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Subject: Skill/Good player = person who wins a lot? rss

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Peter Knapp
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Reading some threads here, sometimes you hear that the person who wins most is the most skillful/better, or a "good" player.

Is it possible to be a good/skillful player but still not win games very often?

Two thoughts that may impact the situation:

1) Luck based games (sometimes your dice roll doesn't go your way)

2) Other players (players not playing how "they should/expect them to optimally perform", or they too having equal or greater skill)
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Ravage Board Gaming
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pedro_ak wrote:

2) Other players (players not playing how "they should/expect them to optimally perform")

A good player will adapt to an opponent's playing style. If they're not doing so, they're not good even if the opponent is playing suboptimally.
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Andreas Pettersson
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To me it feels like the definition of a good/skillful player is a player that wins more than average (at least in a given group/context).

That said, I still want to add another possible reason. A player that is good in one or more specific types of games might bring that playstyle or thinking into other games where that playstyle is actually a detriment to success.

I can't come up with any specific gaming examples but if I went to the UK and drove a car, a lot of my experience and instincts from everyday driving in Sweden (right side of the road) could actually be dangerous behavior in the UK (driving on the left side).
 
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Kasper Lauest
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Stomski wrote:
pedro_ak wrote:

2) Other players (players not playing how "they should/expect them to optimally perform")

A good player will adapt to an opponent's playing style. If they're not doing so, they're not good even if the opponent is playing suboptimally.

Yes, but in some type of games the less good players might gang up on the good player, preventing that player from winning.
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Nicholas
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Concerning 1): A "good" player should usually be able to migitate that luck in some way or choose the highest probability of winning. Therefore, if you do play the game enough, he will win more than less skillful players. However, depending on the amount of luck (variance) in the game, this might be a really high number of games played, which many groups may never achieve.
If there is a significant gap between player skill, a single dice roll should not determine the winner of the game in most games. Of course there are exceptions.

2) Adapting to other players is part of being a good player. In poker there's a line (plan to play a hand) which is best if you know nothing about your opponent. However, as soon as you know something about your opponent, that line may stop being the best play and you may have to adapt your play to maximize your expected value ("fold" could also be the choice that maximizes the ev).
The same is true in any board game. If you do not adapt your plans on other players, you will perform worse than someone with the same "skill level" who does.

Obviously, a good player can dominante one play group and be the "most skillful/better" player and then play in another group, where he is the weakest player. So he might still be a "good" player, but no longer the "most skillful/better" player.

Conclusion: If someone is the most skillful/better player, he should win more than any other player in group. If he does not, he is either not the most skillful player or the group actively colludes against him.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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pedro_ak wrote:
Reading some threads here, sometimes you hear that the person who wins most is the most skillful/better, or a "good" player.

Yes, by definition. Think an impromptu ELO rating here. You cannot be good or skillful if you don't win often.

Quote:
1) Luck based games (sometimes your dice roll doesn't go your way)

Doesn't matter. The good player will, over time, win more often.

Quote:
2) Other players (players not playing how "they should/expect them to optimally perform", or they too having equal or greater skill)

If they have greater skill, THEY will win more often. You are comparing single outcomes of games to multiple ones. Skill is defined in terms of the latter.
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Russ Williams
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"Good player" is relative to other players. In isolation, how can you say whether a player is "good" or not? To a new player of Go, a 10-kyu player is a "good player" who can easily defeat the new player in an even game. To the 10-kyu player, a 1-dan is a "good player" who can similarly easily defeat the 10-kyu in an even game. To the 1-dan, a professional is a "good player".


A person who wins a lot could be winning a lot for a variety of reasons:
1. They are indeed the best player in their group.
2. They are lucky and the group is playing highly random non-strategic games.
3. Some other player is intentionally helping them win (with or without their knowledge).
4. They are the only player trying to win; the others are just goofing around "for fun" or whatever.
5. They cheat. ninja
...etc etc...
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Chris
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One thing we need to remember is that there's a major difference between a strategy being game-theoretically optimal (GTO) and being maximally-exploitative (ME). Oftentimes, an ME strategy isn't GTO at all, but will win more emphatically against a specific (set of) opponent(s).

