The Open was a double-elimination tournament and Jeremy Bagai won the winners bracket. In the losers bracket, Steve Sax struggled through many rounds to meet Jeremy in the finals. Steve would have to win two straight matches to win the tournament. He breezed through the first match, winning almost every game. The second match was much tighter. I thought this was the most interesting and certainly the pivotal game of the match.
Steve Sax leads 6–5 in the match to 13.
|Steve Sax (Black)||Jeremy Bagai (White)|
|1.||6-1: 13/7, 8/7|
|2.||4-1: 24/23, 13/9||5-1: 24/23, 13/8|
|3.||6-4: 8/2*, 6/2|
||White to play 5-3.|
|3.||. . .||5-3: bar/20, 24/21|
Several possibilities here. Bar/20, 13/10 is not one of them. That play would strip the midpoint and expose a key checker in the outer board while Jeremy is weak on the defensive front. Jeremy's play is okay, but he exposes himself to a potentially dangerous attack. It would not be my choice. I prefer the quieter bar/22, 13/8, which doesn't give Steve all that much to do. Also possible is the tempo hit with bar/22, 6/1*, but I don't believe the need for the diversion justifies putting a checker out of play right now.
||Black to play 2-1.|
|4.||2-1: 6/5*, 6/4*|
Clear. Steve must not let Jeremy get an advanced anchor. If Steve survives this play, he may have a strong cube coming.
|4.||. . .||4-3: bar/22, bar/21*|
|5.||5-1: bar/20, 5/4*|
||White to play 4-2.|
|5.||. . .||4-2: bar/21*, 7/5*|
It's this or the quieter bar/21*, 22/20. Attacking when the opponent has the stronger board and breaking the bar point in the bargain is scary. On the other hand, this is a golden opportunity for Jeremy to get something going if Steve rolls badly from the bar. I have no idea which play is right, but I'm pretty sure I would have made Jeremy's play.
||Should White double?|
|6.||. . .||Double|
What's going on here? Does Jeremy really have anything? Obviously he has the initiative and is likely to make his five point next turn. On the other hand, Steve has an anchor and will probably emerge with a solid defense. Jeremy has only one inner board point right now, so he has little chance of completing an attack. Jeremy's distribution is somewhat ragged with five checkers on the six point. Of course, Jeremy has that other outfield blot to shoot at, and he will probably pick it up before the smoke clears. He has a big racing lead, and he is likely to retain the advantage for quite a while.
So what does it all mean? One thing is for sure — it means that Jeremy must double. This is not an easy position to evaluate. Maybe it actually is a pass. Maybe Steve will think it is a pass. Who knows what mistake your opponent might make if you fling the cube over in a position such as this. Even if doubling is wrong, it can't be wrong by much — Jeremy has a solid advantage and the initiative. Not doubling, however, could prove to be a very costly blunder.
Actually, Steve's position is a lot worse than it may appear. It is true that he is quite likely to establish a decent defense, and will probably wind up with some kind of playable holding game or back game. His main problem is those checkers on the offensive two point. If it were a question of surviving a blot-hitting contest, owning the two point would be fine. However, Steve is likely to be facing a solid four-prime before long, and he will be involved in a positional battle. If we winds up playing a backgame, the two point is too deep for an offensive point. Steve will have to eventually hit and contain a checker, and he needs a prime to do that. He will have few checkers to work with, and having two of these checkers out of play will hurt him down the road. While I'm sure I would have taken at the table as Steve did, it is quite likely that he is supposed to pass this double.
||White to play 6-1.|
|7.||. . .||6-1: 22/16*, 6/5|
The bar point will be there for Jeremy to make next roll since Steve has two checkers on the bar. If Jeremy makes the bar point, the blot on Steve's nine point might not stay put. The hit looks best. At this point, Jeremy isn't worried about Steve playing a backgame. In fact, Jeremy wants to make sure that Steve has to play a backgame if he can.
||White to play 5-3.|
|8.||. . .||5-3: 16/11, 7/4*|
Continuing the attack is a must. Jeremy has to fight for his four point. Steve has two checkers on the bar, so this loose hit is pretty safe.
|9.||4-2: bar/23, bar/21*|
||White to play 6-1.|
|9.||. . .||6-1: bar/24, 11/5|
Bar/24, 21/15 is okay also. Jeremy's play may be a bit cramped, but it does put a builder where it belongs and if Steve doesn't make the anchor Jeremy has a chance to renew his attack.
