By Robert Wachtel
The three divisions of the 2011 Velden Open backgammon tournament — masters, championship and intermediate – drew 30, 30 and 29 players respectively from a total of 23 countries. And more than half of these players entered the consulting doubles competition, despite the stiff 500 euro entry fee. My partner – Masayuki Mochizuki (Mochy) – and I somehow got through our first round match, against a Transylvanian team who proudly told us that they came from Dracula country. But our next opponents – also Rumanian – were not just imagery. We were leading 1-0 in a 9 point match when they doubled us in this position.
Well! My attitude in situations like this: don’t let the opponents push you around. A take is a take. And this looks like one. Yes, you are few pips down, and the opponents have 3 shot: but that’s not the end of the world. Even if they hit, you have a few rolls to come in and anchor. If they miss, it’s anyone’s game.
Mochy has a different – and, I must admit, more practical – approach: when you are facing opponents who may not be as strong as you, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Don’t give marginal doubles. Pass marginal takes, especially those that will be easy for the opponents to play. Try to prolong and complicate the match.
Mochy was the captain. But unfortunately, in this case, I was my usual persuasive self. He reluctantly abandoned his conservative strategy. We took, and were gammoned in a flash. And although the bot agreed that this had been a take, it was not a big one:
I was reminded of a poem that my teacher, in one of our first high school “literature” courses, had presented to the class:
Here lies the body of Michael O’Shay Who died maintaining his right of way
His way was right, his will was strong But he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong.
We would have been far better off to pass and let the opponents find their way through the complications of the resulting 8- point match.
Mochy and I fought back from our 4 to 1 deficit, but I continued to sabotage him. At 3-5 we rolled a pedestrian-looking 4-2 in this somewhat unusual position.
The right play seemed absolutely clear to me: because the opponents are stacked on their six and five points, we must cling to their ace point. If we leave, we liberate the semi-buried spares on those two points. I voted for 13/7; and when Mochy started looking at an alternative play, 24/18, I was more impressed by his imagination than his judgement. I argued against it, and once again he relented. We made my play; but this time I was not only practically wrong, but theoretically wrong as well. 24/18, making a break for it with the back checkers, is a standout. Move those two back checkers up to the 23 point, and my reasoning becomes valid: in that position 13/7 is correct. But when we are back on the 24 point, there are still too many ways, even with their top-heavy distribution, that the opponents can use their spares on the six and five points to make inner board points and begin to trap our back checkers.
Despite this mistake, we won this game and the next. This left us with a 7 to 5 lead in the 9-point match. It’s always nice to be ahead in a match; but we were now at the dreaded 4-away, 2-away score: the score of death. At this perverse score, where the trailer is exactly four points away (the value of doubled gammon) from his goal, the leader must be horribly — almost humiliatingly – gammon-phobic. Very ordinary, routine takes become passes ..
The game, nonetheless, began excellently for us, with not a hint of trouble. Our amateurish opponents made a few unsound pick-and-pass plays, leaving them with four buried checkers and two blots in their board early on.
Here we rolled a 2-1. We don’t want the opponents to escape with their last checker; and given the awful state of their board, the hit with the deuce on our four point is automatic. We did so, and Mochy was about to play the routine 14/13 with the ace, when I had a bright idea. “Wait a minute,” I said, “why not 21/20?”
Well, yes, very logical. Why do we need an anchor in this position? Let’s spread out our checkers and cover both outfields. A genius play!
Not! Once again, I persuaded Mochy; but the bot tells us that this is a big, big mistake. The opponents’ game is strategically bankrupt; and it is only by breaking the anchor, as we did, that we give them a tactical path to victory. It’s the wrong play in any case, but even worse at this the match score.
The vampires now rolled a joker double-deuce, hitting on our four point, putting a second checker of ours on the bar by hitting on their own five point, and continuing with the same checker to make their 3 point. Luckily – so we thought — we came in with one checker, re-making their four point. But they doubled us anyway !!
The nightmare. The opponents’ position still looks terrible; and in fact they are underdogs (they win only about 47% of the games). But their gammon chances are considerable: about 32% of their wins are gammons. Their position is a huge “no double” at almost any match score other than this one, and a solid beaver in a money game. But at this match score the double is very correct. Once again, it was my obstinate purity against Mochy’s pragmatism. I stated that as a matter of principle I could never pass a double like this, whatever the match score. And once again, despite his misgivings, Mochy went along with me. We took. And we were right. It was a clear take:
The opponents responded by rolling a 55. In a few moments we were gammoned. The match was over. We had done the right thing, but had it been right to be right? I apologized to Mochy and hoped that he would have better luck in choosing his doubles partners in the future.
Masters (30 players): 1-Shimon Kagan (Israel), 2-Alexandru Papadumitru (Romania), 3/4-Roman Korber (Austria) / Mario Kühl (Germany);
Masters consolation: winner: Costas Chiotinis (Greece), 2-Sabri Büyüksoy (Turkey)
Championship (30 players): 1-Arda Findikoglu (Turkey), 2-Pavel Zaorel (Czech Republic),
Championship consolation: 1-Günther Holzinger (Austria), 2-Andrea Sirch (Italy),
Intermediate (29 players): 1-Seda Koç (Turkey), 2-Mahmoud Taha (Egypt/Austria)
Super jackpot (8 players): 1-Shimon Kagan (Israel), 2-Kimon Papachristopoulos (Greece/Germany).
8th European Consulting Doubles (25 teams): 1-David Boldini (Switzerland) & Hormoz Shahrokhshahi (Iran/Germany), 2-Shadi Azizian (Iran/Italy) & Stefan Parlow (Austria).
R&r trophy (16+34 players): 1-Bob Wachtel (USA), 2-Mehmet Güven (Turkey).
Warm-up (16+35 players): 1-Gültekin Uygur (Turkey), 2-Shimon Kagan (Israel).
Ladies tournament (11 players): 1-Dora Gabanyi (Hungary), 2-Seda Koç (Turkey).
President’s 1-point tournament #1 (64 players): 1-John Broomfield (England).
President’s 1-point tournament #2 (64 players): 1-Martin Barkwill (England).