Adventures in Minneapolis

I went to Minneapolis for the labor day weekend Viking Classic, not without some trepidation and mixed feelings due to the whole pandemic situation. But, Minneapolis is doing better than Vancouver/Portland in terms of vaccination rates, case rates, etc., and there was a strict vaccination requirement, so I went ahead anyway. Just for an extra precaution, I did stay masked for 99% of the event – I did remove the mask for the trophy pictures (spoiler alert!)

It was an early flight out on Friday, but it got me in with time to grab lunch before sitting down for the first event I signed up for: the Friday Frigga, a 7 point match. This is a mixed level event, so I was up against Open players. First match had me down 0-6 after two games, but I survived the Crawford game and came back to win. My second match was much shorter, ending after game 1 with an 0-8 loss to the famous CJC. Here’s the position where I lost the match:

Screenshot 2021-09-06 at 9.13.42 PM

Looking at this, my thinking was, she only has 5’s to cover, then needs a 1 or a 3 to set up for the escape, so all even numbers are problems. Even if she rolled the perfect 5-3, a small next roll starts to crunch her board and so I have decent winning chances. So when she offered me the 4 cube, I took it! After taking a picture, of course. She then expressed shock that I had taken the cube, and I knew I was in trouble.

I do, in fact, have decent winning chances – about 32% wins. She, on the other hand, has about 50% gammons. And she got one of them, knocking me out of the event. Ah, well. It was a good lesson to think about the downside of taking the cube as well – CJC pointed out how many gammon wins she had, and how that was missing from my thinking.

The next day, the main event started. I had a pretty good run, getting a first round bye, so a very smooth start to the day. Rounds 2 and 3 were a little harder. Round 4, I had one of those experiences that makes you wonder why we play this cursed game. It’s a 9 point match, and I’m trailing 3-4. Conscious of the blunder of the day before, when offered the cube I correctly recognized that my downside if I were to lose a gammon in the following position would take us into the Crawford game – a bad outcome, but not as bad as losing the match. So here’s the position:

Screenshot 2021-09-06 at 9.30.47 PM

Here’s my thinking: she’s got no direct cover for her 3 point, and 3 checkers back on my homeboard. I should have 2 or 3 rolls to get a 3, anchor up, and then I’m right back in it. And again, I am about 32% wins, she’s got fewer gammons than that first position at 45% or so… And it’s still a huge pass. To cap it off, her next roll was 5-5, hitting and covering on her 3 point, followed by a 4-6 picking up the third checker. I kept waiting for her board to crunch, and did get a couple of shots at blots once she started bearing off – all of which I missed. Lost by a backgammon, putting that match to a sudden end.

Not all of my matches ended by me taking a bad cube and getting gammoned. Some of them ended by me taking a good cube and getting out-rolled. The main event was a double elimination, so it was in the 7-pointer part of the bracket that I got eliminated after taking a recube from the following position:

Screenshot 2021-09-06 at 9.41.27 PM

I was very careful counting this position out – triple checking. I’m 8 pips down, which is close to the break-even point for a pass/take in a money game. But here, if I drop, we’re in Crawford and my match winning chances are in the low teens. So this is a very easy take, and the computer says it’s a huge blunder for him to have offered the cube. But then, 27% winning chances is no guarantee. I had trouble finding any numbers higher than a 4 on the dice for the next 10+ rolls. I didn’t throw the cube back to him until 2 or 3 rolls later, at which point I was well under 27% winning chances, but he had some lousy rolls those next few as well. Fortunately, since this was the game before one of us guaranteed to cash, I had set up a hedge with him beforehand, so I got part of my entry fee back at least.

Oh, right – I mentioned a trophy! I did win the “Advanced Valhalla”, a jackpot event for once you were knocked out of the main, and got to bring home a lovely goblet trophy. Coming home with a trophy was one of my main goals for the event, as April and Michael really go over the top in terms of trophies for their event. It was only an 8 person bracket, so it’s a bit much to have gotten a trophy for, but I’m happy about it! It was a nice way to end the tournament. Technically it was the penultimate match of my trip – I had the same guy for both the championship for Valhalla and the first round of the consolation bracket for the main, and lost out of the consolation right after winning the Valhalla. Still: trophy.

