February 2019 Chouette

We had pretty much the usual crew for this month’s chouette, plus Edmund, who hasn’t played with the cube before, and so was relegated to spectator status. But we enjoyed meeting him and may have started him further on the path.

We experienced two new technical difficulties through the afternoon. First was a game between Tim and me, I was the box, but somehow got confused about that and when I was ready to cube, I interrupted Mark F and Bryan’s argument about a position from the prior game to ask them if they wanted to join me. They did, and about six moves later, we realized that wait, they shouldn’t cube against their captain. We settled that by basically putting them out of the game, and Tim and I just played it out. Second was a game between Bryan and me, he was the box, and about halfway through we were in a position when we both wanted to count. At which point, we noticed that one of my checkers hadn’t ever made it onto the board. I was in favor of restarting the game, but Mark F said we should play on, and that checker wouldn’t count towards gammons. We settled on letting Bryan choose, and he went with playing on.

My reckon is that at this point, I’ve probably now seen everything that can possibly go wrong with a chouette. I also reckon I’m tempting fate by saying so.

This is a position that came up in a different game with Bryan. I’m the box, on the bar, and have just been handed 4 cubes, turned up to 4… We had put them back to the side before I took the picture though, so spoiler alert, I dropped:


Slightly dark picture, sorry. Bryan has 3 numbers to cover the 4 point, or 4 numbers to hit and cover, plus a direct shot at my blot in the outfield. I have a modest race advantage, but with the spare on the 3 point, I felt like even if I survived the next roll, I’m starting to crash. Plus I’ve lost my midpoint. So I dropped. Correctly, as it turns out! It’s -0.031 to take, so pretty borderline decision. And in fact, XG says if my spare was on the 6 instead of the 3, it would be a take. Interestingly, if my blot on his home board was on the 1 instead of the 2, it would also be a take – 3 numbers to hit and cover versus 4 numbers to hit and cover is a big difference.

We’ll do the next chouette on March 16th, squeaking in before NCAA March madness makes it impossible to find a table at Claudia’s.


San Antonio 2019

I spent last weekend at the ABT tournament in San Antonio. I feel like I played well, but I definitely didn’t do well – made back about $5 on chouettes though, so there’s that. But one thing I did achieve was I took more photos of positions and took better notes than I’ve done in prior tournaments. I got it down to where I was pretty consistent about recording the match score, what I was doing, and what I decided to go with. This gives me a load of material to examine my blunders of the weekend!

Here’s the first:


This is from Friday night, my first draw was Candace, who is the producer of the LA tournaments. We had an excellent match overall, and a long one – went almost 2 1/2 hours! Anyway – this is game 1, and my first cube of the tournament. I had gone in with the mantra of “don’t be greedy” – trying to break my habit of going for a gammon and instead losing by one. This seemed like a perfect example. But no, the double is a 0.113 blunder! I’m too good, at 85% wins/28% gammons. She correctly dropped, and I congratulated myself on a strong start to the event.

Of course, I didn’t only make blunders with cube decisions. I occasionally blew a checker play as well, as in this example:


Here I’m playing CJ, part of a fairly large group of Brits who had come over for the event, thus the UKBGF board. I’m heading to the bottom left, and have double fives. I agonized over whether or not to run the checker off the 23 point to the 13. Eventually I decided against that, and played 13/3, 8/3(2). Only a -0.085 error! Of course, the 23/13, 8/3(2) that I was weighing that against is also slightly inferior to 23/18, 13/3, 8/3. But at least the play I passed over wasn’t the very best play.

That was not, incidentally, my only blunder off a double against a British opponent. The next morning, in my first match of the last chance, against Steve, I rolled double fours in the following position:


I got the first one right – bar/21. I even got the second one right, 9/5*. But then I got stuck. I eventually took 13/5 to cover the blot. But I should have done 9/5*(2), and then slotted! My play is -0.124 compared to slotting the 2 point. Ah, well.

