Nertz Strategy

Article on Nertz Strategy
Nerts - Pounce Strategy

There is a common misconception that Nertz is a game in which the outcome for a player is determined by pure luck. As in most card games, Nertz, is a game that does require the randomization of cards before play through a process called shuffling. And though it may seem the process of shuffling can give a greater advantage to players at certain times via randomization, if everybody between every hand shuffles correctly, then it subjects all players to the same system. Assuming nobody is cheating or not properly shuffling a deck, then the advantages receiving “good” hands should remain fairly equal over the duration of a game or series of games.

With the exception of cheating, there is no full-proof strategy to win every hand and game of Nertz. There are, however, many strategies you can use that will give you a greater winning percentage in Nertz.

Nertz is a very unique card game and skill is definitely a major factor. Though strategy is involved, obtaining victory in Nertz is not solely dependent upon it. Skills such as card recognition, anticipation, hand eye-coordination and the speed at which these skills are applied are all major keys that winning Nertz players tend to develop. To develop these skills a great deal of practice is required. Players are not born with these skills. Nertz skills are learned and repeated to perfection through practice. The amount of practice a Nertz player has had should have a direct impact to how successful that player is...up to a certain point. After that point, success comes down to the amount and type of Nertz strategy one applies. In small, easy-going Nertz games, generally, it is your experience that dictates how well you do. You could win almost every hand playing against less experienced or lesser skilled players. However, for the larger and more challenging Nertz matches you may find it more difficult to achieve victory, and this is where strategy comes in. You do not have to be a Nertz expert to read and utilize the following, as these strategies are applicable to those who are just looking for some quick hints, tips, and suggestions. However, you may find them difficult to understand if you are inexperienced.

Broad Strategy

I have noticed a few areas in which various strategies may be applied in a game of Nertz. Broad Strategy is any strategy that is used while looking at the game as a whole. When planning or applying a Broad Strategy one might not start out using it. It may be injected into your game plan after seeing your competition and observing the direction a Nertz game is headed. Broad Strategy should be used in conjunction with hand strategies. Experience tells us that any player can be set back on any hand in a Nertz game. Thus, observing the success of the teams around you as a game progresses gives you a better idea of how you should plan your Broad Strategy.

Longevity Strategy:
Most of the time in hardcore games when I find myself down in the score column, I tend to make a plan based on longevity. If some of the hands haven't gone my way, which results in me being down, I will try to make the game take as long as possible because I know overtime, if you play enough hands, the shuffles will come back around to favor you. Conversely, if you are winning at a certain point in a game, you should want to make the game as short as possible. Easier said than done, right? Well, if you are conscious about what direction the game is going you can instinctively adapt your play to counter or aid the momentum that is affecting you. When utilizing the Longevity Broad Strategy, just knowing the direction of where the game is going and what needs to be done puts you in better positions than most.

Consistency Strategy:
If you find yourself in tight matches or if your hand shuffles are continually impeding your speed, your focus should shift to consistency. The sways or ups and downs of Nertz is how most players become casualties after the cards settle. In the presence of veteran players, it is the most consistent that see the most success over time. Your goal is to try to limit your losses. Though you may not be winning every hand, you should have a steady increase while preventing large sways in points. When utilizing the Consistency Strategy, recognizing crucial game moments become very important. Effectively doing so will reduce the chances of you getting surprised by another team's quick Nertz call. Broad Strategy should be practiced repeatedly for more effective outcomes but just having a simple Consistency Broad Strategy can give you an advantage at the Nertz table.

Quick-Strike Strategy:
This strategy has a direct relationship with hand strategy. If you commit to Quick-Striking, your goal is to pull-fast Nertz' and set-back opponents every hand. This sounds like what everyone wants to do in a Nertz game, right? Often if you focus on quickly Nerting then you tend to play a minimal amount of Lake cards which can result in small Nertz hand scores but can create large hand point differentials if you put opponents in the negative. Specifically utilizing River Building and Go-with-the-Flow hand strategies (listed below) while disregarding other strategies, the main objective when using a Quick-Strike strategy is to set the table so badly in just a few hands that opponent confidence levels drop drastically. After a few sets, if you haven't won the game, but have a cushioned lead, you should consider changing to a Consistency strategy to sure up the win. Staying with the Quick-Strike may be risky because the more hands you play in a game the more a chance that the hand quality gets equally distributed.

Hand Strategies

Bookmarking Cards:
Bookmarking is making a quick mental note in your mind about cards in your that you would like to play or you think could be useful in the near future. The decision to bookmark is key to the success of utilizing the bookmark. Don't bookmark cards that are unnecessary. Playing cards into the Lake that do not effect the flow of a Nertz pile is simply a waste of time unless you are trying to “point”. Furthermore, this action can often stagnate a Nertz pile if you played a card into the Lake that could have been built upon with Nertz cards in your River. In team games, you need to be communicating constantly with your partner in regards to plays and bookmarks. If your teammate does not know what you are bookmarking then he/she may ruin the progress of what you are trying to do by simply playing a card. Often there may be one card on your Nertz pile that is difficult to get rid of and sometimes your River builds are the best option to get that Nertz pile flowing.

