By Robert Wachtel
Continued from Norway Backgammon Cup
By Robert Wachtel
After a long night of drinking, more drinking, and plenty of smoking, the main backgammon tournament of the Norway Cup began early Saturday afternoon with a reading of the first-round pairings by one of lovely tournament director Fay Kristin Danielsen’s lovely co-directors. (Fay is the face of Åsgårdstrandian backgammon; she lives there, runs the local backgammon club, and did a super job organizing this tournament). Again, even this usually tedious undertaking came off as fun and playful: because everybody knows everybody in the Norwegian backgammon world, each pairing was met with general merriment and joking. I don’t understand a word of the language; but I felt included in the party when the whole room oohed and aahed when I and my opponent were called. It turned out that I was paired with last year’s champion, Dagfinn Snarheim (his real name, I kid you not); and, since I was the foreign gunslinger in these parts, the first-round showdown looked to the assemblage like it would be good entertainment.
Dagfinn is a pleasant, nice-looking young ex-chessmaster. I got off to a beautiful 6-0 start against him in our match. But then ... well, I cannot say that the sun was in my eyes, but there were a few people milling about, joking with us. All in the spirit of the moment, I impulsively doubled:
For a money game, this is a very solid double (though still a take); but at this match score it is an atrocious blunder. Black is already desperate, and it is really quite difficult for me to lose my market. Moreover, as an ex-chessplayer myself, I should try to look ahead one move. True, if I am fortunate enough to get a gammon, all four points that I would win a “working” for me. But if, as could easily happen in this volatile position, the game turns around just a little, my opponent will redouble me, effectively “killing” my gammons while getting full use of his own. Nor (looking one move farther ahead) will the cube be of any use to me then: down 0-6, there is virtually no 8 cube (to be immediately turned to 16) that my opponent would not be thrilled to scoop up.
Nor did this episode have a happy ending. My blitz came within a fraction of succeeding; but at the last second my opponent anchored. And now I took my eye off the ball again:
Would you make the opponent’s bar point with this little number? I did, but it’s a big, fat blunder! True, the game has turned around somewhat, but this is no time to get defensive. My 3-2 here is just an average roll, and it should be played to take advantage of my two remaining assets: a strong board and a huge lead in the race. In other words, I should have maximized, not minimized, contact. The equities:
This second blunder allowed Dagfinn to begin making points behind me in safety; and as any decent chess player should have foreseen, I was forced off the bar point with my next six. And now my opponent whipped the cube back at me just on time – super-early, that is.
A great example of the power of a match score to warp ordinary cube logic. For money, this redouble would insane – it’s a big beaver, in fact – but here it is just right. I took, as I had to, but Dagfinn won the game.
It was now up 6-4. This time I got an early advantage and doubled correctly, but once again the game turned around; and once again Dagfinn gave a perfect redouble.
Deja vu: this would not even be close to a redouble in a money game (not a beaver this time, but worth less than half a point); but at the match score, it was like Goldilocks’ porridge: just right. I took (a small error, according to the rollout) and lost. I fought back to 8-8 but then got gammoned. And after that, Dagfinn went on to repeat as Norway Cup champion!
Other results: Main flight second place: Håvard Raddun. The intermediate division was won by Arne Ludvig Faar, the last chance by Asbjørn Arntzen.