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  1. #1
    Senior Member 1ndeed's Avatar
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    What Distinguishes a Master from a Novice? An Article by 1ndeed

    Recently, I read something interesting about some differences between the ways that Novice chess players and Master chess players perceive and analyze game states on a chess board. I wonder if Shadow Era is a sufficiently complex enough game that many of the same concepts can be carried over. This article is my attempt to do that.

    Experiments have been done where Novice players and Master players are exposed to “snapshots” of different chess games, for 5 seconds. The players are then asked to re-create the game state that they observed, from memory. The result was that, overwhelmingly, the Masters were able to very accurately re-create the correct game state (all the pieces in their correct positions), much more so than the Novice players. But it gets much deeper than that, and much more interesting.

    When asked to re-create the chess boards, Novice players tended to make mistakes involving individual piece placements, whereas Masters had re-created their boards with entire GROUPS of pieces in the wrong positions. (For example, a cluster of four pieces were actually off by 1 position left, and 2 up...but their distance from each other on the board did not change; the whole group was moved as a whole.)

    It showed that the Masters perceive the board in "chunks", whereas Novices see the board as made up of many localized pieces.

    In the field of AI, there was an intuition that a computer could be programmed to beat all of the chess Masters. They assumed that all they would have to do is create a software that could "look ahead" so much further than humans can, make decision trees, consider all possible game paths, and then select the best move to win. The result - so far they haven't even come close.

    The chess Masters, it was discovered, weren't really "looking ahead" any more than the Novice players were. Instead, any given change on a board state could cause Triggers, causing the player to scan for the best known sequences for how to play from there...

    Novice players perceive the board as made up of distinct [chess] pieces, or in our case, individual cards. When Novice players are asked to describe a given board state, they may say something like this: “Player 1 is playing Majiya. Majiya has 13 HP left. He has a Bad Wolf in play, it’s a that heals 1 every turn. He has a Gargoyle in play, it took 1 damage already. He has X cards in his hand…” And so on.

    The Master, on the other hand, perceives the board in “chunks”, or larger groups of pieces and generalized concepts. A professional can describe that same board state as something like this: “Gwen dealt with the rush pretty well but needs to draw more cards at some point. Gwen currently has board control.” Notice that the Master is able to summarize what is happening on the board without referring to a single card by name. The individual "pieces" are ignored, and instead the master is attuned to the patterns involved.

    Moving on, in the First Experiment, all the players were given “snapshots” from actual games that had been played. In a Second Experiment, there was a twist – none of the “snapshots” came from actual games; they were generated randomly. Pieces were placed onto the “snapshot” arbitrarily. This time, the Masters scored about the same as the Novice Players with regard to recalling the positions of the pieces on the board.

    Over time, players become aware of the patterns of the game they are playing. Players begin to notice a pattern from T1 to T2 to T3… or T6-T7-T8. Players then take these patterns and will “chunk” those moves together. Meaning, players who become aware of the patterns of the early game can start to identify the strongest opening sequences, and those sequences they can now intuitively replicate in every game they play. T2 Puwen, T3 Aldon… or, going second, T2 Crippling Blow, T3 Layarian Seductress..

    The idea is that a Novice player is looking at each card as a separate “piece”. When it comes time to make a decision, they evaluate each and every piece, making sort of “decision trees” in their head, whether they know it or not. For example, when it comes time to sacrifice, the Novice player will look at each card and try to “look ahead” in the game to find out which cards will be useful in later turns, and which cards are expendable. The Master, however, does not see bad moves. It’s like the bad moves don’t even register for them, unless they make an effort to spot them out. The Master has an affinity for the patterns of the game, and when they look at their options, they intuitively scan the strongest possible chunks of plays, drawing from their memory and experience.