Take rock-paper-scissors as an example.

The game-theoretic optimum is to select truly at random. This means nobody knows what you're going to do (not even you, ideally), it's impossible to develop a procedural counter-strategy and, over a large enough sample set, your results will tend towards break-even. This is the optimal strategy versus the probability space of the game itself and can be demonstrated mathematically.

If, however, you know your opponent always picks "rock", the smart thing to do would be to always pick "paper". Similarly, if your opponent always starts by picking "scissors" and then always picks whatever you picked last time, you counter that by starting with "rock", then "paper", then "scissors". You both end up chasing each other round the circle(/triangle) but you always win and they always lose. These are the maximally-exploitative strategies to the respective approaches.

But note: ME strategies are only better than GTO because they're based on an understanding not factored into the maths of the GTO calculation: advanced knowledge of what your opponent is going (or is likely) to do. To put it another way: they represent the optimal strategy versus the probability space of the player operating within the game's constraints -- not that of the game itself. Note also that the maximally-exploitative strategies are themselves exploitable-as-all-hell; it doesn't take much of a shift in the behaviour of Player A to make Player B's strategy an extreme weakness rather than a benefit. In fact: It's been observed that maximal exploitation is the willingness to deviate from game-theoretically-optimal in response to other player's deviations thereof. To put it yet another way: You're shouldering more risk in the hope of greater reward (predicated on the notion/hope/assumption/calculation that you've diagnosed your opponents actions correctly).

The last, but important thing to say about maximal-exploitation is that it necessitates adaptivity -- and this makes quantifying it hard because the same adaptivity that makes a player maximally-exploitative in one context might also mean that, in another, they have a willingness to change strategies in a way that turns out to have been for the worse. Ploughing a tried-and-tested furrow is inherently less risky than improvising. This means that measuring ME is always a sum of the-times-it-worked vs. the-times-it-didn't. A good player in this sense will go wrong less often than a bad one, but even a "bad" one will have a few sessions where they made the correct adjustments versus the table state and win handsomely. Differences in adaptability will probably even break down by game type. I know someone who's wonderfully adaptive when it comes to strategies in rigorously deterministic games, but seems to lose their bearings when the randomness gets high enough (even though randomness is equivalently calculable): i.e. she's great at Concordia and Trajan but rubbish at Hold 'em.

This give you at least three metrics to assess whether someone's a good player or not: win-rate; how closely they play to GTO; how maximally-exploitative they are (with the necessary adaptive qualities to be so).

Win rate can be a measure of how good a player is but it depends on two things: the inherent randomness of the game and the sample size. The larger the randomness, the larger the sample size is going to have to be and that can create calculation problems. Take poker as an example: understanding and manipulating your opponents' understanding and manipulation of the "randomness"/probabilities of the game is the game. This necessitates a very large sample size to even out the swings (You can go "all in" with 98% probability of success and still lose, as -- by definition -- every so often they will hit the only card that can save them). However: a very large sample size in a game like poker mitigates against measuring maximally-exploitative play, as the odds of playing the same opponents, in the same style, with the same stack states for a large enough number of samples is impossible. All you can measure is long-term success, but that doesn't tell you whether the player's mastered some type of universally-applicable GTO play, or whether what you're seeing is simply the net sum of dozens of different-and-separate ME-adjusted sessions. The two are hard to tell apart from the numbers. Variance is a whole other related topic: X_big_win - X_massive_loss = NoGain - NoLoss = 0. They look the same from a distance.

The other thing to say about win rate is that, even in games with little to no randomness, most people vastly underestimate the number of samples required for win-rate to become meaningful. Short version: it's a lot larger than many people think. Long version: google "statistical significance". In a two player game with no randomness it's lower than in in a 6-way game with card draws and dice rolls, but it's still a surprisingly high number. As a pure anecdote, we had a long-running session of Love Letter recently between 3 people that finished 17-3-1. Clearly a good player, right? Well, maybe, but they didn't win another round for the rest of the fortnight.

