All 16 semi-finalists at work on the
next step to wood. Attendance took a big dip in one of those
unexplained quirks of scheduling.
Lyman Moquin, Sara Beach, and Tom
Demarco strike a pose before Sara finishes them off to punch
her ticket for the Final.
In prior years, attendance was large enough that a single
win wasn't necessarily enough to qualify for the Thurn &
Taxis Final; two wins or one big win was required. This year,
with attendance down 32%, only 19 games were played in the heats.
Ivan Lawson won two heats, so there were 18 winners. With one
no-show at the semis, 16 of the 17 winners qualified for the
semi-finals, so all that was necessary to qualify was a win by
one point, rather than a win on tiebreak.
The 2009 games gave little support to those who claim either
a first or a last turn advantage: The player who went first won
seven times, second in turn order had eight wins, and third and
fourth won six each. Not surprisingly, the player who triggered
the endgame won in 17 of the 27 games played. Winning scores
ranged from 12 to 33.
Exciting competitive play was seen at all four semi-final
tables. Tom De Marco, a semi-finalist last year and finalist
the year before that, had bad luck at the start, and had to discard
his first 2-card route on Turn 3 when he could not find a third
card to add to it. Despite this setback, he finished strongly,
in a game marked by constant use of the Administrator to turn
up six new cards. Sarah Beach edged Tom on the tiebreak to qualify
for the Final.
Karl Henning realized he would need to take a chance to win
his semi-final game, and extended a route to five cards while
leaving himself with no cards in hand. With the ability to use
the Postmaster denied him by having no cards, he would need to
either see a route-extending card on the table, or draw one in
two draws, or his route would be discarded. He had to sweat,
since when the player before him started his turn, no useful
card was available. But that player used the Administrator, the
card Karl needed appeared, and he used the cartwright to end
the game for the win.
Kevin Wojtaszczyk and Tom Dunning both had to discard a route
without scoring it in their semi-final game. Henry Rice went
for fast carriages, while Daniel pursued a long-route strategy,
including a 10-city route that scored much of Bavaria. This enabled
Daniel to score Bavaria first, and while Kevin made a strong
comeback, it was too little too late, and Daniel edged Kevin
by three points to reach the Final.
The fourth semi saw Paul Bean start with a 8-card route, scoring
all of Bavaria on his first route! But he couldn't keep up the
pace after this strong start, and double heat winner Ivan Lawson
lost to defending champ Andy Latto by a single point.
The Final saw Sarah Beach and Daniel Eppolito pursuing a long-route
strategy, while Andy Latto and Karl Henning went for fast carriages.
Karl had a strong start, drawing Lodz and Pilsen on Turn 1. But
he couldn't find Regensburg or Nurnberg to extend the route to
three, and almost had to throw them away. A Turn-3 administrator
didn't find either of the needed cards, but he drew the needed
card from the top of the deck, so disaster was averted. Daniel
could not find the cards he wanted, clearing three times in the
first four turns, and often thereafter. The Turn-4 clear showed
him six useless cards, and he would have had to discard his route,
but a blind draw from the deck produced the card he wanted.
On his second route, Daniel duplicated Paul's feat from the
semi-final, scoring all eight Bavarian cities in a single route.
Andy went straight for the 7 carriage, using the cartwright
on his second, third, and fourth routes. With four cards in his
next route, Andy was set up to cartwright a fourth time and end
the game on Turn 15, only one turn longer than the theoretical
minimum. Karl, who went 4th, saw that once again he would need
to gamble, and left himself with a 4-card route and no cards
in hand. Andy, who went first, used the cartwright to get his
7 carriage and trigger the endgame, proving that Karl's gamble
was necessary. After Sarah's turn, no card Karl could use was
visible, so he was in danger of discarding his final route. But
Daniel, who had completed a route the previous turn, elected
to clear, leaving the card Karl needed to complete his route,
complete the greens, and cartwright for the 7 carriage. But this
strong finish was not strong enough. Andy still outscored Karl
18 to 17, ending the game and extending his winning streak to
Third-place Sarah Beach attributed her third-place plaque
to the strategy hints she received during the demo. So if you
haven't played Thurn and Taxis for a while, come to the
demo next year for a refresher and some pointers, and help boost
the attendance to the 100-plus it's been in previous years.