Tiddlywinks shots

This introduction to tiddlywinks shots assumes a little familiarity with the game in general - those new to tiddlywinks are encouraged to read a primer to the game first.

Equipment

A set of winks, pot and squidgers

A tiddlywinks set (24 winks) and pot, on a mat, with a range of squidgers. These are the tools of the trade. The felt mat is critical to play, since it is the "springiness" of the mat which is responsible for propelling the winks. Different squidgers are used for different shots. In many cases, it is helpful for precision for a squidger to have a sharp edge (though not so sharp as to damage the winks) and a lens-shaped profile, although blunter squidgers and flexible squidgers are also useful. The rules dictate the limits on what is considered a legal squidger - players make their own, and typically use several during a game.

The winks and pot are standard ETwA issue, complying to the rules and available from ETwA (or from NATwA in North America).

Note that suitable felt for tournament mats can be acquired from British Felt. A 180cm x 1m section would be about an inch short and 3in too wide compared with an official 6' by 3' mat - few tables are a perfect fit for the playing area, and this can typically be considered close enough for use. This mat material is relatively expensive (currently listing at £68.41); some synthetic felt materials are cheaper and a viable alternative, although the feel (particularly friction) tends to differ somewhat from real felt. Ask ETwA for guidance on alternatives.

The Squop

The squop is the most important shot in the winker's repertoire, involving the placement of the played wink on top of another wink - thus stopping the covered wink from being played, and stopping it from contributing to the score of its owning player.

A squop is played by pulling the wink sideways into the mat while pressing down on it, dragging the squidger across the surface of the wink until it reaches the edge. As the squidger leaves the edge of the wink, the wink is released - the mat returns to its original shape, pushing the wink away from the direction where the squidger left it. The upward pressure on the wink from the mat propels the wink up into the air. By controlling the force applied to the wink before release, the player controls how far the wink moves.

A squop is typically played with the upper edge of the squidger tilted towards the direction in which the wink will travel. This means that as the wink is pushed upwards by the mat, it will be deflected off the lower edge of the squidger, keeping it on a low and controlled trajectory. A tilted squidger also keeps the leading edge of the wink from rising into the air, as can happen if only the rear of the wink is being pressed on. However, when trying to give the wink more height, for example when squopping onto a high pile of winks, the player may deliberately choose to keep the squidger more vertical to ensure the front edge of the wink lifts more.

Where possible, most people find it easier to squop towards themselves, moving the squidger off the end of the wink most distant from themselves. This allows a clearer view of how the squidger is leaving the wink, and makes it easier to ensure that fingers don't get in the way of the wink's travel. This is not always possible, for example when the pot is in the way of the player's hand, so it is useful to be able to squop away from oneself as well.

It is important to leave the side of the wink opposite the direction in which the wink is to travel. Not coming off the back of a wink can cause the wink to rotate in flight, making it likely to roll uncontrollably on landing. This is harder to control for longer shots.

For short squops, the target wink can be aimed for directly. Please note that the following is one of a set of videos taken at a high frame rate to allow details of the motion to be visible; this shows that the movement of the squidger over the wink is not completely smooth, and the squidger may slip and stick a number of times before the wink moves irreversibly. If the pressure on the wink and the angle of the squidger is controlled, this has little effect on the shot outcome.

For longer squops, a wink that lands directly on the target will typically slip off, even if the front edge of the target is reached. If attacking a pile of winks controlled by an opponent, this approach can be useful since it will often knock the uppermost wink of the pile, hopefully freeing the other winks.

The solution for longer squops is to bounce the wink off the mat on its path to the target. The mat imparts some friction (the amount is one of the significant differences between the available types of mat), so the amount by which this bounce will slow the travel of the wink needs to be judged carefully.

It is useful not just to worry about capturing an opponent wink (any amount of coverage will do - a wink may only be "squopped" by a fraction of a millimeter) but also how to capture it. Having a lot of overlap between the winks makes it harder for an opponent to knock the higher wink off the squop, and make it easier to Bristol or gromp the two winks together, making them self-defending. Landing on one side of a squop make may it harder for an opponent to squop you in return, especially if your wink is sloping away from them.

