Yahoo Dots

Chapter 4 of my Dots page


Ilan Vardi

(ilanpi on Yahoo Dots)

The Yahoo Games website allows people from the world over to . Yahoo also has Chess and Go, but also games like Dominoes, as well as card games like Canasta and Gin.

Unlike classical board games like Chess and Go, which have been played in clubs, tournaments, and other formal environments for centuries, Yahoo Games has given Dots and Boxes the first venue for serious competition. Indeed, the first Dots tournament seems to have been played in 1994, so prior to Yahoo Dots, and the quality of play was at a rudimentary level.

Apart from allowing people from all over the world to play with each other, Yahoo Games also has a rating system similar to the one used in tournament Chess, thus providing an objective standard for comparison, though there is much abuse and cheating.

On top of the gaming aspects of the Yahoo site, each game table is also a chat room, so one gets to know one's opponents, including an introduction to the new phenomenon of the chat world.

On average, Yahoo Dots has relatively fewer numbers of people (about 500 people) than Chess (a few thousand). Also, Dots is most popular in the United States and almost completely unknown in countries like Spain, so the peak Dots times correspond to afternoon and evening in the United States.

Yahoo Ratings

The Rating System

The Yahoo rating system is based on the chess performance rating method introduced by Arpad Elo in the 1960's: When two rated players meet, the winner wins 16 points plus 4% of the rating difference. The loser loses the exact same amount of points. For example, if a 2000 rated player beats a 1800 rated player, then the new ratings will be 2008 and 1792.

The rating system has extra safeguards, so that you can never lose points for winning, so you win about 0 points for beating someone more than 400 points below you. Similarly, you only lose 0 points to a player more than 400 points above you. This implies that the maximum you can win or lose is 32 points.

Dots Hierarchy

Experience with Dots players of all strength level seems to indicate the following general correspondence between ratings and Dots ability. This classification applies to players who regularly face opposition of all strength, including stronger players. Players restricting themselves to weaker opposition will quietly inflate their ratings, while boosting will make a rating completely meaningless.

  1. 1500. This corresponds to the initial rating. Players at this level have little or no experience with the game, and are typically unaware of the basic strategy.
  2. 1600-1700 These are more experienced players who are able to correctly use a doublecross in the final phase.
  3. 1700-1900. Corresponds to players who have understood the basic strategy, but still make mistakes like as needlessly giving up boxes during the neutral phase.
  4. 1900-2100. Corresponds to players who have competely assimilated the basic strategy, but still lose games despite winning the chain fight.
  5. 2100-2200 This roughly corresponds to players who have learned how to win a game despite losing the chain fight. This appears to be one of the biggest hurdles in Dots, and is what separates experts from good players.
  6. 2200-2400. Players have understood use of the quad allowing them to reach the standard ties and consistently tie, even as second player.
  7. 2400-2500 A complete understanding of all endgame combination with chains and cycles. Can apply Nimstring strategy in some rare cases. Still not playing sound moves in unusual openings. About 10 people at this level, where about two thirds of games are ties.
  8. 2600-2700 Good knowledge of all openings. Can identify weaknesses in opponent's game and will adapt play. Very few players at this level. Must give almost all players a second player handicap.
  9. ? Optimal Dots. Players know everything about the game and optimize their winning chances by playing moves which maximize dynamic tension by keeping the number and nature of regions unresolved as high as possible and reducing the number of correct moves on both sides to a minimum. For an example of such play by both sides, see the perfect game, generated by David Wilson using computer analysis. This player will also try to set up pivot moves and knows all about Nimstring strategy. I have not observed any such players on Yahoo Dots.

Chess Ratings

Chess ratings roughly reflect the following hierarchy of ability and commitment to the game:

  1. 1000-1200. Corresponds to average casual players, for example, players who have never participated in a tournament, or read a chess book.
  2. 1200-1400. Corresponds to average players, who occasionaly participate in a tournament or read a chess book.
  3. 1400-1600. Corresponds to good players, who occasionaly participate in a tournament or read a chess book.
  4. 1600-1800. Corresponds to good players, who regularly participate in tournaments and have studied chess at least one year. These players will always beat casual players who have never studied chess. Level of better High School players.
  5. 1800-2000. Corresponds to good players, who regularly participate in tournaments and study chess, but also have real talent. This is the level of top High School players in large cities.
  6. 2000-2200. The "expert" level. Corresponds to the players at the local level. Sometimess win local open tournaments. The rating of some master level players with uneven results.
  7. 2200-2400. The "national master" level. Reaching the 2200 level is usually considered attaining mastery of chess. It represents consistent good results in strong local and national tournaments. Players will not necessarily devote an enormous amount of time to studying and playing chess.

