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How Abalone Works

Abalone Strategy and Tips

Because Abalone is a much younger game than, say, chess, there's no extensive library of manuals by experts and grandmasters. Instead, if you're in search of knowledge about strategy and tactics, you'll have to glean them from Internet discussion boards and blogs -- or from playing against the most skilled competition at your local coffee house or college student center. But here are a few concepts that may help.

  • Advance quickly toward the center. In a 1991 article for an Abalone players' newsletter, Wayne Schmittberger, the former editor of Games Magazine, explains that marbles in the center are much safer, and can move around more easily than ones near the edge. He recommends trying to occupy the center to pressure your opponent to keep his or her marbles near the edge [source: Schmittberger].
  • Divide and conquer. Schmittberger also advises trying to separate the opponent's marbles into two or more groups. Smaller groups, he reasoned, are easier to push back and trap against the edge of the board, and ultimately to push off of it [source: Schmittberger].
  • The Blob technique. Tyler Capp, a Los Angeles-based Abalone virtuoso, suggests massing all of your marbles together in a ball-like shape, sort of like the formation that Maximus had the gladiators form to fight the charioteers in the movie "Gladiator." While you lose some mobility this way, it's harder for your opponent to push your pieces around. The goal is to cause your opponent to break up his or her pieces and scatter them around the board, which will enable you to cordon off one or two pieces at a time and push them over the edge [source: Capp].
  • Attack from the side. If you're being overpowered from one angle, or you'd like to do that to your opponent, Capp suggests attacking on the flank rather than straight on. "For example, you have two pieces against his three, and he's about to push you over the edge, then knock out his piece that's directly adjacent to your two. " If done from the side, you'll now have three pieces against his two, and can perform a sumito [source: Capp].
  • Aim to be the first player to eject five marbles. Early on in the game, you should play conservatively, and concentrate on keeping your marbles in the center rather than moving toward the edge in order to knock off a marble or two. But as the game progresses and you establish strategic control over the center, you need to become more aggressive. If you can get five of the opponent's marbles first, the game becomes much more difficult for him or her, because any wrong move can lead to a potentially fatal mistake [source: Schmittberger].

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