Many players use a squopping motion, playing away from themselves, to bring winks into the game from the baseline. This tends to give better control over how a wink travels after it lands, at the cost of slightly less control over how far the wink initially travels. (This is open to debate. You may, or may not, find it more likely that the wink rolls off the mat with a squop-style bring-in than a pot-style one. Players with long arms may also be able to bring in towards themselves, albeit awkwardly by leaning over the side of the mat. If one style of bring-in is not working, it can at least be psychologically useful to switch to another.)

Squopping sends a wink in quite a low trajectory. One way squops can go wrong is to "sub" under the target wink.

It's possible to sub under even a flat wink, but it is a much higher risk when attacking a pile, for which there may be an overhanging wink. From a short distance, a more vertical squidger will lift the front of the wink more, reducing the risk; for longer distances the aim is to avoid the wink nose-diving at the point where it reaches the target.

Squop-style shots are often used for tactical positioning of winks to strengthen an area (the "snoove") or as a minor repositioning in the absence of anything better to do (the "brundle"). A squop is much easier to control when the wink is flat on the mat; it is sometimes necessary to move a wink on top of a pile, but the lack of friction and compressibility of the winks makes it much harder to control how far the upper wink will travel and the effect on the lower winks.

The Bristol

The bristol is a squop, but rather than moving a single wink, a pile of multiple winks is moved. This allows a wink that is on top of a pile to defend itself, and allows the building of larger piles. However, should the shot miss or the pile separate, the danger of leaving the opponent with means of claiming the pile is greater. A Bristol requires that the uppermost wink be towards the back of the lower one, from the point of view of the target wink. This only really applies to the backmost surface, though, so a 'mushroom' big-on-little squop can be Bristolled in any direction.

There are two common approaches to playing Bristols; the first is to play the upper wink squop style, making sure that enough force is on the lower wink to move it. The second, more common in Cambridge, is to use the squidger in the plane of the direction of movement, with the circular edge of the squidger used to push the winks almost horizontally. The further the line of the centre of the winks is from the desired direction of travel, the harder the shot.

The more overlap there is between the winks, the easier it is to make them move together. If the upper wink hangs too far off the back of the lower, it can be hard to move them together very far.

It is not necessary to keep the winks in a Bristol perfectly together; it can be sufficient if the upper wink captures the target while still retaining control of the lower wink. Note that in this example the pile started to move irrevocably during the shot; if this movement had been significant or the movement of the squidger had taken longer (remembering that this is a slow-motion video), the shot would have been illegal.

So long as the distance of the shot is not too large, it can be easier to control the movement of the winks by playing out of line; this can increase the effective amount of overlap of the winks being played, although they will separate slightly during the shot. Winks in contact will often separate less than one might expect. An alternative for very short shots is to play the upper wink across (pressing on the area of it which is over a mat) without moving the lower wink at all, forming a bridge. A Bristol, while making the upper wink harder to control, has the advantage that the lower wink is likely to move in the correct direction, reducing the accuracy required in the final position of the upper wink.

If a pile of winks needs to be moved at right angles to its line, the best approach is to use a large squidger and to try to play them evenly - this is less reliable than a true Bristol, and is generally not safe for great distances.

At the other extreme, if the bottom-most wink is behind the uppermost in the desired direction of travel (or if you have a 'fried egg' little-on-big squop), a gromp must be played, in which both winks are played, squop-style, in one movement (the motion of the squidger must be quick and continuous, and the upper wink must be contacted first). It can take considerable skill to keep the winks together, but it is sufficient to keep the original squop and and cover the wink being attacked with just the upper wink:

Note that it can be quite hard to stop the upper wink from nose-diving when doing this, and it relies on the lift of the lower wink to elevate it. (You may notice that I am in the habit of pressing the squidger into the mat before a shot; this both gives me a sense of the springiness of the mat, since this varies with age, and allows me to ensure that I have a firm grip on the squidger.)

Alternatively, it can suffice for the lower wink to cover the target, so long as the uppermost wink remains on it:

The risk in imparting most of the force to the lower wink is that the upper wink does not move far enough, leaving two enemy winks able to capture the player. Of course the requirement to make brief contact with the upper wink makes it hard to judge the amount of force being applied. As such it is typically much easier to control a Bristol.

