This article originally appeared in the December 2002 issue of GammOnLine.|
Thank you to Kit Woolsey for his kind permission to reproduce it here.
The 2002 Pro-Am was as tough an event as you will ever find. 21 pairs,
each of which had at least one top player. There were no soft spots.
My partner was Donald Kahn. We first played in the Pro-Am in 1997, and came in second, losing in the finals on a very exciting 16-cube. Donald hasn't been playing much in the last few years due to health problems, but he is fine now and was eager to play.
Our first match was against Mike Senkeiwicz and Wayne McClintock. It was a seesaw battle all the way. We were behind as much as 12-9 in the 17-point match, but from there we got a hot streak and never looked back. Here are several interesting positions from the match.
Do we have anything? We have a four-point board to their three points, a small racing lead, and a direct shot in the oufield. On the other hand we are short on ammunition for a blitz, and we have three back checkers which need to escape. Is it a double? Is it a take?
It looked like a pretty clear take to me. However, it seemed that if we hit the outfield checker and they flunked that we would lose our market by a fair amount. This was enough to convince us to double. They gave it some thought, and much to my surprise passed! This is a good example of how important it is to double these sorts of threatening positions. You never know what the other guy will do. Maybe he will pass. And maybe he should pass! In fact, a short Snowie rollout had the cubeless equity at .570, which is likely a pass at the match score since their recube vig is somewhat diminished. I think what is happening is that the game is just very difficult for White to win. The six checkers on the midpoint and the complete lack of flexibility makes it hard for him to do anything. Also we have very good diversification, with non-hitting numbers to make the enemy five point. Very interesting. I know that I would have taken from their side.
In the next game they took our initial cube, and the game slowly turned around. We had our defensive anchors, so they waited as long as they could, reaching the above position. What's going on?
It looks as though our timing is just about shot. However, that is somewhat of an illusion. The key is that White has to roll first, and whatever he rolls will either leave a shot, clear the eight point, or give him a very stripped position. In any event we will probably be able to run with one of the checkers on White's five point and have a sound game, with good shot-hitting potential and not too much gammon danger. White leaves a shot immdiately with 6-1 and 6-4, and some of his other rolls aren't too pretty. In addition, the match score is a big plus for taking. We will get hefty leverage if and when we redouble to eight. This is one of those positions where a common scenario is we hit the shot, and then have to bring some wood around to the point where we can afford to redouble. Since we can use the 8 (or 16) points more than White can, and once we redouble we virtually don't have to worry about a gammon or a recube to 16, this means that we will be able to shove that cube over far sooner than we could for money or at an even match score. That makes a big difference. Frankly, I wasn't even convinced that it wasn't a money take, which had to make it a big take at the match score. I was not at all disappointed that they had redoubled.
My assessment was quite correct. A rollout has their cubeless equity at only .494, making it a very clear money take. While this would be a fine redouble for money, at the match score the rollout indicates that the redouble is premature. Of course if they felt that there was some chance that we would pass, then the redouble might be okay.
In a couple of rolls we did get our shot, hit it, and after a little skirmish we arrived at the following position:
Well, this looks exactly like the scenario I was talking about earlier. Now what's going on? Clearly we are favorites, but we have some work to do. We definitely have market losers. Making the two point is a big one, and just escaping one of the back checkers and having White flunk would be a hefty improvement. On the other hand, we have some potentially very ugly numbers. White could easily be the favorite after the next exchange if we roll badly and/or he enters immediately.
For money, this couldn't possibly be a redouble. The bad scenarios are downright frightening, and the good scenarios don't necessarily lead to a claim. This would not be a good time to release the cube -- it could be coming back in some very nasty positions.
At this match score, it is another story. We don't have to worry about the recube. We can take virtually anything, since the alternative would be to play from behind 15-4 which is very grim. We also don't have to worry about being gammoned. In fact, if we redouble to 8 we can then play the position more aggressively than normal since getting gammoned almost doesn't matter but winning a gammon would be quite nice. All things considered it has to be right to redouble to 8. This is exactly the opportunity we were looking for when we took the 4-cube.
