The end of April saw the second St Albans Open. 64 players with the format of Round-Robin on Saturday, knockout on Sunday. St Albans used a seeding system again based on the UKBGF ratings and three 11 pointers on Saturday split the players into a Main and a Consolation. Nicky Check was the winner and the final against Tariq Siddiqi was videoed and analysed. What follows is not a full write up of the match (which can be viewed here) but a small selection of positions is given below.
It was nice to see a final where there was an insignificant luck element (according to XG). Neither player played as well as they would have liked, but in their defence it followed a hard two days of backgammon with little respite.
XG Analysis follows each position so have a piece of paper handy to cover that up before you decide on the play. There will be then be some follow-up questions for the more experienced readers (answers at the end). In each position Nicky is Blue and Tariq is Black.
- 14/11* 5/4* (+0.919)
- 7/4* 5/4 (+0.725)
- 14/13 14/11* (+0.617)
- 14/11* 11/10 (+0.533)
- 14/11* 6/5 (+0.501)
First position is a misplay by Nicky, who made the 4 point. It is tempting to overemphasise the risks with hitting two. You visualise being hit, dancing and then black coming round and sweeping up the other blots.
A phrase I remember from Robertie – “when you have your opponent by the neck – squeeze”. Not only do gammons shoot up if you put two on the bar, but you also win more games because otherwise you might never hit the outfield blot and black, having such a race lead can enter and escape (which is what happened in the actual game).
What improvements will I need to make to Black’s board to make the double hit just too risky?
Make a 5-point board by…
- (A) Cover blot, with a spare on 6-point
- (B) Cover blot with spare on 3-point
- (C) Move three checkers on the ace-point to make 4 and 5
- (D) Make a 6-point board
- 21/15 (+0.767)
- 21/16 4/3 (+0.753)
- 21/16 21/20 (+0.748)
- 21/17 7/6 (+0.725)
- 21/20 7/2 (+0.698)
Same game and Nicky has to decide whether to lift the blot on the bar point. Pros and cons are obvious – leave it there and the chances of making a six prime are increased, but the dreaded 16 from the bar will haunt your dreams that night. Lift and once black enters he has the constant threat of escaping. Nicky lifted.
What changes to the position make it clear to lift the blot?
- (A) Move White’s outfield checkers to (say) 14 and 15 points so the lifting play 7/6 with either 14/9 or 15/10 gives a direct shot if Black rolls 16 and leaps the prime.
- (B) Move White’s outfield checkers to (say) 15 and 9 points so the lifting play will come with 15/10 giving a double shot if Black rolls 16 and leaps the prime.
- (C) Move White checkers to 20 point and give Black a 4-point board 4 – 1.
- (D) Move White checkers to 19 point and give Black a 5-point board 5 – 1
- (E) Move White checkers to 18 point and give Black a closed board?
It is not a huge error to lift but this position occurs reasonably often so remember the rule “Never lift the blot unless you are home and dry”! You look a fool after the 16 from the bar, but if it is wrong it won’t be by much and you are more likely to make bigger errors if you lift it. You have to move the two back-men all the way forward to the 10 and 11 points to make it a coin toss between lifting or not.
- 17/16 17/13 (+0.281)
- 17/13 4/3 (+0.264)
- 13/8 (+0.249)
- 11/6 (+0.241)
- 8/3 (+0.197)
With two blots in Tariq’s board a hit is far from fatal, so minimising shots should not be of concern to Nicky. The adage to remember here is, “When ahead in the race – race”. Breaking contact should be prioritised but Nicky played 8/3.
Imagine moving the spares on Black’s midpoint to his seven point, each time decreasing the pip count difference by 6 points.
How many spares would you move to make keeping the 17 point the correct play?
- (A) One
- (B) Two
- (C) Three
To play absolutely safe and leave no shots by playing in-board with 6-1 for instance is the wrong idea in this position, resulting in a 113 millipoint blunder.
How strong would Black’s board have to be to make ‘no shots’ the correct play?