TLDR: In my opinion, it is possible to talk about what makes a good player, but you have to be very careful in doing so. It depends on the nature of the game, the nature of the players and the sample size. If two chess players have 300 games and one is leading 257-43, that's probably a good indication that they have a definite and fairly-wide edge. If 6 players have 3000 hands of PLO, that's nowhere near enough to talk meaningfully about it; even if one or two players are clearly up.


Spoiler (click to reveal)
Holy crap -- that's way more than I intended to write. My apologies for the rambling.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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Triboluminous wrote:
Holy crap -- that's way more than I intended to write. My apologies for the rambling.

'The good player is only good for as long as he continues to win more often. The moment that is no longer true, for whatever reason, he is also no longer (as) good (as he was).'
 
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Russ Williams
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cymric wrote:
'The good player is only good for as long as he continues to win more often. The moment that is no longer true, for whatever reason, he is also no longer (as) good (as he was).'


"For whatever reason?" Even simply changing opponent? That leads to a paradox:

E.g.
I play a newbie in Shogi repeatedly and win repeatedly.
Then I play a much stronger player in Shogi repeatedly and lose repeatedly.

I'm suddenly not as a good a player? But nothing about me or my Shogi skill/knowledge changed.

(Or substitute "a computer program" for "I" in the above. Is the computer program suddenly not as good a player, even though literally nothing about the program was changed?)

It seems too relative a notion of "good". I said above that "good" seems relative to the group you're playing with, but your statement seems to zoom in too narrowly, permitting us to judge goodness by how one plays with an individual opponent, and then a different opponent. It seems more interesting/useful to look at a player's performance relative to a pool of players. Just because one starts losing doesn't mean one is no longer a good player, if the reason is that one is now playing games against a much stronger player.
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Bryan Thunkd
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pedro_ak wrote:
Is it possible to be a good/skillful player but still not win games very often?
Possible, but unlikely. Winning is usually the standard by which we measure whether someone is good at games.

Obviously, a good player can and often will lose to a better player. But if the players in your area are all better than you, then you're not a good player, at least among that group. If you widen the scope, perhaps you can claim to be good with reference to a larger population, but as you don't play in that wider universe, it's not really terribly relevant. I know a 7 dan Go player (a very high rank for an amateur player) who will tell you he's not a good player because he's measuring himself against a field of better players. TLDR: Good is a relative term.

A good player will lose occasionally to random swings of luck... but it's unlikely that prolonged losses represent random swings of luck. If a player continually loses, that suggests a constant factor rather than a random one. Good players are also better at hedging and mitigating randomness.

A good player may lose because some other player plays poorly and sets up a third player, but again this shouldn't be a constant factor. Either you stop playing with the poor player or you adjust your strategy to account for him. Either way, prolonged losses point to some other cause.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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russ wrote:
I'm suddenly not as a good a player? But nothing about me or my Shogi skill/knowledge changed.

Well, since skill is always relative to someone else I don't really see the problem. Only in a few pathological cases where the entire game state tree is known is an absolute measurement of these terms possible... but at the same time people haven't stopped playing for example Checkers because the game was solved a few years ago. Thus relative notions of skill and being a skilled player will persist.

Quote:
(Or substitute "a computer program" for "I" in the above. Is the computer program suddenly not as good a player, even though literally nothing about the program was changed?)

Even for computer programs who do not make use of the full state tree the notion of skill only exists in relation to other players.

Quote:
It seems too relative a notion of "good".

Without knowledge of the state tree, there can be no other. You seem to want to have some absolute sense of skill: well, there can only be a stand-in of sorts, by assuming a linearly increasing skill rank, and marking off how much of that rank is below you. I.e., a statistical quantile of sorts. But that comes with a sting (see below).

Quote:
I said above that "good" seems relative to the group you're playing with, but your statement seems to zoom in too narrowly, permitting us to judge goodness by how one plays with an individual opponent, and then a different opponent.

I'd add 'for a statistically significant amount of games' to satisfy Triboluminous' excellent points; but generally, yes.

Quote:
It seems more interesting/useful to look at a player's performance relative to a pool of players. Just because one starts losing doesn't mean one is no longer a good player, if the reason is that one is now playing games against a much stronger player.