Technically, the names Bristol and gromp are applied to the movement of the piles, rather than whether they result in squopping a wink. Small piles can often take several goes to merge as they Bristol towards each other.

Another shot, played in a similar manner to a Cambridge Bristol, is the Good Shot. If a small, flat wink is very close to a tall pile, this shot can be used to try to dismantle the pile from underneath. The tactic is to use a small, thick squidger in the plane of the direction of travel, but to press the wink very hard into the mat. The squidger is then drawn back very quickly, and the wink should travel very fast and low into the pile. It's a risky shot, because if the wink gets too much lift and misses the pile it can easily go off the table.

The Boondock

A boondock (or "dock" for short) is typically used to free a wink from the top of a squop, often as a precedent to potting it or as a deliberate freeing shot after a "squop up". In the process, since the lower wink will no longer be squopped, it is usually sent as far away as possible. If played properly, the upper wink normally does not move very far (unless the player desires it to). Naturally, the more completely the upper wink covers the lower, the harder it is to apply force to the lower wink.

The trick is to brush the upper wink gently and apply a lot of force to the lower wink. Typically the lower wink is played out squop-style, with the upper wink pushed off around the circumference of the squidger, or (with more care if the shot is to be legal) pushed off the bottom of the squidger. The squidger must make contact with the upper edge of the uppermost wink first, and the motion of the squidger after winks start to move irreversibly must be quick and continuous. Since a boondock aims to send the wink a long distance away, the wink is normally sent away from the player.

Playing a dock directly in the line of the winks can be difficult, since this requires the player to make very precise contact with the upper wink: the upper surface of the topmost wink must be played with just enough force to move it out of the way of the lower, but the squidger must then apply much more force to the lower wink. Note that it is not legal to contact the lower winks first and then slide down it to move the upper wink aside.

Playing even slightly out of line of the winks is much easier, since it allows the curvature of the squidger to be used to move the upper wink aside before the lower wink is squeezed between squidger and mat.

A boondock can be used to remove a squopping wink and leave multiple friendly winks in an area, so long as care is taken not to put too much indirect force on the friendly winks in the process.

The Chip Out

A chip shot is used when the owner of a wink on top of a pile wants to remove another (typically friendly) wink from the pile, while leaving the rest of the pile intact; the friendly wink is played as in a boondock, except that it is usually the case that it is better for the wink not to travel too far. There is a balance between the risk of freeing the opponent winks and failing to free the friendly wink, especially where the upper wink may move to a position where a second freeing attempt is not immediately possible without repositioning on a pile.

Often the best tactic when landing on a pile in which one's winks are underneath is simply to blow the pile apart (putting a small amount of force on friendly winks and as much force as possible on opponents). However, for small piles or piles which it would be useful to retain because they also contain a number of opposing winks, it can be worth trying more subtle tactics.

Because it is only legal to touch winks vertically under the one first played, pile play of this kind often requires independent adjudication. In addition, it must be the top surface of the wink that is played first, so it is not legal to merely brush the side of a wink.

In order to play a chip shot, the first thing needed is a steady hand. The second is usually a sharp squidger. The trick is to hit the top wink as lightly (and as near the edge) as possible, and to apply more force to the lower wink. It can be useful to have a squidger you can slide in at an angle under the top wink, although the movement of the squidger must be short, smooth and continuous. A small squidger can come in handy in avoiding winks in the same pile which it is not legal to play.

It can sometimes be useful to squop a wink of a partnering colour. By taking advantage of colour order, one of a team's winks can dock the other so that it lands close to an opposing wink, and the second colour may then get a chance to play before the opponent can respond. This can be especially valuable when defending against a potential pot-out.

The John Lennon Memorial Shot

The John Lennon Memorial Shot (or Lennon for short) is a combination boondock and squop. The wink to be squopped must be fairly close to the existing squop, of course. A refinement of the boondock, the trick is to clip the topmost wink just sufficiently to send it in the right direction, while still putting enough power into the lower wink to dock it. If there is no chance of defending a squop which has a close attacker, this shot can leave the area balanced (requiring the opponent to bring in) without a numerical disadvantage; it can also be a way to acquire an attacker that is near an undefended pile.

