Stratego Notation

In order to write our book we had to devise a notation system.

Our Stratego notation system is quite simple. Like the popular chess notation system we use an algebraic model. On the vertical axis we have the numbers 1 through 10 and on the horizontal we have the letters A through J. The picture below illustrates this.

 

Stratego Notation

A piece in the bottom left corner would be represented by A1. Top right J10.

Penetrating Enemy Lines (Part 2

Part 2

We will begin right where we left off. If you have to revert back to Part 1 to remind yourself where you are at.

Stratego Diagram

From here, Red continued to drive his Captain into the a7 square:

                      2. Captain* b3-b4                  Major* h9-h8
                      3. Captain* b4-b5                  Major* h8-h9
                      4. Captain* b5-b6                  Major* h9-h8
                      5. Captain* b6-a6                  Major* h8-g8

Of course, Blue was limited in his pacing by the Three Moves on Two Squares Rule.

                      6. Captain* a6-a7                  Major* g8-h8

Stratego Diagram

Now, Red has achieved the first stage of his penetration. The second step is to remove the Blue Major from the c-file and push it to the d-file, giving the Red Captain on a7 some breathing room.

                      7. Colonel* e7-e8                   Major* h8-g8

 

penetratingenemylines_clip_image016

                      8. Colonel* e8-f8!

Of course, trapping the Blue Major on c8 immediately with 8. Colonel* e8-d8?? would be a blunder because of 8. . . . Major* g7-f7, when nothing can stop the Blue Major from marching down the board and attacking Red’s flag. The text move seems most precise to us because of the following reasoning. Now that Red’s Captain controls traffic flow along the Left Flank, the Red General is now free to chase the Blue Major at c8, holding it at bay. Now, Red will be able to trap the Blue Major on g8 with Colonels without having to worry about a march on his own flag.

                      8. . . .  Major* g8-g9

Blue attempts to keep his General towards the Center.

                      9. Miner* d2-d3!

penetratingenemylines_clip_image018

Go to Part 3: Penetrating enemy lines (Part 3)

Penetrating Enemy Lines (Part 3)

Part 3

We jump right in where we left off. If you need a quick refresher click here.

A pacing move. Red is using zugzwang techniques to force Blue back! Here, 9. . . . Major* c8-d8 would be met easily by 10. General* b7-c7, pushing back Blue’s Major and coming close to trapping it in the middle of the board. Moving any unmoved piece would reveal information about Blue’s bombs and flag, so Blue continues shuffling, albeit with limited space in which to do so.

                   9. . . .Major* g9-g10
10. Colonel* f8-f9                  Major* g10-h10

                    

penetratingenemylines_clip_image026

Another key moment. Red has succeeded in sidelining Blue’s Major on h10. However, to pursue the Major further with 10. Colonel* f9-g9 would be to allow 10. . . . (?) d9-e9, aiming for a possible assault on the Red flag. Red, however, has an easy solution. He now brings his Captain back to the center, preparing to use it to guard against Blue’s march down the e-file.

                   11. Captain* a7-a6!               Major* h10-g10
                   12. Captain* a6-a5                Major* g10-h10
                   13. Captain* a5-a4                Major* h10-h9
                   14. Captain* a4-b4                Major* h9-h10
                   15. Captain* b4-c4                Major* h10-h9
                   16. Captain* c4-d4                Major* h9-10

 

Stratego Diagram 4

Red has now guarded against the possibility of Blue running a minor piece down the e-file and taking out Red’s flag. So, Red is ready to continue trapping the Blue Major on h10.

                   17. General* b7-c7                Major* c8-b8

Of course, if 17. . . . Major* c8-d8?, Red could simply play 18. Colonel* f9-f8 Major* h10-g10 19. Colonel* f8-e8 Major* g10-g9 20. Colonel* e8xd8 Major* g9-g8 21. Colonel* d8-e8 and Blue fails to break through to the other side down the Center.

                   18. Colonel* f9-g9

Stratego Diagram 5

Mobility And Protection (Part 2)

The first phase of any game of Stratego, the opening, generally sees basic exchanges of Lieutenants and Sergeants in the center of the board. Perhaps a Captain or another major piece will be uncovered, but between strong players, at least that is usually about all that happens.

What, then, are the next goals of the players? Usually, during the next phase of the game (the middlegame), the players attempt to increase the mobility of their forces and to create tension on both flanks, and perhaps also in the center.
Mobility refers to the ability of pieces in one’s army to travel freely from one flank to another.

Usually, Red and Blue strive in the middlegame to increase their mobility along the fourth rank and the seventh rank, respectively. A clear fourth rank allows Red to transfer his major pieces quickly from one part of the board to the other:

 

Mobilty and Protection

 

Red has mobility along his fourth rank, allowing him to swing his major pieces into battle freely at any moment. Red’s Two Mill (along the e-file) also enjoys high mobility. Red is able to swiftly transfer his Scouts to any part of the board in order to gain information in a timely fashion.
Protection refers to a player’s ability to guard against probing techniques on the flanks or in the Center. Here, Red has taken pains in his initial setup to make his position difficult to attack.

