Timing of Escape Can Be Crucial
Paul Magriel, 1977
New York Times, July 28, 1977
Monte Carlo Casino Philip Morris’s European Backgammon Championship, the year’s largest international competition, was held in Monte Carlo July 5–10, under the auspices of the Socièté des Bains de Mer. Hundreds of players converged at the opulent Monte Carlo casino, lured by the challenge, the prestige and the unequaled prize money — more than $270,000.

The purse attracted players from some three dozen countries. They included the world’s finest strategists and lesser-known competitors hoping for a timely streak of luck. There were also those players simply enjoying the high season at Monte Carlo — tennis, sun, gambling and black-tie galas.

By the third day of play the field had been reduced to 16 players, with the most highly touted favorites eliminated. Much attention was focused on the match between two of the best remaining players, Maurice Elghanian, an Iranian oil man, and Malcolm Davis, a Texas insurance consultant. Both players had earned reputations as tough competitors. Elghanian was the 1975 European champion. Davis had barely missed victory as runner-up in two major tournaments in the last year. This time he was determined to gain the title.

Davis jumped off to an early 10–0 lead in the 21-point match, but Elghanian persevered and tied the score, 16–16. Elghanian pressed on, gave Davis an early double in the next game and gammoned him for a 20–16 lead. Now, with Elghanian at match point, Davis was under pressure.

Black to play 6-1.

The diagrammed position is taken from this game, with Davis (Black) having just rolled a 6-1. Black is in a favorable position, because Elghanian (White) has two men trapped on Black’s 3-point behind a broken 5-point prime. Black’s two back men, behind a 4-point prime, are less seriously trapped.

Black has to decide whether to leap out immediately with a 6 from the 21-point or to wait and play 8/1. Coming out now may seem dangerous, because Black is subject to attack. However, before dismissing this play, Black must consider the alternative. In particular, he must examine the position in the context of “timing”; in other words, how the position will naturally develop.

(a) 21/15, 5/4
(b) 8/1
If Black waits, his position will progressively deteriorate, with his prime breaking. Simultaneously, White’s position will continue to improve every roll: White will cover his blot on the 22-point and bring down builders from the mid-point. Thus, a later exit will be even more precarious for Black.

For this reason, Black (Davis) correctly chose not to delay, but to come out immediately by playing 21/15, 5/4. Unfortunately, Davis was not rewarded for his analysis of the timing. Elghanian immediately rolled his best possible number, double 3’s, which not only hit both of Black’s blots but also closed the 21- and 22-points. Elghanian’s luck continued. He succeeded in closing Davis out and escaping from Davis’s prime to win the game and the match.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 21
White 20, Black 16
Black rolls 6-1

1296 games with VR
Checker play: 2-ply
Cube play: 3-ply Red

6-1: Game BG   Equity
1 21/14 W
+0.0968 x 
2 8/2, 5/4 W
+0.0760 (0.0208) 
3 8/1 W
+0.0677 (0.0291)  (b)
4 21/15, 5/4 W
+0.0667 (0.0301)  (a)

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