- (a) Move blots to 6 and 4-points to leave a 2-point board but no blots
- (b) Cover 5 point with the spare on the 4, leave the blot on the 2-point
- (c) Cover 2 point with the spare on the 4, leave blot on the 5-point
- (d) Cover the 5 and 2 points with the inner-board spares.
- 6/3 4/3 (-0.334)
- 6/5(2) 4/3 (2) (-0.383)
- 18/16(2) (-0.389)
- 18/17(2) 4/3(2) (-0.393)
- 18/17(2) 6/5(2) (-0.405)
Tariq’s turn to misplay with 18/16(2) by not considering the race. He is behind so should maximise contact and stay behind on the 18 point.
- Bar/21 8/7 (+0.250)
- Bar/24 8/4* (+0.169)
- Bar/24 6/2* (+0.117)
- Bar/21 6/5 (-0.012)
- Bar/24 17/13 (-0.029)
Whether to continue the blitz or to hold your horses and maintain some structure is often a quite tricky decision. The number of men in the zone is important and Tariq currently has 9 which isn’t enough. Tariq hit with the 4.
Let’s improve Black’s position. When is hitting with the 4 correct?
- (A) Move blot on midpoint to 9 point
- (B) Move blot on midpoint to 10 point
- (C) Move blots on mid and 17 point to 9 and 10-point.
- (D) Move blots on mid and 17 to make either 9 or 10 point
- (E) Move one checker from 24-point to 10-point.
One of the aims of the TD, the indefatigable (I’ll pause while you google it) Chris Purchase, was for the tournament to guarantee many prize winners and many matches (a minimum of three on both Saturday and Sunday). It led to a packed schedule and a few dropouts but overall went down well. There will be some changes next year as the double-elimination Last Chance meant a bit of waiting around, and the many prize winners meant the money was spread a little too thinly for some tastes.
Here is a list of all the winners:
Main: Winner Nicky Check, runner-up Tariq Siddiqi
Consolation: Winner Eric McAlpine, runner-up Ray Kershaw
Last Chance: Winner Anna Clarke, runner-up George Jacobs
Super Eight: Winner Jon Barnes, runner-up Peter Backgren
Not So Super Eight: Winner David Brown, runner-up Chris Hamilton
Speedgammon: winner Alexandru Pascu
Finally, I must mention a controversial but interesting incident that occurred (the names have been changed to protect the innocent!).
Beyoncé was playing Rihanna in a 9 point match and was leading 7 -4, holding a 2 cube. She then rather foolishly redoubled to 4 which Rihanna obviously took and a few seconds later rewhipped to 8.
The UKBGF rules on this matter are clear and repeated below.
DOUBLING WHEN THE CUBE IS DEAD – If a player holds a cube at a level that would be sufficient for that player to win the match, the doubling cube is deemed to be ‘dead’ meaning that it is no longer available for further cube action by such player. If in these circumstances the player mistakenly doubles such cube action is deemed invalid. In such circumstances the double may be annulled.
Now here is where it gets interesting. A kibitzer, Rita Ora, pointed this out to the players at this juncture. Beyoncé, realising her mistake was mortified but Rihanna was unrepentant. Neither player was au fait with the above UKBGF rules which were relayed to them by Rita and others. A ruling followed and the match was continued with the cube remaining on 2 on Beyoncé’s side.
So was Rita correct to bring this to the players’ attention? The UKBGF rules on illegal moves are again very clear.
ILLEGAL MOVES. … If an illegal move is noticed by either player before his opponent has made a valid roll or offered a valid double, it must be corrected. Only the players, the Tournament Director and any official match monitors are required to point out an illegal move unless the players have clearly stated an intention to the contrary to observers including any match annotator. An illegal move will stand once the opponent has made a valid roll or offered a valid double.
Beyoncé’s recube to 4 is referred to as invalid, rather than illegal but is it still incorrect for a kibitzer to intervene? Rita was overwhelmingly commended by others for intervening, with the general consensus being that to allow the infringement to go unchallenged would have potentially resulted in a souring of the atmosphere if Rihanna had gone on to win that single game on an 8 cube and hence the match. Beyoncé would, of course, have felt terrible but I am sure Rihanna would not have been happy to have won the match that way, once she had realised she had broken the rules.
