Bray’s Learning Curve: Extended Jeopardy

Money Play. How should Red play 41?

Basic Begiiners 9


What could be easier than a simple bear-off? However, while there is still contact, there will always be an opportunity to make an error. I have seen many players get this position wrong.

Red has three choices: (a) 6/5, 6/2 (b) 5/4, 5/1 (c) 4/off, 4/3

Given this position as a problem many players choose (c) because then Red has only two bad numbers on his next turn, 62 and 26. (a) leaves nine bad numbers (66, 55, 44, 65, 56, 64, 46, 54, 45) and (b) leaves seven bad numbers (66, 55, 44, 61, 16, 51, 15). Thus, it would seem that (c) must be correct but that is not the case, because of the concept of extended jeopardy.

After 6/5, 6/2 if White enters with a six any jeopardy disappears. And Red’s problems are over. After either of the other plays the gap that is created by those plays may live for quite some time and, even if White enters into the gap from the bar, the point(s) above the gap must still subsequently be cleared. This is called extended jeopardy.

How does one weigh extended jeopardy against immediate jeopardy? The answer for most players is one of experience. I have seen this type of position many times and so I “know” the answer. The other answer is to use computers that can calculate this position exactly.

As you will see from the rollout (a) is correct. The extended jeopardy from the other two plays outweighs the immediate jeopardy of the extra shots. Note also that (a) wins more gammons because Red is able to keep a stronger home board for longer. The three plays are close in terms of equity, but it pays to get this type of position correct as it will reoccur frequently.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Basic Beginners Rollout 9

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



2019 Monte Carlo World Championship

2019 Monte Carlo World Championship

By Wilcox Snellings

The American star Wilcox Snellings has returned to the circuit after an illustrious backgammon career in the 1980s and 1990s, during which he split the 1995 Monte Carlo Super Jackpot with Paul Magriel and beat Nack Ballard in the 1997 Las Vegas Masters for his 20th-century U.S. tournament finale. Besides competing this year at Monte Carlo (the 44th World Championship there and the 51st overall), he provided live commentary, along with Marc Olsen (Denmark), on the two final matches between 2019 World Champion Eli Roymi (Israel) and Petko Kostadinov (Bulgaria and USA). He also commented live on one match of the Ultimate Backgammon Challenge between Mochy Mochizuki (Japan) and Sander Lylloff (Denmark), so it’s apparent that his knowl- edge and communication skills are in high demand! Wilcox shows his stuff in this article, reporting on the tournament and analyzing nine interesting positions from the exciting first final match between Eli and Petko. Readers are encouraged to view the exciting final matches streamed with live commentary.

As much as I would have liked to compete in the July 4th Novi tournament instead of being captive in my tissue strewn hotel room, it was great to return to ritzy Monte Carlo and its fine backgammon events. I was last there in 1995 with my wife Viria, whom I was to marry in 1997. It was then held in the Loews Hotel and Casino, which later became the Fairmont and has continued the hosting tradition. The Fairmont is well situated, right on the Mediterranean and near the famous Monte Carlo Casino. Incredible yachts blanket the harbor, and beautiful people and cars are everywhere. Some gawk and capture as much as they can with their ever-ready cell phones and cameras, while others roll their eyes, even though they’re there For Some Reason.

This time, I came with Viria, our two children, and their spouses. My brother and his wife joined us from Louisiana, where most of my U.S. family live and where I was born.

I played in the Monte Carlo Open, which ran Sunday through Monday, as well as the Main event, the Super Jackpot, and the Doubles with my son John. It was John’s sudden interest in backgammon which hooked me back to the game I essentially ceased playing in 1997. I hit a Pause button for several reasons, principally family responsibilities, but little did I know the break would run for nearly two decades.

I began my week with just one win in my first six matches. Fortunately, I felt I was playing close to the top of my game (under 3 PR, no doubt –Ed.), and stayed mindful of how fickle results can be. This was followed by a terrific run, as I won six straight in the Main via the 2nd chance (Fighters) bracket, while John and I won three straight after re-entering the Doubles. Poised for something special, I raced to good leads against my next opponent, Rolf Vetsch from Switzerland. Very late in the match, up 2-away/3-away and owning the cube, I achieved a position with roughly 96% winning chances and around 1 chance in 250 of being gammoned. Well, the nightmare scenario arrived and Rolf won a gammon, having 4 seconds left on his match clock vs. my 8 minutes or so. The next game (or two) might have been quite interesting; I would have tried for extra complications in order to put him under maximum time pressure.

My son and I lost in the Doubles later that night, to the very nice Japanese team of Kenji Shimodaira and champion of the Juniors Tournament, Takayuki Moriuchi.

Regardless of losses, which are nearly inevitable, I had a great time. Beyond the live board action, I reunited with many long- time friends and met quite a few new ones. I did manage to spend some time with my family amid all the excitement, and they had a blast. All the same, I was really up for the big backgammon occasion, and was happy to comment, alongside my friend Marc Olsen (author of the books Backgammon: From Basics to Badass, and Backgammon: Pure Strategy –Ed.), both for Match 5 of the Mochy-Sander Challenge and the Main event finals between Eli Roymi and Petko Kostadinov.

While I can’t easily forecast my future tournament schedule, it’s nice to be back! Great thanks to Tournament Organizer Patti Donner-Rubin, Directors James Ballie and Arda Fındıkoğlu, as well as many fine staff members from around the world. They all collaborated to put on another outstanding backgammon event in one of the world’s most posh locations.

The Main event was double elimination, and Eli Roymi went into the finals undefeated. Petko Kostadinov had lost once, so he needed to win two matches in order to take the title, a single win being sufficient for Eli. Petko won the first match (19 points), but Eli put on a burst of good dice and outstanding skill to take the second (13 points) and become the 2019 Backgammon World Champion. The following positions are all from the first match, in which Eli opened a big lead and Petko came back to win.

Petko and Eli are among the faster backgammon players, and continued their preferred pace in the finals. In my commentary I often mentioned the value of slo-o-owing down, mentioning psychological benefits as well as nuances of specific positions and scores. I feel sure both players could have benefited from gear-switching out of 5th or Turbo, but certainly the viewers were kept wide awake!

Eli plays a very pure game, meaning he seeks to make the major offensive points and rarely puts checkers out of play for blocking. He does this beautifully for the most part, but as with any prefer- ence it can reach points of excess, and that happened at times.

I feel that Petko is more eclectic in his game, working to find the best play in general, rather than seeking to force game types.

The following analysis draws on eXtreme Gammon (XG) rollouts, done using 3-ply checker play and XGR cube decisions, with enough trials to exceed 95% confidence in the repeatability of results, in particular the top-ranked checker moves and cube actions.

The first game of Match 1 turned into a backgame with Eli holding three points in Petko’s board. Petko had to leave a triple shot against the triple backgame, but with a mere three-and-a-half-pointboard and seven checkers back, Eli did not double. He rolled a perfect-looking 63.

Annotation 2019-10-21 112004


Instead of hitting and covering, Eli covered without hitting, 21/15 6/3. This was a great play! Though the hit-cover is super-efficient, preserving a 3-4 backgame as a fallback position while gaining real chances to contain Petko’s checker, going forward is wrong, both because Eli will have too hard a time bringing checkers out of Petko’s board to cover the outfield, and because he figures to have plenty of hitting chances later. I would not have hit with a non-covering roll of 61, 62, 64, or 65, but with 63 I would have succumbed to temptation and committed a major blunder. So often it’s right to be patient in backgames, forgoing a hit so that you don’t risk great timing in return for a largely phantom forward- going chance. This is another cautionary tale from that category.

After Eli’s excellent move, Petko rolled double 4 to clear his 9 point but repeat the triple shot. Eli had a cube decision.

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 4.59.56 PM


Eli capped his excellent understanding of this position with a hugely correct cube, whose value is augmented by the possibility of an incorrect response from Petko. Many such scary positions are takes, but this isn’t your garden variety. If White is hit, he must tread a super-delicate path to enter, come home safely, and get to an efficient recube. Meanwhile he may be forced to expose one or more blots with a gammon downside and slim hopes to win. If Black misses, at least half of White’s rolls fail to improve things, and with so many men on the ace (both now and possibly accumulating), White’s recube efficiency remains poor since it will be hard to bear off enough checkers to survive a later hit. Thus

XG tells us the position is a big pass.

Commenting live, I said that if Petko thought the position to be a relatively small pass, say -1.05, he might take in hopes of mak- ing Eli more hesitant to double throughout the rest of the long match. Marc Olsen noted that another factor increasing Petko’s take equity is the fact that all of the difficult decisions for the rest of the game will be Eli’s.

Petko did take. Marc and I observed that few players have memorized reference positions for the rare triple backgame! Eli rolled 61.

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.32.20 PM

This time Eli hit. After 23/17*, the best ace is 15/14, which Eli found. But he should have played 15/8, refusing the hit a second time! I think that most of us, apparently much more so than World Champion Eli, need to work on both sides of our backgame play. The trouble is that backgames occur so rarely these days that our backgame muscles, notwithstanding the example of gym rat / backgame guru Jim Pasko, have become puny through lack of exercise! Again, I would have blundered on here as I did while commenting. But let’s start from Eli’s wise refusal to hit with his prior 63, and try to understand the current position as best we can.

Not all early hits in a triple backgame are wrong, not even in this example. The key is that a hit with 61 forces us to break our rearmost backgame point. If instead of the 23 point we must break the 22 in order to hit, the plays are very close – and it’s a huge blunder not to hit from the 21 point. In that case the fallback defensive posi- tion will be a deep backgame with excellent prospects, so hitting becomes mandatory. But with 61, Eli should maintain his triple backgame, retaining good chances for at least a triple shot next turn.

After Eli hit, Petko entered with an excellent double deuce, safely clearing his 7 point. Eli had 65 to play.

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.33.29 PM

Eli should not move from the 23 point, where his checker is well placed for short- and long-term pressure against Petko’s soft three- point board. This checker may enable Eli to hit a second blot and win a gammon, or to stave off a recube in unfortunate scenarios. He played 21/15 17/12, but this was a blunder. Eli can get maximum long-term coverage with the correct play of 21/15 21/16. Outfield control is critical, so he must move forward without giving too many fly shots or separating checkers. With the compact position

of one assassin lurking on each of the 17 through 14 points, and three still in Petko’s board, Eli would be well placed to hit either a fleeing checker or any new blot that may appear.

Petko lost that game, but saved the gammon. In the second game, with Eli leading 2-0, Petko had the edge against Eli’s holding game. He had a 22-pip lead in the race, but his position looked awkward. Should he double even so?

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.34.38 PM

I commented that the holding value of Eli’s 16 point is nearly an illusion, an observation borne out by the mild .03 equity gain for Petko in the variant position where the Eli’s 16-point checkers are moved forward to his midpoint, while Petko gains the same six pips by moving a checker 10/4. The game position is essentially a common type: the midpoint and 8 point vs. the opposing 20 anchor, with the 10 point thrown in for a landing spot but also an extra point to clear. Such positions are nearly all takes, many quite easy. Here, Petko’s 22-pip lead is big, and rolls of 33, 55, 66, and 63 lose his market to varying degrees. His many outside spares rate to give him several rolls to clear his midpoint safely, and he may be able to gain still more time by clearing his 10 point before his midpoint. But Eli’s combination of racing and shot equity gives him a clear take.

Petko correctly doubled and Eli took. Petko increased his edge to become a big favorite, but Eli won 2 points by hitting a late shot, then won a single point in the third game. Trailing 0-5 in Game 4, Petko gained a clear edge and had another cube decision.