Not every play I made was wrong, however. For example, in this position, I’m playing Peggy (who, it happens, had knocked me out of the last chance in Vegas in 2017), and I’m up 3-0 in the 5 point match. IMG_20190203_135558

Clearly, I’m a monster favorite, the question is, am I too good to double? I spent a good amount of time thinking about it, recounted at least once, and ultimately decided to play on. Barely correct, but correct! No double is the +1.016 equity play, meaning I’m accurate within 1.6%. Super sharp decision maker!

Or not. My next match, I had an early blitz position to play, double 5’s put Roman on the bar, and he danced, leaving us here:


I doubled, he dropped. It was too good, +1.026, I should have played on. But – this was my main learning moment for the weekend. In two prior matches, I had been the one on the bar in the comparable position, and had taken both times, and had been gammoned for 4. So, I had reason to believe that someone might take this one, and as Phil Simborg says, your opponent can’t make a cube error if you don’t offer it.

All in all, I had a good time, played probably better than I did in Vegas last fall, and I can’t say I have regrets. I’m going to aim for two more ABT events this year – if you haven’t played in one before, it’s a good way to get a lot of time over the board with a wide variety of opponents. Away from the boards, everyone is very friendly and fun. Over the boards, of course, even more so.


January 13, 2019 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a good showing for our first tournament of the year – 13 people in the tournament! Three additional people showed up too late to get in, but were able to pick up some side games and/or get tips on what backgammon apps to download (hint: Extreme Gammon). Tim D. made it in from the coast, and dragged along Dick, whose daughter Jill made her first appearance. David (who hasn’t made it to one since the big Portlandia event last year) came along, bringing his friend Nate for the first time. And Paige made her first appearance at the meetup as well.

I set up the initial draws, and settled down to play first Jill, and then Bryan. By the end of that second match, the scorecard was getting complicated – Dick and Nate were still playing their first match, as were Tim E. and Justin (who we hadn’t seen in a while as well…) David had gotten a bye but was now playing Martin. Suffice to say I need a better way to keep track of everyone once it gets going – I was assigning people matches but not writing down the pairings until later, and it was quite distracting. I’ll blame the pressure for how Bryan was able to skunk me 5-0 in our match…

This position came up in my match against Justin, and left me pondering for a minute or so on whether or not to hit.IMG_20190113_144627

Little hard to see depending on your device, my roll is 5-1. Not the roll I was looking for, but what can you do. The 6/5* seems both obvious and possibly unnecessary. I’m a strong favorite already, why risk the hit? Best I recall, I eventually went with the 15/10, 6/5* to get the most covering numbers, and then Justin rolled 5-5. Oh, well! I came back from it to win eventually.

My fourth and final match was against Martin. In this position, I’m down 2-0 in the match, and am generously (?) offered the cube:


My thought is, I’m about to get buried. Sure, he’s on the bar, but I’ve got no board, three blots, and let’s not forget it took me like 5 rolls to get off the bar (which doesn’t matter, but it was weighing on me). So I passed. Blunder! XG says this is a clear take, and I gave up 0.333 equity by dropping! Fear is a killer.

This next position is from the next game against Martin, and put me in one of those “too many choices” reveries…


Again depending on your device, might be hard to see that’s a 1-1 roll. 24/23(2) seemed automatic. But should it be 24/23(3)? Ultimately I went with 24/23(2), 7/6*, 3/2, aiming to get two points covered for a backgame. Another blunder! Not only is is 24/23(3), the hit is not in the top 5 choices. Needless to say, Martin ended up beating me…

Now a “Swiss” format should always be matching undefeated players with undefeated players until there’s only one left. With 13 players, we should have reached that point after 4 rounds. But somehow, around 4:30, we had Martin and Bryan both with 3-1 records, and Dick with a 3-0. Justin and Tim E. were playing their final match, which was going to end with one of them also a 3-1. And David was playing his third match against Jill, which if he won would put him 2-1 and so I would have set him against Dick to see if they could both end up 3-1. We had, in other words, at least 4 people with 3 wins. Justin ended up winning, David losing, and I had no-one to pit against Dick. So I declared a four-way tie and gave them each equal prize money.