Overall, it was a great time, and got me thinking anew about the possibility of doing a bigger event again in Portland. So much work goes into an event like that, I cannot commit to making it happen at this point. But gosh is it a good time to attend one! Over 4 days, I played well over 30 hours of backgammon, most of my opponents were very nice (everyone was gracious in victory – in defeat was a little spottier…) and it was a just a great time. I hope to go again next year.

-Mark

 

August 2021 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had an amazing turnout today, 20 people showed up to play! And 1 showed up to watch! There was a fair showing of the usual suspects, but quite a few newcomers as well. Aaron, Randy’s son, made the record books as our youngest ever  full participant in the tournament. Max brought along his parents, for their second ever appearance. Charles got the “long haul” award, driving down from Seattle for the event. Philip, fresh off his strong showing at the last chouette, came by to see if he could beat us all in tournament play as well (spoiler alert: he could). And that’s far from everyone…

7 people entered one or more side pool, and I put us into the “A” bracket, along with Charles, on the grounds that he said he was taking lessons from Marc Olsen, and so he’s probably pretty strong. So that was an 8 person bracket for the higher stakes, mostly. The other 12 people I put into the “B” bracket. To keep the two brackets in some kind of sync, I made the “A” bracket 5 point matches and the “B” bracket 3 point matches. The logic there is that the winner of the “A” bracket would win 3 5-point matches, 15 total, versus the winner of the “B” bracket out to win 4 3-point matches, 12 total, so relatively close in total length. Naturally, that did not work out at all.

“A” bracket first. I started off with a “grudge match” against Elisa (Max’s mom), who was still mad that I beat her a few years ago when they were last in town visiting. She was even madder after I beat her 5-0 in our match. Aaron lost out to Charles, Philip beat Tim, and Max cruelly beat his own father to round out the first round. In round 2, I sat down against Charles, and Max took on Philip. Tim vs. Evan and Elisa vs. Aaron played on in the consolation rounds.

Against Charles, I won a doubled gammon in the first game, taking us immediately to the Crawford game. Charles squarely beat me in the Crawford, and after I won the opening with a 6-5, he immediately doubled me in game 3. Now, game theory, if you’re up 4-1 in a match to 5, win the opening roll, and get immediately doubled: a lot of the time it’s a drop. But I figured this case was probably a take – making the lover’s leap is a solid start, puts me up in the race, and no threats. So, I took. We played on and eventually got to this rather challenging position:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1F67nI4crNnL4abX2sgyf1dyOabLiOoaC/view?usp=sharing

There are limited good options here. I narrowed it down to 10/3 (duplicating 6’s for Charles) or 8/2, 7/6 (playing it “safe for now”). And, tragically, I failed to write down what I actually did. What do you think? The duplication of 6’s is relatively weak protection, but the position after the other move is pretty dubious. According to the computer, 10/3 is correct. I’m pretty sure that’s not what I went with. It didn’t matter which I chose, because I had the opportunity to do the other on my next roll, when I rolled 6-1 again! All of which is fine, sure, but the roll after that, when I rolled 6-1 for a third time, Charles quit playing around and finally hit my blot on his bar point. From there he went on to win a gammon. Oh, backgammon, indeed the cruelest game.

Meanwhile, Philip beat out Max, and so the two of them faced off for 1st/2nd. But note, Charles was not in the side pools! So figuring out the payout got complicated. After some calculations and some negotiations, I ended up facing off Elisa again for the 2nd side pool (winner take all). Tim and Max played for 2nd place in the 1st side pool, as I had determined that Philip was the winner of 1st in the 1st side pool…

Elisa was having no more of my nonsense. I won the first game, but she took the next 3, including one where I had foolishly doubled her right before she rolled an escaping/taking the race lead 6-6. I survived Crawford by the skin of my teeth, and soon we were at 4-4 double match point. After some back and forth, we got into a race, which Elisa proceeded to smoke me out with multiple double 5’s! Meanwhile, Max was offering Tim a narrow take of a cube when they were 3-3, putting the whole match on the line with his 58 to 62 pip count lead. And Max proceeded, like his mother before him, to roll multiple doubles to win it.

Charles beat out Philip for the main, winning the overall bracket; but Philip took home more cash as the 2nd main/1st 1st side pool winner. So overall half the bracket walked home with some cash from it.

Phew. So what about the “B” bracket?