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.38.38 PM

Looking at the position in light of Joe Sylvester’s Position, Race, and Threats (PRaT) criteria, we see that Petko has nice Race and Threats advantages, with a close call on the sometimes-elusive Position comparison. Joe says that a two-of-three PRaT edge is enough for a money double, and this is a strong cube for money. However, a decent match lead decreases recube value, even at the relatively early score of 19-away to 14-away, so the double becomes difficult to take. Indeed XG makes it a pass at the score, –1.063, but says the position is a take at 0-0 to 19, –0.954. Petko did double, and Eli’s pass was excellent and well-motivated.

Fast forward: Petko rallied to even the score at 13 apiece, then scored a coup by redoubling Eli out in a close race. In Game 21, Petko led, 4-away to 6-away! Eli had a welcome double 2 to play going into the middle game.

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.40.03 PM

When in doubt, Eli will make the purer play, often preferring offensive points and primes, even in return for getting hit more often. Though this approach generally works well enough, he overdoes it at times, and this was one of those instances. With the quiet play, making the 21 and 2 points while bringing a builder to the 11, Eli gives Petko relatively few strong rolls and can double most other replies. Eli’s choice, making the bar and 21 points with 13/11, gives Petko 15 hits plus 42 and 22 to anchor on the 20 point.

The price for the more aesthetic play is too steep.

Petko hit with 62 and Eli fanned; Petko covered his 3 point and Eli fanned again. Petko escaped one checker with a hit, and Eli made a risky-looking pure play, a toss-up as it turns out, leaving blots on his 11 and 2 points in order to avoid blotting on Petko’s 2 point while making his own. Petko had to decide whether to double.Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.41.00 PM

Perhaps disliking Eli’s last play of bar/21 13/11, perhaps remembering Eli’s incorrect pass of his redouble in the previous game, and perhaps influenced by a mild momentum euphoria caused by his strong rally in the match, Petko doubled. Whatever the reason, the double was a blunder, the kind that happens to all of us at times. Petko has a nice lead in the race, with double 1 and double 4 as nearly guaranteed market losers, plus 46 followed by a miss from the roof. But a lot of contact remains, which figures to help Eli if Petko misses the immediate shot. Eli’s ongoing cube leverage can be huge. As expected, he scooped up the cube.

Petko hit on his 12 point, and Eli fanned. He fanned a second time as Petko brought two checkers into his board, then Petko hit on Eli’s 2 point and advanced to Eli’s 5. Eli entered one checker and Petko hit on Eli’s 11 point! Petko brought in all his outside check- ers as Eli managed to enter all of his from the bar, and then Petko rolled double 5 to bear off one checker and leave Eli an ace-shot in the following position.

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.42.10 PM

This is a nice reminder at least to consider redoubling when you are almost certain to lose the match if you fail to hit, but are a solid favorite to win the game, and possibly also the match, if you do hit – especially if the cube is dead for your opponent. Considering that it’s difficult to guesstimate winning chances here, Eli’s redouble was a negligible error. By the way, it would have been a large, 0.1 mistake not to recube if Petko had no checkers off instead of one!

Eli missed, and Petko cashed the match by rolling 62, avoiding the nightmare repeater variation of double 1. The rest was history: Eli locked up the championship by winning the second match 13 – 3, with an XG Performance Rating under 3 and a Luck Factor over 8.

Both players had long stretches of extremely good play – Petko in the first match and Eli in the second. If cube errors are deducted, both contestants played brilliantly. In any event, their performance was quite good for the finals of a big tournament. That final day is a real psychological and energy challenge for all calibers of players. Congratulations to both finalists for their great achievements, and to Eli Roymi, the new World Champion.




Ultimate Backgammon Championship

Ultimate Backgammon Championship

Masayuki Mochizuki (Mochy) just won the Ultimate Backgammon Championship, sponsored by Back- gammon Galaxy, against Sander Lyloff! It was a specially arranged series of matches to determine the best player in the world. Mochy has been regarded as the best player in the world for most of the last 10 years and had nothing to gain and a lot to lose by participating. But, he thought it was a good challenge and would be good for backgammon. I have great respect for him.


Masayuki Mochizuki


Sander Lyloff

Sander was considered the best player in the world prior to Mochy’s arrival and to his devoting time to business and family. It was a very exciting exhibition. Sander played well on day one and looked to be in good shape to dethrone Mochi, but Mochy stormed back on days 2 and 3 and was able to win the match, handily. Both players were able to exhibit their brilliance, but Mochy’s consistency ruled the day!





Bray’s Learning Curve: Money vs Match

(a) Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

(b) Match Play. 0-0 to 7. Should Red redouble? If Redoubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 18


Whenever you face a match play doubling problem you should first consider the correct actions for money to give yourself a base.

In this week’s position I hope it is clear that this is a highly volatile situation. If Red rolls a six he will have lost his market by a huge margin. Red should redouble now.

Equally well, although it is scary because of the gammon losses, White has a very comfortable take because one bad roll by Red (55,44,22) could swing the game immediately and if Red fails to rolls a 6 and White immediately rolls a 4 (which happens 21% of the time), White will be very well placed with a redouble to 8 imminent. In addition, if Red doesn’t roll a 6 within three rolls his position will rapidly deteriorate anyway.

The match play situation is subtly different. If Red redoubles to 4 and wins a gammon, he will have won 8 points, one more than he needs. That is a warning sign that his redouble is not perfectly efficient.

In addition, if White takes and then turns the game round he will be able to give some very efficient redoubles to 8. If Red accepts the cube on 8, he can never subsequently win with another redouble and so the game must be played to the end – the cube will be valueless to Red. These are all indicators that Red should perhaps play on for a gammon with the cube on 2 and, if things go badly, he will probably only lose 2 points.

This is very difficult to judge over the board, but many will err on the side of caution, which turns out to be correct. However, this is a great practical redouble because you will get quite a few erroneous drops. Knowing your opponent is sometimes more valuable than knowing backgammon theory.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon


Experts 18 rollout money


Experts 18 rollout 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


USBGF Advanced Divisional LXXIV

Mehdi Showkati 2019

Congratulations to Mehdi Showkati, winner of the Advanced Divisional LXXIV. Mehdi defeated Tom Courts in the 17-point final. Mary Morse and Cynthis Belonogoff finished 3/4 in the 15-point semi-final.

The Advanced Divisional requires players have a Circuit Elo rating between 1500.01 – 1649.99 at the time of registration. See current online standings: Leader Board.

2019 Los Angeles Open


2019 Los Angeles Open


There is always something special at a Los Angeles tournament, and the 2019 Los Angeles Open was jammed with special events in addition to stellar backgammon. The tournament began with an evening at Hollywood’s iconic Magic Castle, hosted by backgammon’s own Mathemagician Art Benjamin—a professional for over 30 years. (Art is also a renowned TED talker. If you’ve not seen his YouTube videos, search his name and be prepared to be wowed. He’s got over 30 million views!)

Tournament Producer Candace Mayeron put together a Super Raffle that was beyond super. Prizes were donated by the backgam- mon community and included a Laura Hoarty bejeweled egg, VIP seats at Dancing with the Stars, a week at a Florida condo (donated by Blake Fleetwood), goodies from Australia (Ralph Burd), an original Jon Vietor painting, and the most highly sought: a custom FTH board in colors so popular that the brand is using them for

its newest line. Fred Chamanara flew in from Chicago, played in the tournament and bought $100 worth of tickets, just to win the Dancing with the Stars prize. He won, too! (Fred used to be a ballroom dancer! Who knew?) Attendees viewed the items all weekend and anxiously awaited the drawing on Sunday. Nevzat Dogan of Denmark won the coveted board!

During the announcements, the attendees learned that there would be a Guest Direc- tor at the California State Championship in December, joining Hall-of-Famer and Executive Director Patrick Gibson and Director Ben Friesen. At the exact moment of revealing the surprise, everyone in the room stood to applaud, and IT hero Friesen opened a two-way patch with TD Arda Fındıkoğlu, live from Istanbul. Fındıkoğlu (he of Monte Carlo, Montenegro, Cyprus and dozens of other tournaments) could see and hear the cheering and the Los Angeles crowd witnessed his expression of delight at being invited to Los Angeles.


About 30 players sprayed their hair (heads?) pink to show appreciation for Candace Mayeron. Do you think she was surprised? Her pink hair is the least vivid in the group!

Screen Shot 2019-10-11 at 1.34.22 PM

Carter sporting red hair!

As good as the Los Angeles Open was, the California State Championship, December 5-8, promises to be even better with Arda Fındıkoğlu as Guest Director, working with Patrick Gibson. How many Europeans will show up? I guess we will find out in December.




President’s Column: Continuous Innovation Copy

The hallmark of a thriving organization is its ability to continue to innovate, building on what works and charting new ground. I’m delighted to announce that the U.S. Backgammon Federation (USBGF) will be aided in this quest by the addition of John Pirner, CEO of Gammon Stuff, to our Board of Directors. John is a proven entrepreneur who will bring his organizational ability and extensive experience to the roles of Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer of the USBGF.

John Pirner

John Pirner joined the USBGF Board of
Directors in July and serves as Chief Operating
Officer and Treasurer. He lives in Minnesota and
plays with the Twin Cities Backgammon Club.
He founded Gammon Stuff (gammonstuff.
com) in 2016 after being disappointed that he
could not buy an FTH Backgammon set from
stock in North America. Gammon Stuff was
organized to import, stock and exclusively
sell the handmade boards and accessories
built by Fazil Terlemez (FTH), a German
craftsman. Begun as a hobby, Gammon Stuff
is now an enthusiastic corporate sponsor
of the USBGF and ABT tournaments. John
is also a Platinum Sponsor of the USBGF.



Elevating the USBGF National Championship

Through the generosity of a sponsor, the USBGF has established the USBGF National Championship Backgammon Prize Fund. It will provide $10,000 annually in support of the USBGF National Championship.With this support, the USBGF will elevate this signature event to the premier competition on the American Backgammon Tour. The goals of the Fund are to: raise awareness and visibility of the mind-game of backgammon; recognize expert players for their mastery of the game; and support the growth of the U.S. Backgammon Federation.

In 2020 the USBGF National Championship will have $5,000 added money. It will be held on Sunday, May 3, in conjunction with the Cherry Blossom Backgammon Championships. It is a 256-player single elimination event open to USBGF members. The first entry is free; re-entries are $50. The winner will also receive an FTH National Championship backgammon board valued at $950.

Also beginning in 2020, four to eight ABT tournaments around the country will be selected as National Championship Regional Qualifiers. Selection will be made by the U.S. Backgammon Foundation Board of Directors, and will based on ABT tournament director interest, ABT tournament size, increase in ABT attendance, and USBGF member participation. A total of $4000 in prize money will be added to Regional Qualifiers. An additional $1000 will be dedicated to marketing, streaming, trophies, and recognition.


“In the coming months, the USBGF plans to undertake online surveys of the backgammon community to learn more about your interests, ideas, and suggestions for improvement. We hope to learn more, particularly, about player tournament experience and how modern tournament management systems can make playing in tournaments more enjoyable and instructive.”



The USBGF National Championship and Regional Qualifiers will be marketed through USBGF distribution channels including social media, bulk email to over 3000 players, the USBGF PrimeTime Backgammon quarterly magazine, and the USBGF website. Regional winners will compete in the 2021 USBGF National Championship Playoff. Key matches will be streamed. Winners will be recognized in these outlets as well as at an annual USBGF Award Dinner.


The U.S. Backgammon Federation is pleased to announce that it has a cool new logo! The new logo captures the essence of the backgammon board with pips and checkers, keeping with the U.S. flag colors of our original. We invite backgammon enthusiasts to join in the fun and enjoy the many benefits of membership!

