The lessons of Reversi

Lately Reversi has become one of my favorite computer games. I’ve never played it against a human and don’t own a physical Reversi set, but I have three different applications for playing it against the computer. My favorite is Kiss the Machine Reversi. At its Intermediate level I can beat it 70% of the time, at Advanced level about once in eight. Beyond that it has Expert, Master, and Guru levels, where I’ve found it untouchable.

Here’s some history of the game. It’s also known as Othello, but that’s a registered trademark, and the game itself is in the public domain, so nearly all computer implementations are called Reversi.

If chess is abstract war, Reversi is, in a sense, abstract trade. With each move, you get something from your opponent, then your opponent gets something from you. Your opponent’s stones are the resources on which you build your success, and if you try to grab too much too early, you dry up your own opportunities and lose. You win by focusing not on how much you have, but on how good your position is. If you take control of the corners, you have a corner on the market, so to speak, and you’ll generally win. If your opponent can push you into making a bad acquisition, you’ll lose.

With so many games that are models of conquest and destruction, Reversi is refreshingly different. A game is short, so it makes a nice three-minute break.

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