This article originally appeared in the June 2000 issue of GammOnLine.|
Thank you to Kit Woolsey for his kind permission to reproduce it here.
| Once upon a time, back in the days when stories began "once upon a
time..." the world spun at a leisurely pace, news traveled by stage and
steamship, and annotated matches appeared in multi-volume sets ala
CHAMPIONSHIP BACKGAMMON (part 1 of a proposed 8). That was then. This
is now! In today's high speed, MTV world, computer viruses infect the
globe in hours, news flashes come to us in updates - why there isn't
even time to finish a senten...
See? So who has time to read a whole match? Fortunately I have a solution. Some matches manage to pack all their action into a few rolls, so that scanning them is like gulping a coffee and getting all the caffeine with none of the grounds. One such was played between Hugh Sconyers and me at the Twin Championships at the Desert Inn, Las Vegas. Our match came in the 3rd, qualifying round for the International Cup. As we look in I am leading 8-7 to 11, and must play 4-1.
Jake leads Hugh Sconyers 8-7 to 11, and has a 4-1 to play.
Hitting with the ace is easy. It is tempting to take advantage of the hit by stepping up to the 20-point, but I chose to make my 9-point. My reasons are threefold. First, I want to contain Hugh, and building a prime that happens to be a source of builders for my inner board does a good job of that. Second, while escaping is a priority, the next order of business may well be to clear the midpoint, so my play gets that out of the way. Finally, I am not eager to initiate an exchange of hits on the point Hugh most wants. Snowie agrees with my play, though it is mute about its reasoning. Perhaps the 9-point is just lucky for it.
Hugh enters with 5-3, and slots his bar. He has his own interesting choice here. He wants the 5-point, but that creates another blot. However, the new blot goes to a better point. Unstacking the 8-point is slightly better. I roll 2-1, and hit. Should I lift or come down?
I hope all of you are rooting for coming down. Putting three men on my 3-point isn't my style, and it isn't right either. Sometimes though, blots get hit. Hugh rolls 4-1, and while covering his bar is a real play, it doesn't take him long to dismiss it. Hits are so usually right that one needs a much better reason than a cheesy prime to forego them.
Of course a tricky score might be just the reason. One of the things Hugh is praying for is a chance to double me in a volatile, gammonish position. That is the key to winning at such scores, and I sense an itchy Texas finger hovering near the trigger. Still, making the anchor on Hugh's 3-point is awfully passive when I own the better board. As I said, it is usually wrong not to hit, so...
What do you think sports fans, is this a cube? Snowie says no. Hugh is a slight favorite, and wins plenty of gammons. He also loses a lot of gammons (over 40% of my wins!), which is nearly as important. So, why isn't it a double? I think it must be because he doesn't have enough real knockouts. Even when he hits I have so much counter play that he is better off waiting and perhaps losing his market.
His 6-1 is more love tap than knockout. He hits me on his ace, and I reply with a 5-2. Would you anchor and bring in the spare from the 11-point, or play bar/20, 8/6? Anchoring still leaves two blots, and the deuce is simply the wrong anchor. I come in on Hugh's 5-point, and lift my outside blot. Hugh keeps after me with 5-3, covering and hitting, then I roll 4-3.
Another interesting choice. The three is forced. Now, should I come out, cover, or hit? Coming out does very little, so forget that. Making the 5-point looks pretty, and it IS an asset we will need for the rest of the game. However, the hit is once again right. It wins more games and more gammons, and loses fewer gammons as well. It also works quite well, as Hugh fans. A few rolls later...
When I make a mistake, it's a whopper! The right play here is to clear the 6-point. I have an aversion to such plays, but this time it must be right. I have six men to bring home. Four are in place as builders (if I clear my six) and the other two are halfway out the opponent's door. Instead, I play 11/6, 11/10, the pure play. As in: purely wrong! Fortunately, Hugh's dice expect better of me and disdain the vital ace. I now roll a real caffeine-rush, high-velocity 5-5, closing him out, and gammoning him for the match. Unfortunately I am quickly eliminated from the playoffs. Instead of the International Cup, I must settle for one more coffee cup.