Competing in World Team Championships

Two newly formed organizations are offering world team cham- pionships: 1) the World Backgammon Federation which has an annual World Team Championship in conjunction with a major backgammon tournament; and 2) the World Backgammon Inter- net Federation which has an Internet team championship. Both began as European events, but opened the competitions to other countries, with the U.S. fielding teams in both events in 2019.

In April 2019 Team USA competed for the first time in the World Backgammon Federation World Team Championships. The 2019 Team consisted of Blake Fleetwood (non-playing captain), Nick Blasier, Karen Davis, Roberto Litzenberger, Carter Mattig, and Frank Talbot (see the Summer issue of PrimeTime Backgammon). Team USA acquitted itself respectably, missing the cutoff of the top eight country finalists by one point. In all, 26 national teams including 161 players competed in the event.

Unfortunately, the 2020 WTC to be held in January near Paris conflicts with the NY Metropolitan Open and the U.S. does not plan to mount a WTC team. However, the USBGF plans to field a team again in 2021. The event will take place in Trier, Germany at a tournament directed by Tobias Hellwag. At present the plan is to select a U.S. team of four players and up to four alternates through an online USBGF World Team Championship Qualifier tournament. The online qualifier will have an entry fee, with the proceeds used to help defray the costs of participating (€1000 entry fee, €100 registration fee). We are seeking sponsors for Team USA to help defray travel and other expenses. Please contact if you are interested in being a team sponsor.

In 2019 the US also fielded a team for the first time in the World Backgammon Internet Federation tournament, an online event with 25 countries participating. The U.S. team included: Neil Kazaross, Steve Sax, Joe Russell (Captain), Roberto Litzenberger, and Alfred Mamlet. Taking place over a four-month period, the U.S. finished second in an exciting finish against Norway. Alfred Mamlet had a 10-0 win-loss record to win the individual competition.

The U.S. is participating again in 2020, with a team consisting of: Art Benjamin, Neil Kazaross, Alfred Mamlet, Joe Russell (captain), Steve Sax, and Frank Talbot. Giants of Backgammon, grandmasters, and other leading players were invited to participate, and a best 2-of-3 11-point match qualifier determined seats on the team.

Growing the Grass Roots

Local clubs are the grass-roots foundation of the U.S. backgam- mon community. The USBGF supports the growth of local clubs by listing clubs on our website, providing added money for annual local club events, and providing technical assistance, tools, and support to new club directors.

The USBGF is delighted to announce a new Corporate Sponsor, the Grunwald Newcomer Fund, dedicated to help ease the transition of newcomers to competitive play. The Grunwald Fund is encouraging local clubs and/or ABT tournaments to hold Novice-Mentor Doubles events where novices are paired with expert players. A minimum of eight teams is required. Novices will serve as captain of the team, with the mentor providing advice on the captain’s proposed moves and cube deci- sions. The winning team will receive two Belair watches donated by the Fund (for novice and mentor doubles partners), plus the novice will receive a free lesson from a USBGF expert member and one-year USBGF Novice membership. The watches will be engraved with the USBGF logo.

Two years ago, the USBGF launched a Local Club Initiative (LCI) to encourage more USBGF members to play in local club tournaments, and more local club players to join the USBGF. Twenty-two local clubs participated both years. This year the USBGF will again provide added money to an annual LCI event held between November 1, 2019 and February 28, 2020. The formula for adding money has been simplified to $5 for each USBGF mem- ber who designates the local club as their primary or secondary club as of October 1, 2019.

The winners of the local club events compete in an online USBGF Local Club Champi- onship, where the first prize is a free entry to the ABT tournament of the winner’s choice. Carl Sorg of the Atlanta Northside Club won the prize in 2019 and used it to enter the 2019 Michigan Summer Classic.

Gus Contos of Gammon Associates in Los Angeles won the prize in 2018 and applied it to the 2018 California State tournament entry fee.

Jack Edelson, a member of the USBGF Board of Directors, chairs the USBGF Local Club Advisory Committee consisting of Jack, Ray Bills (USBGF Membership Direc- tor), Ted Chee (director of Backgammon by the Bay club in San Francisco area), Ross Gordon (director of the Connecticut Backgammon Club), Joe Miller (director of the Ohio State Backgammon Club), Jeff Proctor (director of the Atlanta Northside Club), and Albert Steg (director of the New England Backgammon Club). The charge to the committee is to provide information and support to potential new local club directors; refine the information packet for directors; advise on website redesign to support local club directors; oversee the Local Club Initiative; advise on the local club master point system; and assist with the annual Local Club Player of Year article for the PrimeTme Backgammon magazine. The Committee provides advice and suggestions on how the USBGF can best nurture and support the growth of local clubs.

Raising Awareness through Streaming and Expert Commentary

The U.S. Backgammon Foundation, a chari- table foundation established by the USBGF as described above, provides over $5,000 annually to help cover the cost of stream- ing staff at ABT tournaments. More than 1400 streamed matches on YouTube have received one million views. An estimated 350 matches are added to the USBGF YouTube archives annually.  The USBGF YouTube channel has over 2,600 subscribers.

The USBGF streaming initiative aims to raise awareness of the mind sport of backgammon and help viewers improve their skill. Specifically, it is intended to:

  • »  Increase interest in playing competitive tournament back- gammon
  • »  Improve the skill level of the backgammon community
  • »  Bring recognition to skilled backgammon players
  • »  Increase attendance at ABT tournaments
  • »  Increase membership in the USBGF
  • »  Attract corporate sponsors and philanthropic donations to the U.S. Backgammon Foundation.A new USBGF Remote Commentary Support Center, headed by USBGF Board member Matt Reklaitis, now provides offsite com- mentary and streaming production support for the final Cham- pionship match of ABT tournaments. Top-flight commentators have provided live commentary from offsite with the local venue providing a webcam feed.

nnovations are ongoing. Increasingly, ABT tournaments post drawsheet information on, an electronic bracket system developed by USBGF Board member Matt Reklaitis, so that those unable to attend can follow the action during the tournament and see how friends and fellow players are faring. Some tourna- ments are now arranging large digital display screens for players to view streamed matches. In addition to expert commentary, some matches have simultaneous analysis by the eXtreme Gammon software providing the viewers with instantaneous information on alternative plays or cube decisions.

Looking to the Future

In the coming months, the USBGF plans to undertake online surveys of the backgammon community to learn more about your interests, ideas, and suggestions for improvement. We hope to learn more, particularly, about player tournament experience and how modern tournament management systems can make playing in tournaments more enjoyable and instructive. We hope you will participate and share your thoughts with us.

The USBGF is a member-driven organization. We count on your engagement. Do participate in the upcoming Board of Directors election, as well as nominate worthy candidates for the American Backgammon Hall of Fame.

“Get Into the Game—Become a Member”

Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 10.20.23 AM


Bray’s Learning Curve: Match Play Thoughts

Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take? 

Match Play. 4-4 to 7. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take? 

2019 - Intermediates 18


For money this would be a grossly premature redouble. White has already borne off four checkers so he would be close to a take even with his last checker closed out. Additionally, Red still has to escape three checkers from behind a four-point prime (look how 44 plays!). Finally, White will sometimes escape his rear checker and win a gammon – in fact that happens 10% of the time.

At this match score things are very different. If Red redoubles this effectively becomes Double Match Point. Gammons become irrelevant and White can never win the cube. White’s take point for the redouble is exactly 25%. Does that make enough of a difference to make this a redouble?

Yes, it does. The position is highly volatile. If Red escapes a checker and White stays on the bar (and that happen nearly 40% of the time) Red will have lost his market by a huge margin. Not redoubling is a bad blunder. White has an easy take because his winning chances are around 30%.

Never forget just how different match play doubling is compared to money play, especially towards the end of a match.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 18 rollout - money


Intermediates 18 rollout

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


American Backgammon Hall of Fame (HOF)

American Backgammon Hall of Fame (HOF)
Call for Nominations

The American Backgammon Hall of Fame recognizes those individuals who have achieved extraordinary playing results and/or have made extraordinary contributions to the game of backgammon in the United States. Candidates are not limited to those who are American citizens, provided that they have met eligibility requirements.

Use the Hall of Fame Nominations Form to nominate a candidate for this significant honor. All USBGF members with active memberships are invited to nominate candidates for consideration by the USBGF Hall of Fame Committee. You must be logged into the USBGF website to access the form. The Committee will very thoroughly vet the qualifications of all nominees. Please carefully note the qualifications addressed below.

Candidates to the HOF should be individuals who have:

1. A significant body of work over a very substantial period of time, in or for the game of backgammon in the United States, as players, directors, authors, publishers, promoters, teachers, and/or innovators;
2. Realized exceptional accomplishments;

a.Demonstrated remarkable skills through success over the board for decades. And/or…
b.Gained achievements and recognition among the U.S. backgammon community for the majority of a long career.

The period of time suggested above by the phrases ‘very substantial period of time’, ‘over the board for decades’, and ‘for the majority of a long career’ should reflect a relevant backgammon career approaching twenty years or more.

Current members of the American Backgammon Hall of Fame (listed alphabetically):
Nack Ballard, Carol Joy Cole, Barclay Cooke, Bill Davis, Malcolm Davis, Ray Fogerlund, Patrick Gibson, Kent Goulding, Tim Holland, Oswald Jacoby, Neil Kazaross, Danny Kleinman, Paul Magriel, Howard Markowitz, Alexis Obolensky, Bill Robertie, Joe Russell, Steve Sax, Mike Senkiewicz, Mike Svobodny, Joe Sylvester, Walter Trice, and Kit Woolsey.

To nominate a person for consideration to the 2020 Ballot for possible induction into the American Backgammon Hall of Fame, please see the Hall of Fame Nominations Form. You will need to be logged in to access the form.

You will be asked to complete the form with two main sections: (1) Notable awards and accomplishments (wins, publications, produced [events], Giants, ABT…) and (2) WHY do you think s/he should be considered (a paragraph describing the nominee’s significant body of work in or for backgammon in the USA).

Should a member wish to re-nominate someone they have submitted in a prior year, they may do so; however, ALL nominations this year must include a new Nominations Form. If a member wishes to amend a prior submission, they may request a copy if one was not retained (request may be made to; however, again, a new Hall of Fame Nominations Form must be submitted this year for each nominee. Nominations from prior years will not automatically be reconsidered.

The open period for 2020 nominations is October 1 through October 31. This opportunity allows USBGF members to submit their candidates for consideration for possible inclusion on the Ballot. The Hall of Fame Committee will review all nominations and submit a recommended Ballot to the USBGF Board of Directors for approval. The Ballot will then go to the HOF electors to vote to determine any new inductees.

Joe Russell
Chairman, Hall of Fame Committee
U.S. Backgammon Federation

Bray’s Learning Curve: Risk and Reward

Money Play. How should Red play 33?

2019 - Beginners 18


 Over the board Red quickly played 13/1. Sadly, this play doesn’t meet the demands of the position.

Consider these factors:

  • Red has already doubled and so must win with his play of the checkers.
  • White’s position is virtually undeveloped.
  • White will be loth to give up his anchor to hit when he has no home board.
  • If Red leaves blots and is hit he will have a lot of return shots, many of which will lead to gammons.
  • 13/1 puts a checker permanently out of play

All of the above clarify why it is right for Red to take some risk now, rather than wait while White develops his home board.

Red’s real choice is between 13/7, 8/5(2) and 13/4, 8/5. Not surprisingly the move that best distributes Rd’s checkers for return hits and for the bear-off is the winning play.