His Right Flank is well-protected against incursion, since an advance by Blue’s Marshall on that side—say, into the i4 square—could be met by General h3-h4 and Spy g3-h3, cutting the Marshall off from the Center.

Blue would then need to penetrate the Right Flank with a Miner (moving it to the j4 square, and then dismantling the bomb on j3), but even then he would lose the Miner swiftly in the process. Even if the assault on the Right Flank were successful, Blue could hope to win the pieces on h2, i2, j2, i1, and j1—not a big haul for so much effort.
Red’s Left Flank, on the other hand, is also well-protected. If Blue sends his Marshall against that side, Red will be able to trade it off swiftly by swinging his own Marshall from d3 out to d4, then to c4 or b4. After the trade, Red’s General could then swing out quickly from the Right Flank back to the Left Flank (if that is where it is needed), or could be sent into enemy lines in any other part of the board for a probing attack, supporting by Red’s highly mobile Scout Mill.
Finally, in the Center, Red has also taken care to protect himself, since either his General or his Marshall can swing there quickly. The Scout on g3 also helps defend the Red Captain on f3 from a direct assault by blue’s Marshall.

 

Additionally, Red’s Scout Mill will make it easy to identify the identity of any incoming attacker, and so Red will be able to send the appropriate troops to halt the Blue offense.

Thus, mobility and protection are related concepts.

A mobile army will be able to defend itself from possible attacks. Mobility is most frequently hindered by clutter along the fourth rank and poor bomb placements.

Contrast the above position, designed by an advanced Stratego player, with the following one, played by an amateur:

 

Mobility And Protection (Part 2)

Mobility Part 2

Before you read this section, if you haven’t already, read part 1.

Although the amateur is using the same number and types of pieces as the advanced Stratego player did in the previous diagram, his position is significantly worse.

There is no coherence to his setup, since his pieces are so immobile that they cannot respond effectively to Blues impending assaults.

The bombs he has placed along the fourth row prevent his General from coming to the rescue in the Center, and his Marshall, although placed on d4, cannot even reach his Left Flank.

His Scouts are not placed in a mobile Scout Mill, so it will be difficult for Red to obtain any information about his opponents pieces without sacrificing higher-ranked pieces.

Blue could easily win a few pieces here simply by sending in his General or Marshall to b5 and employing probing techniques.

Even if Blue only sent his General, Red would have to sacrifice his Colonel in order to free up his Marshall to come to his Left Flanks aid. Meanwhile, if Red advances his own General up the board on the Right Flank in order to counterattack, he has no readily-available Scouts with which to probe.

In short, Red would almost surely lose several pieces in short order against a more mobile Blue opponent.

How does one create mobility? Generally speaking, the trick is to simply to keep the fourth row as clear of clutter as possible. This means that in an opening setup, it is best to put expendable minor pieces in the fourth row.

Usually, Sergeants and Lieutenants are the best choices. Scouts should be saved for middlegame use in Scout Mills they may also be valuable in the endgame, where they are free to move across the entire board quickly, searching out the enemy flag.

Miners, of course, should not be expended early either. So, one possible fourth rank setup would look like this:

Mobility and Protection 1

 

Red envisions that after the minor pieces get exchanged off early for information or sent out into the channels of traffic in order to create tension (which we will discuss below), the fourth rank will become clear.

After the opening, the situation will look something like this:

Mobility and Protection 2

 

Red has high mobility here. His Marshall can swing to any sector of the board at a moments notice, and his General can come quickly to either the Center or the Right Flank.

Assuming that his major pieces, flag, and Scouts are well-positioned, Red will be in

The only guide you need to placing your bombs

 

What you will learn?

  • What are beginner Bomb Placing mistakes
  • What are the general principles to placing bombs
  • What are example of good bomb placements

Beginner mistakes

Beginners often place their bombs in the front row, closing off an entire flank (or even the Center). This reduces mobility and often wrecks the amateur’s position. Consider the following:
Bomb Placement

 

This is a common amateur strategy. Red is blocking off the Right Flank with bombs in order to keep the enemy away from his flag on j1. Red reasons that it would take three Miners to break through to the flag—but, of course, this assumption is incorrect, since it would actually only take one.

Red erroneously believes that Blue would have to remove both the bomb on i4 and also the bomb on j4 in order to penetrate the Right Flank, but this is untrue: Red need only remove one, probably the bomb at j4.

Blue will likely leave the bomb on i4 in place, since it is more likely to obstruct Red’s defense of his own flag (by preventing the Marshall on h4 from coming to i4) than it is hinder Blue’s Right Flank offense.

