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!