The correct move is 13/4, 8/5.

The key to the position is in understanding that now is precisely the right time to take a risk. Every move in the game is about risk and reward and learning how to balance those two things is the key to long-term winning backgammon.


Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon


Beginners 18 rollout


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



Bray’s Learning Curve: Robertie’s Addition Method

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

Basic Begiiners 8


 This is a basic technique for calculating that everybody needs to do. I believe it was first documented by Bill Robertie in his “Advanced Backgammon” and so it is known as Robertie’s Addition Method.

This looks like a three-roll ending which is known to be a double and a pass. White only wins a pure three roll position just under 22% of the time and so must pass. However, small details matter.

Look what happens if Red rolls 32 – he cannot bear off a checker. Red will roll 32 one time in eighteen, which equates to 5.5%. Once we add that 5.5% to the 22% for the basic three-roll ending then we get over 27% winning chances. What was thought to be a pass at first glance turns out to be a very easy take and passing would be a blunder. Often when you add up your ways to win in a position you can pass the 25% figure and find you have a take.

Over the years the Addition Method has helped me to make the correct decision hundreds of times.

Learn it and use it.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

basic Beginners Rollout 8

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



Nomination of Candidates for 2019 USBGF Board of Directors Election

As prescribed by the By-Laws, the Board of Directors of the U.S. Backgammon Federation announces that members may nominate candidates, including themselves, for election to the Board of Directors. Nominees must be members of the USBGF. The Board asks members to please limit their nominees to candidates who have expressed a willingness to serve and to contribute to the Board. Nominations must be submitted to before 12:00 midnight EDT, October 31, 2019.

Five seats will be up for election this year. Four Incumbents shown below plan to stand for re-election to the Board, one seat is vacant:

Seat #1 – Karen Davis (incumbent)
Seat #2 – Richard Munitz (incumbent)
Seat #4 – Neil Kazaross (incumbent)
Seat #5 – Vacant
Seat #14 – John Pirner (incumbent)

After receiving nominations, the USBGF Governance and Nominating Committee will review the slate of candidates, confirm that each will serve if elected, solicit a short statement of qualifications, and may or may not recommend candidates to the membership.

The Board wishes to thank Dennis Culpepper for serving on the Board for the last three years. As the USBGF liaison to ABT directors, he has ensured the smooth implementation of the ABT under USBGF auspices.

The election will take place from November 15 to November 30 by electronic ballot. Each USBGF member may cast a ballot for up to five candidates. All candidates, incumbent or otherwise, run ‘at-large’ (not for specific seats) with the five candidates receiving the most votes being elected — there are certain other qualifications outlined in the By-Laws.

It is always crucial for the continued success of the organization that viable, qualified, willing candidates be nominated by the membership. Fresh ideas, new expertise, and enthusiasm enhance the functioning of the Board.


Karen Davis
President and Executive Director

Anita Marholm wins Womens Monthly for August!

AMarholmCongratulations to Anita Marholm for winning the USBGF Womens Monthly Online Circuit Event for August. Anita defeated Eva Zizkova in the 17-point final match.

Finishing 3/4 in the event was Leyla Zaloutskaya and Kat Denison.

The Women’s Circuit Monthly is a regular event on the USBGF Online Circuit that is open to any female USBGF member regardless of rating.

For more information about this tournament and other online events go to

Bray’s Learning Curve: Prime versus Prime Part 2

Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 17


 Once more we return to a Prime versus Prime problem. It is often said that all prime versus prime problems are doubles and takes. Is this the one that breaks that rule?

No, it is not, but it is still possible to make some big mistakes here. The position is hugely volatile and if Red rolls a six he will have lost market by a distance. He must redouble now to ensure the cube is on 4 when he wins a gammon (75% of his wins are gammons). It is a double blunder not to redouble here.

Many players of the Red checkers fail to redouble here because they fear crashing their home board. For them the glass is half-empty. In fact, Red will have to open two home board points (assuming White’s checkers remain on the bar) before White can redouble. The optimist, for whom the glass is half-full, redoubles immediately here.

What about the take? This is a very clear take, precisely because Red may crash his board. White will win 40% of the time from here, including 9% gammons. Dropping is nearly a triple blunder.

The key to the position is Red’s spare checker. Here Red has only 8 spare pips until he has to crash his board. If you move that checker around the board then then you get different answers to the doubling question. If you put the checker on the 13-pt then the answer is double/pass but on the 12-pt it is double/take.

Kit Woolsey analyses this type of position in his excellent “Backgammon Encyclopedia Volume 1”. It is currently out of print but if you ever get the chance to obtain a copy, do so without delay.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 17 rollout

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



Team USA to Compete in WBIF

Team USA has been selected to compete in the 2020 World Backgammon Internet Federation (WBIF) tournament. The team includes Art Benjamin, Neil Kazaross, Alfred Mamlet, Joe Russell (captain), Steve Sax, and Frank Talbot. Giants of Backgammon, grandmasters, and other leading players were invited to participate in a best 2-of-3 11-point match qualifier to determine seats on the team.

In 2019 the U.S. fielded a team for the first time in the WBIF online tournament with 25 countries participating. Taking place over a four-month period, the U.S. finished second in an exciting finish against Norway. Alfred Mamlet had a 10-0 win-loss record to win the individual competition.

USBGF Intermediate Divisional LXV

LibertyBJ_3 IntDiv

Congratulations to Elizabeth Liberty, winner of the Intermediate Divisional LXV. Elizabeth defeated Timothy Dugan in the 13-point final. Ali Shamsian and Curt Wilhelmsen finished 3/4 in the 11-point semi-final.
The Intermediate Divisional requires players to have a Circuit Elo rating of 1500.00 and lower at the time of registration. For more information or to register for other tourneys go to the Online Circuit Leaderboard.

Bray’s Learning Curve: Sixes don’t grow on trees

Match Play. 2-2 to 7. How should Red play 63?

2019 - Intermediates 17


When you get the chance to make a five-point prime and your opponent is on the bar you normally take it.

That is precisely what Red did here, playing 13/4.

The problem was that he had three of his own checkers trapped behind a five-point prime and precious little time to escape.

As Paul Magriel once said to me in a lesson: “sixes don’t grow on trees”.

By playing 23/14* Red escapes one of the rear checkers AND puts a second White checker on the bar. What more can he want? Yes, White will sometimes roll a couple of fours and Red’s game will disintegrate but that doesn’t nearly compensate for the 5% extra game wins and 5% extra gammons that Red wins after 23/14*. At 2-2 to 7 gammons are particularly useful as they get Red to the Crawford Game.

One could make an argument for 23/17, 7/4 which both escapes a checker and makes a four-point board but that reduces the time available to escape the other two rear checkers (as White has only one checker to enter from the bar) and also reduces the percentage of gammons won. 23/17, 7/4 is a better move than 13/4.

23/14* would be correct in a money game as well.

In XG terms 13/4 is a bad blunder.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 17 rollout

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




Bray’s Learning Curve: PRaT

Money Play. Should Red Double? If doubled, should White take?

2019 - Beginners 17


Doubles in races and bear-offs can be learnt and there are formulae to assist with the decision making. The same is not true of the middle game which is far too complex for a set of rules to be doggedly applied.

Most middle-game doubling decisions are made using pattern recognition. Specific positions virtually never repeat but types of positions repeat constantly. We use knowledge of prior positions to make a judgement of the position in front of us. The better and more experienced the player the more likely it is that his judgement will be accurate.

One guide we can use is PRaT which stands for Position, Race, Threat. Those three elements form the core of any decision. If you stand better in two of the three elements you should be considering a double. If you lead in all three it is nearly certainly a double and a pass.

Let’s apply this to this week’s problem:

  • The race is equal.
  • Red has the better home board but he has made his 2-pt which is a bit ugly. On the downside he has three rear checkers to White’s two. Meanwhile White does not have an anchor so could be blitzed.
  • The position is volatile and Red has several threats which if carried out could lose his market. For example, after the sequence Red 65: 10/4*, 9/4 White 65: Fan Red will clearly have lost his market.

Red is ahead in two of the three elements, so it looks like a double. White’s position is scary, but he has no checkers out of play and if he can create an anchor he will be in the game for a long time. Red has a lot of work to do to win the game so it looks as if White can accept the double despite the gammon risk.

The rollout bears out this thinking. The position is a double and a take and in fact, the take is very easy, and it is the double/no double decision that is much closer.

PraT is not an exact science but merely a useful aid to making doubling decisions. Use it, but remember some of it subjective, i.e. how strong are the threats? It will assist your game but don’t expect it to make clear-cut decisions for you. That is your job!

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 17 Rollout


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



Bray’s Learning Curve – Early Dilemma

Money Play. How should Red play 31?

Basic Begiiners 7


This early game position gives Red a dilemma. Should he take the safety of the ace-point anchor or not?

A common error here is to play bar/24, 13/10, securing an anchor and then hoping to develop the home board. The problem with this play is that Red is playing catch-up because White is ahead in development. It also leaves 11 shots.

When your opponent has built an early home board point it is normally correct to try to build an advanced anchor.

This position is no exception despite the fact that White still has three checkers on his 8-pt.

Red should play bar/22 with the 3, hoping to subsequently make the 22-pt. After bar/22 he can choose between 24/23 and 9/8 for the ace. Because White may well try to launch a blitz attack in his home board Red should safety the blot on his 9-pt so that he is not trying to fight a war on two fronts.

24/23 is certainly a reasonable move but it gives White just too many attacking options.

Bar/22, 9/8 is the best play in this position.


Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon


Basic Beginners Rollout 7


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


USBGF Intermediate Divisional LXIII

Keith Remels 2019 Int

Congratulations to Keith Remels, winner of the Intermediate Divisional LXIII. Keith defeated Kai Demler in the 13-point final. Vera Holley and Max McCauley finished 3/4 in the 11-point semi-final. The Intermediate Divisional requires players to have a Circuit Elo rating of 1500.00 and lower at the time of registration. See current online tournament ratings at Online Circuit Leaderboard.

Bray’s Learning Curve: Prime versus Prime

Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 16


 There is a well-known backgammon saying that all Prime Versus prime Positions are doubles and takes. Could this be the one that breaks the rule?

The position occurred in the Battersea chouette and when Red (the box) redoubled all the team members bar one dropped. That hardy soul went on to win the game by hitting a shot in the bear-off. But was his take correct?

The answer is yes and by a long way. It is much more the redouble that is in question here, rather than the take. Dropping this redouble is worse than a double blunder. The team members visualised Red rolling a six and subsequently building a full prime to contain the White rear checker.

That is certainly one scenario but more likely is Red will not roll a six next turn. If White then rolls an immediate ace (30% chance) he is right back in the game and can mount an attack on the Red checker on White’s ace-point. If Red continues to fail to escape that rear checker then White can even win by Red crashing his home board.

As you can see from the rollout White will win 25% of the time and with a good percentage of gammons. Remember also that White will own the doubling cube and may well get the chance to use it to very good effect.

The team were far too pessimistic in their assessment of their position, only looking at the negative aspects of the position. It is crucial in all doubling cube evaluations to look at how you can win the game and not just look at how badly you can lose it.

Technically this only just a redouble as Red, but it is a very strong practical redouble as you will get a lot of drops, as evidenced by what happened in the chouette.

This skill, the ability to take a dispassionate view of a position, separates true experts from intermediates

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 16 Rollout


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


USBGF Advanced Divisional LXXI

Jesse Anderson-Lehman

Congratulations to Jesse Anderson-Lehman, winner of the Advanced Divisional LXXI. Jesse defeated Giancarlo Ratto in the 17-point final. Frank Costello and Jeff Schwarz finished 3/4 in the 15-point semi-final.