Also, Blue could sweep into the Right Flank through the Center, ultimately using only one Miner to break through to j1 via i1 or j2.
Of course, Blue will quickly discover the locations of the two Red bombs on i4 and j4. He can then place a Miner at j5 at his leisure, and choose to break through only when it is advantageous to him.

 

As mentioned above, Blue will likely leave the bomb on i4, since it obstructs Red more than it does Blue. Meanwhile, the fact that Blue has discovered two bomb locations means that he will be able to effectively make calculated lottos later on in the middlegame.
Any bomb placed on the first row decreases mobility. Beginners often place bombs behind the Lakes, and while doing this occasionally may be justified (indeed, top players occasionally do it to throw their opponents off), this is the exception rather than the rule. As we saw in Chapter 4, mobility is key to a strong middlegame.
Another common mistake beginners make in their bomb placements is to lock in pieces. This is almost never a good idea.

Consider the following setup:
Bomb Placement 1

 

A flag defense of this sort was recommended by Ed Collins on his Stratego website, which was taken down sometime in 2012. Mr. Collins dubbed this setup “the Tempest.”

The weakness with this flag defense, however, is that it completely encloses the Captain on a2. For the rest of the game, then, Red will be playing down a Captain (a major piece)—unless Blue is foolhardy enough to release it by diffusing the bombs at a3 or b2! Since sending in Miners to take out the enemy flag is one of the laststeps of

systematic play, and is only done after obtaining a substantial material advantage, this means that if Blue is a systematic player, the Red Captain on a2 won’t see the light of day until Blue has established board domination and Red is already on the brink of losing anyway.

Even if the piece on a2 were merely a Sergeant, we could not recommend this setup—why play down a piece for no reason, even a Sergeant?
A similar result is seen from the following setup:
Bomb Placement 2

 

Here, although Red’s bomb placement is acceptable, it was a poor idea for him to place a Captain at a1. The Captain is a major piece and should be available for fighting in the Middle—it will not be able to enter the fray from its cloistered position on a1. Red will essentially be playing down a major piece for most of the middlegame.

Also, in the event that Blue does crash through on a2 with a Miner, Blue will undoubtedly also have sent in backup in the form of a General or Marshall. The Captain on a1 would then be lost in short order after being trapped by Blue’s heavy artillery.
So, what makes for good bomb placement? First, bombs should generally be placed entirely around the flag. The three best formations are given below:
Bomb Placement 3

 

The setups on the Right and Left Flanks economize bomb use, allowing a player to use more bombs elsewhere (thus defending against lottos). The setup in the middle is also strong because it allows for pieces from the Center, the Left Flank, and the Right Flank to come together to defend the flag.

This formation could of course be shifted over one square to the right. Other formations for guarding the flag should be used sparingly, since they all have some weakness. For instance, consider the following:
Bomb Placement 5

 

This formation, dubbed the “Wheel of Danger” by Ed Collins, appears more a diamond than a wheel and is none too dangerous for Blue. The problem here is that not only is the flag more vulnerable on the second rank than it is on the first rank (Blue doesn’t have to march down as far to capture it), but the bomb conglomeration in the center

will disrupt Red’s army’s coordination. The bomb pyramid divides Red’s armies into “Left Flank” and “Right Flank” divisions, and in order for a piece to cross from one side to the other, it must necessarily pass through the fourth rank. So, if Blue simply stationed his most powerful piece at e4 or f4 (after the Marshalls have been traded, for

instance), he would sever all Red’s communication between the two armies. Additionally, the bomb at e1 is “wasted” for the purpose of defending against lottos. No strong player would ever lotto a strong piece on the e1 square here—a strong player would first systematically determine the location of the bombs at d2, e3, and f2 (using a Scout Mill in the Center, for instance), then conclude that there was a bomb at e1.

Finally, it is difficult to imagine an effective position for a Scout Mill from the diagram above, since Red will have difficulty coordinating play in the Center.
So, the first two or three bombs should probably be used up protecting the flag on the back rank. What then? Well, it is important not to disrupt mobility along the fourth rank, or even along the third rank.

This means that a bomb could be placed nearly anywhere along the first and second ranks, and if it is placed on the third rank, it should probably be placed towards the side. Here is one example of an effective bomb setup:
Bomb Placement  6

 

Here, Red has placed two bombs to defend his flag. He has also placed two bombs towards the Center to discourage lottos in the late middlegame. Note how these bombs do not restrict the mobility of Red’s Scout Mill, however. Meanwhile, the bombs at i3 and j3 slightly restrict Blue’s march of progress on the Right Flank without actually limiting Red’s mobility on that side.

The Sergeants on i2 and j4 nicely guard the bombs against Miners.

Never forget where your opponents pieces are ever again

 

What you will learn?

