MORNINGTON CRESCENT JOURNAL
Gregory Topov is a world famous Grandmaster in the classic game of Mornington Crescent. He is also a long-standing honorary member of the International Mornington Crescent Appreciation Society (class of 1972, inducted as a post-modular professional, only the third player ever to be inducted by priority universal acclamation). We are grateful for his excellent contribution and willingness to explain some elementary aspects of Mornington Crescent for the benefit of novice and intermediate players.
Mornington Crescent is a strategy game for two or more players, although it can also be played in teams or partnerships. It is a parlour game that can be simple to grasp, yet its immense variations can not be exhausted by an expert player even in a life-time of study. Mornington Crescent is limited only by one's creativity and imagination, and it is herein that the game has such appeal. It has well been said that Mornington Crescent has the potential to be simpler than tic-tac-toe, yet more complex than chess. Mornington Crescent enthusiasts are united in their conviction that this game is unmatched by any other classic strategy game, and affords a life-time of enjoyment for any serious player.
Most people are familiar with the main rules of Mornington Crescent, so I will not risk redundancy by repeating them in full. They are also readily available for study in the International Mornington Crescent Appreciation Society Handbook (21st edition, published by Broxter & Broxter, London, 1969). But perhaps it is useful to enumerate the basic objective, which is elementary in its conception:
It is unnecessary for me to explain how players conduct their "move" by stating place-names, since this is relatively common knowledge. The usual practice is that players in turn call out the name of a location, until one player plays a weak move which gives an opponent the opportunity to capitalize by playing Mornington Crescent and win the game. Novice players who are not familiar with the playing field may wish to make use of a detailed map, although this practice is typically frowned upon for games conducted at official Mornington Crescent Clubs. Games have been concluded in less than five minutes, but there are documented instances of games stretching beyond an entire day. A typical game is usually completed within an hour.
The precise rules are far too numerous to list here. Although the rules are economical in their simplicity, the newcomer should not be surprised to find them apparently complex and obscure. For this reason it is universally agreed that the best way to learn the rules is to observe at length a game played by experienced players, since the application of the rules can best be learned by experience and observation. According to one ancient tradition, it is not permitted to explain rules for play to the uninitiated, particularly to those who have not yet attained grandmaster status. Much of the success and enjoyment of Mornington Crescent is a product of its rules being a well-guarded secret, except among genuine Mornington Crescent enthusiasts. Novices should not be alarmed to discover that experienced players typically engage in lengthy and lively debates about the rules and their variations in the course of a game.
It is widely agreed that the opening of the game is decisive in determining the direction of the game. One rule that is almost universally accepted by all modern players is the "Second Prohibition Rule", which prohibits players from declaring a proxy within the first three moves, or from moving two spaces within the hex. Most modern versions of Mornington Crescent also prohibit the positional extension gambits that were commonly played in Europe in the nineteenth century, athough sometimes exceptions are made for novice players. Some serious players have devoted their lives to the study of opening theory, but novice players should be able to grasp the essentials of common openings in short order by observing other players.
Although some experts have advocated the use of the game of Acacia Avenue to introduce novices to Mornington Crescent, I do not share this view. Acacia Avenue (commonly referred to as "Kiddie Krescent" or "KK" by serious players) is a simplified version of Mornington Crescent that was designed for very young children. Its absurd simplicity does not recommend itself for novice players, since the simplifications ruin the beauty of the traditional game, and can hinder the development of sound strategy. Newcomers to the game are best advised to try learning the rules of the traditional Mornington Crescent by watching a regular advanced game being played by experienced players, or by asking a Mornington Crescent player. In keeping with the traditions of Mornington Crescent, novices will usually find that most serious players will be reluctant to give extensive answers, and will instead encourage a close following of the game in progress.
