Jackpot Results

We had a great afternoon of backgammon again today. Nine players showed up to play, and so I had to make the difficult decision to cut one player. Makena drew the short straw, but gamely stuck around to watch and learn, and got into a post-tournament match and some chouette action. Chris (yes that Chris) showed up to watch as well. Pete and Molly came down from Seattle, Mark S came up from Drain, and Martin, Arto, Bryan, Michael and I rounded it out. All in all a pretty good showing!

In the first round, Martin won over Pete, Arto over Molly, Mark S over Bryan, and I won over Michael. I didn’t get all the scores, but my sense was they were all 11-10/11-9 kind of victories – closely fought matches.

I took an early lead against Michael, and in our 4th or 5th game, he offered me the following cube, when I was leading 6-1 in our match to 11:


We’re bearing off to the left, so I have three checkers back and a couple of blots on my home board, just to orient you. The theory I like to think through for doubles is “Position, Race, and Threat”. Here, the position is slightly in his favor – we both have two point boards, but he has the more advanced anchor and only two checkers back. The race is pretty even – he’s up 134 to 135 and on roll, but that’s not a major disadvantage. Threat is also pretty modest. So he’s got a slight edge on all three but not a big edge on any of them. For money, it’s not even a double. But being behind in the match, he figured it was a fair double. After some thought, I took. What do you think?

XG says that this is in fact not quite a double, and a clear take. It’s a -0.057 error to double. Curiously, if he held the cube, it’s a good redouble! Match score must play into it somehow, but I can’t figure it out. Anyway, he doubled, I took, and he proceeded to win by a gammon. I take consolation that I correctly took the cube.

Second round, I faced off against Mark S and Arto sat down against Martin. In our first game, I reached this classic end-game cube decision point:


I had doubled earlier in the bearoff, and a couple of good rolls left Mark S on roll with three checkers to go to my two. He redoubled. This is one you can really think through over the board. He clears his board on this roll with double 3’s or better – 4 rolls. So 32/36, which is about 89%, I get to roll. At that point, I clear with double 2’s through double 6’s, plus any combination of rolls better than 4 (4-5, 4-6, 5-6). That’s 11/36 rolls. 32/36 * 11/36 = 352/1296, which is better than a quarter, so it’s a redouble/take. It’s fun (to me, at least) to get these kind of positions that allow for a mathematical decision. Anyway, he rolled something like a 5-1, I rolled something like a 5-1, and he won. A couple of games later, he won a doubled gammon, and I ultimately lost the match 11-3 or so.

In the meantime, Arto was losing a much closer match to Martin, and we were getting close to finishing the tournament. Martin and Mark S faced off, negotiated a hedge, and went to. I got into a chouette with Bryan, Molly, Pete, and Makena. The tournament wrapped up an hour or so later with Mark S nosing out Martin, but the chouette went about 3 hours more.

A big thanks to everyone for coming out, it was a blast, and I will do another one before too much longer.


October Backgammon Tournament Results

We had an excellent showing for a drizzly Sunday afternoon – 18 players! That’s nearly a record. Lots of newcomers, and lots of long-time-absent returnees. Bob made the drive up from Eugene, becoming this month’s most traveled player, and put in a very decent showing. Chris and Janelle made their first visit, and in spite of no match wins, they at least didn’t have to play each other at any point. Arto from Armenia was not the most traveled player because he lives in Portland now. Marge hasn’t even unpacked but showed up to play. And Makena – well, we’ll get to Makena.

Note to myself, when the group gets that big, it takes a lot of rounds to finish the tournament. Multiple people felt the need to leave before we were all the way through, which was fine. But it created something of a timing issue, especially for the final.

I started off playing Chris. Not that Chris, the one that came with Janelle. We had a good match, in spite of the lopsided score. My second match was with Arto, who talked about how he grew up playing without the doubling cube, but who has obviously learned since. He said he was in Vegas for a while, and I think he used the same “gifted amateur” language that Steve has used. Apparently, a stretch of time in Vegas is going to improve your game. But I somehow squeaked out another win.

