An Introduction to Tiddlywinks

by Andy Purvis, Charles Relle and Jon Mapley

Copyright: English Tiddlywinks Association, 1989

Tiddlywinks is a game for four players, playing in pairs on a felt mat measuring six feet by three. This is placed on a hard, flat surface and has a standard sized pot in the middle. You each have six winks, two large and four small, of one colour (blue, green, red or yellow). You play these with a larger disc, called a squidger.

At the start of the game, put your winks at the corner of the mat opposite your partner's. The colours are arranged alphabetically, as shown below. So blue always partners red against green and yellow.

Colours in corners

To decide who is to start, each player squidges (flicks) one wink towards the pot. This procedure is known as the squidge-off. The winks are returned to the corners and play starts. There is a 25 minute time limit from this point, so take note of the time. The player starts whose wink ended up nearest to the pot in the squidge-off, after which you take turns clockwise. Naturally you try to bring your winks in as near to the pot as possible, as this is where the action will be. Be especially careful on these long shots, as if you send one of your winks off the mat you lose your next shot. If, on the other hand, you pot a wink of your own colour at any stage, you have another shot straight away. This can go on until you have no more playable winks.

So what's the object of the game? Probably the only similarity to the well-known nursery game is that you can win by potting all your winks. There are seven points at stake in each game, and these are awarded as follows: the colour which comes first scores 4 points; the colour which comes second scores 2 points; third place scores 1 point, and there is nothing for last place. Notice the words "comes first" etc., because there are two distinct ways of achieving this.

The simplest is to pot all six winks of one colour before anyone else, or be second or third to do so. This is certainly fun, and involves a reasonably high level of skill. However, few people over the age of ten would play the game for very long if that was all there is to it. It wouldn't need a 25 minute time limit for a start.

For any game to have more than a basic appeal, it must contain elements of attack and defence, strategy and tactics. Tiddlywinks has all of these, as a result of one simple rule:

If at any stage a wink is covered by another wink it is said to be SQUOPPED and cannot be played.

As the game developed in its early years, squopping was used largely as a last resort, a preventative measure to stop someone who may already have potted three of four winks. "Who don't you just go for the pot right from the start?" is a question frequently asked by puzzled newcomers to the game when they see winks being piled on top of one another. Yet nobody would insult Steve Davis by asking "Why don't you smash the cue ball into the reds, hoping to pot one?".

Imagine a player has five in the pot and the sixth squopped. He is out of the game until his partner can free his last wink. Worse, the opponents have twelve winks to the partner's six, and two turns to one. It's usually a lost cause. So, the game becomes one of capture and recapture, pile control, building and destroying, until one side gains the upper hand, at which stage it may be in a strong enough position to pot all of one colour SAFELY.

But if no colour has potted out by the time limit, it is necessary to have a scoring system which allocates the seven game points according to the positional strengths of the four colours.

In fact the scoring system affects the whole game, so let's look at it now. At the end of the game, each potted wink counts three and each uncovered wink counts one. Squopped winks do not count, nor do winks which have never been played. Each player counts up his total. Remember that the player with the highest total scores 4 points, second scores 2 points and third 1. To illustrate this clearly, here are a couple of examples:

1. Blue has 3 potted winks and 2 free = 9 + 2. Total 11
Green has no potted winks and 4 free. Total 4
Red has 1 potted wink and none free. Total 3
Yellow has 4 in the pot and 1 free. Total 13.

Yellow is first, getting 4 points; blue is second getting 2 points; green is third, getting one point. Red gets no points. Partners add their points together, so here Green and Yellow win 5-2.

2. Blue has 1 potted and 2 free. Total 5
Green has none in the pot and 1 free. Total 1
Red had potted 3, but has none free. Total 9
Yellow has no potted winks, but five free. Total 5

Red is first, so gets 4 points. Blue and Yellow are equal second, so they share the points for second and third places. So they each get a point and a half. Green gets nothing. Here Red and Blue win 5 1/2 - 1 1/2. Even fractions of a point can be important. Notice that it is possible to win without having potted any winks at all.

If you manage to pot all your six winks, you are said to have potted out. As a bonus, your side scores one extra point, and your opponents score one less. So you can even win the game 7-0. How a game finishes will be explained later.

