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Subject: 15 vs 30: Is 15 defensible? rss

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W M Shubert
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Just played Haggis last night for the first time. I was impressed; it was fun and the "go out early" vs. "get lots of points in tricks" tension is great, as is the strategy around the royalty.

But I don't think that the 15 bet makes sense except in the limited case where 15 would be enough to win the game, so there is no point in risking the full 30.

In another thread Sean Ross (the designer) said that the small 15 bet was added so that people could bet with less risk, but there is less benefit also. Basically, if a bet of 15 is overall likely to pay off positively for you, then a bet of 30 is equally likely to pay off twice as much! If you are worried that 30 carries too much risk and may lose you points overall, then why would you bet 15 and lose half as many points, when you could bet 0 and lose no points at all?

Basically offering the 15 option seems to be a red herring most of the time. Can anybody come up with a better reason to ever take this?
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William Crispin
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That was my take also.
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Justus Pendleton
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I can imaginate some scenarios where some hypothetical person would bet 15 instead of 30 but at the end of the day its just a bunch of speculating. Neither I or my playing partner ever bet 15 either :-)
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Sean Ross
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Not really an exact analogy (and fairly grim), but perhaps this line of thinking might help:

I have placed two bags of gold inside a cube. There are two holes in the cube, through which you can reach your arms inside to grab the bags. You can only reach in once, after which the box will be sealed and forever inaccessible. You may reach in with one arm, to grab one bag of gold (Little Bet). Or you may reach in with both arms, at the same time, to grab two bags of gold (Big Bet). The path into the bags is tangled with tripwires. If you are clumsy, you may trigger a cauterizing laser while your arms are reaching in to grab the bags, the beam of which will sever the arm or arms that have reached through the hole(s), but will also seal the wound so that you will not die from blood loss. If you're adept the laser will not fire, in which case you will have either one or two bags of gold as reward for taking the risk. But, if you risk both arms and fail, well, you end up with no arms. That's pretty bad. If you risk one arm and fail, well, you at least still have one arm left. That's not quite as bad. You can still feed and dress yourself, for instance. If you do succeed, using one arm, you have a bag of gold you would otherwise not have. That's pretty good. Certainly, it's better than nothing.

You don't really "lose an arm" if you miss a bid in Haggis, it's more like you give the bag of gold to your opponent, but the more graphic version kind of makes the point a bit easier to see. Sometimes I'm not prepared to risk both arms (I'd only risk both arms if I was fairly certain I could find a path through the tripwires), but I might be willing to risk one.... The payoff won't be as big, but it's bigger than nothing. What the hey.....
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Joshua Miller
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wmshub wrote:
Basically, if a bet of 15 is overall likely to pay off positively for you, then a bet of 30 is equally likely to pay off twice as much!

Not necessarily. Betting 30 may establish a greater incentive for your opponents to cooperate in preventing you from going out first. An opponent with a weak hand may be more willing to blow his best cards on stopping you, even if it wrecks his chances to go out.
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Justus Pendleton
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Glamorous Mucus wrote:
Betting 30 may establish a greater incentive for your opponents to cooperate


Bah! Everyone knows that 2-player is the One True Way to play Haggis and 3-player is the kind of modern blasphemy that is ruining America.
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W M Shubert
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seandavidross wrote:
Not really an exact analogy (and fairly grim), but perhaps this line of thinking might help:

...(Long analogy about gold, tripwires, and the difficulties of life as an amputee)...

Sometimes I'm not prepared to risk both arms (I'd only risk both arms if I was fairly certain I could find a path through the tripwires), but I might be willing to risk one.... The payoff won't be as big, but it's bigger than nothing. What the hey.....
The only times when playing suboptimally to avoid risk can work is when you are close to winning, or when you have a comfortable lead. If I'm 200 points ahead, then I may be willing to give up a few points each round to avoid the possibility of losing a lot of points due to a missed bid; but when you are that far ahead I suspect that simply bidding 0 would be enough. In general "risk" in games can be handled mathematically, and in the case of two player Haggis bidding the 15 bid seems very rarely to be the right one. The reason is that, in the points needed to win the game, the difference between losing 15 and losing 30 is too small. If you have a big enough lead that you are willing to throw away a few points per round to avoid missing a big bid, then you would be willing to throw away a few more by just not bidding. If the game is close enough that maximizing your points against your opponent is your goal, then it's easy to show that the 15 is never right. And if you are behind and willing to play desperately to catch up, then bidding 30 almost every hand is clearly right.

15 may "feel" safer, but I'd be surprised if it is truly the "right" bid is more than a tiny fraction of the cases.