Although advanced strategy is usually beyond most novice players, Graeme Garden has done beginning Mornington Crescent players a wonderful service by enumerating some helpful principles that serve as an excellent introductory strategy for players not yet at the intermediate level:
The name Mornington Crescent is commonly believed to originate from the name of a station on the London Underground system. However, recent research published by Sir Henry Frienitscher has conclusively demonstrated that the underground railway station in fact owes its name to the game, and not vice versa. The origins of Mornington Crescent (The Game) remain a controversial subject of debate. A predecessor of the game appears to have been played by Vikings in Norway and Denmark, and there is also evidence that a Empire Version was popular in the days of the Roman Emperor Nero. It flourished particularly in Medieval Britain, which might well explain why even today the British dominate the sport.
Mornington Crescent continues to enjoy wide popularity throughout the world. Over 1300 clubs have been registered with the International Mornington Crescent Appreciation Society, and beyond this it is commonly played informally in many local settings. Over a dozen international periodicals are devoted exclusively to the analysis of Mornington Crescent games. An annual convention is held in Stockholm, Sweden, and every four years the International Mornington Crescent Olympiad is hosted in Germany. British players have long since dominated the sport, including the current world champion, Vincent Botham, whose illustrious career started in Brighton.
The two greatest players in the first part of the twentieth century are Hungarian genius Tibor Hugo (1909-1950), winner of the world title twelve times in thirteen years, and the brilliant Englishman Sydney Ernest Hall (1870-1950), who won an astonishing 1,821 of 2,155 internationals. Although Mornington Crescent is traditionally a male-dominated sport, the latter part of the twentieth century saw the emergence of some excellent female players, especially from the United Kingdom. Indisputably the most famous Mornington Crescent player ever is the legendary Mrs. Trellis of North Wales, a life-long devotee of the sport, who dominated the game for several decades after the Hall-Hugo era. While in her prime, the remarkable Mrs. Trellis won a grand total of twelve international Grand Slams (the Singles, Pairs, Team and All-In titles), a record that has stood unequalled to this day. Now in her 90s, she has retired from active competition, but continues to make an important contribution to the world of Mornington Crescent by her frequent correspondence, in which she shares her insightful analysis and observations. Despite her advanced age, her advice is still much sought after and respected by Mornington Crescent experts around the world. One of the modern masters of Mornington Crescent is Boris Antonovich Baryshnikov, who is again showing signs of the early promise displayed when he won the 1983 World Championship Final.
Mornington Crescent is traditionally a gentleman's game. Although in the modern form of the game there are no restrictions of race, religion, culture or gender that function as prerequisites to become a sanctioned player, a gentlemanly code of conduct still pervades the game. A spirit of courtesy and politeness is absolutely required for all players. At the discretion of the senior adjudicator, anything deemed contrary to such a spirit will result in an immediate player expulsion, and usually the forfeit of all geographic privileges and a handicap of two red game tokens for subsequent games.
Genuine Mornington Crescent supplies are hard to come by. Don't be fooled by stores which offer the Deluxe Mornington Crescent Gaming Table and Board at discounted prices. Although this product comes with an impressive looking game-tracking dial, brass display panel, coloured tokens, and the traditional gold and silver player pegs, it does not include the community chest cards (which are essential for advanced play), or a rule book! Personally I would avoid any purchase of a Mornington Crescent playing board that does not come with an official rule book, because it is likely to be an inferior imitation version, not authorized by the I.F.M.C.P. (International Federation for Mornington Crescent Players). Official Mornington Crescent playing boards have been known to be sold used on eBay, but this is extremely rare given the incredible popularity of the game. Usually the prices are extraordinarily expensive, certainly more than what the introductory player will be prepared to pay, and frequently they do not come with other playing pieces. Experienced players frown on the use of playing boards, since they are only allowed in competition at the novice level. Players at the intermediate level and beyond are expected to have committed the playing board to memory, and the use of any aids is usually strictly forbidden at these levels.
