Here a few tips that I think will help beginners learn how to play the game well a little more quickly. I wouldn't take this as gospel; I'm not the world's best player, but I do tend to float in and out of the Top Ten on flexgames.com so at the very least I'm pretty sure this won't be a steaming pile of manure.
None of these rules are absolute! For example, don't listen to me when I say "try for a 6-6-6" if there are already four sixes played elsewhere on the board! Use your head.
The first thing is that you must memorize the ranking of the hands. The ranking of the hands is as follows:
1. Straight flush
2. Three of a kind
A plain flush is a fairly bad showing and a plain straight is outright awful. You should be trying for #1 or #2 as much as possible, at least until you are able to deduce that you can win it anyway with a crap hand, or you're going to lose it anyway with your best.
What the rest of the hands below three-of-a-kind are is *fallback* hands; the hands you end up with as a consolation prize when you miss what you were really shooting for.
Suppose you've played only the red 5 on a stone. If you should draw the red 4, and the red 3 and 6 are still unseen, playing this red 4 onto the red 5 is generally a strong move. There are now two cards in the deck that *either one* of them would produce a straight flush for you. If it's early in the game, the odds you'll get at least one are high; well over 50-50.
Back to that lone red 5. Suppose now that you were tempted to play a yellow 5 onto it. Do this with caution! A 5-5-5 is not a crap hand, as covered above, but the problem with this is that if you don't get that third five, you have no safety net whatsoever except for a *miserable* 5-5-9 "wild hand"! This is what's so great about going for the straight flush; if you don't get it, you can at least settle for a plain flush -- a crap hand to be sure, but a *high* crap hand. Even settling for a plain straight -- wretched -- is still better than that 5-5-9 fiasco.
Pop quiz: which is the best card of a color? The nine, right? It's highest, and high total wins ties, so that's got to be the best, right? I'm not so sure. The card that makes me smile is the *seven*. Think about this: the three best hands you can make in the game are the straight flushes 7-8-9, 6-7-8, and 5-6-7. What the three best hands all have in common is that they all require a seven! Nine is a difficult card to use because there's only *one* way to make a straight flush out of it -- you *must* get the 7 and the 8. Seven means you have lots of options open.
This also means that I tend to like sixes better than eights. In fact if the purple 9 is already out then the six is my favorite purple card altogether.
In Schotten-Totten you're constantly hoping that your opponent will play his first card to a stone before you play your first card there, and that he'll play his second card to that stone before you play your second. Whoever plays later has the advantage of information, which is absolutely *key* in this game. Of course, you can hardly make this happen all the time, since each of you has to play a card in turn the whole game long. But in the cases where you must charge ahead on a particular stone, be aware of how your opponent can make use of the information you're giving him. Are you just telling him exactly what he wants to know, so that hey can simply delay playing to that stone until he has just what he needs to win it?
So if you're lucky and the opponent plays the first card to a stone, what should you play there? Generally you want to try to go one or two higher, reserving yourself that tie-breaking advantage. If the opponent's card is a 7 or 8, you may not want to do this as explained above; I prefer to try to wait to see what he'll play next there before choosing my counterattack. If the opponent's card is a 9, you obviously can't go any higher, so you might as well play something low like a 3.
How about when you're lucky and an opponent has played two cards to a stone that you've played only one? What should you do here? I have a rule of thumb for this that I often apply:
* If your card is higher than his, go for the *same* formation
* If your card is lower than his, go for the *opposite* formation
Remember, there are only two formations that matter, so when I say "opposite", I mean 'three of a kind if he's going for straight flush; straight flush if he's going for three of a kind'.
This will take some explaining. It centers around the idea that now you and your opponent both have your "wish cards" that you're hoping to add to form a full formation. If one of you gets his wish and the other doesn't, it's safe to assume that player will win the stone. There's not much you can do about that. What you want to accomplish is to make sure that if both of you get your wish or neither of you get your wish, YOU will be the one who wins. Examples:
* Opponent: red 4, red 5. You: blue 7.
A blue 6 or blue 8 is a good play here. If you don't get your wish card and your opponent does, fine -- you lost that stone and there's nothing you could really have done. And if you get yours and he doesn't get his, of course you win. If you both get your wishes, you win, because you were able to play higher. But what's especially nice about this is that if neither of you get your wish cards, you are STILL likely to win -- because you can probably make a better flush than he can!
* Opponent: red 4, red 5. You: green 3.
Here going for a straight flush brings misery -- it's the inverse of the example just given. Play another 3 on this stone. The reasoning goes: if he gets his wish card, you can't win anyway. So plan for the possibility that he won't, in which case a lowly 3-3-3 will be enough to beat the best flush he was able to cobble together.
* Opponent: two 5's. You: yellow 6.
