By Robert Wachtel
Most backgammon players would find it boring to lose every match they play in a tournament, but I like use my setbacks as a source of entertainment. I scribble down the most puzzling positions I am faced with, and later on corral as many experts as I can, presenting the problems to them as a group quiz. “The chronicles,” Falafel calls the exercise, and it is always great fun when he participates — firstly because he is usually right, and secondly because he is so opinionated. The challenge, when he’s in on the action, is keeping track of all the bets he’s made. Unfortunately, he went so far in the Nordic Open backgammon championship and had to play so much at the Denmark vs. the World, that he only got to sit in on a small part of the chronicles. But the show, which I shall share with you now, went on.
My first unsuccessful match (to 17 points) was against an unknown Swedish opponent . I was up 2-1, holding the cube, when I hit a shot. I got hit back and was on the bar when my opponent crashed down to a one-point board and was forced to expose a second blot:
What is the proper cube action? White has only six checkers off; Black has a five-prime and complete command of the outfield; and, of course, if he rolls a deuce from the bar he will lose his market rather drastically. The position demanded a redouble, not only for those technical reasons, but as a way of gathering information about my opponent that I could use later in the match. The early stages of a long backgammon match, like the early rounds of a poker tournament, can be used to compile a profile of one’s opponent. Was he a risk-taker? Was he a taker or a passer? Did he like the action?
I found out soon enough. The Swede snatched the cube (It was, in fact, an easy take, and only a marginal redouble). I rolled, but no deuce came, just a 5-1.
Just as in poker, when your opponent calls your bluff, you have to know how to carry on. Of course, I am aware that plays like bar/20, 3/2* are sometimes right, but was this one of them? Was it really necessary to take this kind of risk? If I simply enter and play some random ace, my opponent needs an ace to safety his second blot and then needs to run the gauntlet of my outfield sentinels to get away. So, I just played safe.
Here is what the two plays look like: The hit:
I must report that the chronicle crew was not impressed by my play. “Of course you have to hit,” most of them said without much thought. And they were right. At least that is what the bots say.
You know the rest of the story. My opponent immediately rolled the ace, then jumped out into the outfield with a quick six. I missed a big double shot, and he very emphatically doubled me back to 8. I passed, a wiser man. I resolved to wait much longer before doubling him next time.