Chrystal Beaver Finals
Kit Woosley, 2002
GammOnLine, April 2002
The tournament in Chicago last month was a lot of fun. In addition to the usual events there were some out of the ordinary side events which added to the spice of the tournament.

The highlight of the tournament (for me at least) was the Crystal Beaver event (so named because the trophy is a very nice crystal beaver), the equivalant of the master's event in other tournaments. I was fortunate enough to reach the finals where I played Frank Talbot, a very strong player. The 11-point match was virtually decided in the second game of the match, which I have annotated. Thanks to Sam Pottle, a GammOnLine member, for transcribing the match.

Woolsey leads 2–0 in the 11-point match.

Kit Woolsey (Black) Frank Talbot (White)
1. 6-1: 13/7, 8/7 3-1: 8/5, 6/5

Black to play 4-3.

2. 4-3: 24/21, 13/9

The natural reaction to Frank making his five point. This is normally better than bringing the builders down with 13/10, 13/9 because the opponent is not well-placed to attack having spent most of his builders making the five point. Since 13/10, 13/9 strips the midpoint as well, that makes my split very clear.

2. . . . 6-2: 24/16*

Black to play 6-1.

3. 6-1: bar/24, 13/7

Bar/18 is also reasonable, but that would expose me to several double-hitting rolls. Since I can use the six to bring a checker to a good place as a spare on my bar point I think it is best to do so. The downside is the stripping of the midpoint, but I believe I can live with that.

Should White double?

3. . . . Double

This looks a bit premature to me. Frank has the better position, but I have a decent game. All my men are in play. I have my bar point. I'm not far behind in the race. He has only a two-point board at present. He still has one checker back, and another checker floating around in the outfield. I am threatening to make an advanced anchor. He is short on attack material. There just aren't that many devestating threats.

4. Take

A trivial take, for the previously mentioned reasons. I didn't have to think about this one at all.

White to play 2-2.

4. . . . 2-2: 13/9, 6/4*(2)

This roll justifies his double, that's for sure. I think he may have played it a bit too big. The builder on the nine point is nice, but he doesn't have much cover material ready. If I hit something, bad things could start happening. Either 13/11(2), 6/4(2)* which stablizes his position by making the 11 point, or 16/14, 13/11, 6/4(2)* which cuts down on return shots and brings the outfield checker into striking range of key outer board point, look better to me. My preference is 16/14, 13/11, 6/4(2)*.

Black to play 2-1.

5. 2-1: bar/23, 24/23

I am quite confident about this play. Good things seem to happen when you hold the enemy two point, even if the timing for a two-point game is somewhat suspect. As long as Frank's bar point is open, I don't have to worry about being hemmed in. bar/22 tries for more, but risks having those two back checkers stuck on Frank's ace point.

White to play 4-1.

5. . . . 4-1: 16/11

This was a surprising error by Frank, and one which may have cost him the match. The main reason for slotting the nine point last turn was to make it, and he should do just that, probably with 16/15 13/9. His play has the following disadvantages:

1) Two blots instead of one. When things start to go bad, you don't want extra blots floating around. Granted this doesn't appear to be a danger position, but you never know what will happen.

2) My hits are much better for me. If he makes the nine point I will have to break my midpoint in order to hit, and my back checkers will be isolated from the rest of my army. After his play, if I hit one of the indirect shots I will be hitting with a back checker and holding my midpoint, which is what I want.

3) The nine point remains unmade. That is probably the biggest downside of all to his play. The nine point is the fifth part of his prime, and could be very valuable if I get a checker onto his three point in the future. Yes, I probably won't hit one of the indirect shots, and yes he probably will be able to make the nine point next turn if I miss, but these are only probables. Locking up the nine point now is a sure thing.

The only gain from his play is that it leaves me fewer shot numbers. However, I do hit with 6-2, 6-4, 5-2, and 5-4 for 8 numbers, while after 16/15, 13/9 I have only 13 hitters. Thus, his play isn't that much safer. Making the nine point is clearly superior.