But the thing is: it works both ways. The much stronger player could only know he's much stronger because he often bests players who are 'merely skilled'. There's no such thing knowing deus ex machina what your skill in a game is (pathological cases with known state trees excepted).

Take Go. A player who is 1 kyu 'knows' he's 1 kyu because of the win-loss ratios against people who are 'known' to be 2, 3, 4, ... kyu; and 1, 2, 3, ... dan. If some sort of mishap were to befall all dan-level players erasing the collective memory of their level (but not their knowledge of the game), then only by painstakingly playing a gazillion games could the dan-level skill rank be re-established. Perhaps for a while the 1 kyu-player might be reigning champion. But as soon as someone beats him regularly, he has to resign himself to getting a lower rank, and thus becoming a less skilled player.

This has happened for real, as I'm sure you'll realise: look at AlphaGo, the program which beat Lee Sedol 9p convincingly, and rather out of the blue too. AlphaGo is the better player, so either it is now 9p with the rest of the world moving down; or it is 10p. No matter how you look at it, Sedol just became a less skilled (colloquially: 'worse', 'lesser') player... just because we now know the game can be played in a better way. How is an open question, but skill ranks don't require us to understand 'how'. Put another way: Our knowledge of the state tree prior to AlphaGo was incomplete, it has now suddenly increased by a measurable amount, so the entire body of players has to be re-rated accordingly. (This is the sting I alluded to above.)

Finally, very important to realise is that there is no disdain in the above qualifications. It doesn't make you less as a person or as a player that your skill isn't as high as that of others. Normally we use words like 'good' and 'bad' and 'better' and 'lesser' for this, but to illustrate the point I removed all references in this reply, instead opting for 'more or less skilled'.
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Russ Williams
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cymric wrote:
Take Go. A player who is 1 kyu 'knows' he's 1 kyu because of the win-loss ratios against people who are 'known' to be 2, 3, 4, ... kyu; and 1, 2, 3, ... dan.

Exactly. And if he now happens to play a series of even games against weaker players and wins them, and then he happens to play a series of even games against stronger players and loses them, it seems obvious nonsense to say that he suddenly become "less good", and then to say he suddenly became "better" if he then wins some easy games against weaker players again later.

Quote:
If some sort of mishap were to befall all dan-level players erasing the collective memory of their level (but not their knowledge of the game), then only by painstakingly playing a gazillion games could the dan-level skill rank be re-established. Perhaps for a while the 1 kyu-player might be reigning champion. But as soon as someone beats him regularly, he has to resign himself to getting a lower rank, and thus becoming a less skilled player.

This seems to be equating "rank" and "skill" in a way that seems a bit dodgy. If his rank changes, that does not mean that his skill has changed. In your example, it means that we simply have more data about him (i.e. how he performed against this other player of known rank) and so we reestimate his rank more accurately. Also, ratings systems are sometimes recallibrated, for example, causing everyone's rating's and ranks to change, but we surely wouldn't say that everyone's skill suddenly changed...

Quote:
This has happened for real, as I'm sure you'll realise: look at AlphaGo, the program which beat Lee Sedol 9p convincingly, and rather out of the blue too. AlphaGo is the better player, so either it is now 9p with the rest of the world moving down; or it is 10p. No matter how you look at it, Sedol just became a less skilled (colloquially: 'worse', 'lesser') player...

Not at all! Sedol did not suffer some amnesia that reduced his skill.

Quote:
just because we now know the game can be played in a better way. How is an open question, but skill ranks don't require us to understand 'how'. Put another way: Our knowledge of the state tree prior to AlphaGo was incomplete, it has now suddenly increased by a measurable amount, so the entire body of players has to be re-rated accordingly. (This is the sting I alluded to above.)

Hmm? You've lost me here. Why does everyone have to be rerated, as opposed to simply noting that this new player AlphaGo simply has a higher rating than Sedol?

E.g. if we know that water boils at 100 degrees, and then we find some other liquid which boils at a higher temperature, that doesn't force us to change the value at which water boils; we just note whatever higher temperature the other liquid boils at.


