Ray’s Instant Replays: Cracking The Re-Whip in San Jose

Instant replays enhance sports viewing immeasurably. They are also now used to determine the right call by game officials at crucial moments of a contest. I think I can expand my horizons a little here and apply that concept to Backgammon Tournaments. Smart phones, live streaming, and recording stations proliferate the scene nowadays. As a result, specific plays can be highlighted and discussed. This will be my purpose here.

With such an endless supply of material available to us the USBGF wants to be on the leading edge of the backgammon information age with this blog. April Kennedy is a talented promoter and has become the Social Media Director for the USBGF, under the direction and influence of Karen Davis. They approached me with this idea as I have written a few articles for Prime Time magazine and have the most experience playing on the American Backgammon Tour over the last 25 years. Writing comes easily to me but I have never done a blog except to post occasionally at Stick Rice’s BG Online which remains a great source of real time backgammon information. I envision a process where I can log on and share pertinent positions, ideas and problems I have recently encountered over the board. Perhaps even between matches at a tournament. Maybe there will be an opportunity for Questions and Answers too.
As one of the most active players on the ABT, I can serve as your guide through the many maze like situations you will face playing matches. I might be able to bring obscure concepts into clearer focus for you or shine a light on those that you were not aware of. The possibilities are intriguing to me and I hope to gain knowledge and understanding myself while sharing it with you. We can all learn together and maybe a certain synergy will develop in the process.

The upcoming fall issue of Prime Time magazine highlights the return to backgammon of the great Art Benjamin. I think the American Backgammon Tour is in its 25th year and not many people know that Art was once the leader of the ABT for the first five years or so before he took a leave of absence to start his family and pursue his career as a math professor. It occurs to me that all of the current and former number one players on the ABT are now working closely with the USBGF in some capacity. Marty Storer, Art, and Neil Kazaross are current board mebers, for instance. I write freelance and will be the Captain for the maiden voyage of this blog.


So, let’s bust a bottle of champagne on the bow, and christen the SS INSTANT REPLAY shall we?

People like stories and I like telling them so here we go. Once upon a time, in the year 2018, I journeyed to San Jose… Intent upon playing in the Silicon Valley Open backgammon tournament run by Ken Bame and his staff. Ken runs a Swiss movement tournament and was ably assisted by Jeb Horton, a sort of travelling expert on Backgammon Tournaments. Ken and Jeb worked hard all weekend to get the job done but they were plagued by some inevitable slow play, as usual for most backgammon tournaments even though the use of play clocks has become widely accepted.

Regardless I was enjoying some good fortune in the event having won my first four matches. At that point there were three players left undefeated: Myself, Art Benjamin and the ever present Jack Edelson from Wisconsin. The draw was posted for round five, and Jack was going to play Art, then something went haywire and I noticed that I was paired against a player whose record was 2-2. Winners play winners in this format, so that would not do. The draw was redone and now I was to face Art and our match was designated to be streamed live.

Not wanting to embarrass Art who would soon be featured in Prime Time magazine, I let him win our match 9-2/9. Few players possess the innate sensitivity to work with a story line as I do (smile). Art sent me to bed with a respectable 4 and 1 record. Jack won his match so Jack and Art would go up the hill to fetch a pail of ABT points the next day. Jack fell down and lost his crown and Art remained undefeated. The leader board was taking form by now.

I had lost to Art and the next two players I played on day two. Having reached round eight, even Art had now lost a match to Chris Knapp, a player from Canada. Evidently Chris had a different idea for the ending of this story! As it happens Chris and Art played two more times in this event… The second of which spawned the subject of this article. I was watching them play and Art was leading 2-1/9. Art owned the cube on 2 and they were in a bear off. Art rolled a fortunate set and the position became this:

Rays Instant Replay Art 4 roll 9-11-18 XG answer


I thought idly that Art should redouble Chris and Chris would take it and this game would weigh heavily in the outcome of this relatively short match. Then Art fooled me! He began thinking and staring at the board. His hands were held at an awkward angle and his head was cocked to the side. It bounced a little as bits of information struggled to take center stage in his conscious thought process.
Art ciphers quicker than most so I didn’t have to wait long for his decision. He rolled the dice without redoubling. Both he and Chris, at his turn, rolled non doublets and then Art redoubled and Chris passed. The score was changed to 4-1/9 in Art’s favor. I took my leave at that point and resolved to revisit the situation with Art later. Meanwhile another great player and one of the fastest ever on the American Backgammon Tour walked by. Frank Talbot, another member of the USBGF Board of Directors. Frank likes to talk backgammon so I showed him the position too. Frank quickly recognized that double ones and double twos did not “work” for Art, and after some careful consideration Frank said: This is a hold, and he mentioned the score being a factor. That means no redouble in BG lingo, for the uninitiated.
In hindsight we can all see that Art and Frank have erred on the side of caution, while I would have carelessly re whipped a 4 cube over. Interestingly enough Art took second to Chris in the tournament, and Frank also cashed, while I did not. Frank’s feat was all the more impressive when you consider that he was 2 wins and 3 losses after five matches, necessitating that he win at least six matches in a row to cash. I was glad he proposed to call off our side bet in the money round after I lost it, lol.

I think we can learn something here given these circumstances. In general it may well be better to err on the side of caution than to have an itchy redoubling finger. Wild West gunfighters may not have been too adept at backgammon because somebody is likely to take you out with one lucky shot if you get into a lot of gunfights.

Fortunately after writing this article I got a call from Art, who was more than happy to have his match play boo boo shared with you. Art is secure in his masculinity and does not fret about showing he is human after all. In fact, the math professor in him explained to me the lesson that can be learned from this exercise. I think we all agree that though XG has a definitive idea about the line of play here, those lines get distorted in the human v human experience.

