When Ignominious Gammon Might Have been Prevented
Paul Magriel, 1979
New York Times, February 22, 1979
Pebble Beach PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The Black and White Classic backgammon tournament took place in Pebble Beach last weekend. This special invitational event, limited to 100 players, was won by Aram Kouleyan of Los Angeles. In defeating Hassan Ehsan 21–12 in the finals, Kouleyan repeated his 1975 performance by taking top honors in this annual compeition.

In other sections: William Boyd defeated Lloyd Rennell to win the consolation; Roger Lapham upset Dennis Carlston in the last chance; Karen Barney bested Thomas Redmond in the intermediate.

In the diagrammed position, one of the players (Black) has already been doubled and found himself in an unenviable position. He had a single man trapped back on the 24-point behind White’s solid six-point prime. As long as White keeps his prime intact, Black’s back man can never escape. Because Black saw little hope of winning, he played carelessly and unthinkingly.

Black to play 6-4.
With the roll of 6-4, Black hastily made his 2-point by playing 6/2, 8/2. Although defeat was almost inevitable, the disastrous conclusion of the game was a direct result of Black’s mistake on this play.

Black failed to realize that he was in jeopardy of losing a double game (or gammon). To minimize his loss he must recognize the danger and strive to avoid it — before it is too late. Unfortunately Black is powerless to prevent White from attacking his lone man on the 24-point. In fact, White may soon make the 24-point, closing Black out, and preventing him from moving. With one man closed out, Black’s chances of being gammoned depend critically on how far away from home his remaining men in the outfield are.

(a) 6/2, 8/2
(b) 15/9, 15/11
The correct play is 15/9, 15/11, giving up the 15-point and attempting to bring these last men home. Black cannot afford to delay. Because Black’s forward progress may be stopped by White at any time, it is essential that he use his entire roll to move his outfield men. By making the 2-point, Black wasted valuable pips inside his home board.

In the actual game, White next rolled 3-3 and played 18/24(2), closing Black out. Black’s men were now frozen in position and he was unable to roll until White had already borne off several men. When Black eventually reentered, he struggled frantically to bring his men home before White completed his bearoff. His effort to save the gammon, however, just missed, so he lost four points instead of two.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
Black owns 2-cube
Black rolls 6-4

2592 games with VR
Checker play: 2-ply
Cube play: 3-ply Red

6-4: Game BG   Equity
1 15/11, 15/9 W
−0.9666 x  (b)
2 8/2, 6/2 W
−0.9767 (0.0101)  (a)
3 8/4, 8/2 W
−1.0164 (0.0498) 

Previous Column
February 15, 1979
Next Column
March 1, 1979

Main page for Magriel's NYT Columns

Index to the Columns

More articles by Paul Magriel

Backgammon Galore : Articles