This outline can get you started: now for a look at the basic shots, and how the game finishes. First potting: you should take a firm but relaxed grip on the squidger, fairly high up so as to keep your fingers clear of the shot. Then rest the edge of the squidger on the middle of the wink, at about 45 degrees to it (as below):


Stroke the squidger away from the pot along the line joining the centres of wink and pot. Release the wink cleanly, and don't apply too much downward pressure. Your squidger gives direction: let the springiness of the mat give the lift. If the wink is within 5 cm or so of the pot, hold the squidger almost vertically, press a little harder and play with more flick. You choice of stance is your own but, to begin with, most people find it easiest to pot towards themselves. Don't be discouraged if things go wrong to start with: practice helps with this and indeed with all shots.

To squop, angle the squidger towards the target wink:


Place the squidger on the centre of the wink, and gently draw it backwards. Again, remember to keep your fingers out of the way. You may find that your wink overshoots its target, or even spurts out at an angle, so be careful. It is easiest to judge direction if you yourself are in line with the shot. Play towards or away from yourself as you feel most comfortable.

You gain a great advantage if you can, at the start, brings your winks in close to the pot. You can threaten to pot out, or else squop enemy winks as they arrive. The bring-in shot can be played either pot-style or squop-style. Pot-style is easier to start with; squop-style can be more accurate, but the odd wink is more likely to roll off the table. Using both hands may give you better control.

If you go to a tournament, you will notice that very few players use standard squidgers. Squidgers are very much a matter of personal preference, but most people sandpaper them down so that they have a more or less sharp edge (see illustration). A larger squidger is often used for bringing in, and small squidgers can help for delicate shots, or where the pot would obstruct a larger squidger. To conform to the rules, squidgers have to be round, between 25 mm and 51 mm across, not thicker than 5 mm and must not damage the winks when used. You can carry as many squidgers as you like, but can obviously only use one at a time.


As the game develops, with several squops around the pot, you may want to play a winks of yours which is on one or more other winks. For such a shot to be legal, (a) your squidger must first play the upper surface of your unsquopped wink (that includes the top half of the edge); (b) only winks which are vertically below the wink you first touch can subsequently be hit by the squidger, and (c) the shot must be short and continuous from start to finish. This last clause means that, though you can rest your squidger on a pile at the start of a shot, you are committed to a short and continuous action once any wink starts to move irreversibly; so don't rest your squidger on an unstable pile. You must not squeeze a wink out from below a wink you want to play, and then play it. Do not worry too much about the technicalities here; common sense and experience help. Defining a legal shot is usually trickier than playing one. If you play an illegal shot, your opponents can either accept the result or replace the winks and ask you to play again (you do not have to try the same shot again if you don't want to).

Some examples of pile shots might help make things clear. Suppose you have a squop somewhere near the pot. One possible shot is to send the enemy wink far away, while leaving yours easy to pot. This can be played as shown:


This shot is called the boondock, and with practice you can send the bottom wink several feet. It must be played firmly, without snatching.

Other shots might be useful too. If you are nearly right on top of a squop near an enemy wink, you might be able to Bristol onto it as shown below. This is played with the squidger held vertically. First, rest the squidger gently on the centre of the top wink, with the squidger edge pointing towards the target. You should apply a little downward pressure and gradually slide the squidger backwards - hopefully the pile should jump onto the enemy wink.


The Bristol works best if your wink is just overhanging the back edge of the bottom wink. If the top wink is nearer than the bottom one to the target, you can use the gromp shot instead. Here, you play the very edge of both winks in a single quick stroke, as shown. Neither this nor the Bristol are by any means easy.


In the course of a game, large piles of winks may develop. If you control a pile that contains several enemy winks, your side should try to guard it by putting more winks nearby. If, however, several of your side's winks are in a pile controlled by the opponents, you should try and free them before the pile is defended. Squop onto a part of the pile where you cannot easily be squopped. If you survive, you can play a crud, in which you hit the pile hard enough to free your own winks. Try not to go off the table when doing this, as that would cause you to miss your next turn. Remember that you must not hit winks not overlapped or overhung by the wink you are playing. Also, you may only bring the squidger down from a height of 5 cm or less. This rule is to prevent overarm `megacrud' shots which used to break winks. Enemy piles can also be disturbed by a pot-style `bomb' shot, aimed to hit it from a distance.