    The International Chess Federation ratings all start at 2200.

  8. 2400. The "senior master" level. This is a high ranking at the national level (top 200 in the United States) and usually means that the player is spending most of his energy studying and playingchess.
  9. 2500. At this point, it is the international rating which is most meaningful, see the list of the top players (note that a woman is number 20 in the world).

    A rating of over 2450 probably means that you are an International Master, and over 2600 an International Grandmaster. However, these titles are earned by achieving good results in international tournaments, not simply by rating points. A rating of 2800 means that you are either the current or former world champion.

The chess rating system is also used on internet Chess servers like Internet Chess Club and the Free Internet Chess Server. People mostly play speed chess on these sites, and the ratings hierarchy roughly corresponds to the one outlined above.

Comparison with Chess

The Yahoo system has a few idiosyncracies which set it apart from chess ratings.

  1. Yahoo ratings are all initialized at 1500, with the ordinary rating method used thereafter.

    In Chess, a new player first plays 20 games with a provisional rating. After 20 games, his permanent rating will be computed as a function of his performance against the average rating of his opponents.

  2. Yahoo counts all ties as 0 points.

    In Chess, after a tie, each player gets (or loses) 4% of the ratings difference, to reflect the fact that a tie with a better player means you are improving.

The first difference makes a big impact on the significance of ratings, since it basically implies that the average rating will be about 1500. However, the average chess rating is about 1200 to 1300, so this implies that Yahoo Dots ratings are inflated by about 200 to 300 points compared to Chess ratings.

The Yahoo Dots rating hierarchy seems to be roughly consistent with a 500 point inflation with respect to chess. That is, a 2500 Yahoo Dots rating, should reflect a chess ability level of at most a 2000 rated player. In particular, I reached 2500 level within 3 months of my first Dots game, whereas it is not uncommon for players to reach 2000 chess level in one year, but rare for players to get much higher in that short a time.



There are many people abusing the Yahoo rating system. In particular, many players spend a lot of time boosting their rating by creating multiple identities and having them play against each other in bogus matches. For example, on January 25, 2003, I logged into Yahoo Dots and noted that about half of the 170 participants of the room "Octagon" were two people using multiple identities to boost their ratings.

Examination of this identity's profile showed that he was playing one game every 30 seconds against his other identity. The 30 seconds is needed because Yahoo requires a 30 second minimum for the game to be rated.

Further examination of the game itself reveals that no move was ever played, only the 30 second time limit was respected.

Such boosting methods are not possible on internet chess servers which do some checking for match validity. However, Yahoo does check for multiple identities, that is, it does not allow two identities from the same computer IP address to log into the same game room. However, this can be bypassed by using a special Dots backdoor site dedicated to helping Dots cheaters.

Finally, there appear to be other methods of boosting depending on bugs in the system. For example, this seemingly inexplicable profile.


Apart from the more or less innocuous practice of boosting which doesn't involve anyone else, Yahoo Dots a source of inspiration for more insidious forms of cheating.

The first cheating which I encountered was the impostor, that is, someone with a high rating passing of as a beginner. Though not strictly against the rules, this practice is extremely frustrating, as you will lose many points for losing to someone stronger than you, or what is even more infuriating, lose many points even if you win 3 games to 1 against a player that is slightly weaker than you.

Because of impostors, I was continually underrated, having lost numerous matches this way. Some of the impostors used further techniques, such as inviting me to play while they had a little girl with baseball cap icon, then changing to a devil icon after the minimal 30 second rating period had elapsed.

This became most bothersome when I was at about 2000 level, since I was not good enough to defend against impostors, but I was a prime target due to my fairly high rating.

I should say that impostors were a strong motivation to improve, and the problem went away when I reached 2200 level, at which point players interested in such tactics were no longer good enough to beat me.

These impostors seem to be players who have achieved a minimal level of skill but don't have the courage to improve or to face players who can beat them, so spend their time trying to find easy marks, and derive satisfaction from regaining their 2200 rating from the initial 1500 in as few games as possible.

When I was first confronted with this practice, I was very disappointed, since I have usually observed among good games players, that better players do not indulge in unethical behavior. However, after reaching a level in which I can compete with the best Dots players, I now realize that impostors do not represent that high level, and my initial depression was unwarranted.

But, as in every human endeavor, there are genuine Dots cheats. There is one player who sets up his own table making sure that it has no time limit. If he's winning, then there's no problem. However, if he gets in a lost position, then he will refuse to move, leaving his unsuspecting opponents to just sit there with absolutely no recourse. Leaving your computer on overnight won't work either, as Yahoo will log you out after 30 minutes.



