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August 15, 2016

Detroit Chouettes

I have enjoyed playing backgammon on a regular basis with a small group of friends for low stakes over a period of about ten years.  Now, like Dmitriy Obhukov before me, and probably Frank Talbot and others before that, I may be on the verge of being eliminated from the local backgammon scene.  

Why?  Mainly due to the efforts of one man, John Quinn, who views me as a shark stealing his money.  I do understand his position to a point.  His argument would have some merit if this was a high-stakes game, but it isn’t.  I find the idea that I am a professional making a living playing five dollar chouette at John’s expense ludicrous and offensive.  Moreover, it upsets me greatly that I have to defend myself to my friends as if I am some sort of bad actor.

Below is an open letter I sent to the Detroit backgammon community, followed by John’s response, and my response to that.  These are unedited.  

Please let me refute a claim John made that I didn’t specifically address in my short response.  John did in fact push Emil hard to disinvite me from Emil’s weekly game.  Clearly if Emil had agreed John would still be attending while I would be sitting at home.  Only when Emil refused did John decide to quit the game.  Another example is the recent Novi tournament where John repeatedly schemed to exclude me from the five dollar chouette.  I understood I was not welcome and stayed away to respect his wishes and avoid confrontation.  In one instance, John recruited players from a game I was in to his own game, then refused to let me join him.

A couple related issues.

Why should good players be chased away from a friendly low stakes game?
This whole incident is a major reason I am against ratings and publicizing PR’s.  Let’s focus on playing the game we enjoy rather than determining who the best and worst players are.

Will my public statement here do more harm than good?  I don’t know.  I understand I risk losing some long-term friendships by posting this.  So be it.  I want to at least present my take on events, and let people decide for themselves.

Finally, thank you to the many of you who have supported me either privately or publicly in this matter. I am encourages that even if John succeeds, other will let me into alternative games.   I intend for this blog entry to be my last public statement on the subject.
 
=====My Open Letter to Detroit area backgammon players =======

I am writing to bring to your attention efforts by John Quinn to block me from non-tournament backgammon activities and seek your help.  I believe you all know me.  I am not a troublemaker, am honest, loyal and generally a good guy.

You may know John is the main organizer of our social play.  Recently he has dropped me from the invite list.  John is also lobbying the hosts of games he doesn’t organize to exclude me from the group.  Since our community is so small this would effectively ban me from any chouette play.

Why have I been uninvited?  Simply because in his judgment I am too good a player.  I am sure you will agree this is small and unfair for a number of reasons.

·        If you work hard and improve your game will you by rewarded by being banned next?
·        This is a friendly low stakes games (fives or lower)
o   No one is getting hurt financially at this level
o   Even as a plus player any net winnings I may have are modest
·        If you are John’s first call every week ask yourself what he thinks about your game?
·        It seems John does in fact want a best player in the game –him!

All I want is to play.  I first caught the backgammon bug about 2006.  Over the past ten years we have spent a significant amount of time together in tournaments or social play.  I go back about thirty years with some of you when you include the old chess days.  I consider you all friends in our common pursuit of this wonderful game we all love so much.

If you agree John’s actions are unfair, please tell John so!  I am not asking for a boycott nor am I looking to start a rival game to exclude John.  I would just like to continue to play this great game we love with my friends.

Please feel welcome to share this letter with anyone I might have missed.  Thank you.

Bill

======= John's Response ========

Hello Bill Calton and all of our mutual friends out there in the Michigan Backgammon community,
First of all let me answer Bill's question in the simplest and most straightforward way that I can:  I have never asked anyone to exclude Bill Calton from any Chouette that they were hosting or planning to have. 

Bill, I wish that you would have asked me either in person or by email or by telephone conversation before putting this out in an email to all of our friends, but what is done is done and so therefore I will now respond to your question in the same way so that all in our group can draw their own conclusions.

This all started about 3 weeks ago when I made a personal decision to drop out of playing in what is known as the Emil Chouette on Saturdays of which I had been a member of and a regular attendee of for many years. Of course I was asked my reason for dropping out and I simply answered that I no longer could, in good conscience, continue to go there every Saturday to lose money on a weekly basis to you, Bill Calton. 

My opinion of your backgammon abilities, Bill is that you are a far better Backgammon Player than I am and I commend you on the progress that you have made in a few short years in learning the game and becoming one of the top players in the State of Michigan.   So I made a simple decision that I would no longer go to the Emil Chouette on Saturdays. 