By that point, the field of undefeated players had narrowed a lot. Nate had a victory over Chris (yes, that Chris) and Bob, Julie had taken down Tony and Brad, and Makena (remember Makena? I was coming back to her) had beat Judy, then Martin(!), and was in the process of beating Bryan(!!) She was talking about herself as an innocent lamb, but don’t buy it.

I sat down to play Julie, and we had a heck of a match. I won the first one, then lost the second one with the cube turned by a gammon! By this point both Nate and Makena were waiting, but I didn’t want to pit them against each other because that would have set Makena up for a five match path to victory. Instead, I set Julie and I up for a five match path to victory, declaring that the winner of our match would play Nate, and the winner of that would play Makena. Thus, the timing issue. But at least Nate didn’t have to wait long, because Julie crushed me in the Crawford game too.

By this point, a chouette had broken out among the people who had done their three matches, and a few who had only done two. Nate went on beat both Julie and Makena (who learned a lot about the mechanics of chouettes in the interim). I had to leave around 5 for a dinner thing, but they sent me the results.

Year-to-date results for anyone with at least 6 matches in a tournament now stand at:

Player Matches Played Matches Won
Mark W 27 17
Tim 24 11
Nate 22 13
Chris 18 9
Bryan 16 9
Martin 15 7
Steve 13 10
Julie 13 7
Michael 11 6
Ed 10 6
Joel 9 4
Billy 6 4
Brad 6 3
Tony 6 2
Judy 6 2
Kris 6 1

We meet again on Saturday for the special Jackpot, single elimination, high equity tournament. If 18 show up for that one, two of them won’t be allowed in, I don’t want to have that many byes. That’s not a crazy problem to expect – there’s been a rush of late RSVPs this week… We’ll see!


September Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a great turnout for a rainy day afternoon of backgammon – 14 players! Two and a half new folks – Jeremy had come to the last chouette where he did quite well, thank you very much. But Judy and Dave (Naomi’s partner) were complete first timers. We saw a couple of people who haven’t been around in a while, like Julie and Michael. And the most regular of the regular all seemed to make it as well.

Steve continued his solid win ratio, winning 3 of his 4 matches. But critically, not against me! “Dawg,” he called me, so we have a definite grudge match kind of situation evolving. Also winning 3 of his 4 matches was Jeremy, but with one more point than Steve, and so he snuck into second place for the day.

First place went to Tim, for the second month in a row! After a rough start to the year, he’s just turned into a juggernaut. He crushed newcomer Dave 5-0, then Bryan got the same treatment. Then Chris did too! I was less than thrilled to get him in the final. But I taught him to not be cocky, handing him 2 whole losses in the match. Notable moments included him being forced to leave me a double shot during his bear-off, which I managed to miss. No photos were taken, however, so nothing to show off.

Here’s the updated top player list for the year. Tim is winning on consistency and rising in win/loss record, but Steve has a pretty solid lock on win/loss through his first few months.

Player Games Played Games Won
Mark W 24 15
Tim 21 10
Nate 18 9
Chris 15 8
Bryan 14 8
Martin 12 6
Steve 11 9
Michael 11 6
Ed 10 6
Joel 9 4
Julie 9 4

Viking Classic 2019

I had the pleasure of attending the Viking Classic tournament this weekend, in Minneapolis. I’ve been wanting to go for a couple of years – April was very helpful when I was prepping the Portlandia – and it was a great time. I have a few positions worth recording from the event, to boot. And Bryan, who also attended, ended up placing in the consolation bracket.

This first position is from my first ever match with Neil Kazaross. Yes, I had him as my draw in the first match of the weekend. Not an auspicious start! This cube was in our first game, I’m red, bearing off to the left:


I put the thought in. Clearly my problem is that I have three checkers trapped behind his four-prime. But, his position is pretty stacked, he’s going to have a hard time extending it, and I have time in the two checkers on the midpoint. I took. Only a 0.025 error! If my anchor was on his four point instead (as it was after the 3-1 I rolled on my next turn), it would be a take. Anyway, Neil beat me, then beat me by a doubled gammon in the next game, then I survived the Crawford, but lost the next on the race.