Black to play 3-2.

6. 3-2: 7/4, 6/4

The five point is better than the four point, but not when making it involves breaking the eight point and leaving the ugly stack of five checkers on the six point. Making the four point is clearly correct.

White to play 5-1.

6. . . . 5-1: 24/23, 11/6

Once again, I think Frank is overplaying the position. He loses a lot if I hit the indirect shot, while not gaining that much from leaving the checker on the nine point since he still hasn't made it yet. In addition, he can definitely use a spare on his eight point. I believe he should have played 11/6, 9/8.

7. 6-2: 24/16* 6-1: bar/24, 13/7

Black to play 3-2.

8. 3-2: 16/11

I considered hitting loose on the ace point in order to keep him busy, but that seemed way too big a play. He has the bigger inner board, and I don't want to get involved now. Even if he rolls the six to make his bar point I still have enough maneuvering room to stand a good chance in a priming battle, and if he doesn't roll that six I am in fine shape. I don't need to get desperate.

White to play 3-2.

8. . . . 3-2: 24/22, 7/4

This looks about right. Leaving the blot on the bar point is too risky with his back checkers split. Moving up to my five point is coming under the gun of too many builders. The advance to my three point is just about right — he can escape with a six, but he isn't in too much danger of being attacked.

Black to play 5-1.

9. 5-1: 8/3*/2*

Blitzing hadn't been my game plan, but you gotta play what the dice tell you to play. Nothing else makes any sense at all. The attack has some chance to succeed.

9. . . . 5-4: bar/20

Black to play 4-4.

10. 4-4: 13/5*(2)

Making the five point is real big. If he doesn't hit now, I really have something going. Even if he does hit, my position now has some serious teeth.

10. . . . 4-2: bar/23*

Black to play 4-3.

11. 4-3: bar/22, 6/2*

I must keep attacking. If Frank flunks I will have a big advantage, and if he enters only one checker without hitting I will be in very good shape.

11. . . . 4-3: bar/22

Should Black
redouble to 4?

12. Double

What's going on? Is it a redouble? A take? A pass? Help!

It might look scary, but it would be hard to imagine that this isn't a take. I have plenty of gammon potential, but there is also a lot of room for a turnaround. I currently have only a three-point board, and while I will probably be able to make the fourth inner board point I will have to roll perfectly to both hit and cover. Frank has only one checker on the bar right now, and he is threatening to anchor. Most important, Frank has a very strong offense with three of my checkers somewhat trapped.

Given time I will probably be able to extricate these checkers, but I will have to to everything at once. My first priority for the next few rolls will be the blitz. Only when I have both of Frank's checkers on the bar against at least a four-point board can I afford to start worrying about my back men. If Frank ever anchors or hits a shot, my attack will come to a screeching halt and he will be the favorite.

To top everything else off, I am ahead in the match and we are talking about a redouble. My 2-0 lead might not look like much, but when it comes to potential 8-games the difference in cube action between being ahead 2-0 and behind 2-0 can be huge. This position is very gammonish for both sides, so we could easily see 8 or even 16 points flying here. Frank will have tremendous recube leverage due to the match score and the double-edged nature of the position. He might even be able to redouble as an underdog if the gammon potential gets high enough. That match score does make a difference. Frank should have an easy take here.

So, how about the double? I have the advantage. I have some serious threats. Certainly if I hit and cover and Frank flunks or some favorable sequence like that, I can lose my market by quite a bit. Just about anything I roll will do something good. But is it enough?

At the time, I thought that it was. My general reaction to this sort of position with an advantage and a clear blitz threat is to double first and ask questions later. Sometimes these positions are a lot stronger than they seem. Or it may not be so strong, but an opponent may panic and pass. I have seen passes of huge takes and takes of huge passes when blitzes are involved. I have made my fair share of big errors in this type of position. Even the best of players may misevaluate a blitz badly. I thought the take was pretty clear, but it wouldn't have shocked me to see Frank pass the double.

