Bellingham 2020

Yesterday, I took part in the 9th annual Bellingham Winter Classic. It was my first time up there – I had been invited a couple of years ago but the timing didn’t work out that time, and it was a great little event. 16 players showed up for the “A” flight, and I believe another 8 for the “B” flight.

Tim also made the trek up from Portland, and we joined 4 players from Bellingham, 8 from Seattle, and 2 from Vancouver BC. Neither Tim nor I made it especially far in the main event, but we then did a fun little round-robin with Chris and Kristi. It made for a full day of backgammon, and I was able to get back down to sleep in my own bed last night, after a pleasant stop in Seattle to spend a little time with my daughter.

Michael, our host and organizer, has some big ideas. One thing he would like to do is have a regional event, pitting Vancouver BC, Seattle, Bellingham, and Portland against one another. The idea is that each place sends four players to the match, and the best overall team result wins the day, and then hosts the next year. I’m always up for another event, so we will see if we can pull that off.

Here’s a position that came up in my second match of the main event, against Kristi. Just a few rolls into the game, I’m on the bar, and was offered the cube. Should I take?


I like this one, because the match score comes into play. This would be a blunder to pass for money, or if it was the first game of the match. But it’s a borderline double at this score – XG mobile says it was -0.003 for her to offer the cube at this point. But human psychology wise, definitely the right move. It gave me pause. I did take, and she went on to win by a gammon.

Overall for the main event: I got crushed in my first match against Karl, losing 9-1. He pointed out one position where I made a clear blunder, but it was also a match where I just couldn’t get any breaks and he rolled a lot of big doubles when he needed them. Ah well. I did win my match against Kristi, although it was quite close. And then I lost my match against Joe, although again it was quite close. Both of those last two came down to the winner getting one more double in the bear-off than the loser.

All in all, a good time – I look forward to returning next year.


January 2020 Chouette Results

We had a good chou this month, trying out a new location. We went to the Kenton Club, which… is dark. They were very nice, the drink pours were extremely generous, and the jukebox was great – playing a nice mix of classic rock and rockabilly. But it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the dimness. We were playing at the best lit table in the place, and Judge Judy was playing (no sound) on the TV just to one side of us – whenever a commercial came on that had a white screen with a page of disclaimers for whatever side effects came with their drug, someone would invariably remark about how it was suddenly much brighter.

All of which is to say that, although I do not regret choosing the location, we probably won’t be rushing back there. There’s another spot a couple of blocks from there which Martin recommended, and so we’ll maybe give it a shot for the next chouette. It might even be big enough for a tournament, but we’ll start small.

Five players were in attendance. Jeremy made the trek up from Salem again, Martin, Tim, Bryan, and me. Tim had the longest and most successful run in the box for the day, at one point ending up over 30 points, although he slid from there before the day was over. I had to head off “early” (at 5:00), and so I don’t know the final positions for everyone, but it was a fun afternoon.

Here’s a position that came up in one of the games. I’m facing off against Tim, who has already taken the cube, and I rolled a 4-1. Prime versus prime type of position developing. The big question in my mind: should I split my back men?


Here’s my argument against splitting: It gives him 9 numbers that turn this into a blitz, and it’s also important for me to move the checker on the mid-point to a safer location. Here’s XG’s argument for splitting: everything else is a double-blunder at least. I went with the second best move (-0.173 equity loss), and Tim went on to win the game. Ah well.


January 2020 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a great turnout for our first tournament of 2020 – 18 players! There were a couple of brand new people, maybe three if you count Kate who showed up to watch last month but played for the first time this month. And there were a few last minute cancellations as well, plus some regulars who were not available… I am thinking we’re going to break the 20 player threshold in the next few months.

I’m thinking about making some structural changes to deal with the larger turnouts. Rather than run things as one big (and confusing) Swiss-style event, I might break the group up into several double-elimination brackets, which would mean payouts to more players, but lower payouts. It would also mean I need to spend a lot less brain-power on keeping people paired up properly, as those pairings would all be set at the initial draw. Keeping the pairings straight is a challenge with 12+ players. For instance, this month, at one point I had to pair Jeremy (who had 3 wins/no losses at that point) with Brad (who had 2 wins/no losses) because they were the only two undefeated players left. Not such a big deal, if Brad had won; because at the time I was playing Tim and we both had 2/0 records. If Brad had won, then I would have played him, and the winner would have needed 4 wins to win the tournament, which is perfect for an over-16 person bracket.