This next one is from a much more even match, versus Dave, in the Warrior Jackpot. I had built a comfortable lead, this was part of Dave’s turnaround (he beat me…) Also, by the way, you can see my prototype scoreboard in action.


Here was my thinking. I’m up in the match, all single games so far, he’s likely to leave a shot bearing in, I can probably force a hit, and if I win it’s for the match. I took. Now, in a money game, this is about a -0.05 error. For the match score, it’s a -0.297 blunder to take! Greed is a killer! He did leave a blot on his next roll, I did hit it, and was suddenly a massive favorite in the match! Then he rolled a 3-4, came in, hit me, cleaned up the other two blots along the way while I danced, and won a gammon. Sigh.

This next one is a checker decision, from my first match in the main. I’m up 2-1 in the 7 point match, on the bar, lots of blots, and have a 3-2 to play.


The dilemma in my mind was, should I hit? 13/10*, B/23 would give me an anchor, albeit one that doesn’t escape. It would also leave me three blots in the outfield with direct shots, and so I ultimately rejected it for the correct play, B/22, 23/21. I’m a massive underdog still, but not completely out.

This next one is from later in the same match, I’m down 5-4 in match score, and was offered a cube:


This was the subject of Art Benjamin’s lecture on Monday – what do you do in a pure race double/take estimate? Well, the first thing you do is get an accurate pip count. Steve, my opponent, had counted it as 68 yellow, 79 black. In fact, it’s 68 yellow, 73 black. That’s a huge difference. According to Art, at a pip count of 68, the point of last take for a money game is 8 away, 76. Being well below that, it’s an easy take. In fact, what I did over the board was use the complicated formula that Art says he doesn’t use, D = 5, D squared + D/7 is 26, divided by S – 25 of 108, massively easy take. Well, this is a funny one. XG says yes, it is a take at this match score, but not by that much – yellow is 74.5% to win and the pass is -0.062. But even one more pip for black and XG says it is a drop! Depending on which checker you move back one, the take is around -0.05. That’s a big swing! Anyway, I threw 6-6 on my next roll and won the game.

Finally, a puzzle of a position based on match score. Here I’m playing Christina, who is leading in a 7 point match and who offered me the cube. Now, the puzzle is, was this from our next to last game, where she’s leading 3-2? Or from our last game, where she’s leading 5-2? I can’t remember, and I didn’t note the score in the picture. So I have no idea if I got this one right!

IMG_20190901_142834 (1)

For money, this is a clear take. The race is pretty even, at 101-98, she’s slightly ahead but not enough to matter. I have plenty of checkers to finish my home board, and might escape to run, or even hit a blot. If I’m down 3-2, the match score means that her gammons are a much bigger threat, and I should drop. And if I’m down 5-2, her gammons are not worth anything, and she shouldn’t be doubling because I will immediately recube!

So that was my weekend. I had a great time, the people were incredibly nice, and I think I played pretty well in spite of not winning so many matches. Minneapolis is great backgammon town, turns out, and I hope to be back next year.

– Mark

August 2019 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a good showing this month – 10 players, including 2 newcomers, Naomi and Ali. Steve came back (all the way from Hillsboro), and a lot of the standard crew made it as well.

From a logistical standpoint, we had a great tournament, in that most of the first round finished at about the same time. This is important, because the way I dealt with the odd number of pairs was to give one second round and one third round bye, and it’s fairer to do that by random lot. Martin got the second round bye, I got the third round one. Tim didn’t get a bye, but he did win the tournament – something he claims has never happened before! Congrats Tim.

I faced Tim in the final, and he was having a good day indeed. This is the cube he offered me in our first game (match to 5):


This is a really solid double, in spite of him not having moved his back checkers at all yet – he has 4 builders aiming at my blot on his 2 point, 3 builders aiming at my blot on his 4 point, I have no board going, he’s up in the race… He has Position, Race, and Threat. I have a drop.

