Planning the Portlandia Backgammon Classic (Part 1 of ???)

Just to document and explain a bit of my thought process for posterity…

I’m about a month into the “serious” planning stage for the first annual Portlandia Backgammon Classic. So far, I’ve locked down a venue and dates, drafted a flyer, gotten feedback, made changes, sought more feedback, etc. My initial planning was to figure that February or March was the window in which I could conceivably do it – April starts to get busy for me at work, and so it had to be before then or after May, once things slowed down again. I sent an email with that vague amount of detail to USBGF, and was advised to give them at least three months runway to help get the word out, which meant March was better than February.

Well, the venue I had talked to back in June was booked up for both months, and so priority one was to find a new place. I sent out about 8 queries to hotels, restaurants, and other event spaces. Pricing and availability was all over the place. The airport Sheraton was the most flexible (assuming I would take one of the two weekends they had a last minute cancellation for, which I would), and by far the most affordable! So, I got the venue and dates locked down the Tuesday before leaving for Las Vegas for a work conference and the Las Vegas Open. That did not leave enough time to get the flyer finalized before, but at the suggestion of Bill Riles (of the San Antonio tournament), I made a very vague half-page flyer that at least got the word out. Of course, I also did not have time to update the Portlandia page of this website before then, so it was a vague half-pager leading to a vaguer landing page – but it was a start.

At the Vegas tournament, I had the opportunity to talk to a number of other tournament organizers: Bill, Carol, Patrick, and of course Howard. I got a lot of good ideas just from watching how Vegas was run, and benefited greatly from the many conversations. I was not far off in my thinking about how long I needed for the main tourney, but greatly modified my plans for the (limited) side events. And I walked away with a new stack of flyers to consider for inspiration. Also, USBGF brokered some help for me in the form of a “mentor” – Kristina, who had run the Seattle tournament while that was an ongoing event, agreed to serve as a sounding board and possibly even help run the event!

Today, I think I have finalized the flyer, and have sent it out to my semi-voluntary feedback committee. The main thing I was working on was setting the entry fees and rake. I used Chicago Point to get a better sense of the number of attendees to expect at each entry level, and looked up the flyers from a dozen or so tournaments to get a good idea of the expected entry fees. What I learned was that the open/championship bracket should have higher stakes than I was thinking, to make it more worth the while for people who want that level of play. There’s a wide variety of hospitality fees and rakes being applied at different tournaments, and I think I settled on one that makes sense. The hospitality fee will probably be excessive for the amount of food and beverage we’ll actually order, and the rake will probably be excessive for the amount we’ll actually spend on trophies, give-aways, supplies, etc. But that’s deliberate – the club has been running at a deficit since I took it over, and I want a grub-stake for making next year’s tournament bigger and better. If it goes especially well, I’ll drop the rake on the monthly meetup tournaments, and still be positioned to grow the “big” tournament for next year. For one thing, I do not assume I will get the screaming deal on the venue that I got this year ever again… I’m not asking for anything “out of market” with other tournaments, and so I think it will be well received.

If all goes well, the flyer will be finalized by end of the week, and I will start the advertisement push. Come January, it’ll be time to start arranging the physical items for the event (ordering trophies, etc.), and start filling in details. I’m very excited to be putting the event on – and I hope it will be a break-through type event for the local players. There’s certainly a decent amount of excitement from the people I talked to in Vegas, and so I’m pretty optimistic at the moment. I can’t wait to share the flyer with you all, and to see how this all shakes out.



What Happened in Vegas (November 2017)

I attended the Las Vegas Backgammon Open this past weekend, my first time going for that big of a tournament, and played in the intermediate bracket. Bryan was also there, playing in the same; and Mark F was playing in the open. So, pretty good representation from the Portland Backgammon crew. Mark F ended up winning the consolation flight of the open, making him the most successful of us (as usual)!