Samuel J. McAllister's "An Elementary Mornington Crescent Primer" (sixth edition, 1975), is generally regarded as the best introductory guide for beginners, although unfortunately it can be very difficult to obtain. Although most authorities recommend the fifth edition of Bradley Taylor's "Advanced Mornington Crescent: Improving Your Tactical Surprise and Positional Advantage" (1982) for intermediate players, this book has been out of print for some time. In my opinion, it has been surpassed by grandmaster Maxwell Beverege's excellent two volume set, "Comprehensive Mornington Crescent: A Champion Tells All" (Birmingham Press, 1989). This excellent work is available only from exclusive and specialist game bookstores. Serious players may wish to subscribe to Mornington Crescent Journal. Subscription is only available by invitation from the Society headquarters in Birmingham, and following the successful completion of Master level exam. Some resources are available on the internet, but these typically don't do justice to the nuances of the game, and tend to be incomplete and erroneous on the finer points of the game.
One of the most widely played variations of Mornington Crescent is the British Standard edition of 1982, popularized by Parker & Parker. Regrettably, most superior literature on traditional Mornington Crescent is available only from official suppliers and distributors for the I.F.M.C.P. (International Federation for Mornington Crescent Players), and is not readily available outside Britain due to international trade restrictions. However, several resources on the British Standard Version are readily available from Amazon, notably "Stovold's Mornington Crescent Almanac 2002" by Graeme Garden (ISBN 0752847295) and "The Little Book of Mornington Crescent" by Tim Brooke-Taylor et al (ISBN 0752844229). These books are only modestly useful, and before purchasing them readers should be aware that they only address the British Standard, with play limited to the places allowed by the Third London Convention Code, and so are not at all useful for games played under International Rules.
To my knowledge there is no computer program that can play Mornington Crescent effectively on the intermediate level, mainly because of the boundless possibilities that the game allows for creative thinking and imaginative play. In contrast to chess (where the limited number of moves per turn has enabled the rapid advancement of highly developed chess-playing software), the complexity of Mornington Crescent is beyond the scope of most computers, particularly when combined with the multiple variations available. In this respect Mornington Crescent faces a dilemma similar to the classic strategy game of Go. Like Mornington Crescent, the strongest Go software is weaker than the average player, despite decades of serious effort. Similarly, although some Mornington Crescent software exists, it is of an inferior and unsatisfying standard, not much beyond the novice level. Most enthusiasts do not usually bother practice playing against computers, because it promotes the development of strategies that will be ineffective against humans. The observation and study of expert level games is highly preferred over the use of any software.
Studies have proven that the development of sound Mornington Crescent strategy is best enhanced by the close study of expert level games, particularly those with extensive annotations from advanced players. In the interests of promoting Mornington Crescent, we are pleased to present three such examples with annotations:
Using Mornington Crescent pioneer researcher Minski as a case study, recent historical and psychiatric researchers have uncovered some startling conclusions about the possibility of a connection between Mornington Crescent and mental illness.
Grandmaster Gregory Topov
Selected Online Resources
http://www.amazonsystems.co.uk/data/morn.htm (Mornington Crescent: The History and the Game)
http://www.inet.co.th/cyberclub/olarn/mc1.htm (Great Mornington Crescent Players in History)
http://www.dunx.org/mornomic/mnfaq.html (The Mornington Nomic Variation)
http://makeashorterlink.com/?A1EC62DD9 (Jason Hollingworth's Mornington Crescent: An Insider's View)
http://makeashorterlink.com/?E2FC15DD9 (Monochrome BBS Mornington Cresent Society FAQ)
http://www.phespirit.info/morningtoncrescent (Classic Games Transcribed)
http://kevan.org/morningtonia?A_To_Z (The Encyclopaedia Morningtonia)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A769395 (Mornington Crescent Appreciation Society)
Posted Friday - 2004-11-27 - 18:56:32 EST
by Staff Reporter Verdra H. Ciretop in Toronto
All Rights Unreserved - Loof Lirpa Publishing
Text may be freely copied & redistributed