You’ve announced the draw, everyone’s found their opponent, the room is quiet apart from the rattle of shakers, and you think you can grab a cup of tea and get on with some paperwork for a while. Then you notice a hand raised.
The tea will have to wait…
Some of you may be familiar with the long running You Are The Ref cartoon strip, imagining a myriad of situations that lie at the edges of the laws of the game. Backgammon is no different. It’s impossible to codify every eventuality and as TD there will come that time when you have to use your discretion – and sometimes face the ire of players. Put yourself in the TD’s shoes for a bit and see what you make of this semi-fictional case.
I arrived at Alice and Bob’s table, the semi-final of the tournament I was running, having heard raised voices. Alice had two checkers on her ace point, Bob had his scattered around the board, a long way from saving the gammon. A cube on 2 perched in the checker holder on Bob’s side of the board. There was no scoreboard, so I inquired as to the score – it had been 10-7 to Bob, up to 11; that wasn’t in doubt either – and what the problem was.
“It’s the Crawford game. That cube can’t be right. It must be left over from the previous game.” said Bob, and to justify his point he waved a piece of paper that looked something like this:
I didn’t need to ask whether that was the point in dispute; Alice’s expression told me in no uncertain terms. And Bob’s quirky way of keeping score meant that I couldn’t infer from it what the actual situation was. Had he won his tenth point at 9-7, 9-5, or even earlier?
So let’s stop the action here and pose you two hypothetical questions:
- In the absence of any other evidence, no bystanders watching, and with players unable to agree, should you accept Bob’s position (based on the scoresheet), Alice’s position (based on the physical location of the cube), or something else?
- If you accept Bob’s position, should you rule the outcome of the game is an undoubled gammon to Alice, or something else?
Fortunately reality took a different path and saved me from having to answer those questions in a live situation! Alice produced her scoresheet, which looked something like this:
Now the decision is easy. Only one player has a scorecard which shows the critical piece of information (note the Crawford asterisk!) and it’s consistent with the cube position. Double-gammon, match to Alice.
Fortunately it didn’t come to it, but Rule 4.14 says that if only one player has a scoresheet, then that scoresheet is conclusive in any dispute. However, does a scoresheet that doesn’t clearly contain sufficient information count for that purpose? When writing this I wanted to say no, because we don’t want to reward poor record-keeping, but it’s hard to escape from the logic that if only one player has kept score, the other has left themselves vulnerable.
The moral for players is easy – even if you use apps or scoreboards, a complete written record of the match score is the ultimate safeguard against misunderstandings, and will keep your directors happy!