First round had Brad vs. Brian, Sande vs. Randy, Robert vs. Nathan, Dillon vs. Aaron, Stephanie vs. Paul, and Kyle vs. Bo. So that’s eight (8!) new players out of twelve (12!). I juggled it so the winner of each first match was listed first there, too. Brad vs. Brian and Kyle vs. Bo ended up being especially long matches too, so we were quickly to a point of it being hard to track. But people were in good spirits about it all, happy to play a pick-up game or two while waiting for their next formal match to start.

Stephanie had a good start, going on from her match against Paul to also beat Dillon and then Robert. At that point, being 3-0, it SHOULD have been the case that we were just waiting on one other person to get to 3-0 so we could go into the championship match. However, because of the timing issues, we ended up with Brad getting to 3-0 at the same time Kyle was emerging 2-0. So, I had 3 undefeated players. I told Brad and Stephanie to roll-off to see who had to go through Kyle first, to get to the championship match. Stephanie got unlucky in having to take the extra match, but then lucky in that she beat Kyle in a very short match. Stephanie then went on to beat Brad as well, making her this month’s most undefeated player, with a 5-0 showing!

It was a really terrific afternoon of backgammon, and I hope everyone had as much fun as I did. We’ll get another on the calendar fairly soon – see you then!

-Mark

July 2021 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a respectable 10 person field show up to play in today’s tournament. Many of the players from last month came back again, although apologies to Rob who was thrown off by the time shift and so did not get in to actually play. Likewise Pamela and her friend (sorry, I have lost the name) showed up late, but kind of on purpose as they did not want to play in the tournament, but were excited to play each other near other matches going on… Anyway, 7 people from last month, the return of Steve, and two newcomers (Leah and Stephanie) made for a reasonably even playing field. Not enough to break into two brackets, but sort of too many for a single bracket – we made do.

I determined that we needed to do 3 point matches instead of 5 point matches, in order to end timely. This was not without controversy. Several people let me know that they would have preferred to stick with 5 point matches, and Steve even went so far as to pull out of the side pools over it. Keep that in mind, I’m not pointing it out from pettiness, rather it is dramatic foreshadowing. Tim also gave me a rather hard time about it, if I recall correctly.

I drew Max in the first round, in a repeat of last month. I think he’s going to get suspicious if it happens again next month (which I will get on the calendar pretty soon – aiming for a weekend that Max’s parents will be visiting, as he said he will drag them along). Brad faced off against Steve, Jeremy took on Tim, Leah and Stephanie had a novice tie-breaker, and Julie played Aaron to round us out.

Max and I had some pretty significant back and forth. He took the first game relatively quickly, doubling me out after an early blitz. I returned the favor in the next game, and he commented that he probably would have taken the cube in a match to 5 – I think exactly correctly. It was a good take in a match to 5, a good drop in a match to 3; the dynamics of a short match are very accelerated. I cubed him out again in the third game, and we went into Crawford in a match that seemed to take about 20 minutes. Eventually I squeaked out the win.

In the second round, I played Aaron. It was again an intense match – the dice made it difficult for both of us at different points. We ended up attracting a crowd watching for a bit, as people were waiting for Tim and Jeremy to finish their first match so that more second round matches could start. Aaron took pictures of a couple of positions where he wasn’t sure what to do; I don’t think he took records of what he actually did, which pro tip: I’ve regretted that in the past. “Oh look at this picture of a backgammon position on my phone! I wonder what I actually did…” Anyway, I again got lucky and came out on top.

In the meantime, Steve had beat out Brad and then Leah, Max was closing in on a win over Julie in the second round, Stephanie lost out to Brad, and about now I started getting confused about who should play whom. I originally was taking on Jeremy, in what I thought was going to be about the championship match, when Steve and Brad came asking who they should play, and I started to set them against each other. “Oh, again?” they asked. No – no repeat opponents ought to appear in the match. Jeremy and I scraped the game, and I set Brad against Jeremy, and took on Steve myself.

From time to time, someone asks how I manage to keep it all straight while also playing myself. As this example shows, I don’t, at least not always. 🙂

Steve at this point was 2-0, and I informed him that he was in the running to win the tournament. He asked if he could get back into the side pools, which I did not allow. We had a good, if short, match. He won the first game, doubling me out pretty early. I offered the cube early in the second game, and he took, which I think might have been a mistake, but he made it work out for him. Meantime, Jeremy beat Brad, and so I set Jeremy and Steve at each other.