The Advanced Divisional requires players to have a Circuit Elo rating between 1500.01 – 1649.99 at the time of registration. See current online standings: Leader Board.

Bray’s Learning Curve: Connectivity

Money Play. How should Red play 44?

2019 - Intermediates 16


Always remember that backgammon is a representation of war. An essential element of warfare is communication, the soldiers need to be able to speak to each other. Bearing that idea in mind, how should Red play his double fours?

Certainly not 18/10(2) which completely strands the rear checker and Red would be racing when trailing in the race. 7/3(2), 6/2(2) creates a stripped structure with gaps, very poor for communication and future development.

8/4(2), 7/3(2) is much better, creating a compact structure with some spares for future rolls. Best by a very short distance is 13/9(3), 6/2. This creates a four-point prime, again with some spares to cope with future rolls. Meanwhile Red needs to escape his rear checker to give himself another spare. That will give him options for racing or priming as his future game plans.

Flexibility and communication are the key factors in the decision-making process here.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 16 rollout

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


John Pirner, USBGF Board of Directors

John Pirner official photo_sm

The U.S. Backgammon Federation (USBGF) is pleased to announce that John Pirner has joined the Board of Directors and will serve as Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer. He lives in Minnesota and plays with the Twin Cities Backgammon Club.

He founded Gammon Stuff in 2016 to import, stock and exclusively sell the handmade boards and accessories built by Fazil Terlemez (FTH), a German craftsman. Begun as a hobby, Gammon Stuff is now an enthusiastic corporate sponsor of the USBGF and ABT tournaments. John is also a Platinum Sponsor of the USBGF.

Besides Gammon Stuff, John is an owner and serves on the board of directors of a Midwest-based distributor that sells applied automation and power transmission products to machine builders and manufacturers. John has also served on the board of directors, the executive committee and as president of the Association for High Technology Distribution, a nonprofit trade organization that supports independent, high tech distributors in North America.

USBGF Advanced Divisional LXX

Yusuf Adenwala 2018

Congratulations to Yusuf Adenwala, winner of the Advanced Divisional LXX. Yusuf defeated Lynda Clay in the 17-point final. Kat Denison and Peter Swartwout finished 3/4 in the 15-point semi-final.

The Advanced Divisional requires players to have a Circuit Elo rating between 1500.01 – 1649.99 at the time of registration. See current online standings: Leader Board.

Bray’s Learning Curve: When in Doubt

Money Play. How should Red play 42?

2019 - Beginners 16


The age-old saying in backgammon is, “when in doubt, hit”. This position is a classic demonstration of that principle. Over the board Red played the very passive 8/4, 6/4 but that leaves an equal position.  What will Red do next turn after the passive play.

Having decided to hit which is the correct play?

The weakest hit is 17/15*, 17/13 which isolates the rear checker and gives White good threes, a number that doesn’t enter from the bar. Better is 17/15*/11 which nicely duplicates White’s fours and fives.

The best hit is 24/20, 17/5*. Crucially this connects all the rear checkers so that, if White does enter and hit, Red will have a lot of return shots the following roll.

Aggression normally pays dividends in backgammon and this position ably supports that principle. Backgammon is a game of risk and reward. Here there is certainly some risk but that is nicely counterbalanced by the potential reward.

“When in doubt, HIT”.

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 16 Rollout

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

Bray’s Learning Curve: Simple Bear-Off

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

Basic Begiiners 6


When we learn about doubling in backgammon we start with bear-off positions because we can calculate exactly each player’s winning chances and so we can be certain about the correct doubling positions.

So we “know” that a pure (neither player can fail to take off two checkers with each roll) three roll position is a double and drop, a four roll position is a double and a take and five roll position is a double (but not a redouble) and a take.

The next stage in our education is to introduce slight variations to the know positions to see if that makes any difference. This position is the standard four roll position but one of White’s checkers has been moved from his 1-pt to his 2-pt. Can this possibly change the doubling decisions?

Surprisingly, it can. Red should clearly still double but now White has to drop the double!

Why is this? Two reasons: White’s double ones no longer takes off four checkers thus saving him a roll; White might roll four successive aces in which case on his last roll he will only take off one checker.

These two possibilities combine to push White into drop territory although I have seen many players erroneously take this position when playing the White checkers.

So we learn the basics and then we vary things a little and gain more knowledge. Quite simply, basic education applied to backgammon.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Basic Beginners Rollout 6


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


Inteview with Karen Davis


By Robert Stoller

Karen Davis has served as President/Executive Director of the U.S. Backgammon Federation since January 2017, having previously served as Chairman of the Board of Directors since 2010. With the approach of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the USBGF in December 2009, we asked USBGF historian Robert Stoller to interview Karen, focusing upon her experience with USBGF and her personal journey as a backgammon player. –Ed

Robert Stoller: To my surprise when I Googled “Karen Davis— health care professional”, I discovered that you have your own Wikipedia page! I had recalled from our luncheon conversation at Novi a few years ago that you had advised the Clinton White House, but I had not known that you worked in the Carter Administration as well! Could you tell us about your professional career?

Karen Davis: As an undergraduate I attended Rice University in Houston, with a double major in math and economics. I did my graduate work at Rice as well. I was awarded a doctorate in economics, and then taught for a few years as an Assistant Professor. In 1970 I moved to Washington, D.C. as a Brookings Institution Economic Policy Fellow, working for a year at the Social Security Administration in the Medicare Research office. That was followed by a six-year stint at Brookings as a Senior Fellow, writing books and articles on health economics and health financing. I spent 1974-1975 at Harvard University as a visiting lecturer in health economics.

During his presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter read my Brookings book on National Health Insurance. Once he had been elected, he invited me (in 1977) to serve as his head of health policy at the Department of Health and Human Services, and then as the director of a Public Health Service agency. The responsibilities that these jobs entailed—advising on programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program that affected the lives of millions of elderly people, children, and low-income populations in need of health care—were significant, and more gratifying than my work outside the public sector.

At the end of the Carter Administration, I took a position at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health as a Professor of Economics, chairing the Department of Health Policy and Management. In 1992, I moved to New York City—where, for the next 20 years, I headed a $700 million philanthropy, The Commonwealth Fund, devoted to financing research on improving the performance of health systems. We pioneered international surveys of health-system performance and developed innovations in the U.S. to improve the payment, quality, and delivery of health services.

Robert Stoller: When did you first learn about backgammon? What were the circumstances?

Karen Davis: I started playing in 1981 when I left the Carter Administration. I was writing a book on Medicare, and would get stir crazy from sitting at the typewriter all day and go out in the evening to play backgammon. It was the height of the backgammon craze, and the Georgetown bars in D.C. had regular backgammon tournaments. I discovered the Dupont Circle Backgammon Club, with Kent Goulding, Kit Woolsey, Ed O’Laughlin, John Klein, and other excellent players in attendance. We had frequent visitors from New York, Pittsburgh, and Richmond, including the Zaltash brothers, Dennis Culpepper, and Mike Senkiewicz. Whenever I traveled for work, I would find backgammon clubs in New York, Boston, Chicago. It was a heady time, with Goulding publishing Backgammon with the Champions and Inside Backgammon, and Woolsey writing some of his early books and articles. I learned mostly from watching and listening to chouette discussions and reading everything I could get my hands on, especially works by Woolsey, Goulding, and Robertie. I took some lessons from Goulding, and when I moved to New York, from Paul Magriel.

The attraction to me was the mathematics of backgammon. It was second nature for me to calculate probabilities, and I learned counting techniques from Jack Kissane and Kit Woolsey.

Robert Stoller: In your President’s Column in the Summer 2018 issue of PTB [Neil Kazaross cover photo], you mention taking lessons with Paul Magriel during the period 1994-1995.

How did this come about?

When, where and how did you first meet Paul?

How did the lessons proceed?

Did Professor Magriel task you with any homework assignments? If so, what can you remember about them?

Karen Davis: I moved to New York City in 1992 for professional reasons and would play at the Coterie on Madison Avenue: an exclusive club run by Louise Goldsmith. Its members included both the older generation of players like Gino Scalamandre and the young Turks like Paul Magriel, Mike Senkiewicz, Billy Horan, Jason Lester, Phil Laak, Falafel, Katie Wright, Lynn Goldsmith, and Fran Goldfarb. In addition, top European players would always visit when they came to the U.S.: for example, Gus Hansen (a Danish professional poker player and Giant of Backgammon) and Mads Andersen (also from Denmark and Backgammon World Champion in 2002)
I took lessons from Paul Magriel for two years. He was a great teacher. He was infinitely curious, and wanted records of all his matches. So in the pre-bot era some of us learned how to quickly record matches as they were played, and Magriel would give me free lessons in exchange for that work. He would keep index cards of the positions that interested him then and ask 15-20 top players what they would do and why. He kept records of how they “voted” and came to understand all the different aspects of—and arguments for—alternative plays.

We would meet for an hour on Sunday mornings at my Upper East Side apartment for lessons. He didn’t prepare in advance. We would just start playing and he would comment. I took copious notes, and at the end of our two years organized his instruction into the various beginning game, mid-game, end-game, gameplan categories, and gave him the material hoping he would turn it into another book!

Robert Stoller: On page 18 of that issue of PTB, there is a cropped photograph of Paul playing a match. The caption identifies the circumstance as having occurred during the 1984 Invitational Cup tournament directed by Kent Goulding and Bill Robertie. Sitting to Paul’s left is a young woman identified as you (the image has been cropped to reveal only the right half of your face) and the caption states that you were recording the match in exchange for a free lesson from Paul. What, if anything, can you remember about that event? What was Paul’s “standard” hourly rate or per-lesson fee at that time, to the best of your recollection? Did you have other occasions when you recorded matches for him? Did you record matches for anyone else?

Karen Davis: Paul charged $100 an hour for lessons, and as I said some were complimentary in exchange for recording. After every match he had recorded, Paul would set up and go through his match to catch any error in my recording while the rolls and plays were fresh in his mind. I remember once recording a match of his against Wilcox Snellings in Costa Rica. When we went through it afterwards, Wilcox flagged a particular alternative play of double 3s, and I was shocked to realize Paul hadn’t really considered it since he, of course, normally saw all reasonable moves. So I learned a lot by recording him, and loved doing it although it took enormous concentration to anticipate moves and be ready to record the instant they were made to keep up with the flow of the game.

Robert Stoller: What was your first tournament?

What prompted you to enter it?

Were you apprehensive at all prior to commencing your first match? If so, how did you deal with your nerves?

What do you remember most vividly about that first tournament experience—both positive and negative?

How did you do in that event?

Karen Davis: Yes, my first tournament experience hooked me on going to tournaments. Several D.C. players were going to the North American Backgammon Championship on Paradise Island in the Bahamas in 1984 so I decided to join them. It was still the glamorous jet-setting era in backgammon. I lost to a Spanish countess wearing a white silk suit! She made quite an impression on me. I finished second in the Intermediate consolation. The trophy prize was a bottle of Courvoisier resting on a carriage. I still have it!

A Washington Post reporter Rudy Maxa covered the tournament, capturing the mix of jet-setting wealthy players and the emerging mathematical students of the game.

The excitement and glamour of the event hooked me. I decided
to move up immediately to the Open division, preferring to learn by playing the best.

Robert Stoller: The U.S. Backgammon Federation:

What prompted you to become involved with the USBGF?

It appears that you have served on the USBGF Board of Directors in one capacity or another continuously since the inception of the USBGF.

