Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hearts ratings should not reward second place - guest blog

This morning, an update was applied to fix a bug which caused some players to be unable to see existing ranked tables in Hearts.

The new rankings have generated some discussion! Constance, a Hearts player, has written today's guest blog on that topic. Please take a look at what she has to say. - Marya

I am delighted to see ELO ratings being applied to Hearts, which should strengthen the competition. The current ELO ratings reflect place position - that is, 1st is better than 2nd, is better than 3rd, with 4th being the big loser. Classic Hearts rewards only 1st place; there are 3 last-place finishers - regardless of score. I am in favor of this Winner-Take-All position and Marya has offered me the opportunity to defend it.

For a game with such simple rules, Hearts is remarkably complex. The primary goal for Low is to end the game as quickly as possible by eliminating High or to increase his lead at any opportunity.  A temporary, yet shifting alliance is formed by the other players who attempt to unseat Low using their knowledge in identifying the Q-holder, suits in which players are void,  and how many of a suit are outstanding. This forms the complex strategy of the game: teamwork with a selfish goal - becoming Low.

Part of the strategy is trusting  your 'team'  to not hurt you in the effort to go after Low. It means protecting High, who may be on the brink of elimination, by taking some of his point-tricks and possibly helping him moon. It means doing what is necessary to prolong the game at the expense of increasing your own score:  taking a Q to stop a moon, not leading spades until you are sure it will not hurt the wrong person, leading suits which Low holds and in which the Q-holder is void, passing cards that will not prematurely end the game, avoiding dumping the Q on first opportunity until you are reasonably sure it will target Low. 

Having a rating system which has proportional rewards weakens the game. Strategy will change to the extent that ratings matter. Players will begin to strategize for place position. Trust will deteriorate. Dumping the Q and ducking points will become more frequent, at least as end-game approaches or in games with skewed scores.  If Low has a substantial lead, he will most likely be given a pass by the 'team' who will now turn on each other for 2nd place and a resulting ELO rating increase, in most cases.

Decisions become more conflicted in Proportional-Reward games. A 2nd place player may end the game by dumping the Q on high in order to ensure a 2nd place position. A moon-stopper may not be employed if it results in the player's own  position to be shifted downward. In Winner-Take-All games, where  2nd is no better than 4th, players make decisions that will extend the game - not to end it. There is no benefit to ending a game in which the 'team' places last to a single winner.

I have no doubt that there will be players who will continue to play traditional, classic Hearts and that at the beginning of the game, everyone will strive to win. But traditional players will find themselves at odds with an increasing number of new players who are conditioned to a Proportional-Reward game of Hearts, bringing with it a changed strategy - one which includes trying to improve place position behind the winner, especially if it appears too risky to go after Low.

The primary argument I have heard in favor of a 2nd place reward is to keep players in the game longer - that they find a consolation prize justification that they did better than 3rd & 4th, that there is no incentive for high-scorers to remain in the game just to come in last. To that I say So What! Who wants to play with people of such  fragile egos anyway? On this issue, I would like to reference Marya's Hearts Strategy & Tips: "With 4 players in Hearts, and only 1 winner, your odds of losing are good: 75%, all other things being equal. So if you are going to play Hearts, you need to be willing to accept taking a loss in most of your games. The game is a good test of character, in this respect!" 

I leave with a quote from G Berns"To watch 3 excellent hearts players playing cooperatively, stalking the low-scorer adept at evading, is to watch hearts at its very best."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bidder Out option in Double Deck Pinochle is the default

This morning, a change was made to Double Deck Pinochle at World of Card Games. I did this because I had enough feedback to think it was necessary.

According to Pagat's Double Deck Pinochle page, Pinochle "is won by the first partnership to achieve a score of 500 or more. If both sides reach 500 on the same hand, the bidding side wins." Some people call this the "bidder out" rule.

I've consulted with some Pinochle experts - by asking about it at Stack Exchange, Power Pinochle forums, and Board Game Geek - and they all tell me it is true: if both players reach 500 or more on the same hand, it is not the high score that decides who wins. Rather, the win is awarded to the bidding team.

This makes the game a little more intense towards the end if the scores are close enough. It might encourage each team to take a little more risk in winning the bid, in order to win that last hand and thus the game.

I had not implemented the game this way when I introduced it. However, it is now the default option. If you feel strongly enough, you can change your settings so that the high-scoring team always gets the win by unchecking your Pinoche "Bidder Out" option. I hope you like the change!
Bidder Out option for Double Deck Pinochle is now the default

Saturday, October 3, 2015

bots can now replace humans at ranked hearts tables

Yesterday, special ranked tables were added to the Hearts card game. Ranked tables were intended to be exceptional in having strict rules: no robots allowed, and registered players only. Penalties were applied to those who left a game early.

Some players found that the "no robots allowed" policy was making it impossible to finish their games. After someone dropped out (deliberately or accidentally), they'd be stuck waiting for a long time before the game could continue. This was true even though human players are allowed to substitute at ranked tables... so such tables do show up in the "list of tables" (they don't show as ranked once a player leaves because you do not get ranked if you join such a table after it starts). Apparently, tables where "no robots" applies are especially unappealing to Hearts players.

People are not dropping out from ranked games very often, so that's good. Even so, when it happens, it leaves people waiting indefinitely for fear of losing in the rankings, which is no fun. To correct this, I've now changed the rule so that bots may replace a human who left the table. This is only permitted after the game starts. And in case it is not obvious, winning or losing to a bot does not count towards your ranking!

It is still necessary to get 4 humans together to start a ranked game... currently this involves a wait. It appears that most people prefer to start a game with bots. For those who want to play a Hearts game with humans from start to finish, ranked tables are the best way to go. I hope the wait time will lessen as more people discover rankings.

For those who are curious, a description of how "Elo ratings" are computed is given at the site.

Friday, October 2, 2015

rankings added to hearts card game

You can now play ranked Hearts card games at World of Card Games. There are more details at that link, so take a look there if you are interested.

I've added two different rankings - an "Elo rating" and a "Skill rating" -
Elo rating and Skill rating
If you are eligible to play at a ranked table, you'll see the "ranked" table in the list of tables panel. Click on a seat to be taken to the table.
a ranked table in the list of tables with 3 seats available, note purple color
Bots are unavailable at ranked tables until near the end of the game, so I expect that it may be difficult to get a ranked game going, especially for players outside the US time zone [Edit: as of Oct 3 2015, bots may be invited as soon as someone drops out]. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to rank individuals against bots, though, since they don't have expert levels of skill.

There are several advantages to playing at a ranked table: because quitting a table has a more serious penalty than simply taking a loss, it can be hoped that players will be less likely to quit. In addition to your Elo rating taking a hit, quitting gets you banned from ranked tables for 4 hours. This means that you should find more reliable players at the ranked tables, on average.

I'll be playing at the ranked Hearts tables on and off during the day, and look forward to hearing from people about their experiences with it.

If you experience any problems or bugs after this update, please let me know. There were some major changes!