If you are keeping track at this point, which I barely was: Steve was 3-0, Jeremy was 2-0, Max and I were both 2-1. So the outcome of the Jeremy/Steve match could have made things complicated. If Steve won, he was the overall champion; if he lost he was 2nd with a 3-1 record. That much was clear. But since he was out of the side pools, if Steve won, we would have three-way tie in the side pools. Fortunately (?), Jeremy did win, and so I could declare him the overall tournament winner and the winner of the side pools. Max and I split 2nd from the side pools, and Steve took second for the overall.

Also meantime, Nick had shown up, and played a bit of head’s up cash game against Aaron and then Tim. When I left, Jeremy and Leah were playing a practice match as well.

So, overall, a great afternoon of backgammon. Thanks everyone for coming out, and we’ll see you again next month!

-Mark

June 2021 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a great turnout for our first “is it post-pandemic yet?” tournament today – 15 players braved the rain to see what it was like to play live backgammon again.

Lucky Lab is on a limited menu and tap list, and requires a mask indoors. But we took over half of the patio (quite literally), and in spite of questionable lighting, it was pretty comfortable. Well, from a fresh air perspective, anyway – eventually the picnic table seating started getting to my back. We all made do.

5 players elected into the dual side pools, and I put all of them (plus 2 others) into one bracket. 8 players made for a perfect second bracket. Let’s take them in reverse that order…

We had a big cast of new-comers in the bracket: Laura, Hobie, Dana, Kyle, and Karl were all making their first appearance. Kate came with her own cheer squad, and Julie and Rob rounded it out. You remember Rob, right? He used to run the group back around 2015 and prior? He claimed to not remember the Crawford rule. That might have been literally true for some of the other newcomers – Laura at least told me she hadn’t used the doubling cube before. First round had Julie defeating Laura (who then had to depart, dropping the bracket to 7), Kate over Dana, Rob over Hobie, and Karl over Kyle. Kate experienced the full spectrum of backgammon, going from a 5-0 win to a 0-5 loss against Rob in the second round. Julie took out Karl, setting the two most experienced players in the bracket against each other for the championship. After a good amount of back and forth, Rob emerged victorious, one of the two players to have a perfect record for the year in live backgammon play!

Our other bracket had a couple of newcomers as well, plus one complex situation. Dan and Brad were with us for the first time, plus Aaron, who had come to a couple of online events, so I’m not sure I can call him a first-timer, but it was his first time playing with us live. Max, Tim, Jeremy, and I rounded it out. Round 1 I squeaked out a win against Max, Tim beat out Dan, Aaron won a heartbreaker match against Jeremy, and Brad got the lucky bye. In round 2, Brad beat me out 5-4, Aaron handed Tim a loss, and so Brad and Aaron set up to play for first/second. This led to an interesting situation, as they were the two players who were NOT in the side pools. I resolved it by setting Tim versus Max to play for the second place while I took on Jeremy for the first place side pool. Both matches went down to the wire, Jeremy besting me and Max defeating Tim.

Meanwhile, in the final game of the final match (4 to 4, post Crawford) between Aaron and Brad, we got into a hyper-gammon situation. Aaron had 5 or 6 of Brad’s checkers back on his home board as he was going to bear-in, and Brad had a 4 point board plus a loose checker or so in the outfield. Aaron was forced to leave a shot and the game went into overtime, as Brad repeatedly hit Aaron’s checker while bringing the rest of his pieces around. By the end, Aaron had 13 checkers on his 1-point, a blot on his 2-point, and one off, while Brad closed him out. Brad in turn was forced to leave a blot after bearing off 5 checkers, which Aaron hit! At this point, the  race was on. Brad managed to get past Aaron’s checker coming around, and it got down to a question of whether or not Brad would ever miss taking one off on a roll. 5 or 6 frantic shakes later, Brad emerged victorious!

Many people asked about when we will do our next tournament, and/or our next chouette. I’m figuring that out – I think Lucky Lab will remain our home base for the next event or two as they have such a good outdoor space, pending further re-opening to indoor space. Assuming that we didn’t turn out to be a super-spreader event, I will get the next tournament posted within a few days, possibly a chouette as well. It seemed like everyone had a pretty good time, I certainly did. It was great to see people again, and to meet new friends. Until next time!