But sadly, Jeremy won his match against Brad, meaning that he was going to need 5 wins to win the tournament. Sort of unfair, since his opponent only needed 4 wins. We dealt with that by agreeing to a double-win criteria for his opponent – that is, if Jeremy won the first match he won 1st, if he lost then his opponent would have to win a second match to win 1st, since at that point they would be “tied” with 4 wins each.

That opponent, by the way, was me. I had a pretty dramatic match with Tim. I won the first game, he won the second. In the third game, he doubled me fairly early, and I was able to turn it around to where I could re-cube him. I should have taken a picture at that point, because it seemed like a close decision. Tim decided to drop. In the fourth game, I was able to hit and cover my home board on about roll three, and turn that into a successful blitz, winning by a gammon.

Anyway, that’s how I ended up in a position to eventually take second place.

In our first match, Jeremy and I had some good back and forth, I eventually took it 5-3. In the second match, I was not as lucky, and ended up losing 5-1. So Jeremy gets the first tournament win of 2020, and is currently leading the pack in terms of (1) total matches played, (2) matches won, and (3) winning percentage.

I’m not yet sure what format it will take, but there will be some kind of awards handed out for each of those metrics for 2020. I’m taking myself out of the consideration for the total matches played, because I have a unfair advantage as the organizer – I will be at every tournament this year, and most likely I will be the only person with that distinction. Maybe not – Nate, Tim, and Chris all came close to having 100% attendance last year, and there wasn’t a ribbon at stake then.

See you next month!



Vegas, Baby!

I attended the Las Vegas Open last month, for the third time, and am finally getting around to looking through the photos I took of various positions that came up – mostly around cubing decisions. Here are a few that were interesting.

This first one is a screenshot of XG Mobile that I created after the fact. Spoiler alert, I went on to lose the game, and later the match. Here black is on roll and offered me the cube:


My thinking was, 16 rolls leave him stuck on my 2 point, and of the rolls that escape, I have a shot at hitting him again. And indeed, it is pretty close! It was only a -0.029 error to take. White has 22% winning chances, and of course there are no gammons. One more checker for him on his 2 point, and it would be a take. As it happened, I think he rolled double 6’s, which did not leave me the hoped for shot.

This next one is from a blitz against Ed O’Laughlin, who I had the opportunity to play a couple of times, and you can consider this name check as foreshadowing. I had doubled him earlier in the game, and he decided to return the favor:


I’m ahead in the race, 107 to 117. I’m on the bar, but there are no other threats. And he’s got a little bit of a struggle to actually close me out. Position-Race-Threat – I figured he had 2 out of 3, and took. Again, very close! -0.038 error to take, and if his checker on his 7 was on his 8, it would be a take. In fact, I think this was probably a take, considering the difference in skill level between us – I’m a much weaker player and dragging the match out has to work in his favor. Fortunately for me, he did in fact have trouble closing me out, I came in and ultimately won the game (and hence the match).

This next one is from the first round of the main tournament. I was playing Keiken, and she offered me this cube in our third game:


The picture is a little dark, because we were playing in the “overflow” table out in the hallway. Position-Race-Threat. She’s got position – both her back checkers are escaped, and she’s a strong favorite to make either her 5 point or her bar point on the next roll. Race, I’m way behind. Threat – well, not much, except the threat that she’ll make a prime before I get my back checkers split. I dropped, correctly. It’s actually a -0.283 to take! More interesting is how this is as a double – it’s only -0.021 to roll here, and if my back checkers were split, it’s completely even whether or not to double.

And having a picture from my first match of the main, here’s one from my last – this is the match that knocked me out of the Last Chance.


I’m up in the match score, and so should be worried about gammons, but there’s not much gammon potential here with my advanced anchor. I’m down 129-120 in the race, weaker in position, but no real threats to speak of. I took the cube. In fact, it’s a small no double for black! -0.007 error on his part, which is to say, not really an error. He pulled off the win, and then the win in the next game as well.

Which left me with just the blitz to play in. I entered 6 blitzes in total, and won 1 of them. For the blitz playoffs Saturday night, I had a play-in round against Gus, who had won 2 entries, and who I had beat for the 1 blitz that got me into the championship. I then had a second round match against David, who I had beat in 2 of the blitzes, and again in the championship! David was nice enough to send me the transcripts of our matches, and it was clearly luck rather than skill that got me those victories. The evening dragged on, as I waited for the match to determine who would make it into the finals, which ended up being me against Gus again! We played until about 1:00 am, and I squeaked out the win.