If the arrangement of winks is even close to being set up, it can be worth trying a John Lennon Memorial Shot simply for tempo: the boondock is likely to work, at least to some extent, so the additional squop can be taken as a bonus if it is achieved. The risk is that this squop can be easy if the wink lands next to an opponent, so an awareness of tactics and the other actions the opponent needs to take are valuable: sometimes leaving an easy shot is acceptable because the opponent is distracted by something more valuable anyway. As with a boondock, using the curvature of the squidger to move the upper wink can make it easier to control.

The Pile Flip

A pile flip shot tries to invert a pile - or part of a pile. For example, if blue lands on a yellow, which is in turn on a red (red and blue being partners), blue can try to invert the red and yellow, sending itself clear. Generally a pile-flip should be played quite gently, running the squidger down line of exposed winks in a gentle form of a potting motion.

While spectacular, this shot is usually not too difficult, although there is often less risk of losing a squop if the bottommost wink can simply be chipped out. A pile flip does rely on the winks being set up favourably, and the top wink will often travel unpredictably. As with a John Lennon Memorial Shot, using the curve of the squidger to move the upper wink safely out of the way means that the weight of the squidger can be used to flip the lower winks over.

The Pot

The pot is the most obvious shot in tiddlywinks, but often plays a relatively small part in the game, at least until the last few rounds. A potted wink is worth three "tiddlies" (table points) compared with one for an uncovered but unpotted wink, but it is often best to keep winks in play for as long as possible. A wink that is sitting on top of an opposing wink is scoring one more tiddly than the opponent, if it is uncovered; if they are both in the pot, the scores are equal. A colour with five potted winks may have the last wink squopped, and be unable to enact a rescue. The opponents can then have a chance to pot all their winks unhindered - so running into the pot early is a risk.

However, being able to pot when necessary is important, especially late in the game when the opponent cannot counterattack.

A player who pots a wink of his own colour get another shot. For this reason, it is dangerous to let an experienced player have the chance to pot all six winks (or to pot five and to bring in safely). While there is a risk in potting, there is also a risk in letting the opponents pot - for this reason, many players have to throw away a strong position in order to avert the threat of a pot-out.

To play a potting shot, the squidger is placed near the centre of the wink, facing towards but with the upper edge leaning away from the pot. The squidger is then pulled back off the edge of the wink farther from the pot, and the force the mat applies to the wink as the squidger releases it propels the wink forward. The faster the squidger is pulled back off the wink, the more the force of the mat applies to the centre of the wink, pushing it on a higher trajectory - very close the the pot, a "flick" of the squidger may apply less downward force to the edge of the wink than the centre, again increasing height. a more vertical squidger pulls the wink less firmly sideways, where a more horizontal one pull the wink more firmly. The amount of force applied to the wink determines how far it will travel as the mat returns to shape.

Potting a wink that is near to the pot is therefore done by holding the squidger quite vertically and coming off the back of the wink fast:

In contrast, potting a distant wink - or bringing in pot-style from the baseline - requires an almost horizontal squidger, pulled back slowly:

Most people prefer to pot towards themselves (standing with the wink on the far side of the pot) - this makes it easiest to determine whether the wink is aiming towards the pot. Some prefer to pot sideways (at 90 degrees to the line between pot and wink), which makes judging distance slightly easier. It is often useful to aim slightly to one side of the centre of the pot, since this can reduce the chance of the wink "scrunging" (bouncing out of the pot); this is especially risky for small winks taking a high trajectory into an empty pot, since the bottom of the pot can result in a high bounce. Aiming for the back edge of the pot also tends to reduce the risk of scrunging, and as such distant winks that don't hit the rim of the pot (and are approaching on a shallower trajectory) scrunge quite rarely.

While potting towards the player is most comfortable, it is not uncommon to need to pot in the reverse direction, especially if reach is a problem. It can be easier to impart more flick when potting away from the player, so it is worthwhile practising both. (Conveniently, any pot attempts towards the player that miss can then be used as practice for potting away.)

Very long pot-style shots are often played two-handed to keep control when force is applied. With a smaller squidger, it is easier to keep fingers from hitting the wink when a pot-style shot is played. Pot-style shots are often used to "bomb" an enemy pile (trying to cause damage with the momentum from the height), or when moving a wink to a position over the pot.

