Russian Railroads (RRR) PBeM Reports Updated May 15, 2023

2023 PBeM Tournament

There were 29 players in this edition of the Russian Railroads online tournament. That meant that 14 would advance to the semifinals. Only one player, Ray Wolff, won all four of his first heat games. Newcomer Patrick Maguire was the next qualifier, as the only triple-winner. Both ended up as laurelists, as one might have predicted. Most of the rest of the qualifiers had two wins. With 17 unique winners, three winners failed to advance based on the tiebreaker criteria. In a reversal of last year’s results, GM Jay Spencer just edged out Rob Kircher for the last semifinal spot. Each had a win, a second, and two thirds, but Jay’s overall margin of victory was slightly higher.

In the semifinal round, Dominic Blais surged to the top of the qualifying board with three wins (and a second, not that he needed it). AJ Jiang, Michael Swinson, and Patrick Maguire each had two semifinal victories to send them to the final round. Once again, we had to go to the margin of victory tiebreaker to determine the last two qualifiers. Three players had a win and two seconds. Ray Wolff, with a third-place finish in his other game, claimed the fifth spot. Keith Dent just edged out Ricky Boyes by three hundredths of a point for the sixth and final spot.

Thus, the top four qualifiers from the heats last year all made it to the final this year (only three were finalists last year). They were joined by perennial superstar and ultimate tournament winner, AJ Jiang, and first-timer Patrick Maguire.

This year I decided to try something different for the final: All six players played two games each, with the top two qualifiers choosing which two games to play from the three versions available on Yucata: Russian, German, American. Dominic chose to play Russian and American, and second place qualifier AJ Jiang chose Russian and German.

The Russian and German games wrapped up quickly, with AJ winning them both, locking in first place. The remaining laurelists had to wait several months for the final game to finish to determine the rest of the overall order.

Thanks to everyone who played and congratulations to the laurelists:

  • 1st – AJ Jiang
  • 2nd – Michael Swinson
  • 3rd – Patrick Maguire
  • 4th – Keith Dent
  • 5th – Ray Wolff
  • 6th – Dominic Blais

If anyone else would like to take over next year, I have decided to take a small break from online gaming. I still look forward to seeing everyone in July at Seven Springs!

2021 PBeM Tournament

There were 32 players and 32 games in the first round, with each player competing in 4 games against different players each time. There were 19 different game winners. The top 4 qualifiers, with 3 wins each, were Dominic Blais, Michael Swinson, Ray Wolff, and Keith Dent. Three of the four, not surprisingly, ended up as laurelists.

The semifinal consisted of 16 games with the top 4 qualifiers not facing each other in any game. Other semifinal qualifiers were Curt Collins, Ming Hon, AJ Jiang, Tom DeMarco, Sam Wolff, Ricky Boyes, Andrew Martin, Mike Schulze, Scott Burns, John Pack, Dvd Avins, and Rob Kircher.

The GM (Jay Spencer) and Assistant GM (Chad Martin), along with John Ford, each won a first-round game, but were knocked out of qualification by the tiebreakers. Maybe next year I need to change those tiebreakers…

In my experience (obviously somewhat limited given that I did not make the semifinal), the first turn is important to determine who will be using which strategy. After the first turn, switching strategies becomes problematic but it can be done by an experienced player. By the end of the second turn, the strategies are mostly set.

Another observation I would like to make is that there is benefit to be gained from studying winners. Let’s take a look at Keith Dent’s games, since he did win the final.

In the first round, Keith won three games, each with a different strategy. In one he used a standard nine locomotive on the bottom track with the Kiev medal; in one he used the black track worker and a combination of factory track to the bonus, 5 locomotive on the bottom with Kiev medal, and top track to the end; and in one he used the two-track engineer plus a coin combined with three other engineers and three 1-factories. His only losing game in the first round saw him miss out on the top three and have to settle for the black track, doubler, purple plus repeat of one those three.

