Ethics of using bookkeeping software General forum

36 replies. Last post: 2017-02-01

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Ethics of using bookkeeping software
  • David J Bush ★ at 2017-01-16

    I sometimes use a separate virtual board when planning my moves here.

    For my two favorite games, Twixt and Hex, a link is provided on each page to such a board. In a difficult game, I may go further and import the moves into an app which does the following:

    * Automatically completes any “cascade effect” of my move. That means it adds all legal links in Twixt. The server also does this, even though technically it is the player’s responsibility to add links. It’s a big convenience.

    * Remebers an entire tree of branching possibilities, not just a single line.

    * If I label every leaf node as winning, advantage, tie, disadvantage, or losing, the app will label every parent node, so if I back up, I will see if I found a winning move or not for any position in the tree.

    This app does not know the game object. I personally don’t have a problem using it. This is, after all, a turn based server. I would welcome your opinion. Would you say this is some form of cheating?

  • David J Bush ★ at 2017-01-16

    Uh, remebers? I wrote this on my cell phone. Google auto completion offered this as a choice, and I took it without looking closely. So now I have contributed to the dumbing down of our society 😞

  • Tom Ace at 2017-01-17

    I use jhex for this very purpose.  I don’t consider it cheating, nor did anyone I’ve discussed it with.

  • Ingo Althofer at 2017-01-17

    Hi David,

    are you saying that you started the article, and that automatic Google took over at some point?

    I can not recognize where this point might have been. But of course this would have been a

    special sort of artificial intelligence: completing “half articles”...

    Perhaps, Google completor even read your earlier posts to get a glimpse what you might mean.

    Puzzled, Ingo.

  • Tasmanian Devil at 2017-01-17

    Ingo, when the phone guesses your words, it is usually right. When it’s not, sometimes you click on the right suggestion (not the one in the middle), sometimes you spot the error and correct it afterwards, and sometimes it slips by.

    That being said, I am quite certain that David’s net contribution to society’s intelligence with his connection game insight is positive! And it’s an obvious typo, not a common mistake like its/it’s, their/they’re etc.

  • Ingo Althofer at 2017-01-17

    HI TD,

    which part/word of David’s message(s) do you mean?

    For me, all sounds perfectly reasonable.


  • Tasmanian Devil at 2017-01-17

    The error David referes to is “Remebers” instead of “Remembers” (at the beginning of the second bullet).

  • Ray Garrison ★ at 2017-01-17

    the app you mention does not do any computing?  If no computing, then seems like a fair tool.  In correspondence chess, players may use databases but not engines.    Is the app you mention good for any game?  If so, would you share?

  • Tasmanian Devil at 2017-01-17

    I would consider databases unethical in Othello (Reversi), where you can cover almost any reasonable line against strong players pretty deep into the midgame.

  • Ray Garrison ★ at 2017-01-17

    I guess I can see the concern if a game is “solved”, for example, four-in-a-row 7x6.  Is Reversi solved?

  • Tasmanian Devil at 2017-01-17

    It’s not solved in the strict sense, but it is considered highly unlikely that the computer-generated books can be “outsmarted”.

  • Ray Garrison ★ at 2017-01-17

    So should databases be allowed in some games (chess) but not others (reversi)?  If so, which games would be acceptable and which ones not?  (Hex? Twixt?) Interesting dilemma.  What do others think?  

  • William Fraser ★ at 2017-01-17

    5x5 Dots and Boxes is solved (and in a few months it will be strongly solved) with a database.

    I’d consider using that database highly unethical.

  • Ray Garrison ★ at 2017-01-17

    just curious, what is the difference between “solved” and “strongly solved”?

  • halladba at 2017-01-17

    Victor Allis distinguishes between the following 3 notions:

    • Ultraweakly solved: We know the theoretical outcome of the starting position (e.g., Hex)
    • Weakly solved: We can exhibit a winning strategy from the starting position (e.g., Checkers)
    • Strongly solved: We can exhibit a winning strategy from any arbitrary position (e.g., Awari)

    This is not a completely formal distinction as “exhibit” implicitely relies on using no more than “reasonable resources”, for instance picking an optimal move after “doing a 2-ply search and looking up in a database” is fine but relying on “running alpha-beta for 10 billion years” would not be considered having (weakly/strongly) solved the game.