In the second game, I had an opportunity to return the favor, when I shipped him a cube at this point:


This time, I have Position and Race, although I’m only up 121-135. The threat is that he’ll dance several times, as I escape the back checkers and/or finish the blitz. But it’s a weaker Race and a weaker Threat than the cube from the first game. Does he have a take?

No, no he does not. And Tim recognized that, correctly dropping.

From there, I went on to take a 3-1 lead. Then he had the temerity to gammon me in a doubled game to win the match. Can you believe it? I could – it happens to me more often than I care to think about.

At this point, the top of the cumulative results for the year are as follows:

Player Games Played Games Won
Mark W 21 13
Tim 17 6
Nate 15 8
Chris 11 6
Ed 10 6
Bryan 10 6
Michael 9 6
Joel 9 4
Martin 9 4
Steve 7 6

New comer Steve “Stevie Rae” is in a commanding lead in terms of percentage won. Tim and Nate are jockeying for most games of anyone who doesn’t control the system, thereby guaranteeing that he’ll get more playing time than anyone else in Portland.

See you next month!


July 21 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a good showing for today’s tournament – 11 players in total. That is, if you were unclear on such things, an odd number, which always makes the logistics a little trickier. I had been trying to balance things such that winning players only play against winning players until we got down to only one undefeated player in our prior Swiss tournaments, and I did so again this time, but with the realization that anyone who has lost a match in the first two is pretty much out of the money. So I did not enforce pairings for third matches, letting people pick their own opponent or just wander off, or whatever. I did not, however, communicate that clearly, so some people are still at the bar waiting for their third match, potentially.

Anyway. Tina came with her whole family in tow, although only three of them played. Tom came up again from Albany, Dirk was on time, and newcomers Brad and Steve added to the mix. By random draw, Tim got Tom in the first round, and I set him against Tina in the second – if he had played a third match I would have insisted it be against Tony for purposes of alliteration.

I drew Brad in the first match, who claimed to not understand or use the cube, but somehow managed to use it multiple times on his way to victory. Brad then beat Tony in his second match. In the meantime, Steve had worked his way through Dirk and Tom, and was playing Billy, our other undefeated player at that point. Steve ended up beating Billy, and I set the two newcomers against one another for the championship. Steve ended up taking it all, leaving Brad and Billy tied for second.

After the tournament, or rather while Steve and Brad were duking it out, Martin, Tim, and I started a chouette, during which the following position came up.


I’m onlyI’m the lighter colored checkers, bearing off to the lower left, and I doubled them both from this position. Tim dropped immediately, and Martin thought about it for a minute, then also dropped. I took a position because it seemed to me that it must be a close thing, given that Martin struggled on the question. But according to XG, it’s not even a double! 4’s are the obvious scary number, but 5 and 6 are also good, and the pair on the midpoint give you something to do with 1, 2, or 3. But I’m only 63% to win, and give up -0.131 equity by doubling. Of course, if you scare the opponent off, it’s not a blunder.

Here’s the updated top players list for 2019 tournaments:

Player Games Played Games Won
Mark W 17 10
Tim 13 2
Nate 12 6
Ed 10 6
Bryan 10 6
Michael 9 6
Chris 8 6
Billy 6 4
Joel 6 3
Martin 6 2
Kris 6 1

May 25, 2019 Chouette Results

We had a modest but sufficient turnout for the last-minute-rescheduled chouette. I owe an apology to Tim and James, who both showed up on the original date, although not at the same time, leading to a distinctly unsatisfactory situation for each of them. I shouldn’t have let my work life get in the way of backgammon – at the LA tournament this past weekend, I saw a t-shirt that read “Quit your job & play backgammon” – solid advice to be sure.