A greater range of shots comes with experience (and experiment). For instance, in a pile of three, it is sometimes possible to free the bottom wink while keeping the middle one squopped. You can also pot the top or bottom wink of a squop. The best way to find out what can be done is to try it and see. You can also learn by watching other players in tournaments, to see what shots they play, and how.

If you and your partner manage to squop all the winks of both opponents (excluding any they may have potted), then you have them squopped up. When this happens, your team has a number of free turns equal to the number of its winks which are neither squopping nor squopped. Potted winks and winks which have never been brought in do not count here. You and your partner play the free turns in normal rotation and, when these turns are over, your team must free at least one enemy wink with its next shot. The opponents must be allowed to play before you squop them up again - this is true even if you free a wink early by mistake. You may, if you wish, free before you have to. If you do this, then the free turns cease immediately and the game carries on as normal.

So how does the game end? If someone pots out at any stage, a special procedure is followed. The time limit is ignored: the game will now continue until all the winks of one partnership are in the pot. Before anything else happens, all squops are desquopped: all covering winks are moved to 2 mm away from all other winks, without altering their distance from the pot. Now you continue to play in the normal order, and just try to pot your own winks. Any squops which occur are desquopped. The first colour to pot out has won, and so gets 4 points; the second colour in gets 2 points, and third gets 1. But, as mentioned earlier, potting out gets you a bonus point - this is transferred from the losing side to the winners. So if you pot out and your partner is the next colour to finish, you win 7-0 rather than 6-1.

In most games, however, everyone is too involved in piles to pot out, and so the time limit expires. After this, the game carries on for 5 more rounds, your final chance to consolidate or save the situation. Each round ends with the colour who won the squidge-off. So if blue is playing as time runs out, and red won the squidge-off, red's next turn will end round zero. After this, you all get five more turns, ending with the squidge-off winner. Going last can be a big advantage, as your opponents can't reply to your last shot.

In rounds, with few turns left, it is especially important to be aware of the tactical situation. Try to keep count of each colour's actual and potential score (for instance, take note of pottable winks). Know your own capabilities: try not to leave yourself relying on a string of difficult shots. In particular, pot early in rounds if you can afford the winks; the increase in your score puts pressure on your opponents and may divide their attention.

In even games work out which of your side's colours is more likely to take first place, and try to keep it out of trouble. Use the other colour to make life difficult for the opponents.

If one of your side's colours is clearly ahead, try to promote your other colour, but be careful not to lose first place in this endeavour. In such situations, the pressure is on your opponents and, in an attempt to catch up, they may give you the chance of a 6-1 win. Make the most of any mistakes they make.

But there are bound to be games when you are losing. Make a realistic assessment of your chances: it may be better to play for a solid 3 points than risk them going for an unlikely win. (Obviously, in a knockout tournament, you must always go for a win. But most tournaments have a round-robin format.)

Tiddlywinks is one of few games in which mind and hand play an equal part. You decide on your shot, and then you have to put the wink where you want it. You always have to ask yourself the question, can I do this shot? To start with, you are bound to get frustrated, as very few shots will seem to go right, but the main shots can be learnt quite quickly. In practice games, it is a good idea to stretch yourself a bit (as long as you don't become discouraged), so that in a serious game you have some idea of how a difficult shot is played if you need it. Mostly, however, try to play within your capabilities. It is no use thinking out a dazzling sequence of shots if you miss the first. Practise the basics: bringing in from the baseline, potting and squopping.

A good position is most easily reached by good strategy from the very start of the game. By bringing winks in close to the pot, you and your partner can try to establish an `exclusion zone', an area within which any stray enemy winks will perish. If you control an area around the pot, you can threaten to pot out, and force your opponents to send winks in to stop you. They will be playing the longer, more difficult shots, and will be more likely to make mistakes and have their winks squopped, or at best outnumbered. This will give you a real advantage in position and tempo.

