Backgammon can be a cruel game, and live tournament play is probably the most cruel. You can sit down for your first round all hopeful, take an early double, get blitzed and find yourself first to get unceremoniously knocked out, with plenty of time to twiddle thumbs until consolations start. You can play your heart out, grind away one point at a time to get to a tense final, establish a decent lead in the double-match-point game, then watch helplessly in dismay as your opponent rolls double after double to just squeak home. But I played so well… didn’t I? Didn’t I deserve to win?
To tournament novices: don’t let that put you off trying – the euphoria of, say, pulling off a tough backgame to whip a trophy from under your adversary’s nose makes up for many hard-luck stories!
For some time there’s been a growing trend among top players to record games and take them home to pick over, looking for lessons to learn. This has been helped along by video camera technology becoming cheaper, and camera stands evolving from something that would make Rube Goldberg proud to unobtrusive purpose-built kit. Running the game past your favourite bot can at least help answer the question of how badly the dice treated you.
This idea gets taken to its logical conclusion this month with the first UK tournament run by the Backgammon Masters Awarding Body (some have already happened in Austria and Japan). Twelve players – including your author – get to play six 11-point rounds with every match recorded, transcribed, and analysed by eXtremeGammon, and the results published for all to see. We therefore end up with both a tournament winner, decided in part by the whims of those evil dice, and a “best player” judged by eXtremeGammon’s Error Rate – for the uninitiated, a measure of how often and how badly you make mistakes – with every likelihood that they turn out to be different people. Titles from Intermediate right up to Super Grandmaster can be also be awarded based on objective standards.
I must admit to being rather apprehensive about my blunders being laid bare, and I have no idea at the moment if my play over the board in tournament conditions is better or worse than online – although it really ought to be better than live in the pub, pint in hand! But I’m really looking forward to a format which guarantees a full weekend of actual play, where every move and every touch of the cube matters, and where I’m competing against myself as much as anyone else. Here’s hoping for many more to come.
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