In one of Chris Bray’s fine books I seem to remember him channelling the military strategist Sun Tzu to add weight to his narrative that backgammon was a battle, a representation of war even. With this in mind I conjured up images of Cheryl Oliver, Tariq Siddiqi, and Mike Ireland, all bedecked in martial garb, approaching on the horizon, on horseback no less, coming to lay waste to all who stood in their way on that brisk November morning… in the Ealing Bowls Club.
Once inside the club of course all ideas of death and destruction flitted away. As one kind player fed back, ‘When you step through the door at Ealing Backgammon club, the first thing that you notice is how cosy it is. The second thing you notice is how welcoming and friendly the other players are.’ Hardly the setting for a battle royal but nonetheless, on Saturday 16th November thirty-two players arrived, each hoping to ascend to the title of Winter Champion 2019!
For a very doable £10 registration, one would get a breakfast, lunch, and tea and coffee all day. Make no mistake, this was not just food, this was Jill Stokoe food. Those who know, know. With all the money still in your pocket you could afford to patronise the bar, best done when anyone other than Ben Owen was pouring/massacring the pints.
Entry was a respectable £20 with plenty of side pools for those who sought them, and courtesy of Backgammon in Ealing, there were a number of special prizes, awarded for the likes of ‘first to be whitewashed 9-0’ etc. There were even bounties on the two highest rated players in the mix, Lawrence Powell and Peter Bennet, who incidentally ended up facing off, Peter collecting the prize.
The format was a straight knockout, with progressive consolation. Here, a good performance in the main bracket is awarded some value when you lose by your placing into a higher round in the consolation. A separate last chance with buy-backs meant that there was plenty of play no matter how often you lost!
Looking back on it the day was a bit of a blur, time flies they say when you are having fun. There were many heroic feats and dismal failures, all boiling down in the end to two players in the final, Ealing’s own Peter Bennet versus Danny DeMeester, Danny of recent fame from the rollercoaster 1-point playoff against Eric McAlpine in the UK Clubs Championship this year in York.
Danny took the honours, well done Danny, but a great performance by both players throughout the day. See below a selected position from the final, and the match XG file here (Dan DM-PJB 9 point match 16-11-2019 Ealing Winter).
Peter commented on the position as follows:
There were several blunders in game 8 when we were both 3-away. Here’s one of mine where I fall into the common trap (for me!) of selecting a play using ‘1-ply’ thinking. This is a great illustration of balancing ‘risk and reward’, if only I had done it properly at the time.
My mental block was the often-correct rule of thumb not to expose a second checker in these sorts of positions. A single hit checker can often scramble home, but two sent back usually means certain death, often with a big risk of a gammon loss if both are closed out. There is zero risk of losing a gammon here of course, as I already have men borne off.
One reward of not being hit at all is that I will win quite a lot of gammons myself (in this position XG says about a quarter of the time). This suggests minimising shots rather than blots.
With five men borne off and just one man closed out I will have virtually lost the game because Danny would then have a very efficient cube. Exposing a second checker is therefore not such a big additional risk. This is another reason to minimise shots rather than blots.
My play of 17/10 gives Danny all 2s and 6s (20 shots) plus 11, 51, 33, 43 and 63 for a total of 28 shots. Hitting on my acepoint 17/11 2/1* leaves all 1s and 3s except 32 (18 shots) plus 65 for a total of only 20 shots. So, despite the extra blot, hitting is far better.
Varying the number of checkers borne off (by changing the number of checkers on my 2-point) is also interesting from a risk and reward perspective. With the same score and cube location, I should clearly also hit with fewer than 5 off for the same reasons. But with more than 5 borne off, every extra checker off gives me a significantly increased chance of winning with one man closed out. This changes the balance: one hit checker costs me less than before, while a second one sent back now costs more. With 7 off, the two plays are about even, and with 8 off, hitting becomes a blunder.
Elsewhere, Mike Ireland battled hard to take home the consolation beating Geoff Oliver in the final, despite the handicap Geoff imposed (see image). In the last chance, Sean Clennell was victor over Robin Oliver. Well done.
All done and dusted for now but please keep your eyes open for future events in Ealing, some exciting things are brewing. Should you ever need any encouragement to join us, see the feedback from a seasoned pro…
‘For me, this is one of the best tournaments of the year. It is very well run and fantastic value for money. Great format which ensures plenty of play for everyone and the food provided by Jill is First Class – she is a very talented lady, not just for keeping Darren in his place, but also for her cooking skills. Free teas and coffees all day, breakfast, gorgeous lunch and desserts – all for very little money.
Not forgetting the excellent organisation of this beforehand and behind the scenes on the day. It’s also wonderful to have a bar in operation where players can sit and chat or have a drink between matches.’
There were many other ‘players’ involved in making the day a success: TD Graham Read, BGiE committee – Peter, Ben, Valerie, and Darren, and of course Jill. However, the awesome atmosphere was all down to the 32 who brought their A-game, thank you.
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