    Human memory is best suited to recall 6-7 digits at a time. If you want to memorize 60 digits of Pi, you would have a very hard time by trying to memorize all 60 at once. It is recommended to learn them 6-7 digits at a time. Once you memorize that much, it gets “chunked” into one “thing.” Then you learn the next 6-7 digits, and that gets “chunked” into another thing. Then you can take seven chunks/things, and chunk those together. Each “chunk” has a trigger that efficiently allows you to recall the sequence that comes after it. (The trigger is the first number in the sequence, and it makes you recall the Pattern that follows.)

    So, I sit down to play. The cards are being dealt, and they are coming in, one by one. There are certain cards that do not really register for me, I seem to think nothing of them. Other cards are Triggers. I see an Honored Dead. Blank face. Next card is a Puwen.

    Puwen is a Trigger card, because now I know I will have an ally on T2, which reminds me of the standard rush opening sequence. Next card, Aldon. I don’t even have to look at the rest of my cards anymore. The camera snaps quickly to me. T2 Puwen, T3 Aldon/Jas…

    Another type of Trigger Card is one that is a problematic card against your deck, triggering the sequence for how to deal with it. For example, Armored Sandworm is one such Trigger Card against Majiya. Immediately, a good player will recall the sequence for how to deal with Sandworm and scan their hand for those sequences. They do not re-read every card in their hand and assess how that card would look on the board. Instead, they are probably looking for 2-3 things, that’s it. “Do I have a Clinging Webs? No. Portal? No. Ok, ignore it and just race.”

    So, we learned that is possible to perceive a system on a higher/chunked level, and completely ignore the lower level/separate cards. For example in a sentence, you can grasp the meaning of the words without ever referring to the meaning of each individual letter in the word. (As you read this very sentence, you - as a Master of language - are most likely reading Words, which are chunks of letters, but no particular individual letter strikes you as being important to understanding the sentence. You can extract the meaning of this sentence without referring to: The writer used the letter T, the letter h...).

    In the same way, one can perceive the board as clusters of patterns (opening sequences, retaking-the-board sequences, matchup sequences, sequences that transition you from the early to mid game, etc.) So that a professional can describe the board state without ever naming a single card on the board. "X has board control; Y has card advantage" - these statements are meaningful, and yet they ignore the lower level completely. And generally the masters were far superior in this regard, but about equal when it came to lower level descriptions.

    So, what does this all mean? To me, this concept suggets two possible paths to becoming a Master of Shadow Era:

    1) Look at every card and analyze it. Make a decision tree for each card in your hand and use reason to try to determine what is the best play.

    2) Play lots of games.

    The concepts we have been considering seem to suggest that, in a game such as Shadow Era, option #2 is where it's at. Option 1 deals with innate skills that some people have - the ability to use reason, the ability to make good decisions, the ability to follow decision trees to greater and greater lengths, etc. Now, these are critical skills to have, to be sure. However, my guess is that those skills alone cannot differentiate a Novice from a Master. There may be someone who is new to Shadow Era, but who has great skills in strategic thinking and reasoning; and a Master who has been playing Shadow Era for a long time will not necessarily have any greater reasoning power than a Novice.

    On the other hand, the differentiating factor is that the Master has played lots of games, whereas the Novice is new to the game. In this sense, the Novice can only see the board from the lower level perspective - they are looking at every card, perhaps even turning the physical cards over to read what they do in-game, etc. The Master has access to a higher level of thinking, however - the Master knows what patterns of play will generally come up, and can exploit this. The Master can tell you what is going on, or who is going to win, without referencing a single card on the board. The Novice player simply will not have this advantage until they play lots of games.

    So, my conclusion is that for a game like Shadow Era, the best way to get better is to play lots of games. Be aware of the patterns of play. Get a feel for the game; its speed, its stresses and challenges, its nuances. Not really a novel concept, but I personally enjoyed thinking about these things, and I hope you did as well!

    - 1ndeed
    Last edited by 1ndeed; 03-03-2013 at 04:56 PM.
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  2. #2
    DP Visionary SET Colosal's Avatar
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    Really cool article 1ndeed

  3. #3
    DP Visionary Atomzed's Avatar
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    Great article I see that you have polished it up a lot more

    Just a point to note that AI has already beaten Chess Grandmaster at least twice. I think it was IBM designed Deep Blue 2 who beat Kasarpov the grandmaster.