While waiting around for all this to happen, Chris and I played a little at $1/point on Bryan’s newest board – the super big one he built himself. Here’s a cube I offered Chris in one of those money games (and so you can admire the pretty board…)


An early double, good blitz potential but a lot of work left to do, and Chris does have a two point board. Chris was focused on the blitz potential but I talked him into taking, which is correct! XG says I’m only 63.5% to win here, albeit with 37% gammons. Chris took, and was able to redouble me out many moves later.

All in all, it was a good afternoon of backgammon. I’m glad so many people were able to resist the sunshine to come in and play. Next one will be scheduled soon… See you then!


More Swiss Adventures

I’m in Geneva this week, visiting my daughter over the Christmas holidays. Naturally, given that there was an opportunity, I found a way to go play some backgammon!

The Geneva Backgammon Association  meets at a local bridge clubhouse. As usual, there was a lot more smoking going on than I’m used to, but it was a friendly and active group. The tournament was supposed to start about 7:30, but when I showed up there was a lot of chouette going on, and things didn’t transition to the tournament until closer to 8:00. They have a more structured approach to the club than I have, with membership dues and so forth. But they let a non-member play for just a slightly higher entry fee. The tournament itself was a standard bracket + consolation, but not progressive consolation, so you were only guaranteed two matches. They play 7 point matches.

My first match was against Guillaume (or William), which drew me a lot of sympathy from the locals. We had an excellent and exciting match, including a couple of interesting positions – possibly a third if he actually hunts me down and sends me the photo. The first is a double that came up early in the match – sorry for the slightly blurry photo:


The score is either 1-1 or 2-1, something pretty low anyway, where it doesn’t really come into the decision. I’m in pretty good shape, but with one checker still back and another sitting in the outfield, there’s a fair amount of work left. I wasn’t 100% sure this was a take, though, and so offered the cube on Woolsey’s law. Guillaume wasn’t sure either. After a minute or so of thought, he dropped, which XG confirmed. It’s 71.6% to win, but 24.9% gammons, and so actually a small blunder to not double. The take would have been a huge blunder, though.

The second came in our last game. I didn’t take a photo, but he did, and confirmed I got it set correctly in XG.


I’m down 4-3 and holding the cube. At this roll, I have 20 numbers that hit. If I don’t hit, I’m in pretty bad shape. If I do hit, I’m probably the favorite. I doubled. Guillaume thought fairly hard about it for a while, before correctly coming up with a take. But initially he was confused why I was even doubling. In money play this is a no double, and pretty much it’s only a double because of the match score. If we had been playing to 9, this is again a no double. If we were tied at 3, it’s a no double. But when the alternative is losing into the Crawford game, well, how much more desperate do you need to get?

I didn’t hit him though – rolled a 2-1 and slotted the ace point. He, in turn, rolled a 4-5 and stacked up a bit further. Then I hit him. The rest of the game got crazy – multiple hits on both sides during the bear-off, but in the end I got lucky and won.

My second match was against either Phillipe or Ola, depending on who won their match (Ola had gotten a bye on round 1), so I had a good long wait. I could blame the jet-lag, or I could blame the dice, or I could be a good sport and admit that Ola outplayed me. I took a lot of cubes that were pretty clear takes, but having a clear take doesn’t make you the favorite.

Anyway – after all that, I had tied for the side pool, sadly I have lost the name of the other guy, so we split that, but played a single game for the 5F that wasn’t otherwise easy to split. It was another crazy game – I blitzed him early, got hit in the bear-off, got hit coming back around, hit him coming back around, and generally we had an uproarious time.