-Mark

September 2020 Online Backgammon Tournament Results

We had another full 8-person bracket today, albeit with some last minute twists and turns. We had 10 people sign up, but then one backed out, then another, then a third, then one new person show up at the last minute. As a director, that’s a whirlwind of emotions… Anyway, we ended up at 8, with 3 first timers and 5 returning players.

In the first match, I played Larry, who is one of the newcomers, although he’s also an old timer. We talked about some of the people we’ve played in common, but none apparently in the same decade. Hopefully that will change soon… I had good luck, and won, in spite of him significantly outplaying me.

This position came up in one of our games, and is one of many, many examples I could have picked of checker play blunders. On the bar, rolling a 6-2 is a great piece of luck. Obviously the 2 is B/23*, but I went fast with the 6 and played a blunder as a result.

 

pic1

23/17* just looked obvious from a get-more-pips lead and momentum perspective, but it is worse than 11/5* by -0.083! In retrospect, the potential prime built by slotting the 5 seems kind of obvious, but I played the move in about 2 seconds and didn’t even think of alternatives. 

Here’s another position I misplayed, file under “doubles are hard!”:

 

pic2

Similar theme to the last one. 24/21* pops up immediately, but what to do with the other 3 moves? Well, what do I really want here: a gammon. The best way to get that is to keep Larry on my ace point, and use the other 3 moves to play 13/4*. Completely failed to even consider it – instead I let momentum take me 21/18, then looked around for 2 more to play, eventually settling on 17/11. Which looks kind of pretty, accomplished nothing much, and lost me -0.134 in equity!

I didn’t only blow it through bad checker moves though – I also made plenty of cube errors. Here’s a fun one. I’m on the bar, holding the cube, closed board, and a blot to aim at. What’s the cube action?

 

pic3

I figured this to be a no double, as I’m on the bar, and if I don’t roll a 5, I’m throwing away the match with the recube. Indeed, I’m only 36.1% to win here – basically rolling 5’s plus a few later shots if I dance. But it is a recube (and very easy take)! No double is a -0.119 blunder. 

Jesse went on to beat me 7-0 in the match, then faced off against Tim (Tim E, not Tim D) in the final. I watched the match online, and it was a good one. Here are a couple of other cube decisions that came up, which surprised me as they were playing.

First off, in the first game, Jesse (white here) is on roll, and offered a cube. Would you have done the same?

 

pic4

It’s a surprisingly close one. He’s up slightly in the race, but his position isn’t great, with 3 checkers back. But he does have the threat of pointing on the checker on his 5 point, or doing a pick-and-pass. Tim snatched up the cube of course, as it is a narrow no double position: -0.011 error to double here. But I did not recognize how strong Jesse’s position was. Only 59% to win, but 33% to gammon, makes this nearly a double, and probably worth time to think about the take.

Finally, here’s a position where Tim offered the cube. I assume his thinking was that with an even race, it is likely to be a take. But it’s a clear too good situation!

 

pic5

Position, race, and threat. Normal rule of thumb is if you have 2 of the 3, it’s a double/take. Here all Tim has is position, but he has a lot of it! Jesse lacks the timing to keep a strong home board for the eventually return shot, and Tim doesn’t have a lot of gammons, but he’s 88% to win, so there’s no harm in playing on. Well, it worked out for him, as Tim went on to win the match and thus, the tournament. Congratulate him the next time you see him!

-Mark

Online Backgammon

So, COVID-19 has kept us all from getting together to drink and gamble in person. The Portland Backgammon Club continues on, though – virtually.

Today we had our first online tournament. 8 players showed up to compete. We did it as a single elimination, because I did not want to juggle the logistics of something more complicated. It was a learning experience.

I’ve played in a few online tournaments in the past months, mostly those sponsored by the US Backgammon Club, as well as played some with local members looking for an online game. Most of my activity has been on backgammongalaxy, which allows you to play via your web browser, and so my chromebook is adequate for the task. It also gives you an analysis of your match immediately afterwards, using XG, making it a very effective learning tool as well if you have the patience to look through your blunders while they’re still fresh on your mind.

The other tournaments I have been in have used whatsapp or discord for communication, and some have used a bracket management site called challonge. For our first Portland backgammon tournament, I just set up a group text message to communicate with everyone. The limit of that is Tim E, who is a caveman and still uses a flip phone.

