Report on Backgammon Masters Series UK Ranking Tournament #5, 24th and 25th October 2015
I was very reluctant to attend one of these tournaments. The use of the word “Masters” was discouraging – I am not a Master. I haven’t been studying the game for some time, whereas I have noticed others are recording full matches or photographing lots of positions for later analysis. Recently, I have been playing with an error rating of around 8 on GridGammon. In the last ranking tournament, Julian Fetterlein played at 3.01 and a few others played at under 4. Around 20 years ago, I won a few tournaments, so my reputation is far higher than my standard of play. Entering a tournament like this would cruelly expose me for the intermediate level player that I am.
On the other hand, the tournament is held in the Holiday Inn Express which is a ten minute walk from East Midlands Airport and flights from Dublin are frequent and cheap. It is £45 for bed and breakfast and £15 for dinner. I hadn’t seen Rick Janowksi for over ten years, and I hate saying this about another man, but I missed him.
Then in the UK Open, my match in the third round against Seb Wilkinson was streamed and I somehow fluked a World Class rating of 4.18. Maybe I am a much better player in real life than I am online? So I booked my place in the Ranking Tournament.
It felt like an exam. As the time approached, I was very nervous. I had done no study. I was busy the week before, so I didn’t even do any cramming. I had printed off the match equity table – not that I really understand how to use it – but I hadn’t got around to studying it. My real fear was that I would come last.
I decided not to enter the side-pools. I might not be the worst player there, but I would definitely be in the bottom quartile, so my odds were not good. There was a Performance Rating Side Pool – otherwise known as the Julian Fetterlein Benevolent Fund. Fond as I am of Julian, I was not entering this pool unless it was handicapped. Rick rejected my suggestion for a side-pool for the luckiest player, the only pool I might have a chance of winning.
I was drawn against Tariq Siddiqi in the first round and, after a few rolls, I realised that I was not going to be the lowest rated player at the tournament. That put me at my ease – I might be the second worst player, but I certainly wouldn’t be the worst.
My second round match was against Ian Hesketh. I hadn’t played him before, but he told me before the match that he was the lowest rated player in the previous tournament – and Tariq had been in that tournament as well! Things were looking up. I was now aiming for third last.
I find it very hard to assess how well I have played in a match, but I have to say that I felt focussed in both matches and so, if I played badly, I have no excuse. The Performance Rating, of course, is more important than the result but, for those of you who bother about match outcomes, both Tariq and Ian beat me.
My third round match was where it all began to go wrong. I was drawn against Anna Price. Anna is clearly a better player than Tariq, so third last is still looking possible. We have a convention in Irish backgammon that you don’t complain about your own bad rolls, or your opponent’s good rolls. You don’t express any emotion, good or bad. I had not heard Anna play before. She let out these quiet gasps at her bad rolls. Let’s be absolutely clear, she did not throw hissy fits about her bad rolls, in the style of Jason Pack when he dances on a 5 point board, and then looks to the audience to get their acknowledgement that he is the Unluckiest Player in the World and that that roll was the worst roll ever in the history of backgammon. And to be fair, whenever Anna rolled a good roll, she let out a little shriek of delight. Although I was irritated and distracted at first, after a while, I found it amusing. Still distracting, but amusing. In fact, I was hoping for her to roll good rolls as it was nice to see Anna enjoying herself. Anyway, as I had lost the first two matches, the result didn’t really matter. Which is probably why I won the match.
I won my fourth round match on the Sunday against Antonio Sgambato and then got to an 8-1 lead against Peter Bennet in the fifth round. Peter came back and beat me 11-8. I think I was quite disconcerted by this reversal of fortune. For example, when I thought that the score was 8-8, I doubled him, and only then realised that I was actually leading 8-6 and should not have doubled. On another occasion, after punching the clock, I noticed that I had overlooked a hit. I would have little doubt that Peter outplayed me in that match.
I lost my final match to Alastair Woods. I think I was still thinking about how I threw away my big lead against Peter, so I doubt if I played well.
It takes a week or so for Rick to compile the Performance Ratings, so I am writing this without knowing just how well or how badly I played – a post script to this article will appear in due course. I am playing at about 8 on GridGammon. I had played at 4.18 in one match in the UK Open. I am looking forward to seeing the actual performance rating by match. I suspect it was very inconsistent. I am guessing that I played overall at around 8. As long as I was not outplayed by Tariq, I don’t mind too much.
It’s useful to get a measure of how well you actually play in a live tournament, so I would strongly recommend these tournaments. However, the first one is probably such a different experience, that you won’t perform to your potential – well, that is my excuse anyway.
Postscript: Tariq had the last laugh – his PR was lower than Brendan’s in their match…
Update by Peter Bennet, 4th November:
Tariq Siddiqi, who won the 3rd BMS UK Ranking Tournament in June, did indeed outplay Brendan Burgess in their match by a PR margin of about 1.5. The full analysis of all matches from this tournament is still ongoing and will be completed within about 7-10 days. A table of all PRs and text files of every match will then be published on the Backgammon Masters Awarding Body (BMAB) website. This will be announced in a new blog comment so, if you wish to be notified on publication, subscribe to ‘follow-up comments’ by ticking the appropriate box at the bottom of the page.
Further update 8th November:
Each player’s average PR now appears in a table on the BMS Facebook page.
The results will be incorporated in ‘Player Statistics’ on the BMAB website in due course.