What about from their side? For money it would be a trivial take, of course. At the match score, it might not be. They would be looking at a virtually dead cube, and gammons could only go against them. Granted this position isn't very gammonish for either side, but it could always happen. In addition, while they can use all eight points we can use them more. They have a difficult decision.
At the table, they chose to pass. A rollout has our side winning 68.9% of the time, with few gammons for either side. The money equity from the rollout is .394. Armed with that information (which may not be completely accurate since the play of the rollout may not be sufficiently aggressive on our side), you can decide for yourself whether they made the right decision or not. I'm inclined to think they did, even though Snowie's evaluation of the rollout gives them a small take.
We got the jump in the next game, and arrived at the above position. What's happening? The position has a lot of similarities to the standard 6-4 (run), 5-5 (make two inner board points), flunk. This has been established to be a very sound take, although a double is still quite correct. Is this position stronger or weaker for us? White's structure is almost like the prototype position, with the moderate improvement of having brought one checker from the midpoint to the eight point. In our favor we have three more checkers in the attacking zone than there are in the prototype position. Against that we have lost our midpoint and have three checkers back instead of two.
Builders in the attack zone is usually the most important factor, so the double has to be right. What about the take? They took without much hesitation due to the plus factors in their favor. However, that may have been wrong. The rollout has our cubeless equity at .623. Of course this is a high gammon position, which means that they will have a take at worse equity than if the gammon threat was low. The reason for this is that they will win more often (in order to compensate for the large gammon percentage), which means they will get even more value out of cube ownership. In fact, the rollout has them winning 34.1% of the time cubeless, so with the help of the recube they will win substantially more often than that. Still, -.623 cubeless equity is a lot. Quite likely they should have passed.
The blitz was going along just fine for us, until:
You guessed it -- they rolled 4-4 from the bar, and we flunked. Now what in the world is going on? This position is far from any reference position you will ever see. We have our powerful five-point board, so it is very dangerous for them to hit loose. Also we are currently quite a bit ahead in the race, although that situation is likely to be remedied. However, we are definitely favorites to wind up with an anchor, probably an anchor on their five point. Unfortunately they will probably be able to scoop up both of our outfield blots, and then they will have complete outfield control. Still we do have that five-point board, and that is worth a lot. They can't afford to take any risks at all for quite a while, and if they make one flase step they will be in big trouble. The match score is close, but we are a point ahead and talking about a big cube. If it gets to where we are considering redoubling to eight they will be able to take just a bit more aggressively because they are behind in the match, which means our redouble will have to be just a big slower.
Personally, I thought it was a take. However my partner felt otherwise, and he was pretty strong about it. I wasn't familiar enough with this type of position to be confident in my decision, so I agreed to go along with him and pass the double. To my surprise, the rollout indicates that he may well have been right. Our cubeless equity was -.583. If we had full recube vig that would be good enough for a take, since there is some gammon threat here. However, we don't quite have full recube vig, and that may be enough to swing it to a pass.
Usually races lead to simple cube decisions. When it is question of pips vs. smoothness and men off, however, even the best of players can be way off base. What is going on in the above position? We are on roll a full 15 pips ahead, but otherwise our structure is awful. We are behind three crossovers, we have three checkers on our ace point, and we may be missing due to having only one checker on each of our four and five points. Their structure is as perfect as can be. Still, 15 pips is 15 pips, and they are going to be missing a lot. It just had to be a double. Is it a take? How often will they win? Not often enough, it turns out. They only win this game 20%, which isn't sufficient. They did take, and this was the start of our comeback.
Our quarterfinal match was against Leo Fernandez and Jose Salema. We started badly, falling behind 18-8 Crawford in the 19-point match. We then made a comeback, surviving a couple of scares (including needing 4-4 or better on the last roll of the 18-9 game to win and rolling boxes), and got to the following:
Not a bad comeback at all from behind 18-8. We had reached a position where we were clearly more likely to win a gammon than to lose the game, which meant that we were actually favorites in the match!
But it was not to be. We rolled 6-4, and played 10/0. This isn't the safest overall play, but it is certainly best. Our gammon chances go up a lot if we can complete the closout, and if we are hit at least our opponents will have to hop our four-prime. They did hit, we flunked four times in a row as they escaped, and that was that.
There was one game which was responsible for most of our deficit. Click here to read an annotated account of this game.