River Building:
Focusing on building your columns in the River is the most underestimated strategy in Nertz. Many less experienced players focus intensely on the Lake action. Though playing in the Lake has its benefits, River building can make you increase your hand scores on a more consistent basis. Instead of relying mostly on others to play cards into the Lake for you, you should build and make your own plays in your River... and the more cards you play in the River, the better. Some players are scared to build big River columns because they think it will block certain cards from being played into the Lake or block spots for future Nertz cards. Although this does happen, the positives of doing so far outweigh the negatives. Not only does column building give players a better inventory of what and where their cards are, it also allows players more opportunities for SRPs and multiple card Lake plays. SRPs or Strategic River Plays are plays that involve column moving to free cards or spots within the River. Just like in solitaire, you can grab partial or full cascaded-columns and move them to an open space or another column which can free cards to aid in getting rid of your Nertz pile. Recognizing when you can and should column move during the hectic atmosphere of a Nertz hand is crucial. Especially if you can do it over and over again. Many players write off certain cards in the River when they play more cards on top them in River piles. However, continuing to build River columns can become more freeing than inhibiting when you learn to use SRPs. Instead of having cards blocked in your Stream or Nertz piles, it is better to have them in your River and even if they are unavailable in your River, they can still be of use. You are better off with those cards in your River because they change the order of cards in your Stream when you played them. Also, you have instant visual confirmation of where that card is, which saves time by eliminating a step in your thought process as you don't have to try to remember or search for a certain card. If you hadn't played it, then it would still be congested in your Stream pile and covered for most of the game. Remember that good Nertz players utilize Stream cards whenever possible to help their River builds which in turn can help their Nertz pile flow.

Strategy of Stream Memorization:
Memorization is achieved through repetition. Since you don't have much time to memorize in a hand of Nertz. Focus on short term memory tactics. Specifically employing those tactics on your Stream cards. If you can quickly cycle your Stream and have a good idea of what is in it or at least know some notable cards and their location within the Stream, then you will have a huge advantage on your opponents. Most players just concentrate on a specific card that is currently available to them. Good players multitask their actions and thoughts when looking at a single card. Looking at one card should spawn multiple thoughts. In an instant the player should know where it can be played, what piles it affects, if opponents need it, if you have other cards that can you can play with it, and what cards are freed if you play it. If you can note which cards are blocked while having a good idea of where they will be as you continue to cycle through your Stream and can master the instant thought checklist just before you play a card, then you will no doubt become a pro. Mastering these tactics takes a lot practice but can be done and can save you the time and hassle of searching for the same cards over and over again. In addition, they will also help you have a better idea of what cards you have in your Nertz pile when you really get good at it. You should also have a clear understanding what happens to the “order of cards” when you play from your Stream. Getting familiar with this concept can make you eager to cycle through your Stream to find certain cards, that were previously blocked, after playing a card that changed the Stream order. Doing this in conjunction with using Stream memorization can make tasks that you thought took too long in Nertz become quick and easy.

Go-with-the-Flow Strategy:
If you realize a hand is being played at a fast or overwhelming pace, sometimes River building is not the best strategy. Though I consider River Building the best strategy for overall consistency, there are times when adaptability trumps consistency. When you have a great Nertz pile that is flowing right along, you should quickly realize it and adapt your strategy, which may mean that you should stop your other mental procedures and just play that Nertz pile. Many times players can over think hands when they just need the adaptability to recognize what will work that particular hand and apply it. If that means you don't even touch your Stream then so be it. We have all seen those amazingly quick and effortless hands but failure to recognize them when they come can be the difference in winning or losing. Most of the time those hands don't come. So for the times between those effortless hands, when you are faced with many tough and experienced opponents, use the strategies that consistently put you in good hand and game positions. You may see now how your Broad Strategy could be adapted just as your hand strategies can and should be adapted.

Veteran Bird-dog Strategy
If all of your opponents are so good that they all employ the strategies mentioned here and are just as fast as you, then there is a counter strategy I have seen work, and that you could consider using. It is very risky but if you can tweak it, you may punish those for working so hard at the table. Generally, when faced with more than 4 great opponents the Lake piles build fast. Sometimes fast enough to play whatever available cards you have within 10 seconds. The strategy is simple... just play your River and Nertz cards into the Lake or in an open River slot. Don't River build columns with your Stream and don't cycle your Stream. Devote all your attention to the current Nertz and River cards for Lake and River play. These fast paced games may be the only situations in which a player should devote all of his/her attention on just his starting River and Nertz cards. Usually, I do not recommend this at any time but I have seen it work consistently in some hardcore games. It is like playing hyper-aggressive internet poker. Sometimes we don't know why it works but it does. Here is the catch. Good players can counter-act this strategy by employing it themselves but this creates a problem for both players using the strategy. When two or more teams are using this strategy, the advantage goes back to the team or teams that are employing other proven strategies. For the Veteran Bird-dog Strategy to work, you have to realize that only one team at the table can attempt it to be successful. If others catch on, it is doomed to fail especially if there is another team willing to sacrifice victory to see your strategy fail. This strategy is often used with little success by inexperienced players, so if you are a veteran and do decide to use this strategy be careful not to get embarrassed. When inexperienced players Bird-dog, they end up getting set frequently and in large quantities which is why veterans should be wary to use this strategy.