|10.||2-1: 24/21||3-2: 6/3, 5/3|
||White to play 5-2.|
|11.||. . .||5-2: bar/20, 13/11|
This doesn't feel right to me. Jeremy is leaving another blot strewn around, as well as stripping his midpoint. The gain from the extra builder doesn't seem to compensate. I prefer bar/20, 24/22.
|12.||4-2: 23/21, 13/9|
||White to play 6-1.|
|12.||. . .||6-1: 13/7, 8/7|
Jeremy is continuing with his plan of emphasizing his blockade. I'm not so sure this is right. The bar point will be nice if everything goes Jeremy's way, but that might not happen. Jeremy is losing control of the outfield and leaving blots strewn around which Steve would love to hit. Steve has three checkers on his midpoint and a spare on the 21 point, so he is not going to be feeling threatened as far as timing goes for quite some time. I think Jeremy would be better off to reinforce his outfield control with 20/13.
||White to play 6-5.|
|13.||. . .||6-5: bar/20, 24/18|
Hopping out into the outfield has to be right. Now that Jeremy has locked up the anchor on Steve's five point, he doesn't care if his back checker gets battered around. As long as he can hold his position he should be okay. If he plays bar/20, 11/5 and is unable to spring the back checker quickly, something will have to give.
|14.||5-3: 12/7*, 9/6|
||White to play 3-2.|
|14.||. . .||3-2: bar/22, 20/18*|
Who's afraid of the big bad backgame? Not Jeremy. He is happy to send more checkers back, increasing his gammon chances considerably while hurting his winning chances only a little. I like this approach.
||White to play 5-4.|
|15.||. . .||5-4: 18/9*|
Hitting this checker has to be right on all counts. That checker represents a lot of free pips for Steve to move. If Steve is unable to get the checker up and out into the outfield quickly, something will have to give.
|16.||5-3: --||6-5: 20/9|
|17.||6-5: --||4-2: 22/16|
|18.||6-1: bar/24, 13/7|
||White to play 5-5.|
|18.||. . .||5-5: 16/1*, 6/1|
Steve has done well in the timing battle. He cleverly flunked twice against Jeremy's three-point board, and this roll establishes his timing. Jeremy could try the recirculation theme with 16/1* 11/6, but I think he is better off making the ace point and just trying to barrel home.
|19.||6-3: --||6-4: 9/5, 9/3|
|20.||4-4: bar/21, 13/9, 13/5||6-6: 11/5, 7/1(2)|
|21.||6-5: 21/10||5-4: 8/3, 5/1|
|22.||5-4: 21/17*, 10/5||6-5: --|
redouble to 4?
What about that cube? Steve clearly has a solid advantage. His checkers are well placed. Combinations of threes, fours, and sixes make the three point. Twos make the bar point. In addition, Jeremy's six point is stripped, and he has only one spare on the five point. This means that if Jeremy enters and isn't able to escape immediately his board will crumble. Steve certainly has big market losers. Making the three point or having Jeremy break his six point will certainly be a big market loss. Even if Steve merely makes his bar point and Jeremy enters with an ace will be a good market loss. The threats are there.
Another important point: Is it so clear that Steve hasn't already lost his market? Does Jeremy have a take now? Just as important, will Jeremy think he has a take whether or not he actually has one? The answers to these questions are not trivial. Even if this turns out to be a huge take, it would not surprise me if some very competent players passed. Everybody is uncomfortable with a stripped position such as Jeremy has which can easily fall apart with one bad roll. This is a pretty strong argument for turning the cube.
What about the match score? Steve is ahead 7 away, 8 away, which argues for a bit more conservatism when it comes to recubes. However, the nature of the position is such that cube ownership may not be as valuable to Jeremy as in normall would be. If things go well for Jeremy they will likely go well very suddenly — in fact, he might hit a shot and be on his way towards winning a gammon if he isn't hit. Steve will always have his two-point game at worst. Thus, while the match score should slow Steve up a bit on the recube, I don't think it should slow him up too much. I think he should put the pressure on. Jeremy probably has a take, but it isn't totally clear. We'll never know what he actually would have done when faced with a pressure four-cube.
|23.||2-1: 17/16, 9/7||4-3: bar/22, 5/1|
redouble to 4?
Jeremy entered with a three, which was good for him, but he was forced to spend his last builder on the five point. A lot could happen on the next exchange. Steve might roll a three and hit loose. Jeremy might fail to escape and be forced to crack his board. Or Jeremy might get away. The volatility is quite high. Once again, I think Steve is supposed to send the cube over. The big market loss potential is still there. Maybe Jeremy will take, but maybe he won't. We will never know if the cube isn't turned.
|24.||5-1: 21/15||6-2: 22/16, 3/1|
redouble to 4?