So if you’re ever in Geneva, look them up – the group is relatively small but also quite active. They encouraged me to come back for what are apparently every afternoon chouettes, but I probably won’t get the chance – after all I am here first and foremost to see my kid. But it’s fun to get out and play a little too.


December 9, 2018 Tournament Results

We had a decent showing for our final meetup of 2018 – 8 players. We played a Swiss format, which should have meant 3 games each, but somehow my matches kept running long and so some people got tired of waiting for their third pairing.

In my first match, Julie got me down 4-2, but I survived the Crawford game to get it up to 4-3, doubled early, and squeaked out a win to come back. My next match was against newcomer Phillip, who gave me a decent run as well. Nate was waiting patiently that entire match to play the winner, but had obviously gone cold from the delay, because I managed to win.

Second place was a tie between Nate and Martin, who both had two matches and 13 games won. Martin likewise had grown tired of hanging around, so I’ll owe him $10 the next time I see him. January we’ll pick back up with a “second Sunday” schedule, I expect. See you then!


What happened in Vegas 2018

I’ve been neglecting the blog for a while, sorry about that. We’ve had a couple of tournaments and a couple of chouettes since the last time I posted, and those results are around here somewhere, but I don’t have any fun backgammon puzzles from them anyway; so instead here’s a bit about my time at the 2018 Vegas Open.

I got in around lunchtime on Thursday, plenty of time for the 2:00 kickoff. I lost my first match to Thomas, who went on to win the intermediate main tournament, so in that sense I came in second! I rebought, and was down around 6-0 in the next match when 5:00 came around, and they announced that any new rebuys had to happen right then. I conceded and rebought again. And the third time – I lost again. I went to get a late dinner and a little sleep, hoping for a better day on Friday.

Well, I got it. Friday I won three matches in the consolation flight, then three matches in a blitz, and three matches in the Seniors. It was the proverbial swing from low to high,and one where I have a photo worth sharing. This is from the Seniors, which is a match to 7 and at this point I am up 3-1:


I’m on the bar against a three point board with a blot, but I also have no particular board going. 20 numbers cover the blot, and a couple of things hit the last checker on the ace point. It ain’t good, in other words. There’s certainly more than 25% wins, but a lot of my losses are gammons. I dropped, and XG agrees. This was a pretty close double – no double is +0.964 equity, so I am proud of myself for recognizing that I should drop, because often I’m too optimistic about positions like this. Match score played into my thinking, at that’s correct too – at a 3-3 score this would be a take.

Saturday was a lot more mixed. I won a few, I lost a few, and mostly it was a long day.

One of my more entertaining matches was the $100 jackpot, where I only survived one match against Joe. This position came up in game 5, when I was down 4-1 in our match to 7:


In some ways similar but not as extreme as the prior photo – I’m in trouble with a couple of possible hits on this next roll and a 3-point board against his 4-point board. I’m again over 25% to win, but a lot of those losses are gammons. But being in as much trouble as I was, I correctly felt it was a take. XG rates this as a No Double at this score, although a double/take if we were more even.

Having won a blitz on Friday, I got to play in the Blitz Champions Saturday night. Well, I got to play one match anyway. Here I’m playing Lynda for the second time, and we’re tied at 3-3 in the match to 5 when she offered me the cube:


From this set of photos, it sure looks like I was always in trouble, doesn’t it? On the bar, no home board, a weak 3-prime to contain her last checker – sure, but against only a 2-point board and it’s not going to get stronger without likely leaving a blot or two around. I took, as XG later said I should, but as was predicted to happen 2/3rds of the time, I lost.