There is good reason for the UKBGF rules to be as they are. The crowd might be extremely biased towards or against one of the players and, heaven forbid, might not live in the same moral universe as you or I, dear reader. It is a general tenet in board games that kibitzers are not allowed to intervene in any way. In chess, it is very rare that a player makes an illegal move without the opponent being aware. In backgammon, however, it is far more prevalent.
It looks like the rule above would require both players to agree to ask kibitzers for comments on possible illegal plays, so I suppose to avoid any problems whatsoever both players could agree to ask spectators if the play was legal after every roll(!).
I would hate to lose or win a match that was a direct result of an illegal play. I am happy in any match I play in a UKBGF tournament for a kibitzer to point out an illegal play by either player. If my opponent is of the same persuasion and kibitzers know this (perhaps there is some clever way this can be easily identified by spectators – a small pennant by the board?) then would this in general be a good thing? Let the comments begin!
We now jump towards the end of the match and the first Post-Crawford game’s opening roll.
- 24/21 13/11 (+0.936)
- 24/22 24/21 (+0.930)
- 13/11 13/10 (+0.929)
- 24/22 13/10 (+0.926)
- 13/8 (+0.925)
- 13/10 6/4 (+0.908)
- 13/11 8/5 (+0.895)
Note that Tariq’s aggressive play of slotting the 5 point is a large error and is not recommended at any score but the reason I write about this is that it is an example of a conceptual error that I have seen players make on countless occasions.
When your opponent has a “free drop”, that is when, post-Crawford, he is doubled when the trailer is an even number of points from victory (as is the case here) then slotting is never a correct play as an opening move. Why? – because you never get the benefit from it. If missed the player will utilise his free drop and pass the resulting cube.
To make this crystal clear here is an opening 21 analysis at post Crawford even-away (free drop) and post Crawford odd away (free take) scores.
- 24/23 13/11 (+0.941)
- 24/21 (+0.929)
- 13/10 (+0.925)
- 24/23 24/22 (+0.923)
- 13/11 6/5 (+0/917)
Free Take – anything except 21 slot is an error
- 13/11 6/5 (+0.346)
- 24/23 13/11 (+0.310)
- 13/10 (+0.271)
- 24/21 (+0.254)
- 24/22 6/5 (+0.253)
Answers… (errors in millipoints)
1st position (Nicky’s 31)
- (A) No, 76
- (B) No, 25
- (C) Yes, 84 error to hit two (safe hit 14/11* 14/13 tied with making 4 point)
- (D) Yes, 223 mega blunder (safe hit clearly correct)
2nd position (Nicky’s 51)
- (A) No, 45 error to lift. Play 14/13, 15/10 to maximise chance of making a 6-prime next roll.
- (B) Tie. The non-lifting play of 15/10 9/8 gives White 1’s and 3’s (dancing numbers) to hit back if Black hits with the joker 16.
- (C) No, 43
- (D) No, 18
- (E) Tie, even with a guaranteed loss after a 16 hit (Black would play on for the gammon), 18/12 ties with 18/13 7/6.
3rd position (Nicky’s 41)
- (A) No, 14
- (B) Tie
- (C) Yes, 17 error to give up 17pt. 11/6 and 8/3 tied for best play.
- (a) No, 65
- (b) No, 53
- (c) No, 38
- (d) Yes, 102 blunder to leave any shots.
4th position (Tariq’s 41)
- (A) No, 23 error
- (B) No, but very close. Improvement on (A) because Black aims at the 4 point with 6’s. Only 9 millipoint error to hit.
- (C) Yes, 89 error not to hit, 2 more men in zone with added diversification points to hitting.
- (D) No, ~120 error to hit. As with (C) two more men in zone but diversification is reduced and with extra point and fewer blots Black’s structure is much better if anchor and bar point made.
- (E) Yes, nothing to do with race. Bar and anchor is not positionally sound with three blots lying around in the outfield.