Our candidate for the ideal opening is the sequence CF, which leaves the board configured as:

This opening has the following strengths:

  • It empties pit F early in the game, allowing Player1 to play a single stone from F into her mancala each time a single stone lands there.

  • It empties pit F at a time when at least two of the stones from F (those landing in J and I) will likely eventually come back around the board to Player1's side. Furthermore, if Player2 makes the defensive G play, all 5 of the stones from G are ultimately likely to wind back up on Player2's side.

    e.g. after playing G, Player2 has 6 stones in H. If he plays H on a subsequent turn, the 6th stone in H will land in A, back on Player1's side.

  • It allows Player 1 to play from A, B, C, and F without repopulating Player2's side of the board. It therefore sets Player1 up for an effective "starving" strategy.

  • Because of the large number of stones in each of Player2's holes, it is unlikely that Player2 will be able to counter with a stalling or starving strategy.

  • Most importantly, it puts Player2 in a defensive position at his very first move of the game. He has an immediate glaring vulnerability to being raided in pit G, and must therefore seriously contemplate the defensive G or HG responses.

    Either of these responses, however, leaves her in the weakened board position of having each of her remaining holes populated with enough stones to play around to Player1's side, thus reinforcing a starving strategy by Player1.

We further refined the opening strategy by proposing that, if Player2 plays I, J, K, or L, Player1 responds with a raid from A.

When, instead, Player2 plays the defensive G or HG, Player1 responds by playing E. This is in order to unload E before it accumulates too many more stones, and gives him yet another pit from which he can play to starve Player2.

It places the stones on Player2's side in such a way that D should be safe from a raid in the near future, though Player1 will have to be careful of a looping play by Player2. Player1 will attempt a hoarding strategy with pit D.

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