September Backgammon Tournament Results

First of all, I should have split us into two brackets. Don’t know what I was thinking – we started out with 12 players, which is enough to have two brackets (although a 6 person bracket is not ideal) – but then 3 more people showed up late, making 15 total, which is almost 16, which really ought to be two brackets, not one. Because with a single bracket, it’s just going to take a lot longer to get done… Which it did. The final match of the day didn’t end until almost 6:00, 5 full hours after we started! Not even the final two players were that interested in still being there… though I (naturally) was eager to see how it turned out.

Anyway – I’ll remember the lesson for next time.

We had three players for whom this was the first time they came to one of our events – Lor, Kilion, and Nitan; plus for Carlos it was his first tournament (although he came to the chouette last week, so in that sense he’s a seasoned pro).

I tried a somewhat different approach to the bracket this time, and I think I’m onto something there – inspired by the brackets they used in the Minneapolis tournament I went to earlier this month, I did a more structured “top bracket/bottom bracket” approach after the first round, so rather than put any two random players with 1 win/1 loss against each other, I tried to match people who went win-lose against people who went lose-win, to try to prevent the kind of situation we had last month where it took Stephanie 5 matches to win an 8 person bracket… The approach I took meant that the first place would be decided definitively with 4 matches – and it was! For second place, I had two places – the loser of the finalist match, and also the winner of everyone who had lost a match before, which I think took 5 matches to resolve. Like I said, should have been two brackets, and then it would have been 3 matches/4 matches to resolve, and should have taken an hour or so less time…

So to the results: Max was this month’s big winner, taking down first Brad, then me, then Leah, then Lor in the finals. Lor, who you’ll recall was a first timer, thus walked off with the first of the second place wins. Oh, and Max also won the side pool (which was fairly small this time around, but still…) With that, Max also shoots to the top of this year’s consolidated scores, having 10 wins out of 13 matches in tournament play, an impressive 77% rate! I didn’t get to watch their match, but report is that Max took the first game, then doubled Lor in the second game. Lor took, and proceeded to almost immediately hand the cube back to Max, making the second game the deciding one for the match! That’s a fun little thing you can do when you’re down 3-away/2-away – if it’s a take, then it’s an automatic redouble. Didn’t work out for Lor, but it’s the right strategy!

To cut the suspense, I’ll just tell you the other second place came down to a match between Julie and Leah. Julie entered the lower bracket early, losing her first match to Stacey. From there, she proceeded to redeem herself with wins over first Stephanie (one of last month’s winners, recall) and then me before facing Leah. Leah took a little longer to get there, beating Marge and Bo before losing to Max, then beating Brad to get to the final. And their match followed a similar pattern to the one between Max and Lor: Julie took the first game, then doubled Leah in the second game. Leah held the cube for a little while before offering it back, by which point Julie was tempted to drop due to the game having turned against her. But, based on a desire to wrap it up and get home to her long suffering pets, Julie took. Leah proceeded to make good on her turnaround, although not without leaving a couple of shots that could easily have turned the game around again in Julie’s favor.

Thanks everyone for coming out today – we’ll all hope for better pandemic conditions and maybe an inside meetup for next month – today started to get a little chilly once the rain started up, and that’s not going to get better over the next couple of months. Stay safe and healthy, and see you at the next one!


Adventures in Minneapolis

I went to Minneapolis for the labor day weekend Viking Classic, not without some trepidation and mixed feelings due to the whole pandemic situation. But, Minneapolis is doing better than Vancouver/Portland in terms of vaccination rates, case rates, etc., and there was a strict vaccination requirement, so I went ahead anyway. Just for an extra precaution, I did stay masked for 99% of the event – I did remove the mask for the trophy pictures (spoiler alert!)