In the consolation round on Saturday, I lasted one match, against Richard, who went on to win the consolation flight, so in that sense I came in second there too. Here’s a photo from the last game of that match, where I led 6-5 in the match to 9:


Richard doubled me from the bar, which is always fun. I had doubled him out from the bar in an earlier game, so I like to think I gave him the idea. Anyway – there’s some risk here, especially if he gets a 3. XG puts this as a double/take, which is what happened over the board. Richard is 60.7% to win, and 13.7% gammons. After rolling double 3’s, his win percentage jumped to 89.2% and his gammons to 63.5%, and he went on to get one of those gammons. Ah, well.

Sunday, I got eliminated early from everything I still had going. In the Seniors, I made it to the quarter-finals, and hedged, and lost; so although I didn’t cash in the tournament I cashed in the tournament.

Overall, the Golden Nugget was a nicer room to play in than the basement of the Flamingo. I had a great time, played better than last year, and have a few good lessons out of it all. Y’all should come next year.


September 9 2018 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had one of our final sunny afternoons of the season to compete with, but a pretty good showing for our return to Lucky Lab for the fall: 15 people participated. We had one more show up about an hour into it, but by that point it felt unreasonable to try to deal him in, unfortunately. But he hung around and got some play time in with people who had finished their tournament play, so no harm done.

My heart-break game was against Justin, in the second round. I took a cube but failed to get the turn-around shot and was looking likely to be gammoned. Justin had two checkers left, on the two point; I had a full board and one checker left in the outfield, on the nine point. “Roll a 1!” I called before his penultimate roll, and he did! “Roll a 2-1!” he responded as I picked up my dice cup, and I did! Curses! Justin went on to take second or third place.

You would think I would know that, right? Well. Mark F came in first, winning against Karen, Jake, Tim, and finally Justin. So Justin had a 3/1 match score. At that point, he had 19 games won, and the other two people with a 3/1 match score (Martin and Jake) had 17 each. Brian was sitting down to play against Tim for their last match, after which one of them would have a 3/1 match score. I deemed that Justin had taken second, and that Brian had an outside chance of taking third, because he had 12 points from his first three games. I let him know he needed to win with 6 points in the match to take third, and they went at it. Well, Brian is an overachiever – he concluded the match with 8 points! Brian and Justin settled the matter between themselves somehow.

Thanks especially to the newcomers and long-gap returning players this time: Phillip, Michael, Jake, and Karen. It’s great to have new people showing up.

We’ll be back at Lucky Lab on October 14th for the next installment – see you there!


How They Play in Zurich

As I mentioned to a few people at the last meetup, my daughter is moving to Switzerland. My wife and I spent a week or so over there helping her tour the country and then get settled in. While in our first stop, Zurich, I happened to be in town the same time as their weekly chouette, and so I thought I would share some impressions.

They play weekly, on Wednesday nights, at Cafe Bubbles. The owner is one of the players, and quite sharp over the board, but prone to wander off to help customers and chat up passers-by. Half the time I was there, someone else was making cube decisions for her and she skipped multiple turns. But it seemed to work out. They had 4 playing when I first arrived, and a couple more arrived after the first few games. They split to two boards, having everyone roll a die to decide which table they would go to. I was one of 4 on the original board, with Bobbi (the cafe owner), Jacque (the event organizer), and Andres (the scorekeeper). With 3 or 4 players, the rotations happened quickly enough that I quickly lost track of time.

One of their rules was they played for only 2 CHF/point, which is about $1/point purchasing equivalent for us. It made for a friendlier game – people weren’t afraid to make a dumb take in hopes of keeping the box because of stakes for instance. I certainly wasn’t. About 3 hours in, Andres noted that I had been having the longest streaks in the box of anyone. I asked him if I was up, and he said “Yes, by one game!” That’s the kind of night it was. I took the box again the next time it came around and held it for about an hour and half, then bid my adieu.