Quote:
Finally, very important to realise is that there is no disdain in the above qualifications. It doesn't make you less as a person or as a player that your skill isn't as high as that of others. Normally we use words like 'good' and 'bad' and 'better' and 'lesser' for this, but to illustrate the point I removed all references in this reply, instead opting for 'more or less skilled'.

I often prefer "strong" more than "good" since "good" could sound perhaps like a character/moral/ethical judgment if someone isn't clear on the context. But your use of "skill"/"skillful" also seems confusing to me - the skills that a player have (e.g. knowledge of specific joseki, tactical fighting skills, etc) seem a more constant and concrete set of knowledge, as opposed to their rating, or their current strength.
 
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Greg
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It is possible to be a skillful player and not win games very often - but it requires that they be prioritising something other than winning.

For instance a player who *could* win 90% of games, but really wants to see if it's possible to win in some bizaare way or using some underpowered ability and keeps trying it remains skillful - they're just applying their skill to a different problem ('How can I do X' rather than 'How can I win?')

Similarly a skilled player might opt to play with a handicap. This will cause them to win less often, but it doesn't make them less skilled.
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Rob Stevenson
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The first thing that popped into my head when I read this was something that baseball manager Billy Beane, subject of the book and film Moneyball said regarding a prospect:

"My only question is, if he's that good a hitter why doesn't he hit better?"

If someone loses because they are only playing against a small set of opponents that are more skilled than them, then you need a bigger sample size - how do they perform against other opponents?

If they lose because a game is entirely or greatly luck dependent then the extent to which one can be a "good player" of that game has little substance anyway.

Self-scouting is the most difficult thing to do, because over-estimation of our own abilities and the impact of negative events outside our control -"bad luck"- is so strong. Being objective is hard.
 
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Larry L
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Are you playing multiplayer games? You should expect to lose more than you win if you regularly play games with more than two players.


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Maarten D. de Jong
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russ wrote:
Exactly. And if he now happens to play a series of even games against weaker players and wins them, and then he happens to play a series of even games against stronger players and loses them, it seems obvious nonsense to say that he suddenly become "less good", and then to say he suddenly became "better" if he then wins some easy games against weaker players again later.

So why does that seem obvious nonsense? The measurement is always relative; and always follows after having played the statistically correct number of games. (For purposes of this discussion I'm equating that number to 'something very small', but that doesn't affect matters.) Relative is not the same, and does not behave the same, as absolute.

Quote:
This seems to be equating "rank" and "skill" in a way that seems a bit dodgy. If his rank changes, that does not mean that his skill has changed.

I used the expression 'body of strategic and tactical knowledge' for this particular instance of 'skill', but it may not have survived several edits of the reply. If indeed it hasn't, I introduce it now. It makes much more clear that we're talking quite distinct things.

Unfortunately, there is no way to compare those bodies of knowledge, and thus no way to tell whether a player is 'good' unless you have them actually use that knowledge in an actual game against an opponent. (Okay, you can think of extreme cases where one player is not aware of basic tactics and strategy while his opponent is. I hope we can agree to exclude those cases.) As I understand matters in this discussion this is really the point of contention. You seem to want to stop at 'the body of knowledge'. Some players know (quite a lot) more than others, and are thus likely better (if not 'good') players. My stance is that far too often you cannot say for certain unless you actually have them duke it out: a highly standardised solution which always yields an accurate result. The only thing it requires is a bit of flexibility with what 'good' then means.

Quote:
In your example, it means that we simply have more data about him (i.e. how he performed against this other player of known rank) and so we reestimate his rank more accurately. Also, ratings systems are sometimes recallibrated, for example, causing everyone's rating's and ranks to change, but we surely wouldn't say that everyone's skill suddenly changed...

If you do an 's/skill/body of knowledge/g' you'll see that the argument fits in perfectly with the above.

Quote:
Not at all! Sedol did not suffer some amnesia that reduced his skill.

Again, s/skill/body of knowledge/g.

Quote:
Hmm? You've lost me here. Why does everyone have to be rerated, as opposed to simply noting that this new player AlphaGo simply has a higher rating than Sedol?