It was an early flight out on Friday, but it got me in with time to grab lunch before sitting down for the first event I signed up for: the Friday Frigga, a 7 point match. This is a mixed level event, so I was up against Open players. First match had me down 0-6 after two games, but I survived the Crawford game and came back to win. My second match was much shorter, ending after game 1 with an 0-8 loss to the famous CJC. Here’s the position where I lost the match:

Screenshot 2021-09-06 at 9.13.42 PM

Looking at this, my thinking was, she only has 5’s to cover, then needs a 1 or a 3 to set up for the escape, so all even numbers are problems. Even if she rolled the perfect 5-3, a small next roll starts to crunch her board and so I have decent winning chances. So when she offered me the 4 cube, I took it! After taking a picture, of course. She then expressed shock that I had taken the cube, and I knew I was in trouble.

I do, in fact, have decent winning chances – about 32% wins. She, on the other hand, has about 50% gammons. And she got one of them, knocking me out of the event. Ah, well. It was a good lesson to think about the downside of taking the cube as well – CJC pointed out how many gammon wins she had, and how that was missing from my thinking.

The next day, the main event started. I had a pretty good run, getting a first round bye, so a very smooth start to the day. Rounds 2 and 3 were a little harder. Round 4, I had one of those experiences that makes you wonder why we play this cursed game. It’s a 9 point match, and I’m trailing 3-4. Conscious of the blunder of the day before, when offered the cube I correctly recognized that my downside if I were to lose a gammon in the following position would take us into the Crawford game – a bad outcome, but not as bad as losing the match. So here’s the position:

Screenshot 2021-09-06 at 9.30.47 PM

Here’s my thinking: she’s got no direct cover for her 3 point, and 3 checkers back on my homeboard. I should have 2 or 3 rolls to get a 3, anchor up, and then I’m right back in it. And again, I am about 32% wins, she’s got fewer gammons than that first position at 45% or so… And it’s still a huge pass. To cap it off, her next roll was 5-5, hitting and covering on her 3 point, followed by a 4-6 picking up the third checker. I kept waiting for her board to crunch, and did get a couple of shots at blots once she started bearing off – all of which I missed. Lost by a backgammon, putting that match to a sudden end.

Not all of my matches ended by me taking a bad cube and getting gammoned. Some of them ended by me taking a good cube and getting out-rolled. The main event was a double elimination, so it was in the 7-pointer part of the bracket that I got eliminated after taking a recube from the following position:

Screenshot 2021-09-06 at 9.41.27 PM

I was very careful counting this position out – triple checking. I’m 8 pips down, which is close to the break-even point for a pass/take in a money game. But here, if I drop, we’re in Crawford and my match winning chances are in the low teens. So this is a very easy take, and the computer says it’s a huge blunder for him to have offered the cube. But then, 27% winning chances is no guarantee. I had trouble finding any numbers higher than a 4 on the dice for the next 10+ rolls. I didn’t throw the cube back to him until 2 or 3 rolls later, at which point I was well under 27% winning chances, but he had some lousy rolls those next few as well. Fortunately, since this was the game before one of us guaranteed to cash, I had set up a hedge with him beforehand, so I got part of my entry fee back at least.

Oh, right – I mentioned a trophy! I did win the “Advanced Valhalla”, a jackpot event for once you were knocked out of the main, and got to bring home a lovely goblet trophy. Coming home with a trophy was one of my main goals for the event, as April and Michael really go over the top in terms of trophies for their event. It was only an 8 person bracket, so it’s a bit much to have gotten a trophy for, but I’m happy about it! It was a nice way to end the tournament. Technically it was the penultimate match of my trip – I had the same guy for both the championship for Valhalla and the first round of the consolation bracket for the main, and lost out of the consolation right after winning the Valhalla. Still: trophy.

Overall, it was a great time, and got me thinking anew about the possibility of doing a bigger event again in Portland. So much work goes into an event like that, I cannot commit to making it happen at this point. But gosh is it a good time to attend one! Over 4 days, I played well over 30 hours of backgammon, most of my opponents were very nice (everyone was gracious in victory – in defeat was a little spottier…) and it was a just a great time. I hope to go again next year.