Martin Barkwill has written elsewhere about our recent trip to Trier to play in the World Team Championships. I have written this article to provide the analysis of some of the key positions and hopefully you will find them instructive.
As a reminder our team was:
- Gaz Owen
- Raj Jansari
- Jon Barnes
- Chris Bray
- Oliver Squire
- Lawrence Powell
- Martin Barkwill (non-playing captain)
Let us start with the most crucial position of all. This roll of the dice effectively decided the gold and silver medal positions.
In our play-off match against Romania (having already beaten France 3-2) Gaz Owen was playing the deciding match with the team score tied at 2-2. When this position arose, we thought it was all over. Leading 6-2 to 9 all Gaz (Blue) needed to do was to cover the blot on his 2-pt and then win a gammon and the match.
There are only four bad rolls in this position, 66, 33, 63 and 36. Sadly, Gaz produced a 63 and had to play 12/3. His opponent rolled a two and went on to win the game. That turned out to be our last chance, and we lost the match.
When Romania beat France they became World Champions. We edged out France on a sophisticated countback method to come second. This was a very good result for the UK given the strength of the competition, but it could have been just that little bit better.
A direct consequence of the loss in that first position led to an error by Gaz when the score was 6-6.
At 3-away vs. 3-away the correct tactics are to double early and drop early as the take point is 29% rather than the usual 25%.
Here, Black has the edge but very few market losing sequences. Blue has plenty of ways to win the game and all his checkers are still in play. The Romanian player doubled and Gaz, still annoyed at not bringing home the first position above, made an error of judgement in passing. In fact, technically this is not even a double. Theory is all very good, but the Romanian player did extremely well to double this position because it gave Gaz the chance to make a mistake at a time when he had not quite regained his composure after the earlier game. You must play the man and the overall situation as well as simply studying the position in front of you.
The pressure of playing for a team rather than yourself does very strange things to the decision-making process, just ask a Ryder Cup golfer! Earlier in the event in the match against France I did a very similar thing to Gaz, dropping a cube that wasn’t even a double. There was another example of a pressure-induced error in our match against France.
Both teams had won two matches and so the outcome depended upon Raj’s match. As Blue, and trailing 2-7 to 9, things did not look good for Raj or the UK.
At this point, with the other team members from both sides gathered around the board, Raj gave a great double, in spite of the fact that he needs sixes to both escape from behind Black’s prime and also to cover his 2-pt. If he does roll a six, he will have to move 21/15 with it and probably still leave a blot in his home board.
Surprisingly this is a double for money, because of the gammon threat, but only just and nobody would be criticised for waiting. At this match score Blue cannot afford to wait and probably miss his market if he rolls a six. Does the score influence matters?
The answer is that the double is correct and not doubling would be a big error. What about the take? Despite the threat of a gammon if Blue rolls well, this is a crystal-clear take. Two points give Black the match and, if he loses a gammon, he will still lead 7-6.
Raj’s French opponent thought for a long, long time and was clearly conscious of the throng of onlookers. In the end the spectre of the gammon was too much for him and he dropped the double. From 3-7 down Raj never looked back and went on to win the match. I am sure that without his teammates and the opposition all gathered around the board Black would have quickly snapped up the cube with little thought, but the pressure was extreme and did its job for us.
Next, we come to a couple of my own positions, one good, one bad.
This is from my match in the play-off against France. I was Blue and I have just rolled the crucial four to hit with 24/20*. The question is how to play the five?
Once you roll a key number like this it is always worth taking your time to decide on your new game plan. Here, Blue wants to cover his 2-pt, but he also wants to cover the outfield in case Black rolls an escaping number. How best to combine these objectives? Over the board I chose 24/20*/15 but as soon as I picked my dice, I knew that was the wrong play. Even worse is 24/20*, 13/8.
The correct move is 24/20*, 24/19. This provides great outer board cover and, crucially, dilutes the potency of Black’s jokers, particularly double ones and double twos (note there are still plenty of cover numbers for the blot on Blue’s 2-pt). In fact, my opponent rolled 32, which he played bar/23*, 4/1*. When I could only enter one checker from the bar with 63, he quickly escaped his rear checker and made his ace-point. He easily won a gammon. Lesson learnt!
I did better in my second position.
This is the key position from my match against Sweden in one of the early rounds. Once again, I was Blue. The score is 5-6 to 9.
4-away vs 3-away is a very complex score, perhaps the most difficult of all and I could write a very long article on the topic, but not today! As the trailer, once you have been doubled, you need very little excuse to redouble. That is because, if you lose a single game and go behind 4-away vs. 1-away your winning chances are only 17% (a known fact from match equity tables), and you can often redouble as the underdog. A single shot which, if hit, guarantees you victory is sufficient excuse to redouble to 4.
Here the race is equal, and I have sevens and twelves to hit. In addition, doubles ones is also very powerful and would nearly certainly lose my market. This is because when you redouble from 4-away vs. 3-away your opponent needs 40% game-winning chances to take the redouble (another known fact simply derived from match equity tables).
Given that I was the the favourite in the position (51% – 49% according to XG) my redouble was clear and the take equally so. A couple of rolls later I had to hit loose on my 5-pt but sadly my opponent rolled a five and I went on to lose the game and the match. My consolation was that I had found the redouble and given my opponent a tricky decision. You can’t win them all. The final position comes from Jon Barnes.
This is from Jon’s match against Karen Davies. Once again, we find ourselves at DMP (Double Match Point) as is so often the case in short matches.
Jon has the advantage but there is work to do as Karen leads in the race. There are only two real choices, 12/4 and 13/5.
Nothing can be done about the double fives joker for Black but if Jon plays 13/5 he also leaves a 65 joker. On the plus side he gets a double shot if Karen rolls 52, 53 or 54 whereas if he plays 12/4 he only gets a single shot on the those rolls.
I learnt long ago that if your opponent has a perfect board then you should minimise jokers. That is not quite the case here as there is life after death because of the blot on Karen’s 8-pt. Is that good enough to swing the decision to 13/5? XG says yes, but only by 0.006 equity points. Jon though long and hard and then played 12/4. Karen rolled 65!
Jon went on to win the game and match. Technically he made the tiniest of errors but, more importantly, he made the play that won the game and match for the UK.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief look at some of the positions from Trier and that they have also been informative. To become very good at backgammon you need to be able to make a large number of difficult decisions in every game that you play and get most of them right. The best players in the world can do this consistently which is what gives them their very low Performance Rating numbers and separates them from the rest of world’s players. Many, many hours of study and hard work are required to reach that standard.
There is no better time to start than now.