Glamorous Mucus wrote:
Betting 30 may establish a greater incentive for your opponents to cooperate in preventing you from going out first. An opponent with a weak hand may be more willing to blow his best cards on stopping you, even if it wrecks his chances to go out.
This is a good point, and indicates that in 3 player games it may indeed be best to bet 15. It may still be the case that 15 is too close to 30, and players willing to collude against the bidder in a 30 bid would do so with 15 also, but I don't have nearly enough experience to say, so I'll have to accept that it is completely believable that 15 may be a decent bid in 3 player games.
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William Bekking
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The little bet may be there for different style of play or for players who may not be quite as advanced as some others. Newer players may prefer to bet 15 to get a feel for how the game is played. I'm not a strong Haggis (or tichu) player. When I did get the chance to play Haggis, though, I would bet 15 when I thought my hand was good but not great

Just my 2 cents

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Norberto Leiva
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For 2 players (maybe it doesn´t work for 3) I propose:

Small Bet: 15 if win, 15 to opponent if lose (no changes here)
Big Bet: 30 if win, 60 to opponent if lose

Mathematical reasoning:

Small Bet is profitable when the player believe he has more than 50% chances to win, taking a moderate risk if losing.

Big Bet would be only profitable if the player has more than 67% chances: i.e. a chance to win at least 2 every 3 rounds: 30+30-60=0

These bets encourages players IMHO, to analyze more carefully their hands, and choose among small or big one, according to having just a 'good' hand or a 'very good' hand.
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Kenny VenOsdel
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Another subtley in the betting is the effect it has on your opponent. Betting 30 is signaling a very strong hand which might make them play differently than if you only bet 15. Its a small point to make and would vary greatly by who you are playing with and how often you play with them but i still think its valid.
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Ben Draper
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wmshub wrote:
The only times when playing suboptimally to avoid risk can work is when you are close to winning, or when you have a comfortable lead.


With the caveat that we are discussing the 2-player version of the game, this is the only reason to ever bid 15 points. In fact, I would get even more specific. Bidding 15 is only the right play if the 15 points plus the amount you could reasonably expect to gain from going out first is just enough to get you the win. If you're closer than that, don't bet, because going out first will already get you the victory. If you're further away, bet 30 so that you can get closer to the win. Where players may differ in this regard is the "amount you could reasonably expect to gain from going out first". Oftentimes, the fact that you are unsure of this amount is reason enough to make the 30-point bid.
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Tim Koppang
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It seems to me that a 15-point bet is more of a beginner's bet. Experienced players probably will make 30-point bets or nothing, at least in the two-player game. New players may prefer to hedge.
 
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Steve Norton
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If you make a big bet, you are telling your opponent that you have a great hand. If they have any sense they will burn through their hand as quickly as possible. Sure you'll win the hand (and your big bet) but your opponent will probably have got down to just two or three cards.

If you make a little bet, you are not sending such a strong statement to your opponent who is likely to underestimate your strength. That being the case, you have a much better chance of catching your opponent with a big hand when you go out.

You make 15 points less from your bet, but you can EASILY make this back (and much more) if you catch your opponent with his pants down. If I am betting first (and have a good hand) I will rarely bet big.
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W M Shubert
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ReggieMcFly wrote:
If you make a big bet, you are telling your opponent that you have a great hand. If they have any sense they will burn through their hand as quickly as possible. Sure you'll win the hand (and your big bet) but your opponent will probably have got down to just two or three cards.

If you make a little bet, you are not sending such a strong statement to your opponent who is likely to underestimate your strength. That being the case, you have a much better chance of catching your opponent with a big hand when you go out.

You make 15 points less from your bet, but you can EASILY make this back (and much more) if you catch your opponent with his pants down. If I am betting first (and have a good hand) I will rarely bet big.
I think you are assuming your opponent isn't playing well. Big or small bet say the exact same thing: You think you have a >50% chance of going out first. If you think that is true, then both bets are good for you (but the big bet is more so). If you don't think that is true, then you are foolish to make either bet.
 
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Tim Koppang
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wmshub wrote:
I think you are assuming your opponent isn't playing well. Big or small bet say the exact same thing: You think you have a >50% chance of going out first. If you think that is true, then both bets are good for you (but the big bet is more so). If you don't think that is true, then you are foolish to make either bet.

Not everyone is going to follow that logic, especially new players. I think many people are going to see it as:

(a) I'm fairly confident I can go out first = little bet, or
(b) I'm really confident I can go out first = big bet.

Again, with experience and better hand assessment skills, the usefulness of the little bet probably goes down. More experienced players, please weigh in.
 
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Steve Norton
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I would consider myself a pretty experienced player. I am a 'master' on Boardgamearena (which I'm quite proud of) and I'm currently ranked the 5th best player.

In my experience, the best players make more little bets than big bets. Others may see it different, but that is my perception.
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W M Shubert
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ReggieMcFly wrote:
I would consider myself a pretty experienced player. I am a 'master' on Boardgamearena (which I'm quite proud of) and I'm currently ranked the 5th best player.