I had a couple of highlights – Wednesday night I got to play a 5-point blitz again Paul Magriel, and got lucky! I mean, it was lucky to get to play him in the first place, but I got lucky in the match! First game, I offered an early cube – not an error I don’t think, but an easy take only a few rolls in. But then I immediately rolled a double that covered two more points on my home board and it went well for me from there. That’s one beautiful thing about this game – even a rookie like me has a chance against one of the best in the world, at least in a short match!

In the main event, I made it to the semi-finals, then crashed and burned from there. The game that took me out was against James, who went on to take second overall in the intermediate. The loss was spectacular – I had doubled him early, he was turning it around and recubed me, and in my biggest blunder of the tournament (in effect, I might have done even stupider things that worked out ok), I took. Well, that game ended with me having 3 on the bar as he was bearing off, and I danced and danced and danced. Got backgammoned holding a 4-cube in an 11 point match. You can’t do that too often and win. Fortunately, as we both were nervous about a game that made the difference between cashing and crashing, we had agreed to a hedge, and so he paid me out a decent amount for losing!

Here’s a somewhat interesting pair of positions that came up in the 10th game of my second round, against a gentleman named Alberto. At this point, I was down 4-8 in an 11 point match, and had to think a while about whether or not to offer the cube:


At this point, I have 7s or 8s to hit on the outside, 4s to hit on the inside, but pretty good chance that he re-enters and I have a blot somewhere. I did not double, and GnuBG backs me up – I’m only 55% to win and double/take is a -0.11 error. Two rolls later, the board looks a little different, and a little similar!


I rolled a 6-2, he came back with a 5-3, and I had to think some more. The dynamics look similar, and I again choose to just roll, but this time it was a mistake! I’m up to 72% to win, with 10% gammons – a perfect double and barely a pass for him. Luckily, I rolled a double 4, so did ok without the cube.

Couple of matches later, against Paul, I was looking at the following position:


Note the direction change, I’m just putting them up the way the camera captured them. Obviously, sitting relatively pretty here, but with some work still to do to get my back checkers out from behind his 4-prime. In his shoes, I wouldn’t think too hard about taking. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t double! I’m only 60% to win, but have 27% gammons. No double is a -0.172 equity error, one that I (shamefully) made.

Finally, here’s a position from my first (and only) match in the consolation round, against Bern. Checker question this time – I rolled a pretty excellent double 1 – but what’s the best way to use it?


Well, the first 1 has to be coming off the bar. Coming off to the 24 point seems wasteful, I would rather have two numbers that escape than have just sixes. So bar-23 takes two moves. Then I had to pick between 6-5(2) and 2-1*(2). It seemed likely that one was right and one was wrong, and that’s true. When in doubt, hit? No! The right move was 6-5(2), and 2-1*(2) is a -0.355 blunder! A four-point board is much much better than a three-point board. Which way did I play it? I have no idea. Bern might remember, but I don’t. All that I remember was him hitting double-2 to bear off his last three checkers against my single checker on the 1-point in the bear-off, to push me into the Last Chance flight. Bern and I went on to play quite a few money games and some chouettes with Bryan, which was great – we were pretty evenly matched, which always makes for fun play.

The other great thing about the tournament was, I got to interact with a number of other tournament directors, and got some great input as I prepare for the FIRST ANNUAL PORTLANDIA BACKGAMMON CLASSIC, to be held March 24-25, 2018. I need about another week to finalize the flyer and start getting the word out, but we had some half-page announcements to put out, and they got snatched up quickly. There’s a good amount of interest from people in Seattle, Vancouver BC, Denver, Las Vegas, LA,…. This could go much bigger than I’ve been anticipating! Or, it could be pretty small. We’ll see – either way I am excited to bring a bigger backgammon opportunity to the Portland Metro area. Stay tuned, more details coming!


November 12, 2017 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a pretty good turnout for today’s tournament – 10 people! 7 were repeats from last month, and we had 3 new folks, Roland and the brother/sister duo of Lee and Rochelle. 10 didn’t seem like enough to split into two brackets, and so we did it as one bracket, with a couple of play-in matches.  Or, alternatively, a 16 person bracket with 6 byes…

My first match was against Tim. My recollection is that he won the first, I won the second, he won the third, then it starts getting blurry. I believe he got me down 4-1, but post Crawford I managed to gammon him with the cube turned to win the match. There was a position or two of interest, but I didn’t think to take pictures at any point, sorry. From there, I went on to play Sharon, then Rochelle, then Lee. Now not to give spoilers, but that was a tough road to the finals! I think in every match I ended up coming from behind to win post-Crawford.