The Phone Card

Potting a wink that is very close to the pot requires a lot of flick in order to increase vertical movement compared with horizontal travel. One solution to this is a flexible squidger, which can provide the "flick" by returning to shape. A suitable material is the plastic used in the old BT phone cards; credit cards are an alternative, although they tend to be stiffer. The squidger is held very vertically and rotated around its axis to provide the flick, taking care that the deformation of the squidger does not cause it to travel off the side of the wink nearer the pot (the common way to fail a phone card shot is to send the wink off the mat in the opposite direction). The height required depends on how close to the pot the wink is; very high shots are more likely to scrunge.

This approach can be effective even if winks are slightly nurdled (under the lip of the pot), since the rotation of the wink in flight can allow it to pass the edge of the pot and "climb in", which is useful to reduce the necessary height of the trajectory.

However, phone cards are typically ineffective with winks that are actually touching the base of the pot - a squidging action which pulls the wink away from the pot while potting it works better - and phone cards work poorly with large winks (for which fortunately the centre of gravity is usually farther from the pot, and the ability to impart rotation is easier). It is hard to get much forward motion from a phone card, so they tend to be used only for this specialised shot.

The Lunch

A "lunch" is a shot in which a squopped wink is potted.

There are generally four reasons you would want to do this. The first is that through some misfortune you are on top of your partner's wink, and it is important that your partner gains the tiddlies - although unless a pile has just been blown there are usually other winks in the pile too, and the lunch may free opponents.

The second reason is to prioritise potting the winks of one colour over another: if your winks are largely squopped and a single pot would still leave you in last place, or if most of your winks are potted and your first place is insurmountable, potting your partner's winks may be a priority. If your partner's winks are in hard-to-pot positions, it may be more valuable for your tempo to be spent, especially in rounds, doubling the efforts at potting. This is especially useful with a novice partner whose potting is unreliable. The risk is that you have squopped your partner, reducing their table points until you free them; if you are squopped or distracted, this tactic can do more harm than good. On the plus side, even if your lunch misses, you may leave your partner with an easier pot in the next turn.

The third reason is to pot your own wink out from under a pile; having a free shot available means that one can then pot the remaining hopefully-flat wink, whereas potting off the top of the pile may leave lower winks squopped.

The final reason is to leave yourself with a flat wink while not leaving a marauding opposing wink. If it is hard to boondock the squopped wink, or if you wish your opponents to remain squopped-up or constrained in the number of free winks available to them, a lunch may be the way to go about it. This ("sending your opponent out to lunch") is the origin of the term, although one should be careful not to fail to free at the end of squop-up turns.

To play a lunch, the upper wink should more-or-less be ignored, with the proviso that the squidger must hit it first. The shot is not dissimilar to playing an air-shot, where one cannot rest on the wink being played. Depending on how the winks lie, it can be easier to pot one's lower wink out of a pile than to pot the uppermost one.

Note that in this example, the lower wink actually came into accidental contact with the player's hand. Had this been noticed at the time, there would have to be agreement among the players as to where the wink would have landed; as it happens, probably not far from where it did end up.

Alternatively - particularly at the end of the game where a squopped colour may have no more turns available - one can just pot off the top of another wink (if the squop is stable, one can almost ignore the lower wink when doing this, although some adjustment is necessary when the winks are not lined up with the pot):

It is rare, but possible to pot two winks with one shot. If both winks are of the player's colour, two extra shots are awarded rather than one. If there are only two winks and they are separated, it can be possible for them to follow very different trajectories into the pot. If more winks are ideally positioned, the upper winks may effectively stick together, and travel on a similar trajectory. Potting three winks off a fourth is one way to achieve the mythical 5⅔*-1⅓* scoreline with a reasonable chance of the final potting shot working, although it would require remarkable circumstances in the game to set up.

The upper winks may travel on completely the same path, despite not being connected by anything more than their initial contact; despite appearances, these winks are not stuck together.

It is also possible (but harder) to pot all four winks from a similar situation. Should this ever happen (with the four last winks) in a real game, the result would be the infamous 3½*-3½*.

Achieving a 6½*-½* is much harder, since it requires that the (flat) last wink of one colour bounce off the last wink of another, both ending up in the pot.

By popular request, some of these videos have been made available as GIFs.