Try to bring all your winks in early on. If an opponent's shot offers you a tempting but uncertain squop, consider placing another wink near your own to support it. This will help to build up an area that is yours, and at the same time will make your opponents think twice before attacking your wink. It may also leave the enemy wink isolated and vulnerable. When bringing in, always aim for an exact spot. You may not hit it, but it is much better to have a definite aim. There are times when you have to be exact, and it is a good habit to think in precise terms from the first. Mostly you will wish to support friendly winks, guard piles or attack enemy positions; if nothing else, think of ways of blocking your opponents' intentions. Sometimes you can bring in on the line of a pile they control, and knock the top winks off. Avoid the lines of your side's piles - you don't want to destroy you own hard work.

Of course, your opponents will be thinking in much the same way as you, so you probably won't have things all your own way. More often than not, the area around the pot will be congested, and each side will attempt squops to make sure that the other does not pot out. If the opponents do not present you with an easy squop, look for a place where one of their winks is isolated, or is perhaps balanced precariously on a pile. Look also for places where the enemy wink is overworked: perhaps one wink is guarding two piles, and you can attack both. Perhaps you can threaten to free all your winks of one colour, so that a pot out is possible. Keep the pressure on the opponents. In this, Tiddlywinks resembles other strategic games, such as chess.

Don't forget what is call colour-order. Here are a couple of examples: if you have a blue and a red near a green and a yellow, then blue's best shot is to squop the green. This stops the green from squopping the red, which may now have a shot at the yellow. Again, if blue squops a green, but is knocked off by a yellow, blue has a chance to resquop the green before green gets a shot. But if green knocks a blue off a yellow, yellow gets to squop the blue. So you might need to guard such a squop with a red.

Keep assessing the state of the game as it proceeds. Are you winning? Is it even? Are you slightly behind? Is the situation desperate? Which of your colours has more free winks? All of these will affect your long-term planning. If you're ahead, try not to leave squops and piles, especially large pile, undefended. And remember colour-order when placing your guards.

Level games can often be quite slow-moving, with both sides playing cautiously and hoping the other will make a mistake. Such games often come down to a potting race in rounds, so try to make sure you have enough pottable winks of one colour to win. This may involve Bristolling or gromping single squops together, accumulating several enemy winks under one of yours. Here again, plan ahead.

If you are slightly behind, try to work away at the edges of your opponents' area, picking up the least well defended winks.

If things are looking really bleak, it's probably best to charge in, trying to go down in one big pile. As piles get larger, they become less stable. With luck you will at some stage get a chance to break the pile up. So throw everything at the biggest pile. Alternatively, if nearly all your winks are in one big unwieldy pile, it might just be worth your while to pot your remaining winks. You thereby become squopped up, but your opponents may be forced to free from the main pile - a risky shot to attempt. But be very wary of using this tactic, as it often makes a bad position worse. It's known as Plan 47, an apt name as you probably shouldn't try it until everything else has failed.

We have looked at long-term strategy up to now, but short-term considerations are also important. The game is full of variety (which is part of its charm), and hard-and-fast rules cannot be given. But here are a few guidelines:

* When given an easy shot (such as a stray enemy wink landing next to one of yours), take it.

* When in doubt, bring a winks into the battle area - it's bound to come in useful later.

* Uninvolved winks are more mobile than those on piles. So if you want to reduce your opponents' options, squop uninvolved winks in preference to those on piles.

* It is easier to squop onto a pile if you can slide up the back of it than from the other side;

* For knock-offs, the reverse is true.

* It is easier to pot or squop off the back of another wink than off the front.

* The further on top of an opponent wink you are, the more mobile that pile is. But, should you want to squop off, leaving the bottom wink where it is, then the less well on you are the better.

* Try not to rely on your opponents missing a shot.

* Don't become so engrossed in the action as to miss the fact that one colour has six winks free. If it's you or your partner, and the six are all in range, why not go for it? A good rule of thumb in these circumstances is to attempt the most difficult shot first. If it misses, or even if the second does, you've lost very little.

* If an opponent sends his wink off the mat, your partnership has four turns before he can reply. This could mean two separate opportunities to approach and squop.

* Try to keep your options open: you would rather not HAVE to do something.

The possibilities are almost infinite, from a sudden pot-out to a game with a 24-wink pile, with anything and everything in between. Even the best in the world can throw a game away with an inspired piece of recklessness. It's that blend of technical skill and strategic sense, with a dash of outrageous luck thrown in, that makes Tiddlywinks such a compelling game.

Copyright: English Tiddlywinks Association.

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