Anyway – first round there was some technical confusion by having both Tim E and Tim D show up to play, something that hasn’t happened in years actually. Michael was supposed to call Tim E, but called Tim D, and before Bryan did. Bryan eventually figured out what happened and asked if he could just play Tim E instead, and we went with that. Paul is still on our mailing list, and he got paired with Steve. I played Bob. We played 5 point matches for the first couple of rounds, and a 7 point final.

In the first round match, I made a blunder on the following position, which is similar to a host of positions that I seem to not be able to get through my head. I’m on the bar, and so have to come in with the 1; but what should I do with the 2?

Screenshot 2020-07-12 at 6.57.06 PM

The choices are limited. There’s 20/18, 13/11, 10/8, and 8/6. 13/11 is obviously wrong – it duplicates 1’s I guess but really, why? 8/6 is also obviously wrong – there’s already 5 checkers on the 6 point, what good is one more besides opening a blot? 10/8 is safe, so that’s clearly good. 20/18 is what I went with, and that’s the category of plays that I find challenging. When do you pop out a blot from the opponent’s home board? Here, I figured, only two checkers aiming at it, there’s a blot on the 21 if I do get hit, and it gives me a chance to anchor outside.

But, in this case, a -0.101 blunder, just as bad as playing 8/6. Why? I do not know. That’s what I’m saying about this kind of position confusing me. Maybe because I’m so far down in the race, I want the extra couple of places of contact? I’m really not sure.

A few rolls later, I was on the bar again, and had another decision to make.

Screenshot 2020-07-12 at 7.04.25 PM

I can come in with either the 1 or the 5. If I come in with the 1, there’s only a couple of options for the 5: 10/5 or 6/1. 6/1 is safe, but leaves me two blots behind his checkers. 10/5 slots the point I want to make next, but then I worried about him having a good chance of making his bar point, leaving me trapped on the ace point. And if I come in with the 5, I can hit with 13/12*, which seems helpful – plus I have two numbers to hit the blot on the bar point which would become much less likely to be covered. So, I played bar/20, 13/12*. Which is a -0.109 blunder.

The correct play is bar/24, 10/5. Why? Again, I don’t know. If I understood the position, maybe I wouldn’t have played it wrong.

First games are rough. Eventually Bob took pity on me and offered the cube so I could drop. He did that again the next game as well, but I rallied after that, managing to come back to win.

In the second match, I faced off against Paul. He and Steve had played a protracted first round match, and by the time they were done, Bryan and Michael had already finished their second round match. But Paul and I made up time with a pretty quick match (which also gave Bryan time to get lunch), so no harm done. In our second game, Paul offered me the following cube:

Screenshot 2020-07-12 at 7.15.10 PM

Should I take or drop? I’ve got 2 checkers back on his 3 point, with a clear shot at freedom, but I am down in the race, his prime can get better on the next roll, I have no home board, and I’m up in the match. I did not fully figure the odds of my coming back to win the game, but it seemed like a pretty clear pass. Nope! Dropping is a -0.095 error! I’m still 22.6% to win the game, according to XG. Apparently that ability to escape with a 6 is worth more than I figured. That evened up the match score. Paul won a doubled game on the next one, then offered me the cube again in game 4, which I accepted and redoubled to make for the match. Then I snuck out a win with a miracle 6-1 roll when I needed it most.

Mind you, these are not all the blunders I made through the day. I was not playing that well, in spite of getting the wins. They are just a few of the ones that stand out. But my biggest blunder of the day came in game 4 against Bryan in the finals. I am up 2-1 and think I have a difficult decision to hand him with this double. What would you do?

Screenshot 2020-07-12 at 7.27.14 PM

Bryan took, and was eventually able to return the cube to me, which I had to drop. This is a big no-double, -0.24 mega-blunder to have offered it! Sure, I’m the favorite here – ahead in the race, he might dance, giving me an opportunity to escape the back checkers or make more points on my board. But, and this is important, he might not dance. And if he comes in, he’s not in such bad shape. I’m only 59.3% to win here, way below an efficient cube level. I had a great roll, filling the 3 point, but Bryan came in with a 4-2 and was able to turn it around on me.

For that game, anyway. I held on to win the match, although it was a tough one!

Next time, I might explore using discord, or challonge, or otherwise up the technological requirements to participate. But everyone seemed to have a good time, it was great to get to interact with others, and we will definitely do it again soon.