There were a number of interesting positions that came up over the afternoon. This first one is a checker play decision. In running some of my matches through XG, it’s clear that playing doubles is a “problem spot” – the excess of options sometimes leads to me having trouble…


If you can’t read it on the screen, that’s double 4’s, and the cubes are in the center, none have been offered or taken. Now, obviously, one good thing to do would be to play 24/20(2), set up the advanced anchor, and be well positioned for the rest of the game. And I thought about doing that. If I were to do that, then what do I do with the next two 4’s? I could run the back checkers all the way out to the 16 point, I could cover the 4 point, I could bring one checker from the 13 to the 5… Lots of good options. One not so ideal option would be to play 24/20(2), 5/1*(2), putting a checker on the bar, and arguably accomplishing something on both sides of the board. But, I figured, if I play 5/1*(2), it makes more sense as part of a blitzing strategy, and so it should be half of a 5/1*(2), 8/4(2) play, hitting and making 4 points on my board. Ultimately, that’s what I did. It’s only a 0.397 blunder.

The best play is 24/16(2). However, that’s such a good move that I’m still a favorite after this enormous blunder! The rest of the game was interesting. Mark F entered with a 2,3 or something that left him with a blot on the 5 point – I didn’t take a picture so maybe one of the back checkers is off: something like this:

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At this point, it’s clear why it was a mistake to leave the back checkers alone – I don’t even have a double! But then I rolled a 6,1 played 11/5*, 6/5. At which point, Mark F fanned, and it was a double/pass. So, all’s well that ends well? Or more likely, even a fool gets lucky sometimes.

Clearly, a fool does get lucky sometimes, as in the following position:

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Here, red has been forced to leave a double shot by an unfortunate 5,6 roll. The question is, does that leave white too good to double? I ultimately decided that no, it’s “only” 20 shots that turn it around, so it’s a double. And it’s also a drop for red.

All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I promise to schedule only one time for the chouette for June. The tournament, on the other hand, I also screwed up, and originally sent for the 9th, when I was in LA for the ABT tournament. Apparently about 3 people showed up for that, although I moved it on meetup within a half-hour… Sigh…


May 2019 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a good turnout for today’s tournament – 10 players, plus a couple of guys who showed up too late to enter the tournament, but who stuck around to play. Lots of new faces, too – Sima & Bijan, recent arrivals from LA, Bodger, recent arrival from NY (I think?), Marty, recent arrival from — uh, I don’t know. Anyway – lots of recent arrivals, including Dirk, who didn’t make it into the tournament.

Sima and Bijan were obvious ringers, tearing up the field, with what Sima claimed was “beginner’s luck”. Both of them went up 2-0 in the time it took me to finish my first match against Tony. I took on Sima for her third match, my second, and we finished in one game with the cube at 8! It was a close one. In the meantime, I had set Bijan and Nate playing, but I had them stop mid-match because at that point, Bijan and I were the only two undefeated after two matches. Nate took his third match against Chris instead, and I got a series of lucky rolls that brought me to my first tournament win since… well, I actually can’t remember the last time I won one of these.

Sima took second place, based on the number of games she won – Bryan, Chris, and Bijan all tied in terms of matches.

Here’s the updated top of the scoresheet for the year.

Player Games Played Games Won
Mark W 12 9
Nate 12 6
Tim 11 2
Ed 10 6
Michael 9 6
Chris 8 6
Bryan 7 5

April 2019 Backgammon Tournament Results

April showers bring backgammon players to… ah, never mind. We had a good showing for today’s tournament, 8 players, including newcomer Tom. Eight isn’t a great turnout for us, but it’s great for running the tournament. First round, I played Michael, who seems to have cursed dice. Tim and Chris faced off, and had the *longest* match of the day. They weren’t playing slow, it was just a slug-fest. I forced some people to sit around waiting for the round 1 matches to finish before they could play their second matches, and that in turn forced some people to wait for their third matches. But by the end, basically all the matches ended around the same time.

This position came up in my second match, against Tom. I’m ahead 2-0 in the match, and he’s holding the cube at 4. I rolled a 4-3. Coming off the bar, I’m pretty confident in the 4, but how to play the 3?


Clearly an excellent roll. I considered 6-3, or 21-18, or I could cover the blot on the 13… There are a few other 3’s of course, but those seemed like the best ideas. And they are, according to XG. I went with covering the blot on the 13, which worked out when Tom rolled a 2-6! Theory met practice, the best play worked out for me.

