Barring Door May Be Risky; Open Portal May Be Worse
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, February 10, 1980
Michael Valentine playing Tim Holland in 1977
Michael Valentine (right) playing
Tim Holland in 1977
The second annual Turnberry Isle Gold Cup of Backgammon, sponsored by Black and White Scotch, took place last weekend in Miami. Several dozen of Europe’s best players participated in this event, which was held concurrently with the World Team Championship.

Michael Valentine of New Jersey captured first place in the Championship division. In the finals, Valentine defeated Joe Dwek of London, the European champion and pretournament favorite. Blackwell Williams overcame Wayne McClintock in the consolation and J.P. McManus bested Barclay Cooke to win the last chance.

In the Open division, Erik Seidel triumphed over Robert Crawford for top honors; Jim Painter took first place in the Junion divison. The World Team Championship was won by the New York team of Gino Scalamandre, Mike Carson and Katie Wright. In the last round, they overwhelmed a strong team from London, consisting of Joe Dwek, Richard Olsen, and Bobby Lorenz.

The 25-point finals match was a prolonged struggle that lasted more than 30 games. Dwek took an early lead and held it until near the end of the match, when Valentine spurted ahead 23–21. Dwek then struck back with three quick one-point games to recapture the lead, 24–23. With Dwek only one point from victory, a special tournament convention, the Crawford Rule, was now in effect. This prohibited Valentine from using the doubling cube in the next game. Even without the cube, however, Valentine could still finish the match in one game if he won a gammon (or double game).

Black to play 3-2.
The spectators as well as the players were understandably tense when the diagrammed position was reached. White (Dwek) had been hit and was struggling to reenter Black’s strong home board. If Black (Valentine) is able to make his 5-point and so close White out, then White (with six more men still in the outfield) will be in serious jeopardy of losing a gammon.
(a) 24/22, 18/15

With the roll of 3-2, Black must decide what to do with his five spare men scattered around the board. He considered safetying at least one of them on the 6-point with 8/6, 18/15 (or 9/6, 24/22), but decided instead to play 24/22, 18/15. He felt that if White came in immediately, Black would be in trouble no matter what he did, so he decided to play on the assumption that White would stay out.

His reasoning was correct, but he should have carried it one step further. The correct play is 8/5, 18/16, boldly slotting (leaving a man exposed) on the 5-point. Now, if White stays out, Black will have many ways (15 chances out of 36) to complete the 5-point and so end White’s chances.

(b) 8/5, 18/16

Black needs to make the 5-point to assure his victory. The direct approach, slotting it, is the only satisfactory way to secure it. This play may seem unduly risky, but waiting incurs an even greater risk: without slotting, it will be extremely difficult and time-consuming to make the point, and the danger that White will come in later and win will accumulate.

In the actual game, however, luck was on Black’s side. White failed to reenter next turn. Black then threw the perfect number, 4-3 — the only combination (2 chances out of 36) that enabled him to make the 5-point. He bore off safely and easily gammoned White for the match.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 25
White 24, Black 23
Black rolls 3-2

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

3-2: Game BG   Equity
1 18/16, 8/5 W
+0.7820 x  (b)
2 24/22, 8/5 W
+0.7554 (0.0266) 
3 24/22, 18/15 W
+0.5997 (0.1823)  (a)

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