Arimaa/Advanced Tactics

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Since a skilled opponent will not stand by and let their strong pieces get marginalized, positions must be improved gradually. This requires both tactics and strategy. Advanced tactics can bring about better long-term positions.

False protection[edit]

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a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h8
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h7
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h6
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h5
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h4
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h3
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h2
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h1
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Gold to move cannot protect both the c5 camel and g5 horse, but can ensure that he would come out ahead in a two-turn exchange of material. (game)


In the position at right, no pieces have yet been exchanged, but Gold is apparently in great trouble. The gold horse on g5 is threatened with capture in f6. The g3 dog could unfreeze the threatened horse, but due to the surrounding pieces it could only travel north, where it would be no safer.

The gold elephant could, in two steps, occupy e6, which would make f6 safe from capture, but then the gold camel could be captured in c6. The gold camel is frozen, and needs three steps to retreat. Either the b4 rabbit can advance, allowing the camel to push back to c4, or the d4 cat can push away the c4 rabbit, allowing the camel to step to b5. Unfortunately, neither of these camel-rescue maneuvers leave the requisite two steps for the gold elephant to protect f6.

The gold elephant could temporarily protect both c6 and f6 by pushing the e6 dog onto f6, and then returning to d6 with a step to spare. However, that would waste three steps doing what Silver could undo in one step. One could analyze each of Gold's possible fourth steps, and then consider Silver's responses. In a live game with limited time, however, it is best to assume that trading three steps for one step would not end well, since the opponent would have three steps left to improve their position. That assumption would be borne out in this case.

It remains to consider charging the gold camel forward, perhaps creating a threat to balance Silver's. Gold could advance the b4 rabbit, then advance the unfrozen camel and push away the silver cat on c7. This may look promising, but it opens a fatal weakness. With c5 and b4 now empty, the c4 rabbit nearly has a path to goal; if the silver elephant moves to c5, the unfrozen and unblocked c4 rabbit can advance to b2. With the western part of Gold's home rank empty, such a goal threat would be strong.

In short, it appears that no move will stave off material loss for Gold, and some attempts to do so will only make matters worse. It seems that capturing the c4 rabbit in exchange for the g5 horse is the best Gold can do.

Remarkably, Gold has a tactical save that relies on the elephant to protect neither c6 nor f6. Gold can advance his elephant to d7, capture the c4 rabbit with his cat, and slide the unfrozen camel to b5, freezing the b6 horse. This exposes a subtle weakness in the Silver position: the false protection of the b6 horse and c7 cat. If Silver were to then capture the g5 horse in f6, Gold could respond by capturing the b6 horse in c6. If Silver instead protected c6 and tried to reestablish the threat to the gold camel, the gold elephant could protect f6 in two or three steps, and the gold camel could back away from the threat in c6. With gold pieces on a4, b4, and now c4, and the gold camel freezing the silver horse on b6, Silver couldn't immediately re-freeze the gold camel, which could thus delay capture even with the c6 trap unprotected. If the silver camel retreats, that will end the f6 threat, and then the gold elephant can protect c6. If the silver camel does not retreat, the gold elephant may soon threaten it, perhaps resulting in an even camel trade.

Finding this tactic is huge; instead of losing a horse for a rabbit, Gold captures the rabbit outright, and then may get an even trade or may avoid any capture.

Elephant blockade[edit]

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a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h8
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h7
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h6
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h5
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h4
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h3
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h2
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h1
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Silver to move can blockade the gold elephant (game)


In the position at left, the gold elephant is in great danger of blockade on the seventh rank. Silver to move can't prevent the gold elephant from moving away from e7, but most of the walls of a larger box are already in place. If Silver can cut off all avenues of retreat, then the noose can be drawn tight around the gold elephant in later moves.