As it turns out, I should not have doubled. There were several factors about the position which I didn't fully appreciate at the time.

1) I am redoubling, not making an initial double. This makes quite a difference in this sort of position where cube ownership is very valuable. Things can go badly quite easily, and I will be a ton better off if I own the cube than if Frank does. This is the type of position which if things go Frank's way he is quite likely to ease into a very efficient recube. He will generally make progress slowly but surely, and can time his recube at exactly the right moment.

2) The match score. I didn't give that full consideration. A huge part of my advantage is my gammon threat. With the cube at 4 this is just about overkill, since that will get me to 10-0. To make matters worse, if Frank gets to a hit or get gammoned situation he can send the cube to 8 and risk almost nothing, while the downside swing for me if he does hit is large. Also, if things start to go Frank's way he can arrange to send a very mean 8-cube over at the right moment, and not only would the 8 (or 16) points mean a lot more to him than to me but my potential recube vig would be virtually non-existent. I would be better off leaving the cube sit at 2 on my side of the board until I had some idea what was going on. My instincts are to double with an advantage if the position is very volatile because of the danger of losing my market, but here I gave away too much.

3) My threats aren't as great as they might seem. Sure, I figure to cover the blot on the two point next turn, but then it is Frank's roll. If he anchors with a three, he becomes immediate favorite. He owns the outfield, the race is close, and my position is disjointed with three checkers stuck behind his partial blockade. Even if he enters with an ace, I have problems. I am sort of committed to continue the blitz since otherwise the timing will go his way, but if I make one false move and get hit my position will collapse instantly. I have only 12 checkers to work with, one of which is not yet in range, so my chances of carrying out the blitz aren't as great as they may seem.

4) My three back checkers are a big liability. I hadn't realized just how much danger they were in. My thinking was that I could escape one checker with fours, fives, and sixes, so there shouldn't be too much of a problem escaping. That would be true if my board were complete and I had two of Frank's checkers stuck on the bar against my five-point board. The problem is that I'm not there yet, and I will have to spend my next couple of rolls worrying about my offense rather than escaping. This may leave me out of time. I have to do everything at once, and that may not prove to be an easy task. Also, my two checkers on the 23 point may get stuck there for quite a while even if the checker on the 22 point escapes, and that could be a problem down the road.

The combination of these factors is sufficient to make my redouble a serious blunder, assuming that Frank takes the redouble. If he makes a mistake and passes, then of course the redouble is a big winner regardless of theory. This could happen. However, I was far enough away from a proper redouble that it definitely wasn't worth the risk. Simply a bad evaluation. It is an easy position so mis-assess, and I might well make a similar sort of error again.

12. . . . Take

The good news was that he thought about it quite a bit. The bad news was that he took the redouble. I don't really know if he was close to passing or if this was simply the obligatory triple check just to make sure before you grab a 4-cube which will likely determine the match. My guess is that it was the latter, and there was no real chance that Frank would pass.

13. 5-1: 8/3*/2 6-1: bar/24

Black to play 6-4.

14. 6-4: 11/1*

Hitting loose on the ace point is a must. I don't dare give Frank a chance to anchor and play a positional game, since he is stronger than I am in that area. My advantage is my bigger inner board, and I must go for the blitz. The question was whether I should remake my bar point or spring the checker from the 22 point.

At the time, my thinking went along the following lines: Moving a checker from the 22 point out to the defensive bar point isn't too important. I will still have fours, fives, and sixes to escape, and I figure to have time to roll one of these. Playing 11/7 makes the bar point, which will be important if Frank enters with an ace — I will like having the checker hemmed in. Also, my play brings one more checker into range of both the ace point and the three point, and every bit of ammunition helps in a blitz.