    Nonetheless, the article is still right because the AI relies purely on brute force analysis. Not so much about intuitive decision making.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member Zigbigwig's Avatar
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    Nice article 1ndeed.

    When I first started with the game my decisions were always done in the present tense, meaning the cards I played tended to benefit that particular turn only not realizing I'm wastefully burning away through the deck. After a while I learned to drop the short term victories and focus on the bigger picture (i.e. win condition).
    Last edited by Zigbigwig; 03-03-2013 at 05:26 PM.

  5. #5
    DP Visionary a player's Avatar
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    Great article.

    These various and different 'takes' on thought, strategy, and philosophy can be very important, especially since people sometimes seem to think differently. For some, this article just might make thinks click into place!

    I think you ought to mention this post in Gondorian's 12,000th post thread, 1ndeed. If you don't want/need crystals, do it to spur others to post, and request that the reward go to someone else.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Jao's Avatar
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    you mentioned about making the correct play. sometimes, novices just don't know what the correct play is. take a look at your example. Majiya dealing with worm. a novice might not realize on his own that worms are better ignored when you have nothing to disable or outright kill him with. novices will waste their burn trying to kill that worm. i know i did it before.

    kind of how in chat earlier, i was talking to a Zhanna player who kept wasting his retreats. somehow, he didn't know that retreats are supposed to be used after a TW. he just copied iClipse's decks but didn't have the intuition to follow all the cards' uses in that deck. he said he read iClipse's article but he doesn't know how to play the deck properly. i mean, i read that thread and netdecked iClipse's Zhanna deck and the first time i played it, i intuitively knew what to do with the deck. it was like the easiest deck i played with.

    so, for me, it isn't just about experience. it's also about knowing the correct play. after all, you can play 100 games and never realize you've been saccing the wrong card every time. someone has to tell you, or you have to discover for yourself what the right plays are. what i do is search out the games of the top players and watch their games, see how they play their decks. and things click for me. i watch how they deal with the threats they are presented and i copy them, i learn from them. because, you see, sometimes i might not be the brightest bulb and will not figure out things on my own. but by knowing how others deal with those threats, i can just copy them without needing to solve the riddle for myself.

    what distinguishes a master from a novice more than anything is the ability to make the best choice every turn with the cards and board he is presented with. his choices change every turn, depending on how circumstances change. i don't believe in this static T2 puwen, T3 aldon, unchanging plays. your moves will depend on the choices you are presented with and the situation of the board. it gets even more complicated the further the game goes on. at T3, you can basically count the limited number of moves your opponent can make based on card pool memory. at T4, those possible moves expand. at T6, your opponent's possible moves get even more many. your job, as a player is to anticipate your opponent's best move, and based on your hand, also make your best move. you can't just stick into these pre-planned drops. your hand and the board SHOULD dictate your choices. at every turn, you should always expect that your opponent has the best hand possible. you can't just say, oh, my Priest opponent now has 5 res. i hope he has bad luck and hasn't drawn TW. let me flood the board with one more ally just for one more hit. no! with every move, you MUST expect that your opponent has in his hand the best cards possible. that will allow you to play a counter to his possible counter, before it even happens.
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  7. #7
    DP Visionary FDL's Avatar
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    Very good read.

    I really like the concept of seeing a game in "chunks" or "phases" rather than a sum of individual cards.

    A Rush Elad wants to rush-draw-burn while a Gwen wants to draw-stall-combo-kill. If either misses a step or transitions into a phase too soon they'll be in trouble. Rush Elad can be forced (through her starting hand or her opponent's play) into stall-draw-burn and Gwen can sometimes rush-draw-combo-kill. It doesn't matter (in the broad view) if Elad is playing PotL or Jas, or if Gwen is bashing you with Soul Seeker or Feathered Longbow, the concept is the same.