In my experience, the best players make more little bets than big bets. Others may see it different, but that is my perception.
Experienced or no, think about this: Do they make more than half of these little bids? If so, then clearly they should be making big bids. They would have gotten more points on average. If they make less than half these bids, then obviously they shouldn't be bidding on these small bids at all.

Note: This is only for two player games. Three players games would be different.
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Steve Norton
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You are thinking too mathematically. You have to think about the game. When played between good players, Haggis isn't far from poker. If you have a good hand, you need to convince your opponent that you don't. One way to do that is by underbidding. Another way is by slow-playing your hand and saving big combos until last.

If I am up against a player who bets big and then reels out all his best combos, I know I am in for an easy win. I'll lose the hand - of couse I will - but I will have done everything possible to shed cards before that happens.

The difference will come when I get the good hand. He won't know I've got great cards and so I'll catch him holding a fistful. Rinse and repeat over six or seven hands and I've won by 50 points...usually.
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W M Shubert
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So if you are up against another strong player, and he bids 15, what will your take be? Will you expect him to have a good hand, so you shed cards, just like if he bid 30? Or will you play to go out first?

I admit, I am not an expert Haggis player. But I found that my wins became more frequent once I started the tactic of always getting rid of cards as much as I can, unless I can see how I'll be going out first by playing in another way. The 5 point per card penalty for having them in your hand is too big to risk keeping them around.
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Steve Norton
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wmshub wrote:
So if you are up against another strong player, and he bids 15, what will your take be?


Now you've got it. Therein lies the problem...I have no idea. That is why the little bet is valuable.

Does he have a strong hand (in which case I need to ditch cards fast) or is he just trying his luck (in which case I can risk trying to work my cards harder). Your guess is as good as mine.

Bet small. Win more!
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Almarr Ormarsson
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ReggieMcFly wrote:
wmshub wrote:
So if you are up against another strong player, and he bids 15, what will your take be?


Now you've got it. Therein lies the problem...I have no idea. That is why the little bet is valuable.

Does he have a strong hand (in which case I need to ditch cards fast) or is he just trying his luck (in which case I can risk trying to work my cards harder). Your guess is as good as mine.

Bet small. Win more!

I think you make some valid points and this kind of "bluffing" is part of Haggis (I've even not bet just to try to surprise my opponent) BUT with this logic I can just bet big every time I want to bet, whether I have a really strong hand or I'm just trying my luck. You won't know which one it is. Why is a small bet better for this kind of play?
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Steve Norton
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I would say that "trying your luck" with a big bet is asking for trouble. Promising though your hand may be, if there is a chance that your opponent has a better one then I wouldn't risk a big bet. I will only big bet if I KNOW my cards are better. If he has a killer hand and big bets on top of my big bet then I could be losing the match in one hand. Not worth risking.

That said, we have the potential to double-bluff here. Bet big with an average hand and you could panic your opponent into ditching cards and shredding an otherwise winnable hand. I've never had the guts to try that, but I'm sure it could work against an experienced player.

I don't have all the answers, but never underestimate what your bet is telling your opponent. It sends a message and you can choose what that message is.

This is a fascinating game and it is the psychology that makes it sing. If there was no little bet, the game would be a shadow of what it is.
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Almarr Ormarsson
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I just don't get why you would risk a little bet when you wouldn't risk a big bet, if you're losing those bets more times than winning them you shouldn't be betting in the first place. And if you're winning them why wouldn't you want the 30 points?

Ok, I realize I just made the whole discussion go into a circle . I'm still kind of glad that we can't totally agree on this, that just means there is so much to this wonderful game.
 
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Steve Norton
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I see what you are saying - particularly if we are talking about "trying your luck". In that regard, maybe I am just a cautious player.

The main pillar of my argument would be the value of a little bet to disguise the strength of a hand that you know will win. You said yourself that you have "no bet" on a strong hand, and that is good play in response to an opponent's opening little/big bet. Its all about not giving away the strength of your hand. If an experienced player knows how good your cards are then you are in a world of trouble.
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David Low
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Edward Packel gives a nice treatment of a related problem in "The Mathematics of Games and Gambling" (nicer, IMHO, than Thorp's seminal work). It's quite accessible with only undergraduate-level maths. Essentially the question is, "when, and how, should you bluff?". There is a significant difference between knowing you have the winning hand, and thinking you have the best chance of holding the winning hand :-)

Haggis isn't Texas Hold 'Em, of course; but similarities in the betting cycle can be identified, with caution, to draw some conclusions about the general idea: that your opponent has an impact on your behaviour, as you do on theirs. Play against a non-bluffing AI is a different matter, of course :-)

Caveat: I don't claim to be a practical expert, I just lecture the theory gulp
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