This article originally appeared in the November 2001 issue of GammOnLine.|
Thank you to Kit Woolsey for his kind permission to reproduce it here.
The three positions discussed here all arose in matches on Gamesgrid
with GGraccoon. However, his comments on how he would follow up after
the various options are only my conjectures as to what he would do or
recommend if those rolls were to occur.
I'm surprised the fearsome backgammon rodent-robot, GGraccoon, has agreed to an interview with me, given that I'm well-known to be a somewhat of a "bot-disser". People in the newsroom speculate that perhaps the critter is merely curious, but I think he has consented to this interview because he's tired of the abuse he gets both during games and at the various newsgroups for his sometimes surprising plays and "no-concept" cube decisions at certain scores. His interpreter hasn't detected any of this from me (hey, it's not my fault it can't correct for typos) so I get the story...and here it is!
I drive the garage's rusty old loaner car carefully up the narrow, rutted path through the woods to The Lair, the dark and brooding abode of the evil GGraccoon. My own car is in the shop for an oil change, which is just as well since driving a car with a nice paint job through these dense thornbushes might be, to coin a phrase, "anti-thematic". After many twists and turns, the path ends at the creature's grapevine-covered castle, rumored to have been paid for by his backgammon winnings from the hapless humanoids of Gamesgrid.
The black wrought-iron fence has a repeating fish motif, and in the gate's center is a laurel wreath circumscribing the initials "GGr". A solemn butler opens the door at The Lair, and silently ushers me into a formal parlor. An Oriental rug with a dice-and-points pattern covers most of the parquet floor, and the room's soaring ceiling is topped with oil paintings, accented with gold leaf, of happy forest animals engrossed in chouettes. GGraccoon is reviewing a stack of position cards with the help of a notebook computer that seems incongruous, almost anachronistic, amidst the baronial mahogany and ancient tapestries that surround him. On his bookshelves are several rows of backgammon books dating from the 1920s onward, and in a display case I see some scrolls I recognize as Middle Eastern in origin, of an antiquity that I cannot even conjecture.
The redoubtable Raccoon has more experience points than Caligula, and I can see evidence that his frantic lifestyle has begun to take its toll. His fur is graying around his ears and even the edges of his mask, and a certain weariness is evident in his jaded eyes. Even his carefully tailored black suit cannot totally camouflage the price he's paying for a few too many cans of sardines in olive oil.
"What can I do for you?" he asks. "Ask me anything you want, as long as you never mention the word 'luck'. I don't think much about luck, and I get more tired than you can imagine of people complaining when I get my share of the jokers."
He offers me a glass of rainwater, and some peanut butter and lettuce with slices of apple alongside.
"Cox's orange pippin," he informs me. "A bit out of favor now with most of you humans, but still preferred by those with discriminating taste. Like this play, for instance:
GGraccoon Interview Problem 1.
Most humans would figure that when they're outboarded, have a blot, and are still competitive in the race, it's not the time to lead with their chin. Accordingly, they'd play bar/23, 6/3, and how does your saying go... 'await developments'. I, on the other hand, play this one bar/20."
"I guess that works pretty well if you aren't hit," I venture.
"Against a good player, I fully expect to be hit. For example, I'm sure you'd play a 63 correctly here, 20/14, 8/5*, but can you see how a weaker player might go horribly astray with this roll?"
"Someone who places excessive value on the opponent's five point might use the 3 to make the anchor, then play 9/3 or 8/2 with the 6," I suggest.
"Oh, it can get even worse!" he laughs. "Players really scared of my joker-rolling ability might even consider 8/2, 9/6! People can't make blunders that catastrophic after the other play, unless perhaps they misclick with the mouse."
"Well, you do have a certain reputation for..." I stop in midsentence as I notice his fur bristling and his manicured claws clutching the pile of position cards in a way that suggests he might be about to throw them somewhere.
"...uh, yeah, that would be a pretty bad play," I conclude lamely. "And trying to draw errors is a good idea, of course."
"I'm glad you've come this far without mentioning that word I've come to despise. I see you brought some position cards with you. Let me take a look at one of them."
