The title gives away the ending a bit. I’d be a terrible novelist. However, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate Anna’s achievement on 30 November in winning the 2019 Harris + Hoole Cup, besting the other 39 hopefuls who entered and started play all the way back in March.
As a reminder, the format was somewhat analogous to a World Cup, with group stage players in this case making it through a double round robin and playoffs, before moving into the last 16 knockouts. Throughout, almost every week saw matches played and reported, with everyone kept informed/harassed by a MailChimp newsletter each Sunday evening. This communication kept the tournament alive in everyone’s minds and helped overcome what might otherwise have been too loose a connection between players. Remember, we had no tournament venue. Players arranged their own matches, in their own time, in a location of their choosing.
It’s worth highlighting that while London-centric, matches were played as far afield as the Nordic Open, and though generally played in coffee shops and pubs, several matches were completed in private clubs, hotels and other tournament venues, including the UK Open.
Once down to the last 8, those players were invited to the Kensington branch of Harris + Hoole (our generous sponsor) on 30 November to see out the tournament and have one of them reign supreme. From the go there were favourites, Jon Barnes or Peter Bennet for sure. However, the field was strong, and, on the day, anyone could have taken it; Mike Ireland, Alex Polden, Eric Maillebiau, Maxim McDonald, Saravanan Sathyanandha, or indeed Anna Price.
On her long road to the final Anna played 9 matches since March, winning 75 points, only losing to Saravanan in the group stage, and then exacting vengeance against him in the semi-final. Her prize, a 13-point rollercoaster with Peter Bennet. With a default £1000/£300 split from the pot, were there deals to be made? At 0 – 0, ‘Maybe later’ says Bennet. With Anna up 9-3 (later), ‘No chance’ says Price, ‘I’m feeling lucky!’ For your perusal the XG match file can be found here (AP-PJB 13 point match 01-12-2019). Some insightful analysis follows from Peter (scroll all the way down). Beyond that, awesome job Anna, another trophy for the collection… (Anna: ‘I’ve only got three this year!’). One for Peter too, well deserved.
Thank you to everyone who took part, all the players, the support from Backgammon in Ealing, to Sebastian Wilkinson of Backgammon Workshop, and to Harris and Hoole for their continued commitment. Keep an eye out for soon-to-come details of the Harris and Hoole Cup for 2020!
Peter kindly selected the following two positions from the final with Anna, and provided some analysis we would all do well to remember!
When this 21 popped out of my dice cup I could hear Michy’s* voice in my head saying “Double Tiger” – meaning hit two checkers 6/5* 6/4* and leave two blots exposed to return hits. But this play strips my 6-point and leaves a very ugly structure. As well as the two blots in board, the extra blot on my 11-point might also get picked up if everything goes pear-shaped.
But I should have listened to Michy’s voice! At a cost of only three additional shots (21 vs. 18) I put two Black checkers on the bar (better by far, to quote another famous author!), prevent Black from anchoring unless she rolls an appropriate double, and threaten to win the game with the cube one third of the time: whenever Black doesn’t immediately hit back or enter both men.
I still like my structure after 13/11 6/5*, but this play is a 0.150 blunder.
*If you haven’t read the book “Opening Concepts” by Michihito Kageyama (aka Michy), then buy it for yourself as a Christmas present!
The correct play of my 41 here is not too difficult to find…particularly when reading this in a blog post so that you know you need to watch for traps. It was my third long match, I was tiring a little, and I played too quickly, on “autopilot”, Bar/20. What I should have done was first check the race, and then look at our relative board strengths, to decide if I wanted more, or less, contact.
After the roll I trail by 22 pips; I have two more points in my home board than Black; Black has a loose blot which needs to get to safety; I have an advanced anchor on Black’s 5-point. If you’ve read Magriel’s ‘Backgammon’ (and I clearly need to do so again), you will know from his tactical and strategic criteria described in Chapter 16 (Safe Play vs. Bold Play) that this position is crying out for me to make a bold play. I need to cover as much territory as possible and not give Black any safe landing spots. Entering B/24 does exactly that, but moving up 24/20 does not, and takes the pressure off Black who can then play awkward numbers behind my anchor. The correct play of the 4, 13/9, isn’t much of a risk because of my advanced anchor and the fact that I am already so far behind in the race that having another man sent back is of little consequence. Just look at how much worse Black’s subsequent 32 would have been had I played this 41 correctly. This blunder is more than twice as bad as the previous one!
The lesson here is not to play on autopilot. Recalling the words of a strong player when I was a novice in the 70s, “Treat every play like a quiz problem.”
Thank you, Peter!