Long Shot Pays Off, Despite Great Odds
Paul Magriel, 1978
New York Times, June 15, 1978
Hugh Sconyers
Hugh Sconyers
The California Open Backgammon Championships, under the direction of Sidney Jackson and George Bassman, took place this month in Los Angeles. A special feature of this event, which drew 422 players, was a “double elimination” format that enabled competitors who had lost a round to remain in contention.

In the finals, Hugh Sconyers overcame George Zehler to take first place. Sconyers, considered one of the West Coast’s best players has a fine tournament record. Recently he became owner of the Cavendish West club in Los Angeles, the major center of backgammon activity in the area.

Other results: Manny Delos and Mike Corbett placed third and fourth. Bill Arkin took the consolation flight, and Jim Gibbs won the last-chance competition. In the intermediate section, Dayril Marcus was the victor, and Russell Young triumphed in the beginners’ group.

The diagrammed position illustrates a key position in the last game of the closely contested 25-point final match between Sconyers and Zehler. Zehler had lost one round; Sconyers had lost none. This meant that, according to the double elimination rules, if Sconyers lost this match the two would have to meet again for yet a second bout.

The score was now 23–22, Sconyers. In the diagram, Zehler (White) has already doubled and is now in a favorable position — he has only one man left (on the 5-point) to bring home.

Black to play 2-1.
With the roll of 2-1, Sconyers (Black) had to make a critical decision. He could simply play the conservative 13/10, leaving no men for White to hit. However, Sconyers realized that this play, while safe would allow White to escape with his back man too easily.

Instead, Sconyers decided to make an aggressive but highly risky play in an attempt to contain White. He correctly played 6/5*, 10/8, hitting White “loose” on the 5-point and splitting the men on the 10-point.

(a) 13/10
(b) 6/5*, 10/8
Sconyers was aware of how dangerous this move was; it left White a double direct shot from the bar. Considering White’s strong home board and the three additional blots in Black’s outfield, Black is in jeopardy of being gammoned should White reenter. (With two points open, White is actually a slight favorite to come in.) If, on the other hand, White fails to reenter, Black will have a good opportunity to cover his 5-point and turn the game around.

In the actual game, White came back with a devastating shot. He rolled a 4-1 and played bar/1*/5*, reentering on the 1-point and hitting a second man on the 5-point.

Nevertheless, there was a hidden benefit for Black in this seemingly disastrous sequence, a benefit Sconyers had anticipated. Being hit gave him the timing he needed for his fallback plan — playing for a last-minute shot from the 24-point.

The fallback strategy worked out. During the bearoff, White was forced to leave a man exposed, and Black hit it. Because Black had managed to keep his home board intact, he succeeded in closing White out. Sconyers easily won the game to take the match, 25–22.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 25
White 22, Black 23
Black owns 2-cube
Black rolls 2-1

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

2-1: Game BG   Equity
1 13/11, 6/5* W
−0.5969 x 
2 10/8, 6/5* W
−0.6140 (0.0171)  (b)
3 6/5*/3 W
−0.6905 (0.0936) 
6 13/10 W
−0.8567 (0.2598)  (a)

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