  • halladba at 2017-01-17

    (in my previous message, replace “winning strategy” by “optimal strategy”)

  • z at 2017-01-17

    I don’t see a rigid dichotomy between cheating and fair play. At the far right end of the fairness spectrum, you play games on LG without using any external help; at the left end, you consult with an oracular database or software to play optimally on each turn. All of the aforementioned practices fall somewhere between these two extremes. The more advantages you get from using software tools, the closer you move toward the left side.

    Some of the practices such as using trmph virtual boards or twixt-commentator are generally accepted here while others are more questionable. I suggest that we judge a behavior by one simple criterion: Does it significantly increase your odds of winning? In other words, is it unlikely that you would play the same move without using the tool? If so, then it’s considered cheating.

    Examples of fair play:

    • Manually try out moves on a virtual board
    • Save the result of manual analysis for later use
    • Automatically highlight legal positions
    • Automatically add virtual links in Twixt or Hex
    • Automatically count group sizes in Catchup or number of pieces in TZAAR

    Examples of cheating:

    • Check an opening book or endgame database
    • Automatically get a board evaluation score
    • Automatically evaluate VCFs in Connect6
    • Automatically search for words in WYPS
    • Automatically solve local life-and-death problems in Go


  • William Fraser ★ at 2017-01-17

    I agree with all of z’s examples.

    Here’s one that’s sort of in the middle:

    I have the SOWPODs text file and use “vi” to perform regex searches on it.

    I’d be willing to stop (and I have de facto, as I don’t play word games here anymore, although that could change).  However, I don’t think that should be illegal....


  • z at 2017-01-17

    @William Fraser, regex search is quite powerful at anagramming. It can help me find high-scoring words I wouldn’t play otherwise. So I think it’s an unfair advantage.

    A related question for discussion: suppose the LG community reaches a consensus on cheating behaviors, what can be done to enforce the rules?

  • Rbpompeu at 2017-01-18

    In my opinion, any help during a game is cheating. All games at LG are for 2 players only. If you want to study the match, do it after you have finished it. Then you can use any device available and/or any external aid.

  • Loony at 2017-01-18

    Rbpompeu, turn-based games mean the players have tons of time. Using external tools or only my brain can lead to the exact same move every time, just that I save a bit time which is not an advantage for the matches, only for my life outside of online board games.

    If using a tool allows me to do a calculation that would otherwise lead to a timeout, it’s a different story. All these cases are nicely covered by z’s criterion.

    There are tools that are specifically designed to help with calculations (or just make them more convenient) and that are approved by our webmaster as implemented analysis links to trmph boards show. So we can be certain using it is not cheating, regardless of your opinion.

    Obviously we can’t do anything to enforce any rule on this site but to punish the cheaters with nasty looks. While sounding ridiculous I’m sure it’s somewhat working..

  • Kerry Handscomb at 2017-01-18

    A benefit of turn-based play is the opportunity to test alternative lines, either on a physical board or on a virtual board such as trmph. I don’t think many people on LG would object to this level of assistance. Probably, also, it is  acceptable to consult the literature on a game during play.

    Anything beyond that, in my opinion, is potentially cheating, although there are gray areas. I would classify any database search as cheating, or any of the other examples given by z.

    It would be good to have agreed upon guidelines. Any guidelines, however, would be unenforceable. 

  • David J Bush ★ at 2017-01-18

    In my case, Jtwixt and jhex do not use any database. It could, if I downloaded and merged lots of games, but I haven’t done that. Nevertheless, it saves me a lot of time and effort, thereby improving my quality of play. To reiterate, these apps don’t know the game object. They don’t suggest moves. But they arguably do meet z’s criterion for cheating. I likely would not have played as well in those games had I not used them.

    Ingo, I typed “reme” and Google suggested both “remember” and “remember” I don’t know why it suggested a non word. Maybe lots of people type it that way. I don’t recall having done so before. 

  • purgency at 2017-01-18

    What about looking at other peoples games. This is especially relevant on this site since you can take a look at any game that has been played here before. They are not perfect games, but full of human error. If you end up in a position that has occured here before, is it okay to play the move that you have remembered someone play, accidentally stumbled upon, or intentionally searched for in the database of all these games? What if it’s not the exact position, but a look alike with some differences.

    Peoples common sense does a good job at judging what’s fair and what isn’t. I think it’s fine as long as people do what they think is okay and don’t do what they think isn’t okay. While I agree with the opinions that have been voiced in the thread, I’m sure there’s those who don’t use any tool at all and would see the usage of any tool as unfair play even if it’s just doing little stuff. After all it does take some work off your shoulders. Personally I don’t like very strict environments and think it’s nice if people can decide for themselves what big an advantage they are okay with giving themselves as opposed to having some sort of guideline. Just do the thing you believe is right.

