By Robert Wachtel
In two preceding articles I explained how the “chouette”, an enjoyable group backgammon competition that is not yet available on line, works. I also differentiated between two forms of chouette: the “consulting” form, in which the captain’s teammates are allowed to advise him, and the non-consulting, in which they are absolutely forbidden to do so.
While it remains true that the most important skills a chouette player can possess are purebackgammon skills — knowing how to move the checkers and give and take the cube correctly — the group structure allows a smooth operator to develop an additional level of expertise to increase his edge. This extra dimension of skill – which usually involves a psychological ploy or two – gives the chouette form a kind of pokerish feel that most players find irresistible.
Bluffing, for example, is an integral element of chouette strategy. Most chouettes allow the members of the team to double the box separately (the “individual cubes” rule”). Something like this often happens: the captain and most of the crew double early (“putting pressure on the box,” it’s called) but one of the crew members correctly refrains from doubling. The box takes all the cubes. Over the course of the next roll or two the team’s position improves, but not by a lot. The position is still not a legitimate double, but now the player who did not double early can run a bluff. If he confidently doubles, he will often be rewarded with a pass, even though the position is still an easy take. “I’ve got enough action already,” the box may say, dimly aware that he is making a mistake: but the truth is that this situation is a confusing one for him. The game has gone against him. In contrast to the first position in which he was doubled, this one looks awful; and unless he makes a conscious effort to reorient himself, the temptation to pass it will be strong indeed.
But just as in poker, you have to know your customers. This kind of move will only work against a somewhat conservative player: someone who is more comfortable with the feeling of ganging up on someone else (the box) than with being ganged up on. Just as a good poker player knows not to try to bluff a “calling station,” so you should be aware that this bluff will not work on an action player or one who is “stuck and steaming.” Against that kind of box opponent, make sure you wait until your double is very sound indeed.
In my next article I will examine some further chouette tactics, this time with specific reference to the particular pitfalls and opportunities created by consulting and non-consulting chouette rules.