Tournament Rules

Crane Rules
by Michael Crane
This article previously appeared on www.msoworld.com
February 2000

Questions and Answers on the Often Tricky
Matter of Fair and Legal Play

Like all good organisations, BIBA (the British Isles Backgammon Association) has a set of rules by which we all play. These rules are there to ensure fair play and to protect players against unscrupulous behaviour. All BIBA members are given a copy of the BIBA rules of play and they are always posted on the walls of the main tournament playing room.

Apart from the rules that relate to our own format and championships the rules of play are based mainly upon the U.S. Rules and Procedures, with four differences. The four are:

  1. 2.2. Time:  BIBA has just altered this rule to a maximum of three, 3 minute recesses per 11 point match. The previous rule allowing one 3 minute break per point was far too generous and time consuming.

  2. 2.3. Penalty Points:  Our penalty points start with the first one being awarded after being late for just 5 minutes. The U.S.A rule of starting after being late for 15 minutes simply encourages players to start playing 15 minutes after the official starting time.

  3. 3.1. Equipment:  BIBA now allows for the use of baffle boxes within the rules giving them equal status with precision dice.

  4. 4.6. Premature Action:  This is by far the biggest difference. Many years ago we adopted the ruling that all premature actions remain valid. Therefore, if your opponent rolls before you have completed your move you have the advantage of foresight and can alter your play accordingly. Since it's inception this ruling has resulted in hardly any contentions regarding premature actions, whereas prior to this ruling we had a lot of arguments about rolls being valid/invalid. I am surprised that the BIBA rule on premature actions hasn't been taken on by the rest of the backgammon world.

The purpose of this feature is to answer your questions on rules and tournament play etc. As this is the first article I have drawn examples from the BIBA newsletter, BIBAfax, to get the ball rolling.


Cocked Die on First Roll

Paul Orton queries a couple of points:

Q:  Please can you tell me how the rules stand if, on the opening throw of a game, one die lands on the wrong side of the board, or is cocked? Should both dice be thrown again, or just the dodgy one?

A:  Just the dodgy one. See rule 4.2 Valid Rolls.


Using Maximum Value of a Roll

Q:  I throw 6-3 with a blot on my 5-point, and two men on my two point, and my opponent has a man on the bar. (An unlikely situation, but you never know!). In the past I would have moved the blot 3, then off with the 6. However a recent opponent claimed that under the rules I am obliged to use as much of each throw as I can, therefore would have to take the 5 off, and leave a blot on the 2-point. What is the actual ruling on this?

A:  You are correct and I have no idea what rules your opponent was playing to! As long as you legally play the entire roll you can choose which die to move first. An exception to this is when you can move (for example) a 6 or a 3 but not both of them, you must then always move the higher die.


Handling the Doubling Cube

Roy Hollands raises an interesting — and disturbing — point about cube play.

Q:  At a recent NPBS tournament you told me that picking up the doubling cube, or even touching it, constituted a double. This bothered me and I checked the Monte Carlo rules and found it was not so. I even had a Monte Carlo ruling when I picked up the cube, put it to my opponent and then changed my mind: the arbiter said I could take it back.

I have just found your rules in BIBAfax 37 and they agree with the Monte Carlo ones. Quote, 'saying clearly "double" or words to that effect.' Thus if "double" is not yet said the opponent cannot claim the double is in effect.

Many players take up the cube and polish it ready for action. In an important match a player might quote you and insist on the double, thus creating an awkward situation for all concerned.

A:  The rules on Cube Handling 5.4, are partially as stated above, however they go a little further and state: 'Care should be exercised when handling the cube as either verbal or physical acts might be interpreted as cube actions by an opponent.' ... meaning that as soon as you make a move on the cube you are initiating a cube action and an opponent could say, 'drop' or 'take'.

You would then call me over and you'd have to explain your action regarding the cube. Why did you reach for it or pick it up etc.? One must be very careful when considering using the cube and I am very surprised at your being allowed to change your mind.

My advice, to keep things straightforward, is not to touch the cube unless you mean to use it. Polishing it is not an option! Players that seek an advantage by "testing the water" by reaching for or picking up the cube must be discouraged from doing so.


Forgetting to Put Hit Checker on the Bar

At the UK finals in December 1998, Brian Lever (Black) playing against John Clark (White) had to move a 3-3 in this position.

    Black to play 3-3.

Brian played his runner all the way round to his 6-point but didn't pick up the blot on the 9-point and place it on the bar. He thought that John would pick it up for him, and John didn't! John then rolled a 2-1 at which time Brian realised the mistake and said to John, "You are on the bar," to which John replied, "No I'm not, my man is on your 9-point." As you can imagine this caused a little friction and I was called in to adjudicate.

Upon learning the facts and actions leading to the contested 2-1 I pointed out to Brian that although the 3-3 could not possibly miss the blot it is not his opponent's job to move checkers during his turn; in fact Rule 4.3 Moving, clearly states that, "No player shall move any checkers during an opponent's turn," and this meant that John was under no obligation to place his own man upon the bar.