Now Lee had the advantage of having watched me play Rochelle, plus he was well rested after defeating Nathan and Bryan – no play-in match for him. I took an early cube in game 1, then lost by a gammon, putting us to Crawford in game 2. Well, no problem, I’d been coming back post-Crawford all afternoon. Lee was having none of it, he slammed me and won the final in 2 games!

Rochelle squeaked past Bryan in the consolation flight, and so the dynamic duo took 1st & 3rd on their first tournament. I told them we like to have a newcomer win the first time so they get hooked and come back – well done all.

Here’s the summary of rankings after today’s event:

Player Initial Elo Rating Matches Played Matches Won Final Elo Rating
Bryan 1573.0 5 3 1570.74
Mark 1546.4 4 3 1570.53
Lee 1500.0 3 3 1558.55
Rochelle 1500.0 3 2 1519.96
Kevin 1521.3 3 1 1502.39
Sharon 1496.7 3 1 1488.05
Nathan 1471.1 3 2 1485.37
Martin 1495.8 2 0 1468.10
Roland 1500.0 2 0 1467.00
Tim 1475.8 2 0 1449.45

See you all next month!


October 21 2017 Chouette Results

We had a nice turnout for this month’s chouette – in addition to what I’ve come to think of as the usual suspects, Rob made an appearance, and brought along two new players – Ben & James. There was some logistical confusion due to a last minute venue change, but c’est la vie. Between that and people needing to drop off, we had from 3 to 9 players at different times through the afternoon (and let’s be honest, into the early evening…)

There were a couple of positions that were interesting enough to record. The first came up when 6 of us were playing on one board. I know – we said 5 to a board max, but somehow that didn’t hold this month.

sat 10-21-17

Martin was in the box, and doubled the field, thinking it was a drop. Lucky for me, I was late in the line to declare take/drop, and could just go along with the crowd, otherwise I probably would have dropped. Mark F went first, and confidently declared a take. I think the rest of us were wondering what he was thinking, but lucky again, he explained in the email where he sent this along: “We have an anchor, the race is close, we have no checkers out of play, both sides have 3-point boards, and we have no loose blots.” Extreme gammon bears this out, we were still just over 30% to win, a comfortable take!

The second position, I took a picture of came late in the session, when just Martin, Mark S, and I were still playing. Martin was again the box (again, not still! He had a good day I think, but not like that…), and we had doubled him earlier, and now he had a chance to repay the favor.


Prime versus prime, almost. He has 4-4, 4-5, and 4-6 to get out, or add 1-1, 3-3, 5-5, 5-6, and 6-6 to hit on the 2 point, or any other 4 to advance the anchor and get better distribution… High likelihood he looks much better after this roll. But, if he got say a 5-3, not great, we might fill in the 5 point and then he’d almost certainly break his home board first… there’s a chance for us. So great time to double. As I recall, Mark S took and I dropped. What do you think?

Extreme gammon puts Martin at 74% to win, with 16.45% gammons, and declares it a redouble-pass! One time my lack of courage served me well.

Overall, another great chouette. We might try for a different venue again next month, or might skip a month due to the Vegas Open – stay tuned to find out.



October 8, 2017 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a perfect 8 person bracket for today’s tournament. Newcomer Nathan entered the actual tournament, and Kitster came along a bit later to play some side games, which worked out great! And finally, we got to meet Sharon’s father, Anthony, who was in to visit and got dragged into a few games as well. It made for a lively afternoon of play!

In the main bracket, Bryan marched ruthlessly to the first place spot. Second place went to Sharon, who foolishly took a cube from me in our first game but then went on to win over and over again. In the consolation bracket, it came down to me versus Joel, and I was able to hold him off. We wrapped up play by about 4:00, although Bryan and Tim were still playing a one-off match when I left.

