Arimaa/Introduction to Strategy/Other Hostages

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Other than the elephants, any piece can potentially be taken hostage, and often the elephant is the only friendly piece which can feasibly protect it. It can be costly to have one's elephant tied to the defense of a weak piece. On the other hand, it can be costly to hold a weak piece hostage.

Not all hostages are good[edit]

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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
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The horse hostage does not benefit Silver, since the gold camel is more free than the silver camel (from this game).

An elephant holding a camel hostage is only one example of a whole class of positions where a frozen piece is held in danger of capture, committing the opponent to defense. However, not all such positions are effective. Even with camel hostages, the hostage-holder is often more stuck than the defender, since the hostage could become an attacker if freed. This gets worse if an elephant holds a horse hostage instead, as in this diagram. If the silver elephant left the trap, the gold elephant and horse would have control of the trap. Thus both elephants are basically stuck, but consider the overall position. Gold would gladly trade his horse for the silver camel, thus the silver camel must be careful. The gold camel is safer, since the gold elephant could defend it without losing anything should the silver elephant leave the f6 trap, and also because of the current respective distances between elephants and enemy camels. The camels are the strongest free pieces, but Gold's camel is more free, thus the hostage does not give Silver an advantage in free pieces. Essentially, the inactivity of one gold horse is insufficient compensation for the decentralisation of the silver elephant and for Silver's poor alignment.

As long as the gold elephant defends f6, it should stay on e6. If e6 and e7 were clear, the silver elephant could pull the gold horse onto e7 and then fork it between traps. That is a possible advantage of positioning a hostage-holder behind the trap.

In some cases, a horse-by-elephant hostage might be converted to a frame, or passed off to the silver camel, freeing the silver elephant. If Silver were better positioned for that, it would be urgent for Gold to prevent a solid frame or horse-by-camel hostage, which could make the silver elephant the strongest free piece.

Gold can treat this position somewhat like a camel hostage, advancing pieces on the hostage wing to help two weaker defenders replace the gold elephant. Since Silver does not have the strongest free piece, there is more time to achieve an elephant rotation.

Horse hostages[edit]

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The right piece to hold a horse hostage is a camel. Ideally this ties the opposing elephant to defence, while the friendly elephant is free to roam. However, the situation is often unstable because the "defending" elephant can attack the hostage-holding camel, which could quickly turn the tables. Thus the camel needs friendly supporting pieces, to keep the advantage long enough for the friendly elephant to make a strong second threat. A good horse hostage can make one's own elephant the strongest free piece, a greater advantage than could be gained from a camel hostage.

These diagrams illustrate different positions for a horse-by-camel hostage. In the first diagram, the gold piece on a4 is necessary for the hostage to be effective: pulling the gold camel to b4 would be a waste of time, as it could simply return to b3. It may take Silver several turns to break this hostage, which should allow Gold to gain a large advantage elsewhere. Note that the b2 cat allows capture of the hostage in case the silver elephant goes to b4. Also, Gold should leave d3 clear; if d3 were occupied by any gold piece, the silver elephant could then afford to move to b4, since the only one-turn capture would end with the gold camel on c4, where it would be threatened in c6.

Without the gold horse on a4, the hostage would be weak. With ec4w eb4e Mb3n ha3e, Silver could have her elephant on c4 and her horse on b3, with the gold camel frozen on b4. Not only could Silver then threaten captures in c3, but she could also flip the gold camel to c5, with a threat to capture it in c6. Without a gold piece ensuring the friendly camel's mobility, Gold would have much more to lose than to gain here.

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a5 b5 c5 d5 e5
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In the second diagram, the silver elephant has no easy way to approach the gold camel. As long as Gold retains control of the b3 square, the hostage is fairly secure. This can be the strongest type of horse hostage, provided there are enough pieces to maintain it.

In all of these cases, the side defending the hostage should consider bringing more pieces into the local fight. For instance, in the last example Silver would have a strong position if she could bring a horse to b3, dislodging the gold dog. In the first, the silver camel might be able to attack the a4 horse, which would weaken the hostage pattern.

Cat and Dog Hostages[edit]

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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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In this game, Silver's position would be much stronger if its camel were free and a silver horse held the gold dog hostage.


A smaller piece may also make a valuable hostage. In this example, the silver camel holds a gold dog hostage next to the c6 trap. The silver elephant is free to pull gold pieces toward the f6 trap. The gold elephant can't defend c6 and f6 at the same time.

However, the situation is less than ideal for Silver, for two reasons. First, the silver cat on c6 means that the c8 dog isn't currently threatened with one-turn capture. If the gold elephant leaves, it will take five steps for Silver to capture the hostage dog, giving the gold elephant that much more mobility. Second, the gold rabbit on h5 gives the gold camel more freedom to advance without fear of being taken hostage by the silver elephant. Silver would probably have to capture the h5 rabbit before making any other threat in f6.

In general, the advantage of a small piece hostage over a horse hostage is twofold. First, the smaller piece can be held hostage by a horse, sparing both the friendly elephant and the friendly camel for other duty. Second, it is easier to frame a small piece than to frame a horse. In the diagrammed position, Silver would have a greater advantage if the c7-camel were swapped with the g6-horse. Then the silver camel could defend the f6 trap while the silver elephant either hunted for a second piece to drag for capture, or assisted in framing the hostage dog. As it stands, the silver elephant can't help frame the c8-dog, because of the damage the gold camel would do in the mean time.

Camel Hostage · Frames