Clearly John was within his rights to accept the status quo and carry on with his 2-1 and make his open 2-point. However, John Clark is a sportsman not a gamesman and he agreed, with my full support, to accept Brian's mistake and to enter with this roll from the bar.

It is encouraging that players of such high calibre are sporting enough not to capitalise upon an opponent's error in these circumstances, John is to be commended for such behaviour. Brian's faith in assuming that John would place the checker on the bar for him is not that uncommon. We are all guilty of allowing our opponents to make a move for as and we are all guilty of moving them for our opponents.

Brendan Burgess (Irish Open organiser) has the perfect solution to stop an opponent from making a move for you, he calmly ignores his opponent's totally illegal move and goes on to play his own legal move! Within the rules his opponent doesn't have a leg to stand on — he shouldn't touch or move his opponents checkers at all during his opponent's turn. Listen and learn — Brendan's no fool!


Cube Actions in the Crawford Game

At a tournament in Brighton I had to make a ruling on the use of the doubling cube in the Crawford game. The match was to 3 points and the score was at 2 to 1. The player that had 1 point doubled and his opponent took and subsequently prior to his next roll, re-doubled to four. It was at this point it was noticed by the leading player that it was in fact the Crawford game.

The trailing player claimed it was a valid double and he knowingly took at Crawford condoning his opponent's mistake. I ruled that the doubling cube cannot be used in the Crawford and that in effect meant that the cube didn't exist. This ruling was questioned and I selected a committee of three top players and sought their opinions. After a little debate they all agreed with my decision. In a Crawford game the cube does not exist.

I also had to adjudicate on a premature roll, but this was an easy one as the rules [4.6 Premature Action] quite clearly state that premature rolls must stay. As I said earlier; I don't know why no other tournament circuit uses this easy ruling; since it has been in use by BIBA I have had hardly any problems at all.


Stopping the Clock on Illegal Moves

Brendan Burgess asked via a message posted to the newsgroup rec.games.backgammon regarding the use of clocks.

Q:  If my opponent makes an illegal move, I assume that I pause the clock to point it out. I can then decide whether or not I want him to correct the play. I will be using the paused time to think about my decision.

Last night, I made an illegal move and my opponent just restarted my clock and told me to play the move legally. Could I have claimed that by starting my clock he had condoned my move and then finished his move? If so, I could roll and play my next move.

A:  According to BIBA Clock Rules (and those used in the USA via Bill Davis), Rule 4.0, Stopping The Clock states, "(e) to contest an opponent's action or to summon the Director."

If you are contesting an action and it is under discussion then both clocks should be stopped and the discussion continued to a conclusion. However, if it is, as stated by Brendan, an illegal move, then Brendan's opponent didn't need to discuss it but simply ask Brendan to replay it legally, and in Brendan's time. You cannot pause the clock to think about an opponent's illegal play — this thinking about it is done in your time.

Brendan's opponent didn't condone the illegal play by starting Brendan's clock (thus 'ending' his own move) but exercised his right to have the move re-played.

As one of the busiest tournament directors in the world I am wholly for the use of clocks. They are a great tool to ensure the smooth running and timely ending of matches and tournaments.

At BIBA tournaments they are used as a 'persuader' inasmuch as I trawl the playing areas checking the scores at set times and issue warnings that if the points scored don't reach a certain level by my return (15 minutes later) then the remaining segment of the match will continue with clocks. I find that does the trick most of the time!


Turning Cube to Wrong Number

Steve Pickard sent me this one after spotting it on the World Wide Web.

Q:  As a tournament director/committee member, how would you rule in this situation? Black has just won a game, where white has the cube on 2. However both player's agree that during the game white first doubled to 2, black took, then later black redoubled.

White states that when black redoubled she did not actually turn the cube to 4, but placed it on the board with the 2 side showing — and so white accepted the cube with value 2 and black should get just 2 points from her win.

Black cannot recall whether she actually turned the cube to 2 or 4, but states that the intention of redoubling to 4 should be clear, and expects to be rewarded 4 points. Both agree that white did not mention that the cube was not turned to 4 until the end of the game.

Variant B: As above, but spectators can confirm that the redoubled cube was placed with the 2 side up (eliminating the possibility that white also cheated by turning a 4 cube back to a 2 cube himself).

Variant C: Black redoubles, and puts the cube on the table with the 2 side facing up. White calls the tournament director immediately to find out if he is allowed to take the cube at value 2.

A:  Interesting, but I don't see much of a problem here. The answer lies in this text:

"However both players agree that during the game white first doubled to 2, black took, then later black redoubled. White states that when black redoubled she did not actually turn the cube to 4, but placed it on the board with the 2 side showing — and so white accepted the cube with value 2 and black should get just 2 points from her win."

Not just Black, but White also agrees that White first doubled and White openly admits that when Black redoubled the cube wasn't turned to 4. White knowingly cheated in not pointing out this error, hoping to gain I know not what. It begs the question, had White won would they have claimed 4 points or 2? Methinks White would have argued strongly for the 4 points, don't you?

