Arimaa/Lone Elephant Attacks/Objectives and Risks
Reasons to use the Lone Elephant Attack
- to push and pull enemy pieces toward the home trap
- with a material advantage, it is safe and sound to use a Lone Elephant Attack if the other player is also doing so (i.e. mutual attrition in a Dual Lone Elephant game)
- as a waiting strategy until weaknesses appear in the enemy position
- as a waiting strategy until an overly aggressive opponent overextends his/her position
- to disrupt the enemy defensive position
- to directly attack a poorly defended enemy trap
In diagram 1, the Gold Elephant has pulled two Rabbits to the sixth rank and seriously disturbed Silver's defense of the northeast trap. The g6 square is a crucial defensive square, but it is occupied by the weakest defender. Since Rabbits cannot move backwards, it will be extremely awkward and time-consuming for Silver to later occupy the g6 square with a strong piece unless at least one of the Rabbits moves to the fifth rank. Therefore, the Gold player has the pleasant option of either continuing to pull the Rabbits with the intention of trapping them in the southeast trap or attempting to drive the Silver Camel away from the northeast trap in order to launch an Elephant and Horse Attack (with the intention of placing the Gold Horse on the weakened g6 square). A third option for the Gold player would be to retreat to the home territory with the Elephant to prevent the Silver Elephant from pulling and pushing either a Cat or Camel to the e3 square. In the latter case, Silver's position would be safe from immediate material loss but a plan would be needed for re-positioning the Silver defenders. One option would be to move the Rabbits to h6 and h5 in order to free up the g6 square for the Camel or Horse or, for the very daring player, with the long-term intention of launching a Multi-Piece Swarming Attack against the southeast trap.
The Dual Lone Elephant Game shown in diagram 2 (from this game), featured attempts by both players to push and pull non-Rabbit pieces offside with the intention of later trapping or framing them. The difficulty with this type of strategy is that the opposing Elephant will often halt its own attack in order to help guide a threatened piece to safety. These types of openings can last for many, many moves without any captures until eventually one player makes a critical mistake or, perhaps, someone decides to pursue a multi-piece attacking strategy - or any other idea that alters the dynamic of the game. Notice, however, that the d- and e-file Rabbits were vulnerable for the entire opening phase of this particular game. For example, Silver could have focused right from the beginning of the game on pulling the Gold Rabbits from d1 and e1 to d2 and e2 and then to d3 and e3, respectively. From there, they would have become obstacles for any Gold pieces that wanted to shift from one home trap to the other. Furthermore, the Rabbits could later be pulled towards the middle of the board where they are especially vulnerable. For these reasons, Lone Elephant Attack enthusiasts learned over the years that it is advantageous to place Rabbits on a2, h2, a7 and h7 so that the d1, e1, d8 and e8 squares can be occupied by Cats and Dogs (and sometimes a Camel).
Risks Involved with the Lone Elephant Attack
- Advancing an Elephant beyond the 6th rank, or on the outside of an enemy trap, may expose it to a blockade.
- The opposing player may commence a multi-piece attack if the Elephant wanders too far from the home traps.
- Enemy Rabbits dragged towards the home traps, but not captured, may later become goal threats.
- Attempting a Lone Elephant Attack against an aggressive player may result in a cramped position as the home territory is likely to become congested and the home traps contested.