Friday, January 9, 2009

Tracking: The Pro's and Con's; Techniques; etc.

Open Discussion Entry
Last Updated January 9, 2009

A remark in Tyler's entry "Fenton, Day 2" prompts me to make this post. In commenting on his second game on Day 2 at Fenton, Tyler noted, "I had messed up on my tracking (like always), but had about 12 minutes left so I retracked the entire game, and with superior endgame tiles I pulled out the win."

What I would like to do through this post is to open up the subject of TRACKING for comments from any blog team member and others (whether LSC members or just readers of this blog) about whether they track, how they track and with what level of accuracy, if they have found it useful, and any other aspects of this subject. Leave your responses as a comment to this post, and I will shift them into the body of the post as they are received.

I think that this open-discussion type of post should be useful not only for new players who have never tracked but also for more seasoned ones who track or have tried to track and can benefit from learning how other players are doing it.

So, I'll start things off, but please do join in!




John, from Versailles, KY, 1/9/2009
When I first starting playing at club, there were too many other things going on (new rules to learn, clocks to deal with, etc.) to worry about tracking, but I soon saw others doing it and benefiting from their efforts. I started trying to track but found it frustrating and time-consuming at first, and I was rarely accurate in my results. Even now, while I usually start off tracking, I often don't continue with it throughout a game, particularly when my opponent makes plays very rapidly or when I have bad racks and spend more time than usual in trying to find plays.

One thing that really helped me in tracking was coming to the understanding that I did not have to track each play as I made it. If you put some kind of indicator by each play after you track it (I use a small check mark), you can delay tracking and catch up while your opponent's clock is running instead of using your own time to do it.

On my scoresheet, I have grouped tiles into three areas for tracking -- at the top, a line of individual boxes for the high-point letters (J, K, Q, X, Z) and the two blanks, with a separate row of boxes above them to indicate if I had the particular tile (by a check mark) or if my opponent had it (by an X); then vowels in alphabetical order, with each letter given as many times as there are tiles for it; then consonants in the same manner. As I track, I draw a diagonal line through each vowel or consonant; if I mistrack, I mark -1 to the side on the letter's line and cross that out when the next one of that letter is played. Because I found that I was making mistakes in tracking, I modified the vowel and consonant areas on the scoresheet to add a small box at the beginning of the line for each letter. When I have marked off all of a particular letter, I doublecheck by recounting them on the board, and if all have in fact been played, then I put a check mark in that box. As the end of the game approaches, I circle letters in the grid for the tiles still on my rack; the ones not circled or stricken through I list at the bottom of the page -- if I have tracked correctly, these are the ones that my opponent has on his or her rack or are left in the bag to draw, until it is empty.

It is really useful to know at the end of the game what tiles your opponent has. By playing using this knowledge, it is possible to limit him or her from making high point plays by where you play or do not play your tiles, and in tight games this can make a big difference and in all games it can affect the spread. So tracking accurately can pay off and is worth doing.

When I find that tracking in a game is taking me too much time, then I just limit myself to tracking the big tiles and the vowels. Even this more limited knowledge is very useful.

Tyler, from Winchester, KY, 1/9/2009
Tracking is extremely useful when done correctly. I agree with the system where you put a check next to each box after you track, as that seems to be my problem. I will start tracking, get caught up in a few plays and forget where I left off. But when done successfully it can help not only endgame but pre endgame, especially when trying to set up plays for big points (i.e. playing ova to line before tws line, knowing you hold the only l, etc..).

Also when determining your leave (which is a topic we should have a new post on sometime, leave/rack management), knowing the amount of vowels vs. the amount of consonants left can really make a difference. If I notice a vowel heavy pull Im opt to leave more consonants then typical, and vice versa. The same goes for certain vowels, if its mid game and I have a choice between leaving A or I for example, I'll almost always check the pool first before I decide. Even though I have trouble remembering to track, it is definitely something worth the time investment.

Will, from Versailles, Ky, 1/9/2009

I track in every game I play. My accuracy is well below 100 percent, but I view it as brain training, just like studying word lists. I have a long ways to go to make good use of it, but tracking already has helped me win a handful of tight games. By knowing what opponent held, I could assess the board and either block opponent's game-winner or make a play that gave me enough of a lead to survive opponent's best play. I also track -- or try to track -- every one of my racks. At this point, it's only for simple analysis, to see what bingoes or other plays I might have missed. I'm not yet up to speed on Quackle, but again, I think of it as training: eventually tracking tiles and racks will be second nature, and I'll be able to do it more efficiently.

Which brings me to a caution to those who are just starting to track: It takes time, and until you can find a rhythm for it, it might push you dangerously close to your time limit. I've lost two tourney games just by going over on time, and it's likely that if I hadn't tracked, or had tracked more efficiently, I'd have two more games in my win column.


Brad Mills said...

I always track. Sometimes it's not so important to get it exactly correct, but it's always helpful to get a general sense of what's left in the bag nonetheless.

Power tiles are a must. Vowel to consonant ratio (again, in the general sense) is good knowledge. It helps to know which 3- and 4-pointers are still out there if the score can turn easily (say within 30-45 points or so). It is unquestionably vital in an endgame situation, particularly so if it's close.

If the game is obviously a gimme - in one direction or the other - then tracking becomes less important. But I always do it until that point is reached, at least. Since this is relatively rare, I usually end up doing it all the way to the end.

I'm pretty close to 100% on tracking, missing a tile about every ten games or so.

Steve said...

I always start out tracking, and unless the game becomes a runaway in my favor, or I'm running out of time, I try to track the whole game. I've been playing live games for about two years now, but only recently has my tracking accuracy approached 100%.

I played on ISC for about 2 years before playing in club and tournaments, which was great preparation for live play, except for the fact that tracking is done automatically on ISC. Having that crutch removed proved difficult for me for a while. I found that trying to track tiles was such a distraction that for a while I gave it up altogether, and found that I played much better without worrying about it. In my experience, I don't have to be much less than 100% accurate for tracking to not be worth the cost in time and mental distraction.

When I did restart tracking (my third tourney, Lexingon '07), I did it only selectively, not tracking at all throughout the game, but then if it was close, I'd spend 3-4 minutes to track all the tiles at once up to that point. I found that my accuracy improved greatly with this method. The downside is that 1) sometimes there isn't enough time left to do this, particularly if my opponent makes a big scoring play to make it close late in the game, and 2) it's still possible to make turn-by-turn tracking mistakes even after the initial tracking (a good possibility if the game is close and time is low).

So I eventually decided that I just needed to develop good turn-by-turn tracking habits, that weren't dependent on the game situation. My method is pretty similar to the others described, and like the others, it's a big help to check off each score box as it's tracked, in case I fall behind.

Cheryl said...

I usually track. It isn't always helpful and when playing someone who is fast, can make me run overtime.

Tracking would be helpful I suppose if I could come up with some sort of end-of-game strategy. :D