Swedish Backgammon Open background and results on The Road Less Traveled
By Robert Wachtel
Some of the more interesting backgammon positions I encountered in the Swedish Open tournament came up in my ill-fated fighter’s bracket semifinal with Liby. I was never ahead throughout the whole 13-point match, but I won a gammon in the Crawford game at 6-12, taking away my opponent’s free drop. At 8-12, I doubled immediately and reached this semi-promising position:
Every once in a while, even an experienced backgammon player will find himself at sea in an innocuous-looking situation. I knew that I would love to win a gammon at this match score, but the 6-3 that I rolled seemed tailor-made, instead, to put my disconnected house in order. With three semi-primed checkers back and only the beginnings of a blockade on my side of the board to contain Libby’s one straggler, the play seemed obvious: 24/18, 11/8. Makes the eight point, mobilizes the back checkers, fights for the crucial 18 point. Only fleetingly did I imagine that the match score might justify an irresponsible-looking deuce-point hit. I did what was natural and normal, and recorded the position just in case it might turn out to be a freak.
When I looked it over later I got a shock. The bots say that hitting with the six is clearly right even for money (the best 3 is then 10/7). Not only does hitting win more gammons than my positional play, it wins more games as well! I’m still not sure I understand how this one works. The equities:
Despite my passivity, things turned out well for me in this game – very well. Liby never escaped his back checker. Eventually he cracked his board. I picked up a second checker and was able to achieve a closeout. I had some real gammon chances when I rolled a 5-3 in this position.
I still had some time on my clock, and could have given this play a think; but instead I instantly played the routine 4 off, 4/1. Liby came in, ran off the gammon, and went on to win the match.
I have a sick habit of second-guessing myself. And this habit can make me a troublemaker. Why, I berated myself, had I not studied Liby’s board for a second? It was a four-pointer, but an ugly one, with gaps and lots of buried checkers. If I’d had any guts, I’d have just snapped two pieces off with the 5-3. If I were missed, I’d probably win a gammon; if I were hit, I’d probably survive and win anyway.
Continuing to make trouble, I rounded up two of my favorite backgammon giants, Falafel and Michy, and showed them the problem. And sure enough, I got action. Falafel, the gambler, found the brave, go-for-the-gammon play irresistible; Michy, a solid and conservative citizen, played it safe. Falafel suggested a friendly wager, and Michy politely accepted. But the result was not close. Michy’s play won easily. Black’s board, despite its defects, is just too strong to volunteer a shot against. And at this match score the gammon price (the value of a gammon relative to the value of a single game) is not that much greater than in a money game. I had made the right play after all; and perhaps it was better that I hadn’t even considered the alternative!