly). If someone tries this tactic, this is what you do:

1) Try to squop the pot colour with both of your colours. Ideally, aim at different winks (if you are threatening two winks, your opponent has to pot at least one in order to move both away from danger). If you get a squop on a colour that has 3, 4 or 5 winks in, you have a good chance of at least a 3-4 loss. But it's not easy to hold on to the squop.

2) Make sure you get lots of winks of both colours as near the squop as possible.

3=) Attack remaining winks of the potting colour, trying to get that colour out of the game (even if they're in the pot).

3=) Squop at least one of the other colour to stop your opponent potting out with that. As your opponent sends winks to try to rescue the potting colour, squop them. With luck you may squop your opponent up and so get free turns. Ask your opponent how these work if you don't know.

5) Make sure you do not free your opponent's pot colour (you are allowed to free a wink before you have to).

6) When your opponent begins to run out of winks, try to get first place by working your best colour free and potting it.

7) Don't pot too early: make sure you can still defend the pile containing your opponent's potting colour.

By the same author:

An Introduction to Tiddlywinks (A. Purvis, M. A. C. Relle and J. L. Mapley, 1989, ETwA Publications);
Pot-Squop (A. Purvis, 1991, Winking World 57, ETwA Publications);
Warm-Up Rates of Heterothermic Mammals, and a Comparison with Insects (G. N. Stone and A. Purvis, 1991, Journal of Comparative Physiology, Elsevier Press, oh go on, it's ever so interesting...)

Copyright: English Tiddlywinks Association.

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