I slide the top card from my stack to him across the gleaming wood table top. He frowns at it for a moment:
GGraccoon Interview Problem 2.
"OK, I may have overplayed this," he admits. "You can see you have two things you'd like to do here. You want to keep the five-prime if you can, but you'd also like to stay split in the back so you have more ways to get out from behind that broken five-prime he's got. I thought I was pretty clever, finding the only play that allowed me to do both, and that's why I played 6/3."
"My own choice is to keep the five-prime and play 22/21, 6/4," I tell him. "But I can't argue too strongly against 8/6, 8/7, which stays split and at least keeps a four-prime. A JellyFish rollout I did made those two plays very close, but your play is .05-.06 behind them."
"Yes, sometimes we can't get everything we want, at least not all at once," he concedes. "And quite frankly, I'm surprised any of you humanoids figured this play out, given the way you frantically 'multi-task' now, never slowing down to think or even breathe. You say you 'work smarter, not harder', but I think what you people need to do instead is work-and live-a little wiser! Well, let me get down from my soapbox here, and let's get back to BG."
"That's probably good advice," I agree, glancing at my pager and checking to be sure my cell phone is still in a service area.
"This is amazing. Nobody else has ever come this far without using that ugly and misleading word I hate so much! Let's move on to my cube strategy, which I see so many people condemn without trying to understand, another bad habit of you supposedly more advanced life forms. I see that next card you brought shows a typical example of my cube strategy at 4-away, 2-away:
GGraccoon Interview Problem 3.
I gotta tell you, it's a terrible thing to lose your market at this score if you have any 'gammon juice' to speak of. When both players roll a 42 to start, the gammon percentage for each is at least in double digits, don't you think?"
"Well, yeah," I temporized, not sure where this was leading. "I've already rolled this one out 1440 times with JellyFish 3.0 Level 6, and found that the player on roll gets 0.9 percent backgammons, 14.8 percent plain gammons, and wins a total of 52.8 percent of the games. His opponent gets 0.5 backgammons and 13.1 plain gammons from his 47.2 percent of the games. The roller's money equity is +.079."
"That's consistent with my evaluation," the coon nods. "So surely you can see the benefit of doubling here at this score! You negate your opponent's gammons while jacking up the value of your own even beyond the equity gain you'd get for money, since they now will win the match for you. Also, you force him to take before you roll a bodacious double that, after an anemic response, might draw a pass."
He paused, a slightly threatening look in his black eyes, as if he expected me to say something implying he seems to get such sequences more often than chance predicts.
"I'm not saying the double is optimal," he qualifies. "But it does increase my match equity by 5.7 percent over the never-double case, using your KW-HH match equity table. That doesn't prove this is the best time to double, of course, since I might get an even better opportunity later, but for me, there's no time like right now."
"Hmmm," I frown, looking over the numbers once again. "Do you gain even more than this difference of 5.7 percent if you wait? I'm not sure, and I'm also not confident I can measure this 'opportunity cost' effectively, especially over the board. But still, this double seems awfully early, at least in anything but automatic or optional doubling situations."
"Well, you have to at least agree I have reasons for my cube strategy. I hope you'll tell people to stop referring to it as 'no-concept'."
My cell phone rings, a jarring note in an otherwise cordial interview. It's the auto repair shop, telling me I need an entire new exhaust system!
"Just my luck," I mumble.
GGraccoon rises up, infuriated, to his full height of three feet, four inches.
"I told you never to say that forbidden word!" he thunders. "Guards! Guards! Remove this insolent human from my chambers at once!"
The next thing I know, I'm picking myself up from the gravel walkway between The Lair and its carriage house. Fortunately the interview tape is intact, and I had already put the three position cards in my pocket. Despite this bad ending, I hope he will eventually cool off, even if his dice don't...oops, I said it again...and agree to a follow-up interview at some later date. He seems to have no hard feelings, since he still plays matches with me on Gamesgrid whenever I invite him. For the time being, however, he has reverted to his former stony silence.
Copyright 2001 by Mary Hickey