This tends to suggest you may want to go for 6-6-6. If one of you gets his wish card and the other doesn't, he obviously wins, but if either you both get them or neither of you get them, you still win!
* Opponent: two 5's. You: yellow 4.
Yellow 3 or 5 makes good sense here. This way you still have a chance to win if he gets his wish, and you can easily win with any crappy straight if he doesn't get his wish.
Again, if you're high, this tends to suggest going for the *same* formation; if you're low, it tends to recommend the *opposite* formation.
Corollary: you know how you sometimes get those three 1's in your hand and you are tempted to play them off on one edge just to clear them out of your hand? A great place to play these, if at all possible, is on a stone where an opponent has played a 6-7 or 7-8 of like color. In this situation you say to yourself, "if he gets his wish then he's won it no matter what, so all I need to do is make sure I win if he *doesn't* get his wish." And 1-1-1 is plenty good enough for that.
Winning a stone before the other player has played all three cards to that stone is highly uncomfortable for the losing player. He has lost an opportunity to ditch junk from his hand and replace it with something better. But it's not only that, either. Realize that, with 54 cards in the deck, each of you has 27 cards to play in a full game. This equals 9 x 3 exactly, which is the number of 'spaces' in front of you on your side of the playing area. When you lose stones without filling them up first, these precious spaces become lost forever, so the more this happens the tighter the pressure is going to be on you in the endgame. You'll long for a place to toss your red 3 so that you can prove your opponent can't win a stone with his red 4-5, but you may end up stuck with nowhere to put it that won't "break" one of your hopeful formations! I've certainly lost a few games over this.
So, all other things being equal, try to gyp your opponent out of filling that third space and try to avoid being gypped yourself. The most important rule here is simply to pay attention; claim stones as soon as they're eligible, and ditch cards as soon as you know your opponent can claim. But this also implies that when your opponent has two cards on a stone and you only one or fewer, you should be feeling *some* pressure to hurry up and get some cards down there before it's too late. It's not worth screwing up your chances to win the stone over this, just something to bear in mind.
There is so much more to say -- I haven't, for example, touched on the topic of the Three-Stone Threat -- but all this talk has got me itching to play a few hands. I'll come back and post more later.
Please let me know if any of you found this helpful!
I will break him.
Helpful tactical advice. The breakthrough (three flags won in a row) is what usually wins the games I play and there is a lot of thought in deciding where to push for the break and where to stall your opponent. As you reach the mid game, you will often have cards that can be played at multiple locations. It becomes important to decide which area is most likely to threaten a breakthrough and the win.
Typically, you want to play cards in a weak-weak-strong formation. What this means is that for every two possible weak formations next to each other (as in your opponent could win a flag there) you want to have a strong formation where you will probably win. This defensive tactic will minimize the possibility of your opponent scoring three flags in a row against you, since at either end of those two weak formations you will have a strong formation. To be able to maintain this formation you need to avoid playing cards to the third flag from two possible weak formations until you have some confidence that you can defeat what your opponent has played there or may play there.
Evaluating the strength of formations requires you to be aware of the cards on the table and the probable cards you opponent may be holding based on what has been played already. This involves simple probability calculations. As in, if you are hoping for three 10s in a row, you are holding 2 tens, and 3 tens have already been played, there is only one more ten in the deck. You then compare that chance of success against other possible winning plays you may have. These calculations is what makes Battleline / Schotten Totten an great game.
There are more tactical play tricks. You sometimes don’t want to immediately declare the strength of a formation you are holding, hoping to bait your opponent into wasting good cards against it. For example, if you are holding the 10-9-8 straight flush, you could play it quickly and leave your opponent with two missed card plays on that flag when you claim it (he probably discard at least 1 card to this). Another possibility is to play the 8 and wait for your opponent to attempt to beat it with a 9 for example. You then immediately respond with your 9. Perhaps he will be foolish and play his 10 or 8, in which case he is communicating a straight flush which you defeat by playing yours first.
Other tricks include concentrating your best cards in a wing rather than the center, but not making it obvious. I find most people play their strong cards in the middle, but you can follow a defensive middle formation and attack a wing instead.
Also I would not dismiss the other formations, such as a flush or straight. Towards the endgame it is often these weaker formations that seal a win, when it becomes obvious that the more powerful formations are not possible. You need to keep this in mind when playing you cards to a formation. What has your opponent played? What is the most efficient method of beating him? Which card can you play to work towards this formation that also keeps other possibilities alive?
A wonderful card game.
Pop quiz: which is the best card of a color? The nine, right? It's highest, and high total wins ties, so that's got to be the best, right? I'm not so sure. The card that makes me smile is the *seven*.
Completely agree. New players often get caught "leading" a 9, thinking it's a strong play. However, it's often a play that will be trumped by 3 1s or a 234 straight flush.