  • How much information can our brains store?
  • How Chess Grand-masters are able to store way more information then beginners?
  • What is chunking?
  • How you can use chucking to stop forgetting pieces.

 

How much information can our brains store?

Board memory is the ability to remember all moved and unmoved pieces on the board, as well as the identities of any pieces which have been discovered. Board memory is of the utmost importance to Stratego strategy, as we have seen in the previous chapters.

 

When playing Stratego, it is of the utmost importance that you remember every piece the opponent has moved, and the identities of your opponent’s pieces. It is also important to remember which pieces you have moved, so that you have an understanding of what your opponent knows.

 

Each player begins with forty pieces, so that makes for up to potentially eighty pieces of information. How is a player supposed to remember all this?

 

Grandmasters and memory

Adrianus Dingeman de Groot (1914-2006) was a Dutch psychologist and chess master, and his studies on chess players—conducted in the 40s, 50s, and 60s—showed that a master chess player is

able to reconstruct from memory an entire chess position he has seen for the very first time in just a matter of seconds, whereas an amateur player is entirely incapable of doing so.

 

However, there was one caveat: the chess positions being committed to memory had to be one from real games (or at least “normal-looking” positions), not random ones.

 

When the pieces were scrambled in an entirely random fashion, the strong chess players did no better than the weaker ones in reconstructing the positions from memory.

 

What is chunking?

Thus, de Groot established his theory of “chunking.” His idea was that chess players group pieces they see into “chunks” of information. So instead of remembering where all thirty-two chess pieces were at any one time, the professional chess players only had to remember about five to seven “core” groups of pieces.

 

This fits with what we believe today about the human working memory, namely, that it is able to hold between five and nine pieces of information at any one time (see “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information,” by George A. Miller).

 

How can you use chunking to be better at Stratego?

In the same way, it is possible in Stratego to group pieces into different formations and thus to remember which ones have moved. For instance, consider the following position:

 

boardmemoryandchunking_clip_image002-300
The pieces that have moved are marked here. If you simply tried to remember every single piece here and whether or not it had moved, you would be in trouble: there are thirty-six Red pieces on the board and thirty-six Blue pieces, so that would make for a total of seventy-two pieces of information.

 

This is far beyond the working memory capacity of most humans. Of course, it might be possible to remember only the individual pieces that have moved. This would result in thirteen pieces of information—which is difficult, but not entirely impossible to remember.

 

However, after a few additional pieces were moved (and the number of moved pieces rose to, say, twenty), someone pursuing this strategy for keeping track of the pieces would have an impossible task.

With chunking, however, it is easily possible to remember which pieces have moved.

 

View the board again, this time in the following way:

 

boardmemoryandchunking_clip_image004-300

 

 

Looking at the board this way, there are only three pieces of information to remember: the cluster on the Left Flank, the cluster in the Center, and the cluster on the Right Flank. Two of these shapes are rectangles (a very easy shape to remember), so only the constellation in the Center is “difficult.”

 

Even then, however, practically anyone could remember which pieces have moved. It is also helpful for the players to note that they do not have to remember which enemy pieces that have wandered past the fourth or seventh ranks, respectively.

 

The Blue pieces on a6, b6, a5, and b5 have obviously been moved—otherwise, they would not be where they are.

Thus, the key to having a good board memory is to be good at chunking—the process of grouping the pieces into easy-to-remember shapes.

 

Obviously, the more games of Stratego you play, the better you will get at remembering various patterns, since you will have seen them before.

 

However, it would be helpful to immediately build your pattern base by quickly examining three of the most basic shapes.

 

boardmemoryandchunking_clip_image006-76x

Red has an untouched flank. In order to remember eight pieces of information here, the only thing necessary is to remember that Red has not moved any pieces on his Left Flank.

 

boardmemoryandchunking_clip_image008-76x

 

Red has advanced in a square formation. All four of his pieces towards the middle have moved, and none in the back has moved. This is another easy way to remember eight pieces of information at once.

 

Blue should also keep in mind that he doesnt have to remember which Red pieces have moved above the fourth rank, too: if a Red piece is above the fourth rank, it has obviously been moved.

 

boardmemoryandchunking_clip_image010-77x

 

Red has a flag formation on the Left Flank. Although only Red knows whether or not there is actually a flag on a1, chances are that his pieces on a1, a2, and b1 will be left unmoved for some time in order to avoid revealing further information.

 

Both sides only need to remember that Red is keeping a flag formation in the bottom corner and that all of his other pieces on the Left Flank have been moved, thus condensing several pieces of information down into one manageable chunk.

 

With practice, chunking will become natural. Soon, you will be able to keep track of all the moved and unmoved pieces on the board without a tremendous amount of effort.

 

With this ability, you will be able to conquer weaker foes quickly, and will be able to hold your own with the Stratego masters.