Results for everyone are as follows:

Player Initial Elo Rating Matches Played Matches Won Final Elo Rating
Bryan 1523.2 3 3 1573.05
Mark 1524.2 4 3 1546.40
Kevin 1543.0 3 1 1521.33
Joel 1513.6 4 2 1514.54
Sharon 1473.0 3 2 1496.73
Tim 1495.3 3 1 1475.85
Nathan 1500.0 2 0 1471.05
Julie 1452.3 2 0 1425.74

September 17 2017 Tournament Results

The cooler weather and grayer skies were good for backgammon turnout – we had 8 people for our second attempt at meeting at Bushwacker, a perfect bracket. Apologies to Bryan, who showed up mere minutes after I got us started. We’ll get you next time!

Martin and Mark F were again matched in the first round, which I swear was random, but if it happens again next time I might re-roll the lineups, because that’s too much good luck for the rest of us. Kevin and Sharon made the trek up again from Coos Bay; and we had one newcomer, Tim, from far off Vancouver (aka my hometown). Michael and Sara rounded out the bracket.

Personally, I played Kevin, then Sara, then Mark F. If you’re thinking through the logic of the bracket, you’ll know I therefore finished first or second. Hold that thought in suspense for a moment to consider this, my biggest blunder of the day:


Mark F took a picture for later, and graciously sent it to me with some commentary. I’m black in this picture, and leading 3-1 in a 5 point match. 2 away-4 away, and so I know for sure if I double and he takes, the cube is coming back to me on the next move. I had been going for the gammon, but had to leave a blot on the two point, and Mark F rolled a 1, blowing my gammon chances, or so I figured. So, my line of reasoning went I’m still a strong favorite to win the game, if I double he’ll probably drop and I’ll get the Crawford game. What could go wrong?

Well, I’m not a strong favorite to win, I’m barely over 50%! GnuBG says the move before (when I had 2 on the two point and 3 on the three point), I was 87% to win and 68.2% to gammon. After the disaster roll of 5-2, I drop to 51.4% to win, 23.8% to gammon! I was right about losing a lot of gammon potential, but the overall win chance was way worse than I was thinking -because what happens next, most likely, is that I’m forced to hit a blot on the one or two point, red hits it again sending a second piece back, and giving red a good chance to win! Easy take for Mark F, and a huge blunder for me!

Nevertheless, sometimes the weaker player gets lucky. In this case, after a few enter/hits/rehits, I got a double 5 that brought my back checker from the 23 to the 3. Mark F still had blots on the 1 and 2, and four slots of his home board covered by that point, so most rolls would leave me with a double shot. Imagine my relief when I pulled out a double 6 at that point! Pro tip of the day: during the bear-off, it’s hardly ever wrong to roll doubles.

In the consolation bracket, after some initial confusion on my part, Michael held on to take 3rd place. We wrapped up tournament play a bit after 4:30, which was good for me, as I had to pick my wife up at 5:00 – so as far as I was concerned, a perfect tournament!

Overall results and impacts on Elo scores:

Player Initial Elo Rating Matches Played Matches Won Final Elo Rating
Mark F 1604.6 3 2 1606.37
Kevin 1584.6 2 0 1543.04
Mark 1457.0 3 3 1524.18
Michael 1486.1 4 3 1519.76
Martin 1524.6 2 0 1495.75
Tim 1500.0 4 2 1495.33
Sharon 1487.4 3 1 1473.00
Sara 1478.3 3 1 1465.28

See you all next time!


August 20 Backgammon Tournament Results

You know how many people it takes to play a match? Two. We had one more than that show up, since my youngest consented to come along. But Martin & I played a couple of 9-point matches anyway. I won the first, and not to brag, but I won a match against Martin! So that was cool. He, naturally, made up for it in the second – but it was a great match! We traded games for a few, then he got me on the ropes. I survived the Crawford game to get to an 8-5 deficit. Then I won a doubled game to get to an 8-7 deficit. Double match point game at one point had me looking like a strong favorite; but I misjudged. I thought I was far enough in the race to not bother hitting him on the ace point, and Martin took a couple of big rolls to come back and win the second match! Ah, well, live and learn: always hit on the ace point if your opponent doesn’t have a closed board! Unless you shouldn’t for some other reason, of course.