One brick in the wall is the f6 trap square. With no supporting gold pieces, the gold elephant can't pass through f6. The e6 square can be sealed in two steps by the silver elephant. The g6 square is blocked by the phalanx of four silver pieces on f6, g6, h6, and g5. A second phalanx (d8, d7, d6, c7) can block access to d7 if Silver uses one step to put his c6 rabbit onto d6. Therefore, with a total of three steps (elephant to e6 and rabbit to d6), Silver can create a nearly complete box.

The tricky tactical issue is the use of Silver's fourth step. If Silver attempts a blockade, Gold retains two resources: the gold elephant can still threaten an end-around to push out through h6, and the gold horse on g3 can pull the g5 dog out of the blockade. In combination these threats pose a serious puzzle for Silver to solve, but they are not necessarily enough.

For example, if the gold elephant moved directly to h7, Silver could slide his dog to h5, horse to g7, f8 rabbit to g8, and f6 cat to f7. True, the gold horse could then pull away the silver dog from h5, but Silver could re-establish the blockade with camel to h5 and elephant to g6. Such a perfect blockade is easily worth a dog sacrifice.

It is tempting for Silver to use the fourth step to advance his f8 rabbit to f7. We know already that the gold elephant can't simply push across to h7. But consider what happens if instead Gold pushes the rabbit back to f8, stations his elephant on g7, and advances his horse to g4. Gold now threatens to pull the dog and push the camel, creating a path to freedom. Silver has many ingenious attempts to maintain the blockade, but none of them quite work. For example, Silver might try putting his dog on h5 and using the camel to pull the horse to g5, so the gold horse actually becomes part of the blockade! This fails, however, as the Gold elephant can move to h7, pulling the silver camel along to g7, then push the h6 rabbit to g6 as the elephant escapes through the h-file.

It turns out that preventing this latter maneuver is precisely the key to sealing the blockade. If Silver uses the fourth step to advance a rabbit to h7 (instead of f7), Gold cannot escape unscathed. Gold's previous escape plan now only has three useful steps: elephant to g7 and horse to g4. Let's suppose rabbit to g2 is the fourth step, in order to unfreeze the gold horse in some lines. (to be continued...)

Repetition fights[edit]

Arimaa rules prohibit any move which ends in a position identical to one which the same side has ended with twice before. A cycle of repeating positions is called a repetition fight.

Suppose Gold starts a turn from position P, and Silver subsequently plays a move ending in that exact same position. If both sides continue to play the same way, the second iteration of the cycle cannot be completed: Silver's final move of the cycle would cause P to appear for the third time with Gold to move, and so would be illegal. It is therefore Silver who must deviate, and Gold is said to win the fight.


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a5 b5 c5 d5 e5
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1
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Pull and replace moves are a common source of repetition fights. In this diagram, Silver can break the horse frame by playing a pull and replace with her camel, moving the gold horse to b4 and the silver horse to b3. This move is reversible: Gold can undo it by using his elephant to play a pull and replace. In doing so, however, Gold restores a position he created previously, and thus this is the last time he can ever end on that position. Silver, by contrast, created a new position the first time she broke the frame, and thus can repeat that move and force Gold to do something different.

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a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h8
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h7
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h6
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h5
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h4
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h3
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h2
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h1
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An unusual pull and replace sequence, from this game

In this game a fight is ongoing over whose horse will occupy g3. A sequence of four pull and replace moves is possible. Silver plays mh4w mg4e Hg3n hh3w (gold horse to g4, silver horse to g3). Gold then establishes a frame with Ef4s Ef3n hg3w Hg4s (silver horse to f3, gold horse to g3). Silver breaks the frame with mh4s mh3n Hg3e hf3e (gold horse to h3, silver horse to g3). Gold can then regain trap control with Ef4e Eg4w hg3n Hh3w (silver horse to g4, gold horse to g3). Although each of these moves other than the first can be undone, each move reaches a new position, so the individual repetition fights do not change the outcome: Silver is the one forced to play a move other than a pull and replace.

Attacking · Lone Elephant Attacks