"Black cannot recall whether she actually turned the cube to 2 or 4, but states that the intention of redoubling to 4 should be clear, and expect to be rewarded 4 points. Both agree that white did not mention that the cube was not turned to 4 until the end of the game."

Again White admits he knew all along and failed to mention it. Gamesmanship, not sportsmanship (more here).

"Variant B: As above, but spectators can confirm that the redoubled cube was placed with the 2 side up (eliminating the possibility that white also cheated by turning a 4 cube back to a 2 cube himself)."

It was a redouble (both players and spectators agree) and therefore couldn't be on 2 anyway. Spectators, though not allowed to interfere in a game are allowed to bring such matters to the attention of the Tournament Director — who, when so informed can bring the mistake to the players attention.

"Variant C: Black redoubles, and puts the cube on the table with the 2 side facing up. White calls the tournament director immediately to find out if he is allowed to take the cube at value 2."

No! As both players admit, it's a redouble; it's a redouble — no argument. Imagine if the mistake was made handing over the cube at 64 instead of the 4! Would White seriously expect to win/lose 64 points?

Although both players where guilty of not applying or understanding the rules on cube handling wherein it states that, "Both players should ensure that the correct level is displayed," [These are not just BIBA rules but are international rules], in my opinion White was totally out of order with his argument.


Obligation to Play the Whole Roll

Q:  I was recently approached by a player who asked my opinion about the position below. He is Black and has to play 62. The position of the remaining White checkers isn't relevant but they were in a favourable position.

    Black to play 6-2.

He asked, "Am I allowed to play the 6 off and not play the 2?"

A:  The answer is, no! In backgammon you have to always move the entire roll if possible; therefore in this position he has to play 4/2, 6/0 leaving a blot on the 2-point — something he was anxious to avoid!

This question reminded me of an incident at the Mind Sports Olympiad 1999. A player came up to me and asked if he had to make all his move or just the part he could take? I asked to look at the board and asked him to explain his question in more depth. This was the position:

    Black to play 6-1.

He played 7/6 with the 1 and then picked up his dice claiming, "No sixes!" Great stuff if you can get away with it! I pointed out to him that in backgammon, if at all possible, you had to make a full, legal move; which in this case meant 7/1, 8/7 leaving the dreadful multiple hit.

I also explained that in a position where you are able to move either die but not both, the higher die must be moved. Look at the position here:

    White to play 6-3.

White was bearing off quite nicely when he got hit, he entered, and later he rolled another 1 and left these three, nightmare blots in his home table.

Now, White cant play all the move, he can move a 3 or he can move a 6; but not both. Ideally hed play the 3, not wanting Black to have shots at his home table blots hoping that Black misses him on the next roll (6s and 3s) thus leaving White great racing chances to win the point. Alas, the 6 has to be played, not the 3.

Remember, if at all possible the full roll must be played; and when either die can be moved but not both the higher one must be moved.


Misplacing Borne-Off Checker on the Bar

This little teaser happened during the SAC Trophy in August 2000. Both players are very experienced not only in tournament play but tournament rules as well. In the position below, white has to play 5-5.

    11-point Match.
White 9, Black 7.
White to play 5-5.

Black is anxious to save the gammon here as a two-point win for White gives him the match and White is out of the running. Black looks on as a great 5-5 is rolled but, as White begins to play, Black can't believe his eyes! White plays 6/1, 6/1 as you might expect, but then he takes two men from his 5-point and places them on the bar!

Black looks on, speechless; and White, after picking up his dice (move concluded), realises with horror his mistake. What would you do as Black in the position below?

    Black to roll.

White has made an illegal move and, according to Rule 4.8 Illegal Moves: "Upon drawing attention to an illegal move the player [Black in this instance] may condone it or demand that it be played legally."

So, what is Black to do? He knows that White just made a mistake, and White knows that within the rules his men must remain on the bar if Black accepts his illegal move. Black cannot afford to lose a gammon and this misplay gives him a great opportunity to not only avoid losing the match thus but he even has a chance of a gammon of his own. But, on the other hand he doesn't want to use the rules in his favour in such a manner.

Both players sit and debate the consequences and, without my involvement, come to a compromise. Black agrees to accept the illegal move but then doubles White prior to rolling his dice in the knowledge that White will, as agreed, drop the cube and give Black a much needed one point.

This sort of sportsmanship is what makes a top player: Interpreting the rules in a fair and proper manner. Rules aren't always black and white, they are often grey and this joint decision on how to resolve a very difficult situation was an example of just how grey they can be at times.

When I later learned of the above I was impressed that both players agreed on the solution without recourse to me. It saved me a difficult decision and ended a dispute without acrimony.

It might be a coincidence but both the players concerned were nominated for the BIBA Sportsmanship Trophy 2000, sponsored by Dod Davies, in the May issue of BIBAfax and, in August this year (2000) we will vote at the British Open to decide the Sportsmanship Trophy Winner — I only wish I had two votes to cast!

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