-Mark

March 2020 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a good turnout for this month’s tournament, considering the sunny weather attracting people outside and the coronavirus scaring them into staying home. 8 people showed up to play, plus newcomer Esti, who wanted to observe, having only taken up the game in the last month or so.

Joel showed up early, and we played the first game or two of a warm-up match. But people were showing up and we didn’t get to finish, which was a relief to me as I was down a couple of games. Random draw, however, put me back up against Joel in the first match. Grateful for the fresh start, I went on to lose the match by a considerable margin.

Bryan, Philip, and Joel also won their first round matches, and we shuffled players around. After the second round, Joel and Chris were undefeated. Mark J decided to head off, and Jenny played a match with Esti. Philip, Jenny’s father, noted that he would never have bet that she would end up tutoring someone else on backgammon, so shortly after he finally convinced her to start playing herself.

IMG_20200308_134807

Here’s a position that came up while Jenny and Esti were playing, which I was watching and talking to both of them a bit about the cube. Here Jenny is the lighter checkers, and offered the cube. Should Esti take?

Definitely not. With any 2, a sixth checker will get sent back, and although they are only behind a 4-prime, Jenny will have perfect freedom to bring the rest of her checkers around. Without a 2, there’s still a good chance that both Jenny’s back checkers escape, and Esti doesn’t have the timing to keep her home board from collapsing.

XG actually says this position is slightly too good to double, it’s about -0.034 to give up the gammon potential. And of course, it’s a huge pass for money.

While all that was going on, Chris was playing Joel for the championship. Chris took an early and commanding lead, but Joel survived the Crawford game, and then won the next game with a doubled gammon to take 1st place! Don’t feel bad for Chris, though – second month in a row that he’s cashed in one of our tournaments…

Joel very kindly donated his winnings (that is, less his entry fee) back to the club to help offset the expenses of running the meetup. That’s actually the third donation I’ve gotten in the last year, I want to acknowledge him and  also say thank you to Dirk and Steve who also both spontaneously gave some back to the club. Meetup has just raised their rates, and it now costs just under $200/year to keep that running – so my $10/month rake is not really cutting it. I’m not complaining, it’s a modest expense, and I’m only out $202.34 for the past 3.25 years that I’ve been running the club. Yes, I am keeping records of that. I don’t know how much money I’ve lost in chouettes over that same time period, but I’m pretty confident it’s more…

Next month I’ve moved the tournament back to the third Sunday of the month, to not conflict with Easter. Hope to see you all there!

-Mark

February 2020 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had another great showing this month – 16 players came to enjoy the afternoon over the board. 16, as you know, is a power of 2, which is super helpful for running a tournament, especially since I decided to try something different this month.

I posted a bit ago about the Bellingham tournament that Tim E and I went up for, and they used a double elimination bracket format. It struck me that this would probably be easier to keep track of than the Swiss format, and so we gave it a try. I was gradually reminded of why I moved to the Swiss format, however, as the double elimination bracket requires a LOT longer to determine a winner. Fortunately, I broke the group up into two groups of 8, it could have gone significantly longer.

In the “A” bracket were most of the more experienced players. This was also on purpose, I wanted to give out multiple 1st and 2nd places and give some of the less experienced players a good crack at the prize. That part worked, although again, way slower than I would have liked.

Anyway: “A” bracket featured Jeremy, fresh back from a trip to his first (I think) ABT tournament in San Antonio, where he won the Novice division! Well done, Jeremy. Jeremy ended our tournament undefeated, but conceded to take 2nd place because it was after 4:00, and there was a several match wait for his next opponent. Similarly, Bob conceded his second match because of time constraints. Late arrival Hu got slotted into the “A” bracket because that was where I had a bye, but I moved him to the “B” bracket to replace Kamron when he too had to leave early. And not that early. You get the point – the logistics were not as clean as I hoped for.

Jeremy having conceded, it came down to me, Chris, and Tim to duke it out through the second tier to determine the winner. Chris took me out in classic style – won the first game for a single, then a game with the cube at 4 to finish me off. His match against Tim was slightly different, in that he won the first game for a single, then a gammon with the cube at 2 to finish Tim off. So congrats Chris on winning that bracket!