Karen Davis: When the USBGF was formed in December 2009, Perry Gartner asked me if I would be willing to serve on the Board and I readily agreed. So, yes, I was a Founding Board member, initially serving as Treasurer—given my training in economics and nonprofit management (and willingness to do the work!). In September 2010, after a rocky start for the organization, I stepped up to serve as Chairman and Treasurer, with Perry as President and Executive Director. We launched the online membership system in September 2010 and were off and running.

I love backgammon, and was eager to see the game grow and thrive. I’m also a big believer in the nonprofit sector where the goal is doing what’s best for the community while being fiscally responsible and breaking even over the long haul. I had served as Chair of the Board of a nonprofit professional membership organization with 2500 members and knew how important it was to deliver valuable benefits to members in exchange for their dues in order to grow and thrive. I knew that it would take a few years to get to a breakeven position, and recognized the importance of raising seed capital from Founding Sponsors.

Robert Stoller: Relatedly, it strongly appears that you have served as a major contributor to each and every issue of PrimeTime Backgammon since the first issue appeared in the autumn of 2010. (Volume 1, Number 1 is the September-October 2010 issue.) You served as the Managing Editor from 2010-2017 and as the Chair of the Editorial Advisory Board for each and every issue. You have also contributed numerous interviews, player profiles, tournament reports, and reports on team events (e.g. Ohio vs Michigan; Maryland-Virginia-D.C. team competitions). Do you, yourself, happen to know how many articles you have penned for PTB? In addition, you have been credited with numerous photographs, and for the past several issues you have been listed on the masthead as one of four principal “staff” photographers (along with Bill Riles, Tara Mendicino and Candace Mayeron).

Karen Davis: Yes, the PrimeTime Backgammon magazine has been a labor of love since its onset. In the early months the Board of Directors of the USBGF held long monthly conference calls where we discussed the mission and goals of the organization. I’m action-oriented and after one lengthy call, I decided that we needed to do less talking and more doing. As an academic, I had authored a half dozen books and hundreds of professional journal articles. So it seemed to be an easy task to create a magazine, plan issues, ask leading backgammon authors to contribute articles, write content, engage a top-flight editor, have the magazine laid out by a production editor, post on our website, and send out notices to the membership that it was available. So I put together the inaugural September-October 2010 issue to coincide with the launch of our membership system. Matt Cohn-Geier served as Founding Editor with Bob Wachtel quickly becoming our major editor, both contributing articles and editing material from other authors. Gus Contos was our production editor using the Publisher software. As you note, I wrote most of the news and profile articles. It was laid out in “newsletter” format, with each issue about 30 pages long. Initially we issued it every two months, but switched to quarterly issues in 2016.

I also began taking photos at tournaments since they really increase the appeal of a magazine—the old “a picture is worth a thousand words” adage.

The magazine was offered as a benefit to Premium members and was instrumental in bringing the organization into the black after five years. We increased the Premium membership dues to $60 in September 2013 and the Basic to $35 with the main difference being electronic access to the magazine. Many thought it would be the death of the organization, but the magazine was appealing enough to attract Premium members, including many international members. And we haven’t had a dues increase since, while we’ve continued to add benefits such as a popular online tournament system!

We substantially enhanced the magazine’s content, expanding to about 120 pages per issue, and worked with Tara Mendicino to do the layout using Adobe InDesign professional software. She and Bill Riles also oversee the printing and distribution of the print issues.

I’m so appreciative for all the donated articles by top-flight authors who do so without compensation. We’ve had contributions from nearly all leading U.S. backgammon experts, making it a must-read for those serious about improving their game.

Marty Storer took over as Managing Editor in January 2017 when I stepped up as President/Executive Director of the organization. His amazing analytic insight (now the top-PR U.S. Grandmaster rated by the Backgammon Masters Awarding Body), as well as writing and editing skills, help make it the premier backgammon magazine today. It’s just gotten better and better over time!

This Summer 2019 issue is the 47th issue of PTB. A typical issue now has over a dozen articles, including 1-2 articles analyzing matches or some particular aspect of backgammon, columns by experts like Art Benjamin and Richard Munitz (and formerly Mary Hickey), and news, profile articles, and columns. Seventy backgammon experts have authored articles for the magazine over the decade. I’ve probably contributed close to 200 articles—but I’ve never taken the time to count!

Robert Stoller: What prompted you to launch the Cherry Blossom and the Sunny Florida ABT tournaments?

For the benefit of more recent tournament organizers and directors as well as for those members of the United States backgammon community who are thinking about possibly organizing their own tournament(s), do you have any thoughts you would care to share regarding what you have found to be “best practices” as well as “unsuccessful practices to be avoided if at all possible”?

Karen Davis: I lived in the Washington, D.C. area from 1970-1992, and then again from 2013-2017. It’s a powerhouse of a backgammon community with three clubs and many top-rated players. In the Spring of 2016, I spent six months in Vermont helping my younger grandson finish up boarding school. I got a call that the D.C. Capital Classic ABT tournament wasn’t going well and needed a new organizer. (See Ray Fogerlund, “Nation’s Capital 2016” in PTB Fall 2016). It seemed a shame that the nation’s capital wouldn’t have a first-rate tournament so I agreed to organize the 2017 Cherry Blossom Backgammon Championship. I’m a big believer in doing what I know I can do well, and recruiting others to do what I’m not good at! So I recruited Bill Riles as tournament director, and convinced local club director Barry Silliman to come back to help run it along with Jason Lee. After a year Barry was ready to step back into the TD role in 2018 and 2019, assisted by Ben Friesen, Kent Goulding, and others. Ben is ready to take over the lead role in another year.

It has also been an important venue for the USBGF—hosting the USBGF Tournament of Stars and the USBGF National Championship East. So it became part of the USBGF fund-raising strategy, attracting new Founding Sponsors to be part of the Tournament of Stars.

It’s been a joy to watch the attendance climb to 146 this year, one of the five largest on the ABT in just three short years. Organizing a tournament has a lot of moving parts that have to be done well— hotel contract, putting together a top-flight staff, using modern communication and marketing techniques, attractive website with online registration system, setting and hitting a budget, overseeing an operational plan for ensuring that everything goes smoothly, as well as the actual running of the tournament. I keep intending to draft an ABT Directors Handbook to have a repository of tournament director suggestions and practices to make it easier for new directors and organizers. So that’s still on the To Do list!

Similarly, when I retired from a full-time position at Johns Hopkins at the end of 2017 and moved to my South Florida condo, I decided to rebuild an active backgammon tournament community in South Florida. There had been successful ABT tournaments there a decade earlier under director Elayne Feinstein. Kathy Weiner had taken over, but was moving to Vegas and was unable to continue. So it seemed natural to try a new approach, building on the appeal of Florida as a sunny, vacation destination.

Robert Stoller: I had not realized until I started cataloging every time your name appears in the current issue of PTB that you have also energized the South Florida Backgammon Club as a “Prime Club”. According to the data compiled at page 98 of the Spring 2019 issue, yours is the third-largest Prime Club in the nation (behind Beltway Backgammon and Backgammon-By-The-Bay, but ahead of a whole host of long-standing, well-established clubs, including Gammon Associates (Patrick Gibson), Flint Area (Carol Joy Cole), NYC (Richard Munitz), Chicago Bar Point (Amy Trudeau), and New England (Albert Steg and Alex Zamanian).

My questions are, how did you decide to pursue that initiative, and to what do you attribute your resounding success?

Karen Davis: I’m a big believer that local clubs are the bedrock of a successful, thriving backgammon community. I started the D.C. Metro Backgammon Club in Washington, D.C. and used social media including MeetUp, Facebook, and bulk e-mails to area players. It’s a long-term investment, but attracts one or two new players at each gathering. Vinson Blanton took over as director of D.C. Metro when I moved to Florida, but I continue to pay for the MeetUp site and play at the club when I am in D.C.. We also experimented with a USBGF MeetUp site which sent out notices of local D.C. club events as well as ABT events. Those efforts have been successful in attracting anywhere from 15-25 players at weekly or bi-weekly D.C.-area tournaments. I also started a backgammon interest group at the Cosmos Club, a private social club where I stay when I am in D.C.

We had the same experience in South Florida using MeetUp, the Sunny Florida Facebook site, and a bulk e-mail service. I’ve now built up a South Florida mailing list of about 200 backgammon players (450 in all of Florida) and send out notices of meetings. I also get out the results and statistics including Player of the Year points using, typically reporting results the evening after the tournament (no matter how exhausted I am at that point!). We post photos on the Sunny Florida Facebook page. Players love the instant feedback—and it lets visitors to our MeetUp and Sunny Florida Facebook page know that we have an active, thriving community.

We now draw 16-25 players at our twice-monthly events—one in Aventura between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and one in Boca Raton between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. Gary Koscielny and Rick Wolf have been great, running the tournaments when I’m traveling. We also plan activities with the Palm Beach chapter (run by Jason Briggs), and I attend the weekly Miami Club tournament in Coral Gables (run by Leo Bueno) when I’m in town. We make sure to promote all the South Florida backgammon events regularly.

That kind of backgammon community base has been instrumental in building attendance at our annual regional South Florida tournaments (part of the USBGF Local Club Initiative) as well as the Sunny Florida ABT event.

I believe that this type of sustained long-term activity by local clubs has been instrumental in increasing our Novice division turnout at Cherry Blossom and Sunny Florida. We had 23 Novices in the 2017 Cherry Blossom, which grew to 32 Novices/Advanced Novices in the 2018 Cherry Blossom and 42 Novices/Intermediates at the 2019 Cherry Blossom—the second largest after NY Metro in the ABT (NY Metro also uses MeetUp to grow its player base). We had 16 Novices at our 2018 Sunny Florida tournament.

We still need to experiment with attracting and retaining Novice players, and with helping them to stay engaged and become tournament players. Too often they show up at weekly or monthly tournaments, lose, and feel that they aren’t of a caliber of other players so drop out. Recently we received a suggestion to try an Mentor/Novice doubles tournament—with the Novice playing and Mentor advising on moves. That seems a keen way to help Novices learn, win some of the time, and enjoy both the social and competitive nature of the game. So that’s also on the To Do list!

Robert Stoller: Team Competitions—Ohio vs Michigan; Maryland-Virginia-D.C.

How did these events come about?

To what extent, if at all, have any of these events brought new players into ABT competitions, either live tournaments or on-line events?

Karen Davis: Regional team competitions are a great way for players to get to know other players in their area and socialize. There’s a natural competitive spirit between geographic regions. I have a home in Toledo, Ohio, which is accessible to both Michigan and Ohio players. That prompted me to start the Ohio-Michigan Team Challenge eight years ago. It uses a round-robin format of 8 players per team. The local club director serves as team captain (Carol Joy Cole for Michigan and Joe Miller for Ohio). I provide hospitality and the playing venue at my home. The Ohio players tend to come in Saturday evening for dinner and a warm-up tournament plus chouette play. The Michigan players come in on Sunday morning for brunch and the team tournament, with lots of food on hand—chili, sandwiches, fruit, vegetables.

Michigan won the first five years, but Ohio has won the last three. The 2018 Ohio-Michigan Team Challenge was a cliff-hanger. After the 8-player round robin 7-point matches, the teams were tied at 32-32. A 3-point playoff between Chris Yep (director of the Columbus OH club) and Dmitriy Obukhov (MI) decided the outcome. Dmitriy left a 1:17 shot in the bear-off of the last game, Chris hit, contained Dmitriy’s checker and won—making history. The Ohio team included Joe Miller, captain, John Baron, Ray Cifani, Karen Davis, Farhad Forudi, Mary Hickey, Mike Vasilatos, Chris Yep. The Michigan team was Carol Joy Cole (captain), Bill Calton, Paul Farah, Faris Gabbara, Ricky Griggs, Dmitriy Obukhov, John Quinn, and Jim Slomkoski.