Of course, I’m not always so smart. Consider this cube that Chris offered me in our first game of our match:


What to do? It’s a good cube, clearly, as he has a 4 point board, and is strongly favored to cover the blot on the ace point. But, even if he covers that, I could pop right out with a 5-something, and the race isn’t too bad. If I hit, I would have good gammon chances. So, I figured it was a take. Nope! -0.053 error, which is (for me) not that bad an error.

Chris went on to win that game, then the next one, then the match, and thus the tournament. Nate, Michael, and I were all tied in terms of number of games and matches won, so I declared a three-way tie for second. Tim, Chris, and I stayed to play a small chouette for a while after, and they relieved me of my second place prize money there.

Updated scoreboard for the year – Chris has the best win/loss ratio of anyone with 5+ games after today:

Player Games Played Games Won
Ed 10 6
Mark W 9 6
Michael 9 6
Nate 9 5
Tim 9 2
Joel 6 3
Kris 6 1
Chris 5 4

I’ll get the next one scheduled soon. See you then!


March 2019 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a decent showing today for the tournament, in spite of the sunshine. 10 people showed up to play, and we had a pretty good time.

I got to play three matches, which most of us did. First against Tony, who returned after an extended hiatus, and who is another Vancouverite. We need to get a few things going North of the Columbia… Second was against Nate, who brought his shiny new board – another Crisloid. That brand is becoming the local favorite, between Nate, me, Michael, Julie… and I think I’m missing a few. A couple of photos in a second of that board… And third, against Mark F, who defeated me to take his third tournament win in three appearances. We’re lucky he doesn’t show up more often!

Just kidding, I always learn something playing Mr. F, and today was not an exception. In my first game against him, I got lucky early and was able to double him out, taking a commanding 1-0 lead. In the next game, I got to the following position, and had to decide whether or not to double him again.


I’m the cream-colored checkers, aiming for the bottom left, and this is Nate’s new board. More importantly, it’s a correct double, and a take. It would have been a -0.047 error to not double in this position. When I first put it into XG, I somehow entered it with the blot on the 12 as already off the board, and teased Mark that it was a drop. He reckoned that I needed about 4 more in the race for it to be a drop, but XG says I only need 3. Move the blot from the 12 to the 9, and it says this is a double/drop. Still, shows how exact Mark F’s instincts are for this kind of thing.

Same game, a bit later, he had the opportunity to return the cube to me.


I have three off, he has four off, so we’re both (kind of) 6 rolls to go. He’s up 34 to 43 in the race, but with extras on the two point and a gap, the Keith count is closer. And most critically to my mind, I’m up 1-0. Double 4 or better and I’ve got the match. I took. Big blunder! XG says he’s 82.8% to win, and this is a monster pass.

Now, obviously, this is a pass for money. Obviously, this is a pass when I’m not 4 away from skunking him. But it’s not obvious to me that it’s not a take given the match score, even now, hours later, with the benefit of XG pointing out that I’m an idiot. To get it to a take, I have to put one of his checkers back on the board, on the three point or further back. Or, move a couple of checkers from the two point to the six point. Basically, I’m nowhere near a take. But I was so confident, that I bet him $5 that it was a take, and so I lost to him on that too.

Well, it’s good to have more to learn, I guess.

Mark F also encouraged me to bring back the annual rankings, like I had a couple of years ago. I’ve already recycled the score page from January, and the Elo score calculation is too much work, so I’m going with a simpler metric – total games played and won for the year. That’ll give three possible “player of the year” definitions – most games played, most games won, and best winning percentage. Since I, by definition, am there every time, I’ve got a good shot at the most games played portion, but currently Ed is in the lead on two metrics…

Player Games Played Games Won
Ed 7 5
Mark W 6 4
Michael 6 4
Bryan 4 3
Joel 6 3
Mark F 3 3
Nate 6 3

We’ll do it again next month – see you then!