Let’s pick Art’s brain as I paraphrase what he told me before and after the XG analysis.
At the tournament Art was well prepared for my question which was why didn’t he redouble in the four roll position. He told me that he had memorized all the take points of 4 cubes in 9 point matches (!). Needless to say, I haven’t. He therefore knew that Chris Knapp had a take in a three roll position and so he could not lose his market in the four roll position unless he rolled a working doublet, thank you very much. I was playing for money on the side when he explained this and my opponent put the three roll position into XG mobile which said Chris should pass. I told him I would trust Arts math over XG mobile because Art has published more math and done more seminars than his smart phone. Then I lost thirty points to Stepan Nuniyants son Vadim. Get the picture???

After I had time to enter the position into XG and learn the bottom line, Art called me on the phone.
He explained that his chart (he has a chart?) noted that assuming 80% cube efficiency, the trailer’s take point at the score of 2-1 to 9 goes all the way down to 19%. Loosely translated that means because of potential future cube leverage you can take more freely at this relatively innocuous sore than usual. For example, the leader will need 30% game winning chances take an 8-cube if the game turns around.
In general terms, this would coincide with match play conventional wisdom. Leaders should protect their lead while trailers can become more aggressive.

The problem here, according to Art, was that, in retrospect, Chris does not have nearly enough cube efficiency. Efficiency is what Art called it and it was difficult for him to describe to me because he says it is complicated to ascertain. Enough said, Art! To try and explain the concept in layman’s terms, let’s think of cube efficiency as a function of time. In a holding game or long race the trailer would have sufficient time to find a good spot to effectively use the cube leverage the leader was handing him. Got it?
Here, in this four roll hybrid, the one thing we have little of is time! The dice will weigh heavily in the outcome and Chris must LOSE HIS MARKET by a mile to win. He won’t be able to get in any cute little 8 cubes on the come. Are you following me? If Chris rolls doubles to get an advantage, his winning chances won’t be 70%, they’ll be closer to 85%. His 8-cube would be very inefficient.

Anyway, due to this lack of cube efficiency Art said that Chris’ take point reverts back to the normal area of 25%. This makes holding back on the redouble a definite error, and the three roll position a blunder to take!

Rays Instant Replay Art 4 roll 9-11-18 XG answer

I guess Art will be revising those charts. Frank will become more deadly accurate OTB. I will remain confused. This game is hard, man.

In closing I will say that it is great to have Art back. He has a way of simplifying difficult problems and passing them on to us. He gave a seminar at this tournament and the last and I believe he will revolutionize the game and the way we think about it in the near future. Second place was a fine showing of his talent(s).

Congratulations Chris Knapp on winning your fourth ABT championship in recent years. If you can beat Art two out of three matches, you deserve it!

About Ray Fogerlund

Ray has the distinction of Backgammon Giant from 2007 to present, he was inducted into the USBGF Hall of Fame in 2017, and is the most active American Backgammon Tour player of all time.  The Ray’s Instant Replays blog series will catalog his playing experiences and bring some of his hard-earned wisdom to the masses.


Bray’s Learning Curve: Match Play Complexity

(a) Money Play. How should Red play 32?

(b) Match Play. Red leads 7-2 to 11. How should Red play 32?

Bray’s Learning Curve Match Play Complexity 8-21-18


The most common error that I see in backgammon is players not adjusting their play to the score and consistently making money-game decisions, both in checker play and cube handling, in match play situations. At an even score a lot of decisions are the same as their money counterparts but once the score becomes skewed then beware, a lot of things are going to change.

To demonstrate that point let us analyse this week’s position. In a money game it should be clear that the ‘do nothing’ play of 13/8 is not the right idea. Giving White his full roll cannot be the right idea. With two White blots to attack Red may well win with a blitz.

The correct play for money is 8/3*, starting a blitz. The strength of this play is that when White fans, which he will do 25% of the time, Red will win the game with a well-timed double. Red wins just too high a percentage of gammons for White to be able to accept the cube while of course the Jacoby Rule protects White from losing a gammon, i.e. Red will not play on.

Now let us consider the match play scenario. At this match score Red will be doubling much later than usual and ideally in a situation where there are very few gammons for either player. That is not the case at the moment.

Now after 8/3* followed by a fan Red cannot even double! White will accept with alacrity and be looking to redouble to 4 at the earliest opportunity. A gammon with the cube on 4 will get White to 10-7 (Crawford) with his opponent on an odd number which is perfect for him. (Always beware of giving your opponent the opportunity to get to either Crawford or to win the match with perfect efficiency)

Equally well, 13/8 is far too passive. Red needs to improve his position if he can. Is that possible? Yes, it is. It is close, but he should play 8/5, 7/5, making the all-important 5-pt. This leaves one fewer shot than 8/3* but crucially it strengthens Red’s home board so that in any ensuing exchange of hits Red’s stronger board may have a powerful influence and that in turn will reduce his gammon losses. With the score as it is Red wants to reduce the inherent volatility and making the 5-pt does just that.

8/5, 7/5 is difficult to find, particularly over the board where one’s natural instinct is to hit. The key is to make sure you consider the play. As has often been pointed out: if you don’t see a move, you can’t play it.

Match play is far more difficult than money play and although doubling has been around for 92 years we are still only now getting to grips with understanding it, and in match play our knowledge, for the vast majority of players, is still not where it needs to be. – Chris Bray

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon


Bray’s Learning Curve Match Play Complexity 8-21-18 XG Money


Bray’s Learning Curve Match Play Complexity 8-21-18 XG Match

Bray’s Learning Curve — A Great Member Benefit
Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray