All-Out Gamble May Pay Off — But Try It Only in a Crisis
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, April 20, 1980
Kumar Motakhausses
Kumar Motakhasses
AMSTERDAM — Last weekend the Dutch backgammon championship was held here in Amsterdam. This event is the third in a series of five tournaments to determine the 1980 Merit European Champion. The winner was Luigi Cavazzi of Italy. Klaus Buchholz took second place; Hans-Jurgen Bud-Monheim and Charles Kehela were semifinalists. In the consolation, Manfred Kohrs defeated Robert Abbas, and in the last chance Hermes Michaledes overcame Kumar Motakhasses.

The “last chance” is a separate event on the final day of the tournament for all those knocked out of the main event and the consolation. Because the matches are shorter (5 points as opposed to 15 in the main event) luck usually plays a larger role. Nevertheless skill can turn a seemingly hopeless match situation into a victory. Kumar Motakhasses, former European champion, demonstrated such skill in one of his last-chance matches.

The diagrammed position occurred in the deciding game of the match, with the score tied 4–4. Motakhasses (Black) appears to have almost no chance of winning. There is no way for him to extricate his back man (on the 24-point) from behind White’s full 6-prime (from the 23- through the 18-point).

Black to play 6-1.
Thus it is futile to attack White by playing, for example, 9/3*, 4/3. Even if Black were able to close White out completely he would lose because he could not escape White’s prime. Eventually Black would be forced to break his home board and allow White to reenter.
(a) 7/1, 2/1

When trapped behind a full prime, the way to create counterplay is to hold a prime yourself with which in turn to trap the opponent. With this in mind, Black might consider 7/1, 2/1 in order to maintain a 4-in-a-row prime (from the 6-point to the 9-point).

Unfortunately, the hope that White will get stuck behind this prime is completely unrealistic. Black has no spare men to play with, so his prime will begin to break immediately. White, on the other hand, has a valuable spare man on the 12-point that he can move until he gets away from Black’s home board.

Motakhasses, however, refused to admit defeat. Instead, he found an extraordinary way to create winning opportunities. He played 9/3*, 6/5, hitting White and breaking his 6 point. This leaves Black exposed to a quadruple direct shot as White reenters! Although it appears suicidal, this play actually gives Black his only opportunity to win.

(b) 9/3*, 6/5

Black’s idea is to force White to hit him. In fact, Black hopes White will hit more than one man. Black then needs to reenter with a 1 to secure the 24-point and so prevent White from closing him out. By holding the 24-point (White’s 1-point) Black establishes a “1-point game.”

There is now an excellent chance that White will be forced to leave a shot later in the game, during his bearoff. If Black has not destroyed his home board by then, a lucky hit will allow Black to win. In the actual game Motakhasses won a brilliant victory when this sequence of events took place.

Note that this kind of desperation-maneuver, playing for a well-timed 1-point game, can be quite effective in match play. It is rarely seen in ordinary play because it enormously increases the chance of losing a gammon, a double game.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 5
White 4, Black 4
Black rolls 6-1

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

6-1: Game BG   Equity
1 7/1, 2/1 W
−0.8623 x  (a)
2 9/3*, 7/6 W
−0.8690 (0.0067) 
3 9/3*, 6/5 W
−0.8715 (0.0092)  (b)

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