# First player advantage

People liked my article, “Chess involved luck, and other propositions“, so I’d like to add a bit more discussion on a related topic.

In turn-based games like Chess, there’s a slight asymmetry between players, in that one of the players moves before the other one does. And moving first seems to be an advantage. This has been demonstrated through statistical analysis of various chess tournaments and databases. Depending on which data are used, the first mover wins anywhere from 52% to 55% of the time.

First mover advantage can be considered as third factor, independent of either luck or skill. If you flip a coin to decide who goes first, then first mover advantage is one component of luck. But it’s the sort of luck that you can eliminate by say, choosing a tournament structure where players alternate white and black.

There’s apparently a lot of historical discussion of first mover advantage in chess, but at this point I may as well drop the pretension that I know anything about chess. The game that I’m a lot more interested in, is competitive Dominion. Dominion is a turn-based game, and also has a first player advantage. The community compiles a ton of statistics from games online, and the statistics show that in two player games among top players, the first player wins about 58.8% +/- 0.2% of the time (excluding ties).

# Chess involves luck, and other propositions

I find the concept of luck vs skill in games to be fascinating, because the common intuitions are just so wrong. The common intuition is that some games involve more luck, and some games involve more skill. On the extreme end of luck, we have the lottery; on the extreme end of skill, we have chess. The orthodox view was best expressed by a Vox article/video, which included the following image:

The Vox image also shows several sports, and the position of each sport is based on the statistical analysis of Michael Mauboussin.  The details of analysis aren’t explicitly described, but it’s basically analyzing the national tournaments for each sport, and estimating how much of the variance in outcome is explained by luck or by skill.

Mauboussin did not analyze chess.  Vox added chess in themselves, pulling a claim out of their ass.  Without doing any analysis, I can guarantee that if you applied the same statistical analysis to chess, you would not find that chess was 100% skill.  The analysis will only show that a game is pure skill if the same people consistently win all their games.  I quickly checked the US Chess Championship winners, and while some names show up repeatedly, it is not 100% consistent, and therefore would not be deemed a pure skill game by this analysis.

So what gives?  Is the statistical analysis bogus, or is the claim that chess is 100% skill bogus?  Trick question.  Both of them are bogus.

# On trans athletes

Lately people have been talking about the downturn of the Austin Community of Atheists (see video explaining timeline, or transcript). But the point of me leaving the atheist movement was so I didn’t have to concern myself with all the bullshit that goes on in atheist groups, so I’m not going to talk about it. Instead I’ll address an issue that came up in relation to the drama: the right of trans athletes to compete in athletic events. HJ Hornbeck has been talking about it for literally months, and this is my independent take.

I’ll admit upfront that I don’t care about athletics. The only sports I personally care about are video game speed running and competitive Dominion. I only care about athletics to the extent that I have empathy for things that other people care about.

So a good place to start is with someone else who cares more, and has more expertise. I present Dr. Rachel McKinnon, who is not only a trans athlete, but also a philosophy professor who teaches courses about sports ethics!

# The physics of Dominion

For this month’s repost, I’m publishing up an article I wrote in explanation of a programming project in 2018.  In theory you could find it on Github, but to maintain a layer of pseudonymity I’m not linking it directly.  A few minor revisions have been made to adapt to the audience.

# Introduction

The goal of this project is to create Markov Chain simulations showing that the card game Dominion contains phase transitions, much like the physical phase transition between liquid and solid.

Dominion is a popular card game created in 2008. In Dominion, each player has their own deck, and they add/remove cards from their deck over the course of the game. Each game has a unique set of cards available to be added to players’ decks, making the optimal strategy in each game different. However, there are two archetypical strategies, based on two fundamentally different decks. The “Big Money” deck makes the best of the 5 cards drawn each turn. The “Engine” deck includes cards that draw more cards, and tries to draw itself in its entirety each turn.

Because of my background in physics, I recognized that the line between “Big Money” and “Engine” strategies is a phase transition. More specifically, it’s a one-dimensional percolative transition. That explains why there is such a strong dichotomy between the two strategies over a wide range of conditions.

# Different ways of enjoying fiction

In the realm of games, it is widely acknowledged that different people enjoy different aspects of games, and for different reasons. There are several theories that attempt to describe different kinds of fun or different player types. Marc LeBlanc has his theory of 8 kinds of fun: Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission. Then there’s Bartle’s taxonomy, which classifies players of online multiplayer games into four types: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, or Killers. In Magic: The Gathering people commonly discuss Johnny, Timmy, and Spike, three archetypes of what people like about the game.

If we can recognize that different people enjoy different aspects of games, then we can also recognize that different people also enjoy different aspects of stories. This may seem like a trivial point, but one that we rarely think about directly.

I think the different ways of enjoying games are more obvious because they often result in different player behaviors, but the different ways of enjoying stories tend to be invisible.  Invisible… except in fandom. So, if you wanted to go looking for theories of how different people enjoy fiction for different reasons, I believe the place to look is in fandom. Unfortunately, I don’t actually involve myself in any fandoms, but I’m sure some of my readers do, so I’d be happy to hear from you.

For now, I’ll just toss a few preliminary ideas around.

# Link Roundup: July 2019

It’s time for my monthly link roundup.  Some of these, by the way, are taken directly from Skepchick’s newly returned Quickies feature.  The Skepchick team sure knows how to find the links.

The Unbearable Irrelevance of Contemporary Music (video) – So, I’m one of those extremely rare people with a marginal interest in contemporary classical music despite having no connection to the academic music world.  What can I say, I like avant-garde, drone, and xenharmonic music, and contemporary classical is one of the places you can find such things.  All the same, contemporary classical is the most frustrating genre.  We’re not just talking inaccessibility in terms of the music itself (although there’s that), but also recordings are literally inaccessible, and discovery mechanisms are absent.  Ask me in the comments and I’ll rant further.

In my humble opinion, as a former academic in a different field, this is a failure of the academic organizations.  I don’t really know how music departments operate, but they have clearly never placed enough value on outreach.

The war to free science – Holy shit, I hadn’t realized that the University of California system stopped paying for Elsevier access.  That’s a huge deal, Elsevier owned a large fraction of articles that I accessed in my own academic career.  Elsevier basically has a monopoly on a very inelastic good.  I looked into it and apparently academics can still access most Elsevier articles, they just can’t digitally access articles published in 2019.

Supreme Court Says Constitution Does Not Bar Partisan Gerrymandering (NYT) – Like the title says, The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of all partisan gerrymandering.  This is absurd, disenfranchisement on a massive scale.

# When we used to get street harassment

cn: anti-gay slurs and harassment

My husband and I have been together since 2011.  And it used to be that when we walked around in the streets and used public transit, we’d occasionally get harassing comments.  Someone would yell out “fags” from a passing car.  People would stare at us, and then make negative comments just as they were getting off the train or bus.  Homeless dudes would rant, and I’d come to the realization they were ranting about us.  One time a girl hugged us while her friend took a picture.  In one especially memorable incident, a middle-aged lady accused my husband of being my father.  These incidents would happen about once a month.

And then after about a year, it suddenly stopped.  I don’t know what changed.  At first it seemed like something must have changed about us.  Maybe we were walking in the street less often, or walking in different neighborhoods.  Maybe the visible age gap between us shrunk.  Maybe I was mentally blocking it out.  But in hindsight, it seems like what changed was the times.

Years after the harassment stopped, there was one final incident that happened around 2015.  Somebody called my husband a faggot, and then swung a bag at his head.  My husband was shaken, and a police report was filed, but nobody was hurt.  And that was the end of it.