Not only can you play Dots on Yahoo Games, but each game also gives you the privilege of engaging a chat session at your table. This was a totally new world for me, and I had to learn its ways.

The first thing to know is that much of the communication is done via abbreviations such as

Interestingly, the acronym sol = shit out of luck, common in written English, is not used. But the most infamous of all abbreviations is


My wife, being a regular player on Yahoo games, informed that asl = age/sex/location.

My years in Canada had left me with some of the reserve that its citizens are known for, and I didn't like telling strangers my personal data. I tried to get around the question by giving my initial response, the meaning of the antiquated acronym. When that didn't seem to work, I followed with the various meaningful permutations, which are

None of this had much effect, and my opponents were like the Terminator: They absolutely will not stop until they get what they want, good for Dots playing, not necessarily for chat. Whole lines of ASL???????????? and other exclamations would appear on my computer screen. In many cases, my simple refusal to reveal my age led to immediate resignation. I suggest that approach for people who want to win quickly.

But why this obsession with age/sex/location? The answer, I believe, is fairly simple, especially in the light of the fact that the true asl maniacs are invariably Americans: In American society, knowledge of age and sex are essential to casual social intercourse. Male bonding, flirting, and similar social behavior is impossible without age and gender determination. Combine this with lower tact level and higher self-righteous level of Americans, and you get your answer. True, many of the asl'ers were very young, but they merely say directly what the majority is thinking. Such problems rarely came up with other cultures.

On February 12, 2003, an unsuspecting opponent volunteered her ASL: "16 f uk u?" This of course, was a source of ammunition in the ASL battles and I came back with renewed vigour.

The ASL interactions are consistent with my preferred form of chat, incongrous interaction. For example

masturbator_2003: ilanpi, u wanna play?

ilanpi: no, I can't

masturbator_2003: y

ilanpi: because you can only play with yourself

masturbator_2003: huh?


Trash Talk is a common practice in American sports. It consists in producing a constant stream of insults as a way to destabilize the opponent. In Yahoo Dots, it seems to be a common practice among some players, but more as a kind of latter day self-assertiveness method.

For example, the following conversation occured between two of the best Dots players.

Trash talk also includes temper tantrums the bad losers who opens the floodgate of insults when he realizes he has a lost position. In this game, the verbiage started when the position in the diagram was achieved.

Amusingly, this person was right, I was using Dabble during the game, but to record it. Interestingly, I later discovered that this person was none other than the aformentioned Pablo, an expert player generating tremendous torrents of trash. This in turn has made him the object of abuse, some of which being fairly amusing. For example, my wife once tried to be a mother hen to a gaggle of my youthful colleagues and started it off in Linda Richman style:

foxycath: OK, I'll give you a topic. Which do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?

t0lvy: paBLOW prefers whichever one tastes more like cock.

This struck me when I later found out that the respondent, one of the top Dots players, was 14 years old. Kids say the darndest things!

The careful reader may have detected that some of the remarks very subtly verge on the homophobic side of the spectrum. Is this a reflection of anti-gay sentiment among chatters? I'm not so sure, as these epithets are so overused, that one might venture to say that the anti-homosexual aspect has lost all its original impact. In fact, it seems to be more in the nature of the posturing phase of American male bonding rituals.

Then again this trash talk is likely related to the age of the best Yahoo Dots players, which runs between 14 and 22 years of age (I seem to be the only one not this range). But, since a number of the best players engage in this practice, I decided I needed a little practice, and my conclusion was the simplest method was to return the statement "X" with "no, X" as in

opponent: ur gay

ilanpi: no, ur gay

opponent: u r a homo fag

ilanpi: no, ur a homo fag

and so forth. Then there is the escalation to ALL CAPS, which is the written equivalent to shouting.

opponent: UR GAY

ilanpi: NO, UR GAY

I also tried it out at home with foxycath, supplying hours of mindless entertainment for the ilanpi family.

On the other hand, racist comments seem to be strictly limited to rare self-referential remarks such as

rob777: I'm the worst dots playing nigga ever made by black jesus

by one of the very best Yahoo players.

Unfortunately, there are laso people who insult their opponents from the get-go. This can be quite a trying experience, and does have a destabilizing effect, especially when the offender is an unkown quanitity. For example, on the night of January 29, 2003, I encountered the following

The person in question had a 14-0 streak and was therefore a likely impostor. Such wrath could have been expected once the outcome of the game was decided in my favor, since his goal was to achieve a high rating with a perfect winning streak. However, the abuse started as soon as the 30 second limit had elapsed, which took me a little off guard. I took the insults as a test of concentration and I did manage to win the game, and without ever responding.