  • Rbpompeu at 2017-01-19

    Loony, I play LG ‘cause I want to exercise my brain, test my limits and  have fun. I don’ play for the score (altough I’m happy when I progress, of couRse).  That’s why I don’t and I won’t use any external aid. That’s for me is playing fairly.

    Additionaly, I don’t agree that in turn-based games the use of “tools or my brain will lead to the same result”; we are not machines. People are affected by mood, tiredness, pressure of many sources, etc. That’s the beauty of the gameboard as a sport activity.

    Secondly, your statement about “saving time” when using a helping tool is, in my view, pointless. Playing a game is neither a matter of efficency nor  productivity, it’s about enjoyment in its all aspects! If I don’t have enough time for playing I just decrease the number of matches I’m in!  

    Anyway, I’m not trying to convince anyone of my position about the subject I’m just externalizing my feelings.

    Maybe Purgency’s last comment is, at the end, valid.

  • Russ Williams at 2017-01-19

    Google suggested both “remember” and “remember”

    Ha... When you tried to type the mistaken spelling, you typed only the correct spelling twice. :)

  • Rex Moore ★ at 2017-01-19

    z’s comment makes some sense: " I suggest that we judge a behavior by one simple criterion: Does it significantly increase your odds of winning? In other words, is it unlikely that you would play the same move without using the tool? If so, then it’s considered cheating."

    However, that means that some of the items in his “Examples of fair play” list are actually cheating. The first one, for example... trying out moves on a virtual board. The ability to go deep down a tree to see how it turns out has to increase your odds of winning!

    However, I truly enjoy his trmph boards and don’t mind if opponents use it... because I certainly will if it’s linked on the actual game page.

  • hyperpape at 2017-01-20

    I would take it further as regards what is acceptable. If a player wants to play as a cyborg (computer based search with a human guiding it, refining it, etc), that seems acceptable to me. Perhaps if you do this, your name should be “[name]-cyborg” or something, and perhaps you shouldn’t play in tournaments. But if it’s above board, I don’t think I am harmed by playing such an opponent, and it would be interesting to see the results. 

  • Mirko Rahn at 2017-01-30

    I like what Rbpompeu said. I don’t care of whether or not my opponents are “fully human”, “machine supported human”, or “cyborg”. Where ever in the space sketched by z you put yourself — this is up to you.

    Alan Hensel once gave the advice to use your own brain (includes analytical engines and databases already!) before using even a virtual board. He claimed this would improve your skills. I followed the advice and in the meanwhile I barely use the virtual boards. I always use my own brain first. And my play feels like it has been improved to me indeed. Not necessarily reflected in the ratings though.

    So David: It’s your decision. Do want to be a human? Do you want to be a machine supported human? Or do you want to become the interface for some cyborg?

  • lazyplayer at 2017-01-30

    David, just say you use that in your profile, no? As long as it is not hidden, and nobody complains, it’s not cheating!

  • purgency at 2017-01-30

    So as long as others don’t complain its fine... that seems very strange to me

  • z at 2017-01-30

    In a face-to-face tournament, few (if any) players would show leniency toward computer assistance; but in an online setting such as LG, it’s unenforceable to ban bots/cyborgs, so players have to live with or redefine “cheating”. Suppose we do have technical means to reliably detect bots, would anyone argue against using it?

  • Mirko Rahn at 2017-02-01

    I would claim it would be a waste of resources. Why should I try to?

    Also “to detect reliable” is a function of time.

    Also “to detect reliable” either is impossible or the Turing test can never be passed.

    So this “detection” consumes (mental) energy that you can spend better.

    I do understand that people don’t like to play games when there is no chance to win. Do I? NO, I don’t understand. Its all about having fun and learning. I mean I play Maciej. I play Arek...

  • lazyplayer at 2017-02-01

    purgency, how can it be cheating if others 1) know about it and 2) don’t complain about it?

    anyway i would say it’s up to LG to publish a list of rules, even if they’re in practice not enforceable.

    (And no, it’s not true that it’s impossible to detect bots. it’s just not easy technically, and not entirely reliable)

  • purgency at 2017-02-01

    Because people don’t necessarily complain if they don’t like something. Sort of like when the teacher asks “anyone doesn't understand?” and no student raises their hand, you don’t assume that everyone understands. Silence is no approval.

  • The_Burglar at 2017-02-01

    Could add quicker tournaments for bots/assisted_players, if they are playing there then maybe not elsewhere

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