Anyway, the cider house seemed like a lovely location, although it was a big warm on this particular day. Apparently, don’t schedule tournaments in August, or not the day before total eclipses, or something.

Martin wanted to have a third tie-breaking match, but I begged off to drive to Madras, and let me tell you, seeing the totality was worth the effort. We even made it home afterwards – eventually. So if you have the choice between playing backgammon and watching a total eclipse, I recommend taking the eclipse. But bring your board, because there’s plenty of time during the buildup to get a game or three in.


July 8, 2017 Chouette Results

We had a pretty good turnout – 7 people total. Initial cast of characters was the regulars: Mark F, Nick, Mark S, Paul, and me. Mark S charmed the gentleman who had taken “our” table before we arrived into moving over one, and received instant karma in that he took the box initially. But then he proceeded to hold it for a full rotation of the field!

About that time, Gints arrived, and so Paul and I split off to play with him at a lower stakes table. Jim showed up shortly thereafter and eventually got suckered into joining the higher stakes table.

The gentleman who Mark S had charmed off chatted about literature, politics, and jokes that were funnier in other languages while we bent over our boards. The lower stakes table was pretty evenly matched – Gints held the box for quite a few games at first, but then we settled into a cycle of pretty regular turnover. Ours broke up just before 5, but the high stakes table was still going – Mark S continuing to reap the karmic benefits of his charm offensive.

Here’s one position that came up that lead to some discussion about the right move. I am black and in the box, and offered a double. Was I right to do so? Would you take?


According to both GnuBG and Extreme Gammon, black is about 70% to win 70.6% or 70.4%, depending which you ask. But it’s a very minor error to double! By doubling, I gave up 0.005 in equity. Note that the gammon chances here are very low, under 1%, and so the Jacoby rule doesn’t provide a rationale for the double. So this is a No Double/Take situation. I forget what happened over the table, but I believe there was one take and one drop.

Gints took a few more pictures, and if he sends them to me I will update the post with any other interesting ones.

Meantime, we’re up again next weekend for a tournament – low RSVP count so far but there’s a week to go. See you there!


Man versus machine

Not surprisingly, I was playing some backgammon against the computer today. What was surprising, to me at least, was the following position came up that got marked as “doubtful” by GnuBG:


Now, I didn’t even think about this one, clearly the right move is 11/7,10/7 and making the 6 prime. But GnuBG said no, 10/6, 9/6 is better. Huh?

GnuBG says 10/6, 9/6 has equity +0.788, 11/7, 10/7 has equity +0.715; a difference of -0.073 and so a blunder! Extreme gammon rates it similarly, 10/6, 9/6 gets +0.797 while 11/7, 10/7 gets +0.736, a difference of -0.061 and again a blunder!

It gets worse for me. After the next exchange of rolls, I was at the following position:


D’uh – clearly 9/2 is the right move. But no, GnuBG says 7/2, 5/2!!! 9/2 has +0.728 equity, versus +0.792 for 7/2, 5/2, a difference of -0.064 and so another blunder! Extreme gammon agrees again.

The key here is the cube. With the cube in the middle, the moves I actually made are the correct moves. But the cube has already been offered and taken, and that makes a difference. I no longer have the option to double red out after a rough roll, I have to take what I get – and if I get something bad red has the redouble.

As it happens, what I got was a 5-6 on the first roll bearing in against the men still on my one point, forcing me to leave two blots. Red rolled a 5, putting me on the bar, I danced, and then got redoubled out. So it really could have worked out better for me. But the main thing was these back-to-back positions where the difference in correct play depends so much on the cube position.