    Identifying the current phase and the turning points in your and your opponent's game is important as it changes the value of individual cards (all cards power level are situational).

    The "snapshot" bit was interesting too. If Zaladar has a Gargoyle, 3SE and a couple cards in hand to your empty board, your question should not be "what do I do about the Gargoyle?" but "What do I do about Zaladar who has board control?" (or even "Do I care that Zaladar has board control?").

    And I'll echo the tip about playing as much as you want to be good. IMO there are two types of mistakes, meta mistakes and detail mistakes. Meta mistakes come from incorrectly reading the board state (or picking the wrong deck for a certain meta) while detail mistakes come from not using individual cards properly. In the early stage of this meta, both happen very frequently even to top world players (i.e forgetting that certain cards are immune to certain things, miscalculating damage output, etc...).

    There's only one cure: practice.

    Anways, thanks for sharing and I hope that what I wrote made sense.
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  8. #8
    Senior Member 1ndeed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atomzed View Post
    Great article I see that you have polished it up a lot more

    Just a point to note that AI has already beaten Chess Grandmaster at least twice. I think it was IBM designed Deep Blue 2 who beat Kasarpov the grandmaster.
    uh oh...the machines are taking over! :P

    Quote Originally Posted by Jao View Post
    you mentioned about making the correct play. sometimes, novices just don't know what the correct play is. take a look at your example. Majiya dealing with worm. a novice might not realize on his own that worms are better ignored when you have nothing to disable or outright kill him with. novices will waste their burn trying to kill that worm. i know i did it before.
    Right, this is a very interesting example. I'm interested in why a novice wouldnt see the "ignore Sandworm" option. I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who's playing their first ever SE game, as Majiya facing a Sandworm. Well, if my article is correct, then the Novice perceives the board in terms of the cards that make it up. Simply put, "Ignore Sandworm" is not a card; it is a strategy that can only be revealed when one has played many games. I can imagine playing 10 games where Sandworm comes up, and thinking, "You know what? I've spent so many resources and cards dealing with this Sandworm, if I had ignored it, I probably could've just killed the hero with all those cards."

    Because a novice is looking for the "best play", in terms of, which card will put me in the best position to win the game. There is nothing wrong with thinking like this, it's necessary even. But my point is merely that things like Skill and Analysis are accessible to both, novices and masters. In fact, if I tell you that Player A is Exceptional with Skill, and Player B is mediocre with Skill, you still cannot guarantee me which one is the master, and which one is the novice. A novice with decades of experience in tcgs, board games, card games, gambling, etc, may very well dominate from the very start of their career, just based on their innate abilities.

    However, the master has access to a whole different way to perceive the board - they have access to memory and experience. Now that I've played so many games as Majiya vs Sandworm, I can start thinking about those games. "Those Sandworms were a pain... What if I just ignored it, and used my cards for better purposes instead... Maybe it's not worth it to go after the Sandworms..." The Novice cannot think like this, because he has no experience to draw from.

    Interestingly, in the recent Sealed Deck tournament, I played as Majiya and faced some Sandworms. However, in Sealed, board control is particularly important, more so than in Constructed games. In those games, I had to rewire my thinking in this respect, and take down the Sandworms before dealing damage to hero.
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    And mine are long and sharp, my lord, as long and sharp as yours.

  9. #9
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    Very cool article.

    I tend to think of things in chunks as well, but moreso in chunks of damage and resources. For example, in my last game on Live, I resourced a number of what would be considered important cards to less experienced players (Mind Control), in order to hold the one Shadow Font and Dimension Ripper in my hand. Why? I could see the game state and where it was heading, and knew that I would have my opponent down to 5 health in two/three turns. I could ignore the board at that point and go for the throat, using Zal's ability to control as well as I could. What was more important to me in this case was resource count, I HAD to be at 9 resources when he hit 5 health so I could play both cards in a single turn, or I would lose.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member spAce's Avatar
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    Great analysis 1ndeed.
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