It’s a fun day both teams look forward to each year. Socializing at my home with lots of good food creates a very different atmosphere than most tournaments. It fosters friendships, and lots of camaraderie that is good for the game.

I also supported a Maryland-Virginia-D.C. event held at the restaurant where the Beltway monthly tournaments were held. It ended when the restaurant closed and the club switched venues. As I had hoped, it was also a fun event, forging great relationships among area clubs and players.

I also organized a competition between the Cosmos Club backgammon club in Washington, D.C. and the Metropolitan Club this year. The Metropolitan Club has 70 members in its backgammon interest group compared with about a dozen at the Cosmos Club. We put up a valiant effort—but lost! One of the future challenges is getting more private social club players engaged in ABT tournament play. We had several at the 2018 and 2019 Cherry Blossom, so it’s beginning to take form.

Robert Stoller: You’ve enjoyed some success at backgammon in the last few years. As of the end of November 2018, you had earned 26.00 ABT points, raising your lifetime ABT points total to 107.53—thereby moving you up to 49th place on the ABT’s all-time leader-board. Only 45 players had broken the 100-point (lifetime) barrier.

Hall of Fame inductees who were trailing you on the ABT’s all-time leader-board as
of that juncture were:
» CJC—#50/ 103.33 life-time ABT points
» Howard Markowitz—#58/ 93.56
» Bill Robertie—#81/ 68.11
» Joe Sylvester—#110/ 54.23
» X-22—#199/ 32.71
» KG—#230/ 29.19
» Nack—#420/ 17.03

HOFers who exceeded you as of 11-27-2018 were:
» Neil—#1/ 577.14
» Ray—#2/ 555.64
» Ed O’—#3/311.91
» Malcolm—#6/ 264.76 [note—Steve Sax had not yet been inducted] » Kit—#14/ 182.10
» Senk—#18/ 154.66
» Joe Russell—#19/ 154.61
» Walter Trice—#23/ 146.53

My question is: To what do you attribute your recent ABT “breakthrough”?

Karen Davis: I’ve found a little more time to work on my game since retiring from my full-time professional position at the end of 2017. I’ve taken lessons from Marty Storer, and participated in Backgammon Masters Awarding Body events, gradually working my way up to my current Masters Class 2 rating. I’ve enjoyed reading Michy Kageyama’s new books, and have reread some of the classics.


4TH MERIT OPEN MONTENEGRO Karen enjoyed learning ideas for tournament organization from the superbly organized Merit Open Montenegro.

This year it was a particular thrill to be selected as a member of Team USA in the World Team Championships at the 4th Merit Open Montenegro. I certainly wasn’t the strongest member of the team but did pull off the best win-loss record and finished 3rd/4th in the Ladies Tournament in the Merit Open. I had all my matches recorded by Mate Feher, even managing one match with a PR under 2!

2018 was definitely a good year for me across the board. In addition to finishing #9 in ABT points (#49 in All-time ABT Points), I ranked #3 in USBGF National Master Points (#6 in Lifetime), and rank #2 in Lifetime USBGF Online Master Points.

Perhaps the biggest thrill was winning the NY Metropolitan Open Super Jackpot in 2019, playing Sebastian Wilkinson the top-ranked BMAB British payer and Giant #30.

Recent wins include:

2019—1st Super Jackpot, NY Metropolitan Open; 1st Consolation, Ohio; 3rd/4th Ladies Tournament, 4th Merit Open Montenegro Grand Prix International Backgammon Championship; 1st BMABUSA #10 at the Cherry Blossom; 1st (tied) After-tournament tourney, Chicago Open.

2018—2nd ProAm Texas (with Kit Woolsey); 1st Consolation, Texas; Ohio Masters Jackpot 2nd; US Open 3rd Consolation; Atlanta, 1st Consolation; Chicago Open, tied for 4th in Swiss format.

2017—1st in Montreal Open Masters Jackpot; finalist in Masters Jackpot and 2nd in Consolation at Ohio State; 1st Consolation at NY Metro; 2nd in Pro-Am Doubles (with Kit Woolsey) at Texas; 1st in Doubles and 1st Tie in BMAB (with 4.6 PR) at Michigan; 1st in Older & Wiser Senior event at Silicon Valley.

Robert Stoller: Mentoring Stephen Collins

I notice that you won the Michigan doubles in 2017 with your grandson Stephen Collins. Has this effort also encouraged any of Stephen’s friends/schoolmates to get into backgammon?

Karen Davis: Stephen (21) is a great doubles partner for me. He’s a very spatial-visual player, and I’m more mathematically oriented. So the combination is great. He also came in 2nd in doubles with Tuvya Felt in Carolina in 2014, and we came in second in doubles at Carolina 2015. He’s played off and on at ABT tournaments since he was 13, finishing 1st or 2nd in the Novice or Junior division at 2011 Chicago Open, 2011 Florida, 2012 NY Metro, 2012 Pittsburgh, 2012 Ohio, and 3rd in Charlotte NC in 2013
But he’s really more into outdoors active sports—skateboarding is his current love, along with surfing, water skiing, snowboarding.

Backgammon has provided a time for us to travel together, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun. He’s lived with me except when he’s been away to school since his mother (my daughter) passed away from breast cancer in December 2010. His brother David (23) lives with his dad and stepmother and her children at our family home in Toledo where he studies engineering at the University of Toledo. He goes with me to backgammon tournaments in New York and Chicago—but he spends his time exploring big city attractions! When he was a teenager, I took him to Magic the Gathering tournaments and was stunned to see thousands of young men playing the game. It has an Elo system, streamed matches, and many features in common with backgammon—but clearly has found a way to appeal to youth that we’ve yet to unearth in backgammon.

Robert Stoller: Do you have any unrealized goals in backgammon that you still hope to achieve?

Karen Davis: The big one is ensuring the long-term viability of the USBGF and a smooth transition to new leadership. In my view the organization would benefit from someone at the helm who is younger, savvy with the latest technology, and has the time, energy, and enthusiasm to take the organization to a new level of performance.

Robert Stoller: Is there anything else you would like to discuss or comment upon that I have not already asked about?

Karen Davis: It’s been an extraordinary opportunity to have had a leadership role in shaping USBGF policies and ensuring their execution over the last decade. It’s an amazing organization that has benefitted in innumerable ways from the contributions of members, volunteers, staff, directors, and sponsors. Thanks to you for serving as our historian and ensuring we have a record of this remarkable period of our history. We can all share with pride in the record of accomplishment in its first decade. Here’s to an even more exciting future! 



Robert Stoller is the USBGF historian, a post he has earned through his prodigious knowledge of the history of backgammon. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he served as Assistant Attorney General for the state of Alaska.

He is an enthusiastic and generous supporter of the USBGF with a passion for ensuring that video interviews of inductees in the American Hall of Fame are recorded for posterity. He has overseen video productions of the American Backgammon Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in 2015 and 2016, and interviewed on videotape many of the inductees, using skills honed in his illustrious legal career.

He is a USBGF Diamond Founding Sponsor and Prime Benefactor. He is a co-founder of the Anchorage Backgammon Club, and has recruited fellow members of his Alaska backgammon club to become USBGF members.

Bray’s Learning Curve: More on Match Play Redoubles

Match Play. Red trails 0-2 to 7. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 15


This continues the theme from last week. When I first started playing backgammon match play doubling was still a very little researched and understood area of the game. With the advent of the bots things changed dramatically and modern players are light years ahead of their counterparts from the 1970s and 1980s.

However, players still wait too long to redouble in certain match plays situations and this week’s problem is one of them. White’s board is a mess and he already has four dead checkers. Red’s position is very sound with the exception of the dilly builder on his 3-pt.

For money and with a fully active cube it would be a blunder to redouble here but at 0-2 to 7 it is a very different story. With the cube on 4 a gammon for White will only gain him one extra point. Secondly, he will be very slow to redouble to 8 because Red will only need about 8% winning chances to accept. These two factors are huge in making the redoubling decision.

The position is highly volatile and by next turn Red may have missed his market and doing that when trailing in a match is nearly a criminal offence! Red must redouble now to make sure White will still accept.

Look, for example, at the sequence 53 for Red played 12/4, followed by 54 for White, played 18/22, 18/23. Red will have missed his market by a huge margin and in fact he will be too good to redouble.

You should always take longer to consider a redouble than an initial double, purely because there will be more at stake.

A lot of players would miss the redouble here because they would be influenced by their “money play thinking”. Winning backgammon matches is largely about good cube handling. Not redoubling this position is a 2.5 blunder.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 15 Rollout

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


President’s Column: Salute to our Sponsors

By Karen Davis, President and Executive Director

The U.S. Backgammon Federation (USBGF) will celebrate our tenth anniversary at the end of 2019. It is an appropriate time to review how much the organization has benefited from the support of our founding Sponsors, Prime Benefactors, Educational Sponsors, and Corporate Sponsors.

Their early support was critical to the success of the organization in attracting members, offering a rich array of benefits in support of our mission, and achieving financial viability. To date, 180 Sponsors have contributed a total of $286,000 to the USBGF. These funds have provided seed capital to the organization, supported infrastructure development such as the online membership system and website, covered losses in the early years, and permitted the organization to continue to develop new benefits and initiatives.

Founding Sponsors

The Founding Sponsors program was launched in May 2010 with a donation from the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Harvey Gillis. Harvey is a venture capitalist who urged creation of the program, recognizing that new businesses need start-up support to create the services and products that will generate a stream of revenue to cover future operating expenses. Karen Davis, a Founding Board member and Treasurer who succeeded Harvey as Chairman in the Fall of 2010, suggested that five levels of Founding Sponsors be created: Diamond ($6400 contribution), Platinum($3200), Gold ($1600), $800 (Silver), and Bronze ($400). The idea was derived, of course, from the doubling cube, but also drew on

  • Be in on the ground floor of an organization that advances the intellectually stimulating game of backgammon.
  • Support the mission and activities of the organization—A not-for-profit organization devoted to advancing the awareness, participation, education and enjoyment of the skill-based game of backgammon.
  • Receive benefits including lifetime membership for Diamond/ Platinum/Gold Sponsors, 10 years for Silver Sponsors, and five years for Bronze Sponsors; an invitation to participate in an annual USBGF Tournament of Stars doubles tournament pairing Founding Sponsors with stars of backgammon; and a specially designed doubling cube with their name and level of support on the cube.
  • Be recognized in perpetuity for their support, both on the USBGF website and in PrimeTime Backgammon magazine.

Karen Davis brings her expertise as a former nonprofit CEO, economist, and noted health policy expert to her role as President and Executive Director of the USBGF.Capture





Prime Benefactors

On August 15, 2014, the USBGF launched a three-year Prime Tournament program to provide added money prizes to USBGF members attending major tournaments in America. The idea grew out of a meeting between USBGF leaders and Giant of Backgammon Falafel Natanzon at the Chicago Open in May 2014. Falafel stressed the need to improve the economics of backgammon tournaments by sweetening the pot.

In launching the initiative, the USBGF pointed out that it is a win-win-win partnership. Tournament directors benefit because added money makes their events more attractive; players gain increased support and recognition; and the USBGF expands membership and helps fulfill our mission to grow the game. The initiative has been successful, and the USBGF has extended it annually, modifying some of its elements over time.

The stated objectives are:
» Increase USBGF membership.
» Increase tournament attendance.
» Enhance USBGF role, visibility, and influence.