Tips and Tricks

Anticipating the Lake Plays:
Cards continually get played into the Lake. So during a hand, after some observation you should quickly determine which piles are in high demand and what piles that you need to get built. Anticipating plays into the Lake requires peripheral vision, logic, and speed. The combination of these skills almost creates a sixth sense when playing Nertz. When you anticipate an opponent playing a card that you need, your skills combine at that moment to where you can sense it. Simultaneously, you are taking the necessary steps to be the next in line to play on top of the card they are about to play. If you master anticipation in Nertz, the game will begin to slow down for you and you'll then begin to make multi-tasked anticipations which will put you on an entirely different level than most players.

Method River Transfers:
A MRT is just a simple time saver. When a River slot(a column that doesn't have any cards in it) becomes available and you have a card that you can play in which you can move another River column on top of, instead of placing that single card in the River slot and moving the other column on top of it, the single card is just placed behind the other River column(that would have been moved over) keeping that space open and saving time. This is legal although the method looks like an illegal slide under. Most of the time all four River columns have cards in them and when they are filled you can not slide cards behind them. If you only have three columns filled then it is legal to slide cards behind River columns. This is a simple time saver and is permitted because it prevents players from fumbling large River columns while attempting to move them. To prevent others from calling you a cheater just call out “MRT” when making the transfer. Using the MRT is a huge time saver.

Passing Up Cards:
When you realize that you have passed up a card in your Stream that could have been played, it is illegal to retract the Stream cards you placed on top. You must start the pile over again to find it. To do this you can either cycle through the remainder of the Stream or you can save time and put the rest of the Stream pile on top all at once to start the pile over. Only do this if there is a card you really need and you know the order of cards hasn't change resulting in the availability of the card when you return to it. Otherwise, you may pass up other Stream cards that you need by not finishing the cycle, while at the same time, not being able to get to the card you originally wanted because the order of cards was changed.

Getting Beat and Missing Plays:
Instead of getting flustered or mad when you miss or get beat on a play. Stay calm then quickly regroup and remain focused. Though you may be feeling like the pace of play is too fast, losing your consistency and composure is far more damaging than missing one play over the course of a game.

Break the Shuffling Blocks:
If think you are continually getting bad hands there could be a possibility that you are not as skilled as you would like to be or you are experiencing some sort of mental block. You can't blame the cards all the time but if they are that bad, spice up your shuffling procedure. Use different methods to shuffle and don't forget to cut. Mini-multiple cuts and a couple of big cuts can help change the order. Shuffle an odd number of times and shuffle more times than necessary if the cards are really getting to you. Otherwise, remember to stay calm, positive, and focused. Don't let the game master you as your goal is to master the game.

Gamesmanship can be considered both a game and hand strategy. Emotional and psychological talk or tactics can often fluster an opponent. Sometimes opponents are resistant to gamesmanship and others are motivated by it. But for those that it does work on... it is fair game. The illusion of playing faster than the speed that you are really playing at can easily make opponents lose their concentration. Never underestimate the power of good trash talk. If you want to win you should be employing any and every effective strategy that you have. Test the waters for those weaker players that are subject to these tactics. Also, don't use these tactics if they effect your own play in a negative fashion. Gamesmanship is an art form in itself and can't just be learned by playing Nertz. However, if you are skilled in the art of gamesmanship keep in mind that it can be very useful in games in which you are trying to prolong. You must also keep in mind not to get carried away as doing so may bring the game to an abrupt and unwanted ending. Lastly, if it is allowed, stand up at the table. Doing so gives you a greater range to play Lake cards. Slight advantages can quickly build up in a game of Nertz. “Every little bit helps” definitely applies to this game.

Understanding standing all of these strategies and styles is part of a strategy itself. The strategy of game and hand adaptability. If you not only recognize the game direction and opponent skill but your opponents game strategy and style, you can therefor adapt your strategies and styles as well. Adapt and you will stay a step ahead of the competition.

Don't write off a strategy if it doesn't work on the first try. Nertz is a game of failure. You will lose at times. You should be able to judge the effectiveness of a strategy over time. If you see that you are no longer finishing games in the negative...that's a start. If you find yourself finishing games close to the first place finisher consistently then the strategy is probably working. A few tweaks in your strategy and you should be winning more times than not. But here is the real key to Nertz and mastering these Nertz strategies. Play a lot. Practice. Adapt. You may not have understood some of the strategies mentioned but after while I'm sure they will become clearer to you. Just like everything else in life, it is the practice you put in that yields positive results.

To find out what is legal in Nertz use the Official Nertz Rulebook.
To help you better understand some of the terms in this article go to the Nertz Terminology page.

If you have a question, comment, or would like to tell us about other Nertz strategies just use the comment box below.

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