In the “B” bracket, Judy marched her way through the top half of the bracket, taking out Terry (one of the two Terrys who showed up), Kamron, then Cece to get to the final. Max took a longer route, getting punted down to the bottom half of the bracket in his first, then defeating both Terrys back to back, Hu, and Cece to get to the final. That left them with Max needing to beat Judy twice to take first place – if Judy won the first match, Max would have his second elimination.

Well, Max proceeded to win the first match in a hard fought battle. Both players were showing signs of exhaustion by that point, but they gamely reset for the final showdown. And… Max took it again! Congrats to both Max and Judy for their first placements in one of our tournaments.

With two tournaments down, the “leaderboard” is pretty tight. Jeremy is ahead in winning percentage, Max in total matches played. We’ll see what March brings!

Player Matches Played Matches Won Percentage
Max 10 7 70.00%
Jeremy 9 8 88.89%
Chris 9 7 77.78%
Mark W 9 6 66.67%
Tim 6 4 66.67%
Martin 6 2 33.33%
Judy 5 3 60.00%

Bellingham 2020

Yesterday, I took part in the 9th annual Bellingham Winter Classic. It was my first time up there – I had been invited a couple of years ago but the timing didn’t work out that time, and it was a great little event. 16 players showed up for the “A” flight, and I believe another 8 for the “B” flight.

Tim also made the trek up from Portland, and we joined 4 players from Bellingham, 8 from Seattle, and 2 from Vancouver BC. Neither Tim nor I made it especially far in the main event, but we then did a fun little round-robin with Chris and Kristi. It made for a full day of backgammon, and I was able to get back down to sleep in my own bed last night, after a pleasant stop in Seattle to spend a little time with my daughter.

Michael, our host and organizer, has some big ideas. One thing he would like to do is have a regional event, pitting Vancouver BC, Seattle, Bellingham, and Portland against one another. The idea is that each place sends four players to the match, and the best overall team result wins the day, and then hosts the next year. I’m always up for another event, so we will see if we can pull that off.

Here’s a position that came up in my second match of the main event, against Kristi. Just a few rolls into the game, I’m on the bar, and was offered the cube. Should I take?

IMG_20200125_112810

I like this one, because the match score comes into play. This would be a blunder to pass for money, or if it was the first game of the match. But it’s a borderline double at this score – XG mobile says it was -0.003 for her to offer the cube at this point. But human psychology wise, definitely the right move. It gave me pause. I did take, and she went on to win by a gammon.

Overall for the main event: I got crushed in my first match against Karl, losing 9-1. He pointed out one position where I made a clear blunder, but it was also a match where I just couldn’t get any breaks and he rolled a lot of big doubles when he needed them. Ah well. I did win my match against Kristi, although it was quite close. And then I lost my match against Joe, although again it was quite close. Both of those last two came down to the winner getting one more double in the bear-off than the loser.

All in all, a good time – I look forward to returning next year.

-Mark

January 2020 Chouette Results

We had a good chou this month, trying out a new location. We went to the Kenton Club, which… is dark. They were very nice, the drink pours were extremely generous, and the jukebox was great – playing a nice mix of classic rock and rockabilly. But it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the dimness. We were playing at the best lit table in the place, and Judge Judy was playing (no sound) on the TV just to one side of us – whenever a commercial came on that had a white screen with a page of disclaimers for whatever side effects came with their drug, someone would invariably remark about how it was suddenly much brighter.

All of which is to say that, although I do not regret choosing the location, we probably won’t be rushing back there. There’s another spot a couple of blocks from there which Martin recommended, and so we’ll maybe give it a shot for the next chouette. It might even be big enough for a tournament, but we’ll start small.

Five players were in attendance. Jeremy made the trek up from Salem again, Martin, Tim, Bryan, and me. Tim had the longest and most successful run in the box for the day, at one point ending up over 30 points, although he slid from there before the day was over. I had to head off “early” (at 5:00), and so I don’t know the final positions for everyone, but it was a fun afternoon.

Here’s a position that came up in one of the games. I’m facing off against Tim, who has already taken the cube, and I rolled a 4-1. Prime versus prime type of position developing. The big question in my mind: should I split my back men?

IMG_20200120_160037

Here’s my argument against splitting: It gives him 9 numbers that turn this into a blitz, and it’s also important for me to move the checker on the mid-point to a safer location. Here’s XG’s argument for splitting: everything else is a double-blunder at least. I went with the second best move (-0.173 equity loss), and Tim went on to win the game. Ah well.

-Mark