I made it to the blitz championship, facing off again against Ed O’Laughlin! This was very exciting for me, as it’s the first ABT event where I made it onto the results page. I didn’t figure I had good chances to win, in spite of having beat him before, especially as tired as I was by this point. The match came down to the following position, which I again did not photograph, but took a screenshot of the XG analysis right after:


As you see from the XG analysis, it’s a huge -0.37 blunder to take. But take I did, and re-shipped the cube on my next roll. No regrets, and here’s why. Also you see in the XG analysis, I’m 14.6% to win from this position. At 4-away/1-away Crawford game, my match winning chances are more like 18.6%, depending on which Match Equity Table you use. But here’s the thing: those tables work on the assumption that the players are evenly matched! I am a much weaker player than Ed. Over the board, my reasoning was, I’m maybe 40% to win. I would have to win the Crawford game, and then about twice more. 0.4^3 = 6.4%. I’m much better off taking my chances with the race. There’s probably some flaw in my thinking there, but I think it’s worth spending some time working on Match Equity Tables with uneven chances to figure it out. And, maybe, I will.

Anyway, I lost the race and the match, and so placed 2nd in the Blitz Championship. Like I said, still a big deal for me. I have a long way to go, but made me feel like I’m on the right track.


December 2019 Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a great showing to finish out the year – 16 players, including 7 (seven!) first timers. 16 makes a perfect bracket, so it was easier than usual to keep play moving – occasional pauses of course and some play faster than others, but when one pair finished a match, I could usually say “go wait for that other match to finish”.

First timer Rick should have taken the prize for the furthest traveled to come play, driving up from North Bend; but Sharon made an appearance (after about a year absence) from Medford. And of course, Max brought his parents, who were visiting from Philadelphia. So this was about the farthest flung group of players we’ve ever had.

I had Chris is the first round, in a match that went back and forth, especially in the last game. Then I paired up against Elisa (Max’s mom, who had taken out newcomer Ryan), then Marge (who had taken out newcomers Kamron and Terry), and finally Evan (Max’s dad, who had taken out Max, then Tim, then Sharon). In the first game, Evan beat me by a doubled gammon, putting us into the Crawford game right away. I survived that, and then pulled off a doubled gammon of my own to win the match!

Here’s the final record for 2019 matches. I’m thinking I should create some kind of top participation prize for Tim and top score prize for a player with 20+ matches for Nate. Maybe some ribbons or something.

Player Matches Played Matches Won Percentage
Mark W 36 24 66.67%
Tim 30 14 46.67%
Nate 22 13 59.09%
Martin 21 12 57.14%
Chris 21 11 52.38%
Steve 18 11 61.11%
Bryan 17 9 52.94%
Michael 15 8 53.33%
Julie 13 7 53.85%
Ed 10 6 60.00%
Bob 9 6 66.67%
Joel 9 4 44.44%
Judy 9 4 44.44%
Marge 9 3 33.33%

I’ll get the 2020 tournaments onto the calendar soon – first few months will be on a consistent schedule. See you then!


November Backgammon Tournament Results

We had a much smaller turnout this month, but fortunately a turnout that fit cleanly into a bracket for a change – 8 players. Thanks to newcomer Max for showing up just in time to prevent anyone having to take a bye in the first round!

I started off against Michael, who protested that I must be discriminating against him, it being the third tournament he attended where I was his first draw. But I made it worth his while – losing very very badly. The 9 points he got from our match ultimately put him as the winner of second place, being one of three players who ended with a 2-1 record for the day.

Martin had the best of it for the day, beating Tim, then Steve, then Bob to take first place. We think this is his first tournament win of the year, which is surprising given what a strong player he is. But, you know, dice.

Speaking of dice, for the second tournament in a row, a pair went missing. In October, Julie had a pair of lavender precision dice just… vanish. And this time, Michael had a pair of green precision dice go missing. Twice makes a pattern, so reminder to keep half an eye on your board when you go up to grab a drink or whatever. I’m personally feeling a little paranoid, anyway – it is, after all, a moderately crowded public space, and dice are easy to misplace.

Here’s the running tally for the year – last tournament of 2019 will be on the 15th of December. Steve is on track to come in as the winning-est player, and Tim is on track to be the most consistent attendee other than myself. Come try to get yourself up in the rankings!

Player Matches Played Matches Won
Mark W 32 20
Tim 27 12
Nate 22 13
Martin 21 12
Chris 18 9
Bryan 17 9
Steve 16 11
Michael 15 8
Julie 13 7
Ed 10 6

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