An excerpt from Winking World 57

Pot-Squop

by Andy Purvis

"The aim of the game is to flick winks into the pot." - The Rules of Tiddlywinks, 1958, and quite right too.

When tiddlywinks started, potting out was the only way to win. It seemed obvious that your best chance was to start potting as soon as you could. Many early games were therefore straightforward potting races involving all four colours. Some bright spark - the hero of our tale - figured that covering an opponent's wink might give his own partner a bit more time. Squops would be taken to slow down an opponent or rescue a squopped partner. The most efficient approach was to only go for squops with one colour, while the other spent all its time potting. Thus began the noble tradition now known as "pot-squop".

Then someone, probably someone who ate children and shot guide dogs (and who was certainly at Oxford...), invented "double-squop" - not trying to pot anything until you are in control - and everything went downhill. There was no longer any reason to pot early, but the game still had to go on until someone potted out. Games became very tedious and, at times, complete immobility set in: a Silver Wink semi-final between Oxford and Bristol in 1960/61 was abandoned after 5 hours 20 minutes of play with three games still left to go. The first response was to introduce a time limit "just in case" no pot-out had occurred. Unsquopped winks were counted to see who had won, and potted winks counted double. This, incidentally, is where the outdated term "time-limit points" comes from (rounds are a new-fangled measure, only introduced years later to counter time-wasting). At first, this reduced still further the importance of potting but the value of potted winks was upped from two to three and, although may parts of the game have changed almost beyond recognition, the basic balance between potting and squopping has stayed broadly the same: potting much before rounds is almost always risky, and pot-out opportunities do not often present themselves.

The risk involved in trying to pot out is higher than many people think. To have an evens chance of potting six in a row, you have to be making 89% of your pots. It does seem a bit unfair that, while you can play a reasonable squopping game with at least two winks potted, having a single wink squopped is enough to make potting a very bad idea. So pot-squop may seem like an unworkable tactic - a relic of the naïve days when sixty-odd pairs would play in the Northern Junior.

However, pot-squop still has several things going for it, especially for newer players. Potting six isn't easy, but it's the easiest way to beat a top player. Because of this, many top players are a bit unnerved if you can develop a pot threat. They may dive in to your area to stop you trying to pot out - even if this forces you into a squopping game, it often gives you an excellent position. In addition, making the game revolve around a pot-out threat is one of the best ways to simplify the strategy: pot-squop is the "boot-the-ball-upfield" approach to tiddlywinks - it may not be pretty but, as in football, it's good for surprises. Pot-squop games can also be very exciting, especially if your opponent is of like mind. Fair warning: pot-squop is also a good way of collecting a few 0-7's. In the remainder of this article, my aim is to mention many of the tricks that help to make pot-squop a viable strategy, at least for special occasions. I'd like to distinguish right away between "passive pot-squop" (trying a pot-out if the opportunity arises) and "active pot-squop" (basing the game plan around a pot-out attempt). There is a continuum between the two. Something to bear in mind is that the more active the strategy, the worse your position will be if you don't get to try the pot-out.

Active pot-squop starts on the bring-in. Your early aim is to bring in six of at least one colour before your opponents do. I'll assume that, to begin with, you have an open mind about just which colour is trying to pot (although the squidge-off winner has a turn's advantage here). Things that can make that decision for you are carnovskies, gift squops, and getting squopped. You may find that the latter two gang up to force you into a squopping game - for now at least. You can gain time on the bring-in by aiming your squopping colour at opponent winks, especially if the opponents have landed on themselves. It is easy to overdo this; you may find you have gained so much time you are down to one colour. If an opponent sends one off the mat, think: do you really want to approach and squop? Other good places for your squopping colour are among your potting colour, to defend it from being squopped, and behind enemy lines on the opposite side of the pot, a likely place for a missed pot to land. That said, keep count of your opponents' winks: a wink or two with an eye on your opponents might help stop them potting out. Your potting colour obviously wants to be close to the pot and not too close to any opponents.

If it looks like you are going to get a chance of potting out, your squopping colour may want to take out the most threatening opponent winks. There are several things to consider. If it is your squopping colour to play, only one opponent - the one playing next - is a danger to your partner. Winks of the other opponent pose a less immediate threat. Be very wary of colour order tricks: if yellow is your potting colour, a blue on a red is particularly bad news, as blue can send red at an undefended yellow - you should try to squop such a pile, or at least knock the winks apart. Think also about which of your potting winks would be hardest to rescue: these are the ones most in need of defence. If there's nothing obvious to do, make your least pottable flat winks easier, especially if you can move them to useful defensive positions in the process. You might also like to consider lining up boondocks or double boondocks, especially of the colour that plays straight after your potting colour. If the pot-out is very close boondocking these is a good way to up the stakes; for instance, sending a yellow to the corner neatly increases the pressure on yellow's attempt at squopping the sixth blue!