Prime Benefactors were sought to finance the Prime Tournament initiative. Prime Benefactor levels include: Chairman’s Club Prime Benefactors ($1,500 annual contribution); President’s Club ($1,000 annual contribution); Sustaining ($750 annual contribution); Supporting ($500 annual contribution); Contributing ($250 annual contribution). Geoffrey Parker Games provided a special doubling cube to Benefactors.

Key provisions of the USBGF Prime Tournament program include:

» Raising a Prime Tournament Prize Fund from a new category of USBGF Prime Benefactors to be used to provide added money to Prime Tournaments; providing trophies to USBGF Master Point leaders; and supporting an online Federation Cup tournament with free entries for members and a cash prize to winners.
» In turn, Tournament Directors encourage USBGF enrollment at national tournaments through a variety of strategies, including announcements, a membership table, and active outreach to players.
» The USBGF markets Prime Tournaments, giving information in PrimeTime Backgammon magazine and on the USBGF website; notice on the USBGF Facebook site; and a bulk email notice to over 3000 USBGF members and registered website guests with links to tournament brochures and websites.

President’s Column

From 2015 to 2018, the USBGF provided a total of over $50,000 in added money. Initially the added money per tournament ranged from $500 to $1000 according to size. Currently we provide $5 per USBGF member playing in the tournament in the previous year. Directors have considerable discretion to allocate the added money to different events: Championship, Advanced, and Novice divisions for winners who are USBGF members; side events such as blitzes or mini-matches; free roll events; or door prizes awarded by random drawing.

An analysis of the program found that:

» More than a dozen Prime Benefactors have contributed to the program.
» Attendance at Prime Tournaments increased by over 10 percent annually, reversing a previous decade of decline in membership.
» USBGF membership growth climbed 25 percent. Enrollment at tournaments was particularly marked.
» The percent of Prime tournament entrants who are USBGF members increased from 55% to 74%, including 90% of Championship players.
» Tournaments that have specific USBGF events such as the Tournament of Stars and National Championship have the greatest percentage of USBGF membership.

Perhaps more importantly, the program has established that well-publicized “added money” increases tournament attendance. ABT directors now try to recruit sponsors for their individual tournaments. The USBGF has recruited Corporate Sponsors who donate backgammon boards to be awarded at larger ABT tournaments (more on this below). While modest compared with money added by casinos in European tournaments, it has become part of the modern tournament scene.

Prime Benefactor funds were also used to provide cash prizes to the top four finishers in the online USBGF Federation Cup. Entry was free. Held between March 2016 and January 2017, it was the largest online tournament ever held on the USBGF Online Circuit with 448 entries. Fourteen single elimination qualifiers, each composed of 32 entrants, were held between March 10 and September 1, 2016. Players losing a match could re-enter twice. The single-elimination playoff of the 14 qualifier winners started on November 1 of 2016 and concluded in January, 2017. Semi-finalists were Peggy Neubig and Peter Wisniewski. Jeb Horton prevailed over David Kettler in the finals.

In 2017, USBGF added money of $5 per USBGF member was extended to annual local club initiative tournaments as well as ABT tournaments. Twenty-two local clubs participated in both 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. Winners of the local club initiatives play in a Local Club Initiative online tournament with the winner receiving a free entry to an ABT tournament of their choice. Gus Contos from Los Angeles’s Gammon Associates won in 2018, and Carl Sorg from the Atlanta Northside Club won in 2019.

Educational Sponsors

Growing the backgammon community through outreach to newcomers and younger players is a major goal of the USBGF. Sponsors have been generous over time in contributing to four major educational programs:

» Boards for Kids—provides backgammon boards to elementary and secondary schools and other youth programs.
» Collegiate Program—provides backgammon boards to college and university backgammon clubs and scholarships to winners of collegiate backgammon tournaments.
» Novice and Newcomer Initiative—provides complimentary USBGF membership and backgammon books for beginners to ABT Novice division entrants and newcomers.
» Streaming—provides support for streaming and commentary of matches at ABT tournaments.

The USBGF originally put most of our emphasis on backgammon clubs in schools and colleges. We enjoyed some initial success, with about two dozen colleges and universities forming backgammon clubs and competing in an annual collegiate online backgammon tournament. These proved difficult to sustain, however, as student champions graduated and moved on to other interests. Similarly, high school backgammon clubs competed against a wide array of other activities for students and tended to lapse over time. New approaches and ideas, such as use of backgammon apps and mobile devices, may be required for long-term success.

The USBGF Novice and Newcomer Initiative, launched in 2016, has had a demonstrable impact. In 2015, 135 Novices entered ABT tournaments. Three years later in 2018, the number of Novices at tournaments had doubled to 268. Strategies included providing free backgammon books to Novice entrants and complimentary
USBGF memberships. Some ABT tournaments provide a dedicated Novice director to ensure a good experience for Novices, providing tips or special lectures for Novice players. The most successful tournaments are those that make a year-round effort to attract new players to local club tournaments through use of social media, particularly Facebook and MeetUp notices of meetings, as well as news and photos.

Most ABT tournaments now stream matches to a worldwide audience. The USBGF provides $6,000 annual support to help tournament directors cover the cost of streaming staff. We also sponsor streaming at the Backgammon World Championships in Monte Carlo. A total of over 350 matches were streamed in 2018 with USBGF support. For interested directors, the USBGF Remote Commentary Support Center arranges top-flight commentators for finals of ABT tournaments.

Corporate Sponsors

» The USBGF now has five corporate sponsors: Gammon Stuff, Gammon Guys, Cook Travel, GameSite 2000, and Geoffrey Parker Games. The criteria for USBGF corporate sponsorship include:

» The corporate sponsor must be a recognized provider of quality products and services.
» Owners, directors, officers, and management must have good reputation and standing in the community.
» The sponsor must not require an exclusive relationship with the USBGF.
» The sponsor must provide a significant benefit to the USBGF, ABT tournaments, and/or members.
» These include discounts on goods and services or provision of free goods and services such as backgammon equipment, software, publications, or airline travel/hotel accommodations.

All corporate sponsors are recognized on the USBGF website and in our quarterly PrimeTime Backgammon magazine.

The first USBGF corporate sponsor was GameSite 2000, the maker of eXtreme Gammon software and host of the GammonSite backgammon server. GameSite 2000 provides a 20% discount to USBGF Premium members for first-time purchase of XG ($48 instead of $60), and gives all USBGF members a 30% discount on the annual fee for use of the GammonSite server ($14 instead of $20). The XG discount has been a key factor in increasing membership at the Premium level. The GammonSite server is one of five acceptable servers for USBGF Online Circuit tournaments. On occasion, we award an annual GammonSite membership to online tournament winners.

Gammon Stuff, the U.S. distributor of FTH backgammon boards and equipment, is a generous supporter of large ABT tournaments. It offers a free board valued at $950 to the nine ABT tournaments that had 100 or more entrants in the previous year.

Gammon Guys, the U.S. distributor of Artgammon backgammon boards and equipment, similarly offers a free backgammon board valued at $600 to 11 ABT tournaments with 10 or more Novice entrants in the previous year. The board is awarded to the winner of the Novice or Intermediate division.

Cook Travel arranges airline travel discounts for USBGF members of 2-5% on economy tickets, and 10-30% on business/first-class tickets on selected airlines including Delta and American. For international tickets costing more than $800, the savings vary between 10-30%. These discounts are on Turkish Airlines, Delta, American, and Lufthansa. Cook Travel has been around for more than 40 years and specializes in discounted first and business class travel. Cook has been recommended by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and was an affiliate of American Express for 20 years before becoming independent.

Geoffrey Parker Games provides doubling cubes to USBGF Prime Benefactors.

USBGF Corporate Sponsors receive discounted advertising rates in our quarterly PrimeTime Backgammon magazine. Their logos appear on a USBGF backdrop which is displayed prominently at ABT tournaments, and used as a backdrop for photographs of winners.

Looking to the Future

As we enter our second decade, the U.S. Backgammon Federation is poised to raise awareness and interest in backgammon tournament participation to a new level, be a leader in forging international partnerships and activities, and enhance benefits for a growing membership. Our success in doing so will continue to depend on the generosity of donors and sponsors.

Modern Communications Outreach Strategy

The USBGF has raised awareness of backgammon as a mind-sport through our social media presence and support of streaming backgammon matches. In the last year, we have developed a successful social media strategy that has resulted in a significant increase in total fans of our USBGF and American Backgammon Tour (ABT) Facebook sites—now over 55,000. These sites are a leading source of backgammon news as well as educational and historical material, including such popular features as Bray’s Learning Curve, Thursday Teaching Videos, and Flashback Friday. The ABT site showcases the 20 national ABT tournaments, including key positions from final matches and links to match videos. This generates excitement and increases exposure to ABT events, helping continue the ABT growth trend. We have also established a USBGF Remote Commentary Support Center that provides expert commentary on final matches of ABT tournaments, often on a par with professional sports commentators.

However, a modern communications outreach strategy will be required in order to reach even larger audiences and attract fans to follow backgammon stars as they play in tournaments around the world. We have demonstrated this potential and are poised to increase worldwide exposure to top-rate backgammon to a substantially higher level.

Backgammon across the Globe

For the first time this year, the U.S. fielded a team for the World Team Championships (WTC; see this issue’s article on that recent event, held in Montenegro). The event had previously been restricted to European countries and sponsored by the European Backgammon Federation. The U.S. and Japan have now been invited to participate and join a newly formed World Backgammon Federation. Negotiations are underway to restructure governance of the organization, with the goals of representing the worldwide backgammon community, agreeing upon a common core set of rules and options to accommodate different practices around the world, formalizing a world backgammon ranking system with guidelines on qualifying events, and making the World Team Championships a truly global event.


Doubling Cube

Sponsors are particularly needed to support the World Team Championships. The venue appropriately should rotate among Europe, Japan/Asia, and the USA/Americas, so travel expenses for a four-member team can be prohibitive. Another priority for USBGF fund-raising is sponsorship to cover expenses when the U.S. hosts the WTC, which ideally would occur about once every five years. Such a prestigious event can greatly benefit from a modern communications strategy to reach a worldwide viewing audience.

Sponsorship of USBGF Flagship Events Similarly, we can raise awareness of expert backgammon play in the U.S. through sponsorship of the USBGF’s two flagship events: the Tournament of Stars and the USBGF National Championship. The Tournament of Stars is held in connection with the Cherry Blossom Backgammon Championships in the Washington, DC area in the spring, and pairs Founding Sponsors with backgammon stars. The National Championship consists of East and West divisional events, which are held at the Cherry Blossom (East) and Los Angeles Open (West), with the winners playing off for the national championship, and the champion receiving a FTH USBGF Championship board.

Coverage of these flagship events, heightened through streaming and social media, would enhance participation as well as visibility. Sponsorship is key to providing the prize pool that will ensure premier status.
A Second Decade In our first decade of existence, the USBGF has achieved significant progress as a national non-profit organization, representing players and growing the backgammon community. As we enter the coming decade, we must make a major investment in the infrastructure that supports the organization: revamping our website; developing modern tournament tools, software, and technological support for local club and ABT directors; enhancing our online tournament and instructional offerings; and refreshing our backgammon shop. We have benefited greatly from the dedicated volunteer contributions of our leadership and members. Sustaining these efforts requires converting to a still lean, but compensated, full-time staff in key positions. Staff will be responsible for seizing opportunities to offer enhanced benefits to members and reach new players and fans.

So with deep appreciation for the generosity and support provided by our sponsors and members, we invite your continued investment, ideas, and insight as our second decade approaches. With the potential of modern media and technology, we have an exciting opportunity to put backgammon on the map as a leading mind-sport.

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