Once again Steve can eye the cube. This time I think he is correct to hold off. Jeremy's take is too easy, and if Steve misses the shot he will be facing a nasty 8-cube if Jeremy can survive the next roll and get his back checker closer to home. Steve has plenty of market-losers, of course. Any hit will be a market loss unless Jeremy finds a great response. However, the downside when Steve misses is too great.
||Black to play 4-1.|
|25.||4-1: 16/15, 7/3|
The proper technique. Steve is going to need his three point, so he might as well slot it now. Even though his shot is likely to come immediately if it comes at all, slotting is still correct. He might get lucky and hit and cover, and if he merely hits it only hurts for a little while — if Jeremy doesn't hit back Steve will be glad he had slotted the three point.
|25.||. . .||3-1: 16/12|
||Black to play 6-1.|
It is important for Steve to keep his board in one piece. After he hits his hoped-for shot, he will need to contain the hit checker. If he holds the 15 point and plays 7/1 with the six, his board is a potential wreck. Even if Jeremy hits, that may not be too bad. And, of course, not all Jeremy's twos will hit — look at 6-2.
|26.||. . .||6-2: 12/6, 3/1|
|27.||5-4: 15/11, 8/3|
||White to play 6-3.|
|27.||. . .||6-3: 6/3, 6/off|
This leaves one more shot number than 6/off, 3/off, but the resulting position is far easier to clean up. If Jeremy plays 6/off, 3/off, he would be hard-pressed to find a roll which didn't leave a shot next turn.
|28.||5-3: 11/6, 7/4||6-2: 6/off, 3/1|
||Black to play 4-2.|
|29.||4-2: 23/21, 6/2|
Steve has an interesting problem. His best play to get off the gammon while retaining decent shot-hitting chances is 23/17, but this will get him at best a single shot. His actual play gives him a potential double-shot if Jeremy rolls an ace, but it is more gammon-prone. A third alternative is to hold the anchor. Now if Jeremy rolls 6-3, 5-3, or 4-3, Steve will not only get a double-shot but he will be shooting at two blots. This play will lead to more outright wins, but will also get gammoned a bit more often. The big question is whether or not Steve will need to pick up that second blot.
The key factor is the cube. Let's suppose Steve plays 23/21, 6/2 as he did, Jeremy leaves a shot, and Steve hits it. Unless Jeremy rolls the miracle 1-6 from the bar, Steve will have a very powerful recube. Jeremy will have only two or three checkers off, and Steve will be a big favorite to complete the closeout before Jeremy can escape. It looks like Jeremy will have to pass the redouble, or at best would have a very slim take. Given that, Steve doesn't need to get a second checker. I think this cube consideration makes his play correct. If he had to play the game to conclusion, holding the anchor would be superior.
|29.||. . .||4-2: 5/3, 5/1|
|30.||3-1: 21/17||4-3: 3/off(2)|
||Black to play 5-3.|
Should Steve stay back with that back checker. If he does, Jeremy won't be able to take four men off with double-aces. On the other hand, if Jeremy rolls 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 5-1, or 6-1 he can hit and take a checker off, and Steve loses two potentially crucial pips. I believe Steve is correct to run.
Note the difference if Jeremy has an odd number of checkers on the ace point. Suppose Steve stays, and Jeremy rolls 6-1. If Jeremy hits he only gets to take one checker off, which would cost him a full roll. Therefore, the only ace Jeremy would hit with is 2-1, so staying back to save a roll if Jeremy rolls 1-1 would be correct.
|31.||. . .||6-1: 3/off, 1/off|
|32.||2-2: 17/11, 15/13||2-1: 1/off(2)|
|33.||4-2: 13/7||6-3: 1/off(2)|
||Black to play 1-1.|
|34.||1-1: 11/9, 7/6, 2/1|
Of course Steve is careful to slot the ace point. Now any roll except 2-1 gets him off. If he had carelessly played 11/8, 7/6, he would not get off with 3-1, 4-1, 5-1, or 6-1.
|34.||. . .||5-4: 1/off(2)|
|35.||5-1: 9/4, 1/off|| |
So Jeremy took over the lead, and went on to win the match. But what would have happened if Steve had redoubled at one of those critical junctures? Would Jeremy have taken, shipped it back to eight at some point, and made this the last game of the match? Or would Jeremy have passed, giving Steve an 8–5 lead instead of his actual 6–7 deficit? We'll never know.