There's a Time to Run Fast — Gambling, but Succeeding
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, June 22, 1980
Russell Sands
25-year old Russell Sands won $100,000
defeating Wayne Drogseth in the finals.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The fourth Las Vegas Backgammon Tournament sponsored by American Backgammon Championships was completed here last weekend. The main attraction was the World Amateur Backgammon Championship for the Plimpton Cup. Russell Sands of Los Angeles won 11 straight matches to win the title and the $100,000 prize money. In the finals he defeated Wayne Drogseth of Las Vegas. Third place went to David Hoffner and fourth place to Michael Gilbert.

The open section, which drew a strong field of experts, was won by Michael Senkiewicz. Al Hodis was the losing finalist; Nick Mafeo and Nack Ballard were semifinalists. John Henderson defeated Steve Goldman to take the beginner section; Victoria Wheeless teamed up with Steve Zolotow to win the doubles event.

The diagrammed position occurred in the last game of the 19-point amateur final between Sands (Black) and Drogseth (White). Sands had built up a 17–7 lead in the match and so needed only two more points to win the title. In an attempt to catch up, Drogseth had doubled early and Sands had accepted. Sands realized that he had an obligation to protect his match lead as well as to try to win the game. Indeed, the general strategy for the match leader is to play cautiously and avoid taking chances that may result in losing a gammon (double game).

Black to play 4-3.
With the roll of 4-3, the play that seems natural is 13/6, safely bringing the spare man on the mid-point down to the 6-point. By maintaining an anchor in White’s home board (on the 22-point) Black can never be closed out, and so need not fear losing a double game.

Sands, however, rejected the conservative move and correctly played 22/15, breaking off his anchor and leaving two men exposed. This risk was justified both tactically and positionally.

(a) 13/6
(b) 22/15
Tactically, this was the opportune time to run because of White’s two home-board blots (on the 23- and 24-points). If White hits, he will probably be forced to leave several of his own men exposed to dangerous return shots. In a “blot hitting contest,” Black will be at an advantage because he has a much stronger home board.

Positionally, the play is necessary because Black is “out-timed.” If Black plays 13/6, he will almost immediately be left without constructive plays. In fact, if Black persists in clinging to the 22-point, his position will quickly deteriorate. In the meantime White’s position will improve as White covers his home-board blots and brings another builder down from the 12-point.

In the actual game, White next rolled a 5-3 and played 17/22*, 19/22, hitting Black and making the 22-point. Black reentered immediately on the 23-point, hitting White back. The game took several twists and turns, but Black eventually won.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 19
White 7, Black 17
Black owns 2-cube
Black rolls 4-3

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

4-3: Game BG   Equity
1 13/6 W
−0.2543 x  (a)
2 22/15 W
−0.2728 (0.0185)  (b)

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