There were a couple of differences they used from how we’ve run our chouettes. If the first roll both the box and captain had the same roll, it was the box’s choice whether or not to do an automatic double. I don’t think I exercised that right, but it happened with Bobbi in the box every time she was able. They allowed beavers, which I saw happen once or twice. They re-rolled if a die ended up on top of a checker. At one point I mentioned that in America, we’d play that, and thereafter that became a joke for the evening if a good roll came up: “American rules?” The other joke of the evening was based on my non-existent German. We had a conversation about whether or not it was rude to call a roll in advance. I said I didn’t think so, because the dice never listen to me anyway. A few rolls later I called a roll, in German (I can count to 6…) “That’s the problem, the dice only speak German!”

Jacque had his laptop and checked a few positions in XG when it came up. At one point, I had the box and the cubes, a huge racing lead, and needed to jump past a point to avoid leaving a shot against their closed board. I hesitated for a while, thinking about whether to re-double them out. Turns out, the redouble was a huge blunder! This is approximately the position…
Untitled drawing (1)

I might have been crashed a little more forward, their board might have been slightly weaker, but it was about this. This version XG says is a beaver if I had redoubled! Well, I didn’t double, but I did roll double 6’s, then cashed it.

The other position that I remember is because I was the one who photographed it and put in Mobile XG. Here’s the position:

Untitled drawing (2)

This time it’s red’s roll, and there was a question whether or not to double. The captain chose to double, the rest of us decided not to, and it is in fact a blunder to double.

So if you’re ever in Zurich on a Wednesday night, stop by Cafe Bubbles and tell Jacque I sent you. Viel Gluck!

August 12 Backgammon Tournament Results

This was what I was dreaming of when I created the Patio Series – a balmy but not unbearable afternoon, a shady patio, some good beers, and some enjoyable backgammon. APEX was a decent spot for the meetup, but probably not one we’ll go to again – the only beverage choices are beers and ciders, and no food choices, and modestly strict about outside beverages given they don’t offer coffee even. So it didn’t work for everyone for refreshments. On the other hand, we weren’t hassled at all.

Having learned from the fiasco at Prost!, I did bring spare boards this time. We didn’t need them – Julie, Martin, Kris and Tim all brought boards, so we were set. We had 6 people initially, and so settled into 3 pairs. Jarom showed up about 15 minutes late, but we were able to deal him in no problem.

My first match was against Martin, and it was one of those one game matches. Martin doubled me early, I had a chance to redouble later, and then pulled off a gammon. I wasn’t nearly so lucky the next round. Jarom and I went back and forth – he took the first game or two, I rallied to 4, he survived the Crawford game, and then pulled off the remaining games necessary to take the match. I ended up by playing Julie, who proceeded to not only win, but to frankly slaughter me. It was fun!

Martin had a chess buddy who was hanging around, and made a poorly advised bet, that if Martin beat Kris that the group would have to buy him a drink but if Kris won, he’d buy everyone a drink. Naturally, he left before the match was over. But Martin knows a free drink when he hears one – I’m not saying he threw the match, but that was one we were all rooting for Kris. After that, Martin threw in the towel, so he only got two matches out of the day. Somehow, we ended up with everyone else getting 3 games, though I might have had 4. It’s a little fuzzy now. Tim took first place, Jarom took second, and I took off while Julie and Kris finished their third matches.

July 8, 2018 Tournament Results

In spite of my fairly last minute announcement of the meetup, we had a pretty good turnout – 10 players total! Last time we went to Occidental, I got griped at by management for having so many people show up without advance warning. This time I got off with a “it would have helped if you called ahead”, to which I could honestly say “I did!” Of course, I ignored the request from when I called ahead to email someone else and I can’t find that piece of paper anymore, but anyway.

Any of you old timers remember Charlie, he’s back – he crushed me in the first round 7-0, and went on to take second in the tournament. Jarom is turning into the man to beat – he took first this time after coming in second last month. It was a good mix of some of the regulars and a few faces we haven’t seen in a while, or ever.

Swiss format is still striking me as a great approach – everyone got at least 3 matches and some people got 4, and we were pretty much out of there by 4:30. See you in a few weeks at the next Patio Series!