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Subject: The Stavropol Impartisans rss

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Benedikt Rosenau
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Stavropol Checkers introduces a simple meta-rule: you may move a piece of either colour. Standard rules for direction of movement, precedence of capture, and so on still apply. The result is a Checkers game with shared pieces.

The motivation for the rule shows when you see that you can make good moves for yourself and suicide moves for your opponent. This creates a lot of pitfalls which may give the impression that the heart of the game is making bad moves for your opponent. I am not sure that this holds for experienced players. The game has a dynamic of its own, and both good or bad play are different from standard Checkers.

Game-theoretically, shared pieces mean that Stavropol Checkers is a relative of games like Boxes or Phutball. Stavropol Checkers moves Checkers towards impartisan games (the title of the review is misleading in so far as Checkers does not arrive there. Yet, it sounds good, so sue me). These games are about parity, and it happens in Stavropol, too.

In Stavropol, advanced stones are usually exposed in the sense that the opponent can push them forwards to their own capture. However, that capture creates an advanced stone for the opponent whose capture will give another advanced stone for you again. These indirect exchanges can repeat several times and require exact calculation up to the endgame.

Endgames can be drawish despite imbalanced material (in one case, king and two men vs. man) after kings have appeared. This happens when the weaker player has his stone(s) safely anchored at the edge and uses the initiative to move the opponent's king onto fields where it can be sacrificed on the next move. Then, the player with more material has no option but to move the king away with repeating positions. There is no ko or super-ko rule forbidding it, and such a rule would not help much anyway. Other than that, endgames appear to be pretty decisive. "Having the move" (opposition) is as important as in standard Checkers.

An opening line that will give a taste of the game: 1. h6-g5 White believes that it is easier to make a bad move with the Black stones than a good move with the White stones 1. ... g5-h4 2. f6-g5 Same idea again.

2. ... g3-f4! Black agrees to assist White 3. f4xh6 White's hope has become true. If he gets to move f8, a massacre will ensue 3. ... f2-g3 4. h4xf2xd4 c3xe5 5. d6xf4 Both players had to capture their own men on their moves, and material balance is the result. But how can Black deal with h6? 5. ... h2-g3 6. g3xe5 White prefers to capture the Black man instead of f4xh2. But now, e5 is exposed which will help Black in getting rid of h6, too 6. ... e7-f6 7. f6xd4 d2-c3 8. c3xe5 e5-f6 9. g7xe5 h6-g7 and Black will be two men up. Note: Stavropol is based on Russian Checkers which feature backward capture by men.

Stavropol Checkers belongs to a group of games that can be labelled as "From Russia, with weirdness". Other games of the group are Bashni and Tavreli. Of these, Stavropol achieves the most weirdness with the least change. Players usually react favorably to being introduced to Stavropol. It is weird, but fascinating, and the entertainment value is high. I am not sure, if it offers enough substance to be played in tournaments. However, it gives a great filler. And Combinational Game Theorists should take notice.

If you want to try, you can download the applet from which plays Stavropol among other games. The picture and the analysis were done with that applet.
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