Women’s World of Backgammon Mixed Doubles Tournament

I was pleased to be invited by Leah to be her partner in the 3rd annual WWB Mixed Doubles Tournament. We had our first (and final) match today, after an extended delay trying to coordinate a match against our opponents, who were from Romania, which is 9 hours time zone difference. The original schedule was to play on the first Tuesday night of the month, 7:00 pm Eastern, 4:00 pm Pacific, 1:00 am Romania. They (understandably) did not want to play at 1:00 am, and so we were going to find another, more mutually agreeable time; but as the month went on, deadline pressure meant we ended up playing on the last Tuesday night of the month, 7:00 pm Eastern, 4:00 pm Pacific, 1:00 am Romania.

After resolving some technical difficulties, we got underway. Game 1 started off rough. 4 of our first 8 rolls were a 21, the smallest possible roll. It wasn’t much easier for the Romanians – 3 of their first 8 rolls were also a 21. So, nothing was moving quickly. We did ok, getting a 4 point board, keeping one of their checkers trapped. But then they had two lucky rolls in a row, double 1’s and double 4’s, both in positions which were relatively easy to play, and so we were on the bar with a 31 to play.

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We debated on this one for a while – it seemed clear to come in with the 3, because we didn’t want to have three checkers trapped on their ace point. But the 1 was harder – either 24/23 or something else. We could not reconcile ourselves to that, so instead we offered up 13/12, exposing a second blot. 24/23 was correct, and 13/12 was MASSIVELY wrong. They correctly doubled us.

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It does not look good. We get hit by a lot of numbers, and when hit we lose a lot of gammons. We dropped, but with 33.5% wins, this was still a take! So between the checker blunder and the cube blunder, our error rate was very high for the game.

Game 2 was a short one, both teams running back checkers out pretty easily, and they had a couple of big doubles that put them up 28 pips in the race, 92 to 120, and they doubled us out.

Game 3, we had a double 5 blitz out the gate, and we offered an early cube:

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This is actually a small no double and an easy take, I take full responsibility for this one, but I figured being down in the match score it was justifiable. For the next few moves, things were going pretty well for us, we kept hitting them, moving towards a close-out. On move 6, we had this 63 to play.

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We spent a lot of time on this one. 13/7 is clear, we need more checkers down to cover the blot on the 2 point. The 3 is harder. We talked about 13/10, getting a third builder into the outfield, but that does not immediately help as we already have a checker on the 10 point. We talked about making the bar, 10/7, but that reduces the number of covering numbers for the 4 point. We ended up going with “the clever play”, 5/2, covering the blot but in a way that gives us two covering numbers for the new blot! And this is correct! 13/10 is also pretty good, but making the bar would have been pretty bad; so I am proud of us for finding this one.

But ultimately, we were not able to close them out, and had a bunch of blots spread around the board. Several of those got hit, and we ended up having to try to get 5 checkers back around after they escaped their back checkers. However, we had a lot of assets – we had a 5 point board, versus their 1 point board, and all it would take to get back into a dominant position was one hit. We did not get the hitting roll, but we felt pretty good about this double 4:

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This was a tricky one. We were looking at two options, 20/16(2) 18/14(2), or 24/16 20/16(2). One of those is much better than the other. We went with moving everything to the 16 point, on the theory that we were up in the race, and so we should break contact. But the win is more likely to come from a hit, given our strong board! So we should have left the checker back on the 24 point for contact. From there, we did in fact break contact, but they rolled double 5’s followed by double 6’s, and there went our racing lead. They doubled us out, and now we were down 4-0.

In game 4, it took a little longer before I suggested throwing out the early cube – being even further down in match score making even a slight edge worth throwing it out.

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We have three checkers back, they have one checker on the bar. We have a two point board, and high likelihood of making a third this roll. The race is very close. But the positional advantage and threats of closing them out does make this a good cube! It is also a big take, and they took easily.

A couple of rolls later, they had entered both their checkers, and we had an unfortunate 65 to play:

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We saw and considered the correct move, 8/3* 8/2*, putting two back on the roof, and giving us a chance to finish the close out. But that felt like a big play, and it has the potential to backfire. But so does the play we went with, 11/6 8/2*! That was a -0.178 double blunder!

A bit further down the road of this game, things had resolved in the Romanian’s advantage. We had two checkers trapped on their deuce point, and a roll that did not help with that at all.

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We felt like it was important to get the blot off the 13 point. But the bot disagrees – with the blot they have on their ace point, it is hard for them to hit. Our move, 18/15(2) 13/7, was a -0.107 blunder.

Fortunately, our next roll was a major bit of luck, double 5’s, which let us escape the back checkers and equalized the race. We were rolling towards a close finish, which ended with this position:

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We were well positioned – I know the reference that if you have a checker on the 2 and a checker on the 5, you have just over 50% to get both off next roll. But 32, was not enough. We got one off, and the Romanians spent a fair amount of time thinking about whether or not to recube us, which gave us plenty of time to figure that once they realized they should double, we were going to drop. Which we (correctly) did.

From there, however, we started to really roar back. In the Crawford game we did not make any serious mistakes, and in spite of slightly worse luck than our opponents, we got our first win. In game 6, we doubled right away and they (correctly) dropped. In game 7, we also doubled right away, and they (correctly) took. We played another game without any serious mistakes, and now were only down 4-6.

In game 8, we once more doubled right away, and they (correctly) took. Things then immediately got kind of rocky for us, and we ended up making a couple of pretty serious blunders. First was this double 5 from the bar

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The race is basically tied after this roll, and we went with Bar/5. But an even game is not enough for us, as we’re trailing in the match. We need something with some gammon potential, and breaking contact does the opposite. Bar/5 wins more often than the top move (Bar/20 13/3 8/3 or Bar/20 13/8 6/1(2) depending on which bot you believe), but the top moves win a lot more gammons, and gammons win us the match.

Luckily, the next move gave us the chance to head back into gammon territory with a double 3 to play:

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13/10*(2) to start, for sure. Then Leah wanted to play 6/3(2), making another point on our home board. I wanted to play 10/7(2), making a small prime in front of the re-entering checker. My play wins more games, but Leah’s play wins more gammons; but for some reason she agreed to let me play the priming move, and so we had two major blunders in a row!

Fortunately, our next move after that was only an error, not a blunder. We didn’t make another blunder until the second move after that, when we had this 42 to play:

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The alternatives we considered were 13/7, or 7/3* 5/3. There’s a bit of a running theme here – 13/7 wins more games, 7/3* 5/3 wins more gammons. Ah, well. We did, at least, win the game.

Which brought us to a tie score! 6-6 in a match to 7, here comes DMP! We were, by the way, at this point down to 42 seconds (!!!) in our time bank, and so we had to make a lot of pretty quick decisions. Nevertheless, our play in the final game was very good, no serious errors. Not to discount the Romanians, who also played that game near flawlessly! But they severely outrolled us – it turned into a one-sided double anchor holding game with us hoping for a shot as they bore their checkers in. And then an ace point game with us hoping for a shot as they bore their checkers off… And we did eventually get a shot! But we missed it.

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That last position kind of summarizes the emotional feel of the whole match.

The Romanians took it back at the end, but it was closely fought. Their PR was better than ours, but I think they also had fewer tough decisions than we did, and our PR was nothing to be ashamed of. So all in all, I feel pretty content with the experience. I hope Leah invites me to join her again next year, and maybe we’ll have better luck (and opponents in a less challenging time zone). Thanks to Leah for dragging me into this, thanks to Karen & Nano from WWB for organizing, congrats to Dana & her confusingly named partner for a well played match, and thanks to you for reading all this!