Hi – I’m Chris Bray. I have been playing backgammon for over thirty-five years and I am the backgammon correspondent for The Independent Newspaper in the UK. Tomorrow’s column announces the formation of the UKBGF to readers of The Independent.
Little did I know when I submitted my first article to the paper in February 1994 that I’d still be writing the column nearly twenty years later. Luckily my time ‘in office’ has coincided with huge developments in the theory of the game that have taken place because of modern computer technology and in particular the influence of backgammon computer programs, the best of which is undoubtedly Extreme Gammon.
I have been asked how I can find something different to write about the game each week but, in all truth, if I write the column for another twenty years I will never run out of material. The game is endlessly fascinating and just when you think you are beginning to understand it something new turns up to surprise you. Like all great games you can learn the basics in a few hours, you can become competent in three months, an expert in eighteen months and it takes you a lifetime to really understand it!
I’d like to wish the newly formed United Kingdom Backgammon Federation all the best for the future. For years the UK has lagged behind the USA, Germany and the Scandinavian countries because we don’t have a national organising body to really drive and popularise the game. I hope the UKBGF will do precisely that so we can raise the level of play in this country, successfully compete on the world stage and once more have a UK World Champion.
I will be in Coventry next September along with many of the best players in the UK and no doubt also a strong foreign contingent. I hope you will be joining me. Match play is by far the most difficult form of the game because as well as all the complexity of ‘normal’ backgammon you also have to take into account the match score. At the start of a match doubling and checker play decisions are nearly always the same as in a money game but, as the finishing line nears, strange things happen. Here are a couple of examples:
First a doubling decision. In this position Red leads White 5-4 in a match to 7:
In a money game Red would double and White would take because he has more than 25% game winning chances. In the match situation Red doubles but White must drop. It would be a huge mistake to take this double.
In this short blog post I am not going to get into a discussion of match equity tables and the calculations that go with them but if you want to be a top tournament player you need to study such things. Suffice it to say that if White takes this double he reduces his match winning chances by around 5.5% which is a huge amount. Backgammon is no different from any other pursuit in life – the more you study and practise the better you become.
One more position – this time we look at a checker play:
Here Red trails White 3-6 in a match to 7 and White owns the cube on 2. For money the correct play is 15/11, 12/6. However at this score losing a gammon is no worse for Red than losing a single game as he will lose the match anyway. On the up side if Red were to win a gammon he would win the match 7-6. This match score analysis leads us to the correct play 7/3*, 7/1. If White rolls a 3 the roof will probably cave in on Red but if, on the other hand, White stays on the bar then things will look very good indeed for Red.
Thus a play that would be an error for money is hugely correct at this match score – I told you match play is difficult! These two examples just touch the surface of tournament play but I hope they have given you some idea of how much fun (and how challenging) it can be.
So come and join the party in Coventry next September and let’s give UKBGF a good start in life. See my column in tomorrow morning’s Independent which includes my usual weekly backgammon problem as well as the UKBGF announcement. And, if you want to study a backgammon problem every day, visit my website at: www.chrisbraybackgammon.com.
Photo Credit: Ryan Hyde