This reasoning may look sound, but it is superficial. There are two major considerations which I failed to take into account:

1) The argument about owning the bar point for blocking purposes if Frank should enter with an ace is largly fallacious. Blocking White's back checkers is not the game plan. White has those three men on the midpoint, while I have nobody in the outfield. I'm not going to win this game by winning a priming battle. My game plan is hit, cover, escape, and run home, and that plan isn't going to be changed.

2) Suppose Frank does roll an ace. Now what? If his other checker is still on the bar I have a small respite, but I must make the most of it. My attack will have pretty much run out of steam. With four checkers back, I will have to concentrate on escaping rather than attacking. I can't afford to let my army be divided into two. This means that it will be vital for me to advance my anchor to Frank's bar point. If I can secure this anchor, I will still have a playable game despite my failed blitz. However, if Frank enters his other checker and I have not anchored on his bar point, my position is likely to fall apart. Thus, the key reason for playing 22/18, 7/1* isn't so much to escape a checker (although that doesn't hurt), but to start the defensive bar point while I still have time to make it.

In addition, of course, there may be the problem of escaping. If Frank flunks I cover with fives and sixes, so my good numbers are duplicated. That plus the above mentioned factors are sufficient to make my play an error. I should have played 22/18, 7/1*.

14. . . . 6-3: bar/22

Black to play 6-4.

15. 6-4: 7/3*, 7/1

Hitting is an absolute must. The back checkers have to wait. I cannot afford to give Frank a chance to get his checkers off the bar. This illustrates the difficulties involved with my position in general. As it turned out my play last turn worked well and for one of the reasons I made the play — it brought another checker into the firing range. But that was just lucky. It was still the wrong play.

15. . . . 5-1: --

Black to play 6-5.

16. 6-5: 23/18, 22/16

Whew! Out into the outfield finally. Getting two checkers out is much better than bringing one checker closer to my home board with 22/11. Getting stuck with two checkers on the 23 point could be disastrous.

16. . . . 2-1: --
17. 6-3: 16/10, 6/3

Black to play 5-3.

18. 5-3: 23/15

Diversification is the main thing now. I have to get by these last stumbling blocks without having an accident, and by putting my checkers on different points this minimizes the chances of an accident.

18. . . .

Black to play 6-4.

19. 6-4: 18/14, 15/9

This looks like the natural play. Good diversification, and the back checker is only blocked on deuces. The checkers on the nine and ten points are well-placed to land where I want them in the future.

19. . . .

Black to play 2-1.

20. 2-1: 9/6

The best play for the future is 14/11, which diversifies perfectly and permits me to bear in optimally with almost any roll. The problem with this play is that it leaves a shot if I roll 6-6 next turn. I would not mess up my flexibility just to guard against boxes, but if I can make a reasonably flexibile play which is also safe then that is probably better. My actualy play is safe, and it is also flexible. The checker on the six point can be moved or left there depending on my next roll, and my bearin should be smooth.

20. . . .
21. 6-6: 14/2, 10/4, 6/off
22. 4-3: 6/3, 6/2 5-3: --
23. 6-6: 5/off(2), 4/off(2)

Should White
redouble to 8?

With an almost certain gammon staring him in the face if he doesn't hit this shot, Frank can think about making a desperation redouble. It is not the correct action. The reason is that even with his best scenario (he hits and I flunk), I would still have an easy take. I have five checkers off already, and he has a long way to go before completing his prime. Since he cannot lose his market, there is no possible gain in redoubling now. It is better to be behind 10-0 than to lose the match. If there were potential market loss if he hit the shot, then it might well be correct to redouble to 8.

23. . . . 5-5: bar/15(2)
24. 4-2: 4/off, 2/off 6-3: 15/6
25. 3-2: 3/off, 2/off 4-4: 15/11, 13/9(3)
26. 5-3: 3/off(2) 4-4: 9/5(3), 8/4
27. 5-1: 2/off, 1/off 5-2: 11/6, 8/6

8 points

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