Interestingly, in the semifinal, he was able to turn that fourth choice into a (tied) victory by dominating on the top track (7 doublers plus the redoubler with white to 5). Given that he moved later on the final turn, he would have won the tiebreaker for a solo victory if I had implemented that tiebreaker for the semifinal. In his other semifinal win, he also used a top track strategy, but with the two-track engineer plus a coin. In his two semifinal losses, he used a top track strategy with the two-track engineer plus a coin and the black track worker with a combination of Kiev medal and factory track to the end.

Versatility is a strength, and one that I hope to try to emulate in the future. Having the ability to pivot into a strategy that others are not using is helpful in this game, as long as you don’t pivot too late.

Now let’s look at the first two turns of the final in detail. Note that my commentary is that of an outside observer. Readers can draw their own conclusions as well, which may differ from mine. Before we start, the 4th player bonus went to Michael (coin), 3rd to Dominic (purple), and 2nd to Keith (black top track).

AJ moved first and chose two black top tracks (Note that I am hesitant to question such an outstanding player as AJ, but I cannot imagine a scenario when I would use this opening, since it is a clear declaration of strategy choice right away. I prefer to hang back and wait to see what others choose before I commit. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t even in the semifinal… The benefit to this move by AJ is that it will allow him to unlock the top track extra worker a turn earlier. Plus, AJ was able to claim second place, so what do I know?) Keith then took the two coins, Dominic took the two workers, and Michael moved three black top tracks. At this point, AJ and Michael have both essentially declared a top track strategy. That meant that the race was on between Keith and Dominic for the 9 locomotive. The starting engineer was the doubler plus 3 points. I wonder if the start would have been different with a stronger engineer. Anyway, let’s continue.

Turn 2

  • AJ puts a 2 locomotive on the top
  • Keith takes starting player (the next engineer will be black and grey, but he will not take it, as we will see shortly)
  • Dominic uses the purple and 3 points engineer (the third one coming)
  • Michael takes the doubler and 3 points engineer

Turn 3

  • AJ uses the black and grey track engineer, both on the top track
  • Keith moves two purples
  • Dominic takes second player
  • Michael takes two grey top tracks

Turn 4

  • AJ moves a single black top track
  • Keith moves one purple
  • Dominic moves one purple and one black bottom track
  • Michael moves one black top track

Turn 5

  • AJ uses a worker and a coin for three top grey tracks
  • Keith passes, holding his three coins (he also still has his replacement worker from taking starting player)
  • Dominic moves a bottom black track
  • Michael uses his doubler and 3 points engineer

Turn 6

  • AJ passes automatically with no coins left
  • Dominic moves a bottom black track
  • Michael passes with one coin left
  • Dominic passes with one coin left

Replacement workers

  • Dominic moves one black top track
  • Keith moves one black bottom track

Now we move on to the second round, with the strategies fairly well established at this point. AJ and Michael will be competing with each other on the top track, while Keith and Dominic will be racing to see who can place the 9 locomotive on the bottom track.

Round 2 – turn 1

  • Keith takes two coins, bringing his total up to 5
  • Dominic takes starting player
  • AJ uses the any track plus a black track engineer (#4 in line) for a black and brown top track
  • Michael takes the black and grey track engineer with his last coin

Turn 2

  • Keith builds a 2 factory
  • Dominic takes two workers
  • AJ moves two black top tracks
  • Michael moves three black top tracks

Turn 3

  • Keith uses the purple and 3 points engineer
  • Dominic moves two grey bottom tracks
  • AJ takes second player
  • Michael uses his black and grey track engineer, both on the top track

Turn 4

  • Keith takes two purple and uses his 2 factory to place another 2 factory
  • Dominic moves one purple
  • AJ moves two brown to unlock his extra worker
  • Michael moves one brown