Because in Go the highest rank is 9p. It's a fixed symbolism. If AlphaGo is 9p, then it cannot win consistently against Lee Sedol who is also 9p. Either Lee Sedol is then not 9p, or AlphaGo cheats. Discarding the latter option, Sedol must move down to 8p. Which causes others at 8p he beat more often than he lost to move down to 7p, ad 40 kyu-itum.

That said, I believe official real-life Go muddles the waters considerably by not re-rating players and only noting their highest ever rank. I've been talking about an actual rank.

Quote:
I often prefer "strong" more than "good" since "good" could sound perhaps like a character/moral/ethical judgment if someone isn't clear on the context. But your use of "skill"/"skillful" also seems confusing to me - the skills that a player have (e.g. knowledge of specific joseki, tactical fighting skills, etc) seem a more constant and concrete set of knowledge, as opposed to their rating, or their current strength.

Perhaps an unfortunate choice of word on my behalf then, no biggie really.
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The good player will have plot on his side, which is why Batman always wins coolcoolcool
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cymric wrote:
russ wrote:
Exactly. And if he now happens to play a series of even games against weaker players and wins them, and then he happens to play a series of even games against stronger players and loses them, it seems obvious nonsense to say that he suddenly become "less good", and then to say he suddenly became "better" if he then wins some easy games against weaker players again later.

So why does that seem obvious nonsense? The measurement is always relative;

Because I believe that typical usage of "he's a good player" etc is relative to the general pool of players, not just relative to the specific individual player against whom he just played a few games. (Or at least it is in my personal experience, but I'm happy to concede that your personal experience may be different.) If I say "Bob is a good Shogi player, his rating is blah-blah", Bob does not suddenly become a worse player if he plays a few games against a stronger player and gets his butt kicked.

But in the end, I think this discussion is illustrating that the terminology is too murky and used ambiguously or undefinedly in diverse contexts by diverse people. So I'm happy to drop it, as one of those threads which will otherwise just go around in pointless semantic circles.
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Ravage Board Gaming
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This thread turned out to be a good thread.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
...or did it?
 
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"Yes" for solo or two player games, "not necessarily" for multiplayer games.

What about the player who cheats? Winning a game is defined as following the rules of the game to achieve the victory condition, so a cheater cannot win, he can only be thought to have won.

What about the player who doesn't try? Being a good player requires more than intellectual skill in the abstract. In particular, it requires some amount of determination. It's possible to not be a good player because of one's attitude.

What about a lucky player? No such thing exists in the long run. The probability of sustained luckiness goes to zero as the number of results increases. However, many results may need to be analyzed before arriving at a conclusion that merits statistical confidence. Even in a game without randomness, it is theoretically possible for an inept player to stumble into making all good moves.

To demonstrate that the claim is not necessarily true for multiplayer games, it suffices to exhibit an extreme case where it is obviously not true. Just imagine one player clearly better than the others and those others clearly biased against him based on some personal attribute. Surely it would be absurd to assert that someone is a poor player because he has the wrong skin color or hairstyle.
 
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Lots of situations come into mind here. At face value, a player can be "good" but not win all the time. If you're a really good player and against another really good player, what are you if you lose?

And what if your an average player, the game looked tough to onlookers and the opponent was actually terrible?

If you are truly good at a game, you will win most of the time. Evidence to this theory comes from non other than the history of Chess. Look at the champions. There are players of the game who have never ever been beaten. They are only gone because they retired. (Well, never been beating since becoming masters). Then there are those you can't beat unless you are master yourself. It's just sad to try.

There are people like this in all games, even luck based. Some are so good in the luck zone that it's uncanny. It's just how it is for them.

Finally there are different "levels" of good and bad, hence the use of "rankings" in many gaming tournament scenarios.
 
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Steve B
Ireland
Derry
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I am good at not being able to shuffle one card
 
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Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
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bradelli wrote:
I am good at not being able to shuffle one card

I am especially skilled at shuffling one card in a defective semi-coop game!
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Bryan Thunkd
United States
Florence
MA
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russ wrote:
bradelli wrote:
I am good at not being able to shuffle one card

I am especially skilled at shuffling one card in a defective semi-coop game!
Too soon.
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