Demise of the Polar Bear

Last night I thumbed through an old sprouts notebook and counted 54 games devoted to the 8+ opening. I say “games”, but these were solitaire events, most of them not done with a great deal of concentration. The notebook stretched back into the misty past, back to good old 1999. I do not believe there is much of value in there, but perhaps some time I will explore further. In most cases the games are poorly documented, to say the least, but one big note did catch my eye. Around the middle of the notebook, after a line in the 8+ opening, I had written in large letters, “This line constitutes a bust to the Polar Bear!”

After staring at it for a while, that brought back memories. Maybe a year ago – I’m not sure when – I went through several days of keen sprouts interest in which I played a few solitaire games every evening. (I wish I had kept that up!) Most of the games were in the 8+ opening and I remember that at one point I decided that I had found a line complicated enough to acquire a name. The line in question began with the following moves.

8+ According to AJS, Right wins this opening. Surely that means he forces six survivors, since the seven spot game produces five survivors. But it is not so easy. Right is struggling to get as many as six. 1(9)2 Obviously the only move, but a very challenging try. 1(10)1[3,4] I used to be confident that this is the correct move, but I am no longer so confident, as I now fear Left’s 3(11)10, creating nasty double switches. The move 1(10)1[3,4] apes the winning plan in an analogous position in the 7+ opening, and follows the sound rule of thumb that a universal trap often helps the player needing fecundity. 5(11)6 A reasonable attempt by Left to dry out the position. Open moves really do tend to reduce fecundity, in my experience.

And now we have arrived at the position which I once thought interesting enough to have a name. I picked out a lethal word at random and chose “Polar Bear”. And I would, of an evening, in that happy, harmless week so long ago, say to my cat, “Well, I need to go inside and play a few lines of the Polar Bear.”

I know that I did play a few amazingly complex games from this position, but, sadly, the whole business turned out to be misguided. All of my enthusiastic explorations had started out in the wrong direction because there is actually an obvious, one move win for Right in this position. But I’m short of time now, so I will leave off the solution for a while. In fact, I will leave it off until February and anyone who wants to can e-mail me their try. I will name any solvers when I revise this article.

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