Turn 5

  • Keith uses two coins to move purple and black (bottom track) to use his second 2 factory to build a third 2 factory – (At this point the other players have to be worried about what is already appearing to be a potential runaway game. As a side note, though, I do not like putting a third 2 factory in line because the timing can be tricky and you can find yourself stuck if the other players are poised to put a 4 locomotive on the middle track. In this game, though, no one has positioned themselves for this possibility, so my guess is that Keith was willing to take the risk since the upside was so big)
  • Dominic, possibly regretting his earlier two grey track move instead of keeping Keith from all the purples, uses three workers to build a 3 factory and put a locomotive 3 on the bottom track
  • AJ takes a doubler
  • Michael moves a grey top

Turn 6

  • Keith passes with three coins remaining
  • Dominic passes with one coin remaining and a replacement worker coming
  • AJ automatically passes with no coins, but with a replacement worker coming
  • Michael automatically passes with no coins

Replacement workers

  • AJ moves a black middle track
  • Dominic moves a black middle track

The race to get the first 4 locomotive on the middle track is on!

During round 3, AJ has first choice and takes the black track worker. Keith is second and takes the 9 locomotive. Michael gets third pick and takes the two-track engineer plus a coin. Dominic decides to wait until later to take the factory plus two purples so that he can get a better factory. He ends up taking a 3 factory in round 5. Michael and AJ predictably fight along the top track, but with Michael also trying to score some 1 factory points. AJ holds onto his 1 factory until round 6, and Keith keeps his until the 7th and final round. Michael has expended too much time on accumulating the engineers to have workers left once the 1 factories are available. Also, Dominic has gained a second purple, so fighting for purples would prove to be too exhausting as well. Michael therefore only gains the benefit of his own 1 factory with the 5 purple move bonus during the final round. AJ’s 1 factory is available as well now, but there aren’t enough purple moves left to make it worth it.

It’s hard to go back to pinpoint the exact moment it became clear that Keith was going to win, but it was probably around the time he placed the 9 locomotive on the bottom track in the third round. The fight for second place, though, was exciting until the very end. AJ edged Michael out by 2 points.

Thanks to everyone who played and congratulations to the laurelists:

  • 1st – Keith Dent (as the lowest semifinal qualifier going into the final)
  • 2nd – AJ Jiang
  • 3rd – Michael Swinson
  • 4th – Dominic Blais
  • 5th – Sam Wolff
  • 6th – Rob Kircher (as the lowest qualifier for the semifinal!)

Here are some statistics for those who are interested:

  • Largest margin of victory: first round – Dominic Blais over Curt Collins 470 to 353; semifinal – Dominic Blais over John Pack 534 to 399
  • Smallest margin of victory: first round – Tom DeMarco over Francois De Bellefeuille 434 to 430 and semifinal – N/A (there were two ties! – Dominic Blais and Rob Kircher, and Keith Dent and Ricky Boyes)
  • Highest score: first round – AJ Jiang with 523; semifinal – Dominic Blais with 534
  • Lowest winning score: first round – Ricky Boyes with 376; semifinal – Tom DeMarco with 383

First round: Almost half (15 of 32) of the winning players used the 9 locomotive on the bottom track with the Kiev medal. Next most common was the black track worker (8 games) and then the two-track engineer with a coin (6 games). The factory plus 2 purple bonus was chosen by the remaining 3 winners.

Semifinal: Of the 16 games, there were 18 winners, since there were two ties. I may decide next year to eliminate ties by adding the “player who goes later in the last round” tiebreaker, but I am not convinced that it is necessary (except for the final). I am interested in feedback. I know there are some who like a clear winner, but in the rules of the game, both players win if there is a tie. Anyway, here are the wins:

  • 9 locomotive on the bottom track with the Kiev medal – 6
  • Two-track engineer with a coin – 6
  • Black track worker – 4
  • Factory plus 2 purple bonus – 1
  • Black track/purple/doubler plus one – 1

Number of engineers had little impact, although there was a slight preference this year for not scoring points for engineers at all. In all games played there were 51 winners (including the final). 14 had the most engineers for 40 points and 14 had the second most for 20 points. 23 winners got no points for engineers. In past years, second place seemed to be the sweet spot, but ignoring engineers seemed to work this year.