Enemy winks landing next to your potting colour really ask the question. You could, of course, squop it: think about how good your position would be in a squopping game, considering how good your opponents are and how long they have in which to turn things around. Discarding the notion of squopping, if you've finished bringing in, potting six seems like a good idea. If not, potting five and bringing in is good provided you've a safe spot to bring in at; such a spot is ideally near your partner and only gives one opponent a line (preferably the one playing straight after - if it squops you, your partner can try a colour-order knock-off). I wouldn't recommend potting four and bringing in the fifth, although I've been known to try it. A less drastic, and sometimes overlooked, solution to a sixth wink at the baseline is to pot just the threatened one and bring in.

When you have managed to arrange six pottable winks, you should think about the order of your pot-out. Missing the first is rarely disastrous. Missing the fourth is likely to be curtains. The pessimal number to have in the pot is three; you can play a squopping game with two potted, and can hope for first place (or at least a point!) with four or five in. Long pots or nurdled winks are obvious contenders for the first one to try, especially if they don't have a safe landing zone. Threatened winks that would be hard to rescue are also high on the list. If your hand tends to shake when you're nervous, you might like to leave a big wink until last (I find they're less likely to slip out before I'm ready). It is hard to know quite when to play any pots off other winks you might have happened to squop - serves you right. A special consideration here is: where will the bottom wink end up? If it might land on one you're trying to pot, you had better get that one out of the way first.

In many, probably most, games, you won't get the chance for an early pot-out. But events during the game may resurrect the whiff of an opportunity. Count the free winks after cruds. Look for colour-order knock-offs: you might be surprised how often one of these can free the only squopped wink of a colour. If you're breaking a pile, think about the effects of potting something out of it: pot-outs starting in this way are ones to cherish. You should always, in any kind of game, keep in mind which of your colours is going for first place. The difference between pot-squop and double-squop is merely one of degree here. In rounds, pot-squop often resembles playing for a 4-3 win; you try to make sure of winning the game before thinking about the options for your squopping colour. Because of the risk of missing points in this way, I'd not recommend pot-squop as a rule of thumb for rounds unless there is a realistic chance of getting the pot-out. Matchplay is an exception: if you win all the games, you win the match.

What should you do if you get caught with a few in? The situation is often hopeless, but some things are worth a try. If you've got two or three in, you might try potting some opponent winks to equalise numbers. A spate of boondocking might give you a local numerical advantage; this may last just long enough for you to rescue your potting colour, but makes things easier for your opponents if not. If the pile is unguarded, attack it with your closest winks. Otherwise, try to use winks from further away; these can suck in the guards and let the closer winks finish the job. Try not to run out of winks of one colour: your rarer colour is more valuable, so be careful on approach shots and only commit it when you think it can do something useful - a classic role for the last wink of a colour is going for long range knock-off-and-go-past shots. Getting on a pile with both colours is almost always useful. Don't be clever if you get on piles: blast them. Don't forget how useful the Good shot can be for freeing winks. (The range of the Good shot is often underestimated - a couple of millimetres can be possible provided you don't mind going off the table.) If time is running out, think about squopping opponents to hang on for a win or two points: you might want to move your winks to between the pile and the pot. If your opponents are starting to make potting out noises, try to attack the pile in such a way as to involve their preferred pot-out colour. If things are looking really bleak, you would probably prefer your opponents to pot out with the colour preceding your pot colour, since this gives you more chance of a point. You might be able to at least make things awkward to this extent. Something I hopefully needn't point out: if you've missed with a few in and been squopped, you owe it to your opponents to keep playing at your normal speed: slowing down in order to stop them converting the position into a big win is simply cheating and thoroughly deserves to be punished as such.

There are some ploys that are more psychological than strategic, and I might as well mention a few of them here. Think: is it to your advantage to try to spring the pot-out attempt as a surprise, or would you rather let your opponents worry? The sneaky way is tricky but neat; try to make it look like your approach shots have other ambitions such as knock-offs, groan if you are `unlucky' enough to carnovsky, that sort of thing... If you want to worry your opponents, perhaps with a view to forcing them to dive into your area, discussions with your partner about "bringing the sixth one in" or "one bounce or two?" are quite effective, as is `surreptitiously' taking your potting squidger out of mothballs. Playing your approach shots as pot attempts is also good for a giggle, as is boondocking anything your potting colour has found itself on top of.

Pot-squop certainly doesn't always work, and there are game situations when it simply isn't the right thing to do. But good pot-squop games are wonderful to play in, to watch, and to work for. It's quite something to be aware that your next shot may make the difference between 0-7 and 7-0. The games can be really topsy-turvy, and even the direst situations can be rescued with good play, luck and steady nerves. For instance, if you've five in, one squopped, but the other colour is all free, why not try the "death or glory" option of double-pot? Which takes us back to where we started...


Copyright: English Tiddlywinks Association.

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