• Failing the Test

    I spent last weekend at the delightful Cotswolds Invitational Backgammon tournament. Hosted annually by Richard Biddle and his wife Caroline, who offers complimentary yoga classes, at The Bear at Rodborough, the tournament provides the opportunity for some relaxed backgammon in wonderful surroundings and a chance to get away from the city for a long weekend.

    This year the tournament was won by Sean Clennell who defeated Wayne Felton in the final. The Consolation was won by Carmel Botwright who narrowly defeated Vicky Gilbert in the final.

    I fell at the quarter-final stage having narrowly defeated Phil Perelemuter in the previous round. In a match to 11 and leading 8-4 Phil had quite reasonably doubled me but then unwisely created a somewhat volatile position which allowed me to redouble him to 4. Trailing 4-8 to 11 I didn't need much excuse to offer the cube back to him on 4. I hit a key shot from the bar and then had a 61 to play in the key position above.

    I spent five or six minutes on this play and still got it wrong! For money with a fully active cube the correct strategy here is to win the game first and then look for possible gammons. Black would have the choice of 21/14 or 11/10, 11/5. An XG rollout has the two plays as equal in equity.

    I decided I wanted to keep the pressure on White's two blots on his 8- and 7-pts and so I chose 11/10, 11/5. Had I been playing for money my decision would therefore have been absolutely correct.

    However, at this match score the cube is dead and gammons are incredibly valuable to me as they win the match for me. I should have been looking for the play that maximised my gammon chances and not worried about losing the game.

    By now you will have spotted the wide open 8/1*. Leaving four blots when your opponent has the better board is a risky strategy but perfectly correct here. Black wants to deny White the opportunity of anchoring as any anchor will significantly reduce Black's gammon percentage. With two White checkers on the bar Black's blitzing potential is high provided White doesn't roll an ace next turn. At this score 21/14 is a 2.5 blunder and any play other than 8/1 is at least a single blunder. The bots have taught us how to play blitzes and I was annoyed to spend so long on the play only to make the 'money' move.

    The dice Gods for once did not complain about my blunder and kindly let me close out three of Phil's checkers and win a very easy gammon and the match. I will, however, long remember the position and the lesson it has taught me.


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