This table shows the winning chances for each move for the first position, per GnuBG:

Win W g W bg Lose L g L bg
11/7, 10/7 0.811 0.129 0.005 0.189 0.005 0.000
10/6, 9/6 0.835 0.146 0.005 0.165 0.005 0.000

And this is the equity, depending on who owns the cube:

Equity Cube in Middle Equity, Red’s cube Equity, Black’s cube
11/7, 10/7 +1.000 +0.715 +1.000
10/6, 9/6 +0.934 +0.788 +0.978
Difference +0.066 -0.073 +0.022

Very similar charts for the second position:

Win W g W bg Lose L g L bg
9/2 0.824 0.115 0.004 0.176 0.005 0.000
7/4, 7/3 0.833 0.145 0.006 0.167 0.005 0.000
Equity Cube in Middle Equity, Red’s cube Equity, Black’s cube
9/2 +1.000 +0.728 +1.000
7/4, 7/3 +0.925 +0.781 +0.970
Difference +0.075 -0.053 +0.030

I find it also interesting that the drop in equity for leaving an indirect shot is a lot lower when black owns the cube in both positions as well. I think either of these would make a good “quiz” question for Phil Simborg. Having them back to back like that in a game definitely made me stop and think about the value of owning the cube!


June 18th Backgammon Tournament Results

We had an incredible turnout at Occidental Brewing this afternoon – 20 players! That is, in fact, a new record. There were a lot of newcomers or people returning after a long absence as well – I think 7 or 8 people I had not had the pleasure of meeting before.

We caught the management off guard – I should have scoped out the location earlier and I would have learned that they were a little on the smaller size, in the area we took over. Probably should have given them a head’s up, but Sara and others smoothed some feathers with the staff and once we got running, it went very smoothly. If we go there again, we’ll warn them, and probably move to the upstairs space, which is (I’m told) a little larger (I never made it up there today). Martin assured me that this is the best brewery in Portland, even though it is somewhat out of the way for people, based on the majority of comments I got.

Being such a large group, I divided us up into two brackets. You would think 20/2 = 10, but with the chaos of filling in the brackets as a few stragglers rolled in, we ended up with 9 in the A bracket and 11 in the B bracket. Oh well!

The “A” bracket ended up in a newcomers show-down. Karen beat out William for 1st, and Billy won the consolation bracket. The “B” bracket went to the established crew, with Nick beating out Gints for the big prize. I squeaked out a win in the consolation bracket, mainly because Mark F left “early” – I would have had to face him again, but he didn’t want to stick around another half hour or so for the $10 entry refund that went to third place. So: payday!

Greg made the suggestion that the consolation bracket should run 3 point matches instead of 5 point matches, in order to wrap up a little faster. By definition the consolation bracket starts later, and so it was running long. Thanks for the suggestion, Greg, we will definitely do that next time!

The other big thank you goes to my daughter, Kira, who took over the clipboard while I played and helped keep the tournaments running smoothly. What a great Father’s Day gift, eh?

All in all, we did manage to finish the tournament by 6, although Nick and Bryan were observed playing a money game as I headed out. Some people never get enough, I suppose. If you want more, we’ll do it again next month at Great Notion, on July 16th. I’ll call and warn them first!

Player Initial Elo Rating Matches Played Matches Won Final Elo Rating
Mark F 1542.6 4 4 1604.62
Karen 1500.0 4 4 1568.85
Nick 1500.0 3 3 1554.27
Billy 1500.0 4 3 1530.34
Bryan 1544.6 3 1 1523.25
Mark 1534.4 3 1 1518.88
WIlliam 1500.0 3 2 1517.10
Joel 1500.0 3 2 1513.56
Noah 1500.0 3 2 1513.53
Mally 1500.0 4 2 1506.43
Greg 1500.0 4 2 1500.15
Paul 1508.5 3 1 1492.50
Gints 1469.3 3 2 1491.31
Karla 1500.0 3 1 1483.08
Martin 1500.0 2 0 1468.08
Donnelle 1500.0 2 0 1466.07
Kristin 1500.0 2 0 1465.10
Julie 1502.8 3 0 1452.32
Sara 1482.1 2 0 1450.28
Justin 1480.7 2 0 1445.35