• Too Good to Beaver?

    Doubling during the game was introduced into backgammon in 1926 on the playboy circuit of France although automatic doubles (doubling the stakes if both players roll the same starting number) had probably been around for a few years before that.

    The method of recording the value of the game at any one point varied until 1930 when the doubling cube was introduced. I have (I believe) one of the only two sets of backgammon matches (made of ivory) that were used for recording purposes before the advent of the doubling cube.

    The advent of doubling and the introduction of the chouette around the same time generated a huge increase of interest in backgammon and the game flourished until the start of the Great Depression in 1929. A large number of books were published in the years 1928-1930. Needless to say, none of them had anything really useful to say about doubling, which was very little understood, and was basically a gambling mechanism which was in accord with the mood of the time.

    To the best of knowledge nobody wrote down the basic concept of the 25% take point until the “The Backgammon Book” by Jacoby and Crawford was published in 1970. Pip counts scarcely get a mention until that point in time. The Backgammon Book also has the first mention of the term “Beaver”. If you believe you have been incorrectly doubled, you can “beaver” the double by doubling the stakes once more but you keep the cube on your side of the board.

    The concept of beavering a beaver (a raccoon) and beavering a raccoon (an aardvark) came later and there is no record of when these additional furry animals were added to the game. Beavers are often played in money games (never in tournaments), raccoons rarely and aardvarks hardly ever.

    Over the years I have seen some horrendous doubles which have been summarily dealt with by perfectly correct beavers. Note that the original doubler can drop the beaver if he realises his mistake. I thought I had seen it all until John Clark showed me this week’s position. Black is in the box, owning three cubes on 2 and White has just had to leave his last two checkers exposed. What happened next?

    You guessed it! Black (who must remain nameless) redoubled all three players to 4. Two merely accepted but the other player correctly beavered to 8 which Black promptly raccooned to 16 (in for a penny in for a pound).

    You may have also guessed by now that Black very unfairly went on to hit and close out the two White checkers and win the game.

    Not surprisingly XG rates the redouble as a x20 blunder. Given that Black loses a backgammon 42% of the time I am surprised it is not worse that that. In discussing the position with John he wondered if the original position was too good to beaver! In other words, if Black was beavered would he have an attack of common sense and drop the beaver?

    Given the individual involved John knew there was no chance of that actually happening, but it raises the interesting question of whether a position can actually be too good to beaver? I’ll leave you to think about that one.


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