This article originally appeared in the April 2000 issue of GammOnLine.|
Thank you to Kit Woolsey for his kind permission to reproduce it here.
The annual Pro-Am tournament is a unique event. It is a doubles tournament,
where the teams are supposed to consist of one Professional and one Amateur.
For some teams this was the case, but many teams were basically two good
players who chose to team up. Anyway, these days it is often difficult to
distinguish between the pros and the amateurs. It is a consulting
event, knockout play with long matches. With the high entry fee of
$12,000 per team, you could count on some quality competition.
My partner was Ken Arnold, founder of the popular GamesGrid backgammon server. There were 20 teams entered, so 8 teams had to play an extra match to get down to 16 teams. We volunteered to be one of the 8 teams for half the entry fee. We drew the team of Jim Pasko and John Rockwell. Things didn't go too well, and we arrived at:
This wouldn't be much of a double at at an even match score. At the actual match score, however, turning the cube looks quite reasonable. We do have real gammon threats if things go well. Also, it will be difficult for them to ever redouble. We could take and send it back to 8 with as little as 6% winning chances, since that would be our match equity behind 16 to 9.
They survived the blitz, and the game went their way. Eventually we got to this interesting position.
What's going on? Should they redouble? If they do, should we take?
Actually, it would be quite clear for us to take. We might get a shot next roll, and even if the get the outfield checker home safely we could still get a shot when they try to clear the five point.
Should they double? Suppose they come down to two checkers on the five point. What are our winning chances then? They leave a shot on six numbers (6-1, 5-1, and 4-1), and we hit almost 1/3 of those. If we hit we will be very big favorites. This means that our winning chances will be on the order of 5%, so in this likely favorable scenario they won't lose their market by much. Add it that they have some gammon chances, and it is quite clear that they should not redouble. They didn't, rolled big doubles, and we scrambled of the gammon by a roll.
In the Crawford game we faced this interesting decision:
Since we had an even number of points to go and would be doubling on the opening roll every following game, gammons are more valuable to us than usual. We could virtually lock up the game by just rolling the prime forward, but our best chance to win a gammon is to go all out after the second checker by hitting with the six. Is it worth it? At the time we thought so, but now I'm not so sure. Giving up the bar point does risk an almost certain win. For us to get a gammon White has to hit and not be able to move the checker on the three point, then we have to hit back, then we have to close out both checkers, and after all this our gammon chances are only on the order of 50%. Quite a parlay, and probably not worth playing for. After hitting loose we scrambled a lot, eventually winning the game but not getting the gammon. The next game was theirs, and we were history.
Here was one of the most interesting decisions I have seen. It was faced by Paul Magriel and Steve Zolotov who were playing Jake Jacobs and Perry Gartner.
If Paul and Steve hit with the 2-1, they will clearly be able to claim with the cube on the 16 rolls where their opponents fan. If White hits back, however, they are in serious danger of losing an undoubled gammon and the match. If they play safe they will be a fair amount behind in the race, but it is far from an insurmountable lead. Their opponents will have some cube leverage in the race, but due to the match score it won't be as great as it would be at an even match score. When watching at the table, I thought they should play safe. It didn't seem right to risk losing everything when they had reasonable chances in the race. In fact they did hit, got hit back, and lost a gammon and the match. Were they right in theory? Not clear -- depends a lot on what assumptions you make.
For those of us who were ousted from the tournament, there were $2000 jackpots every day. I had the misfortune to run into Mike Senkowicz, and may have cost myself the match by this careless play:
What could be simpler that taking two men off, right? I want as many men off as possible, and I don't want to leave an extra blot in my board. Careful analysis shows that my play was quite wrong. What happens after Senk runs with one checker and I roll an ace. Instead of being able to play safe, I am forced to leave a double shot and two blots for a coup classique variant. Also if I roll big number with a two I have to leave a second blot. I gain from my play when I roll two numbers greater than a two, but the swing on rolling an ace clearly more than compensates for this.
I was duly punished, of course. I rolled a 6-2, Senk hit, and eventually he was able to pick up the second checker and close both checkers out. We came down to this interesting position:
Should White redouble? Should Blue take? Blue has 22 pips to go, so he is a slight favorite to get off in 3 rolls it seems. White misses immediately with a two, and might miss next turn depending on what he rolls now. It looks like Blue has a take, particularly since he can send over a hefty redouble to 8 if White misses. However, it is still quite correct for White to redouble. He is a solid favorite, and will lose his market by a ton if he rolls well. The match score should not deter him from taking the correct cube action. In practice it went redouble-take, but I lost the game and the match.
The finals pitted Mads Andersen and Juan Bizzarro against Howard Markowitz and Alex Barsel. The following position late in the match was a true test of nerves.
White is on roll, holding a 2-cube with each side needing six points. What's going on. Is it good enough? Too good? If doubled, should Blue take?
For starters it has to be a double. White is the favorite, and if he rolls a six he will lose his market by a mile. Obviously it isn't too good, since if White doesn't escape and Blue enters we have a new favorite.
What about the take? It is scary, but I believe Blue has to take. The winning chances if Blue enters before White escapes are just too good. Even if Blue doesn't enter for a while, White still has to get out eventually or he board will crunch. And if White does escape, Blue retains some latent winning chances. It is true there is serious gammon danger if the second blot is picked up, but for now sixes are duplicated. Also White only needs six points to go, so there is some overage on the gammon. In addition, Blue will have the potential for some juicy redoubles to 8 if things go their way. In pracice, Howard and Alex chose to pass.
A couple of games later, the following position was reached:
I think Blue has a pretty strong position. White has those two checkers out of play, and Blue has all the time in the world to maneuver. Since White is ahead 4 away, 3 away White will have limited recube potential, and of course getting gammoned and losing the match will hang over White's head. Personally I would have let it go. Mads and Juan proved me wrong, as they took and turned the game around to eventually win the match.
Thanks to the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino for hosting this fine event, and to Howard Markowitz and his staff for an excellent directing job. I hope to see the Pro-Am tournament continue.