As a second part to that action, I decided that I would create a weekly Chouette on Saturdays and I began inviting people who are interested to come out and play. My intention with this Saturday Chou is to invite players who are comfortable in playing with each other and feel that on any given day that they have a fair chance to win or lose and that they are not just showing up to make a weekly monetary contribution to a player or players whose skills are far greater than their own. 

Consequently there are actually several Michigan Players who I do not invite to this Chouette that I organize and, without naming names, they know who they are because they do not receive text messages from me to invite them.  Hopefully they do not feel as badly about this lack of an invitation from me as you do Bill, and in fact  I believe that they should consider it a compliment to their superior skills as Backgammon Players.

You know, Bill I figured out a long time ago that I was never going to make any real money  playing Backgammon and I have often said that when I counted up the hours that I have spent on this game that on an annual basis I am probably making or losing about 50 cents an hour,  But I love the game and I love playing Chouette so I continue to play.  I just don't want to play in a situation where I feel that I will consistently contribute to players who are so far above my skill level that I do not have an equal opportunity. Nor do I feel that any other player should play in a Chouette where they do not have an equal opportunity to win or lose without feeling that that they are consistently contributing week after week in a losing cause. 

So let me make this statement and put it out there to all of our Backgammon friends - I have not asked anyone to exclude you from any Chouette that they are hosting or planning on hosting. And if anyone has somehow made that interpretation from my actions, then please understand that it is not my intent to conspire with you to bar Bill Calton, or prevent you from inviting Bill Calton to your Chouette, or in any way influence you as to any action that you wish to take with Bill Calton.  Quite frankly I don't believe that I would hold such power and sway over your decisions about who you invite to the chouettes that you organize. 

As for me I only ask the same right to make my decision as to who I wish to invite to the Chouettes that I organize and to not to be questioned repeatedly as to why I am not inviting Bill.

So there, I have given my explanation to everyone and now everyone can draw their own conclusions.  
I have been asked repeatedly for the past three weeks about this subject by several of our mutual friends, so hopefully this written answer that I give today will suffice as this is the last time that I intend to discuss this subject.

I will ask you all at this time to do whatever you will and think whatever you want, I will simply ask you as a courtesy to please leave me out of any further discussion about this matter. 

I consider you my friend, Bill and I am sorry if you feel that my personal decisions have had this negative impact on you, that is not my intention. So hopefully someday you will realize that there is no big conspiracy here against you - it's just one guy (me) making the decision that he feels is right for him.   

JQ

======= My Response ========

I don’t intend on going back and forth on this either.  John’s decision to blackball me was obviously considered and I respect his right to do so.  While I would be pleased if John changed his mind, I didn’t really expect that to happen.  

But I didn’t want to take this lying down either.  I would like our mutual friends to know what kind of person John is.

Bill

July 10, 2016

Roberto

Below are selected errors from a match against Robert in Novi.

1. First game of 11 point match. I have doubled and have this 43 to play.

is Roberto

score: 0
pip: 121
11 point match
pip: 109
score: 0

is Bill
XGID=--Bb-CDBB---c-----Bc-cb-b-:1:-1:1:43:0:0:0:11:10
to play 43

1.xgXG Roller+18/11eq: +0.082
Player:
Opponent:
60.83% (G:8.57% B:0.36%)
39.17% (G:8.25% B:0.13%)
2.playedXG Roller+8/5 8/4eq: -0.002 (-0.083)
Player:
Opponent:
56.26% (G:12.07% B:0.34%)
43.74% (G:9.39% B:0.21%)
3.3-ply6/2 5/2eq: +0.025 (-0.057)
Player:
Opponent:
58.15% (G:7.84% B:0.16%)
41.85% (G:7.11% B:0.07%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

I went with 8/5, 8/4 on the logic of placing the blot in the best possible location assuming I am missed. Also I play with only one blot, leave less shots, and retain the anchor in case I am hit. All of these concepts have some merit but are misapplied here.

Best was making a break for it with 18/11. Compared to my play this looks especially risky. I leave two blots and expose myself to 17 immediate hits instead of 11. How can this be right?

My current thinking:

  • I am up in the race so racing should be my gameplan. Breaking contact is good if I get away with it.
  • If I am hit I retain a broken four prime to fight against his anchor. Roberto will still have a bit of work to do to escape my prime before he can cube me out.
  • The six to hit and escape is duplicated.


2. Very next roll.  Your 53 to play.

is Roberto

score: 0
pip: 115
11 point match
pip: 102
score: 0

is Bill
XGID=--BbADDB----c-----Bb-bbbb-:1:-1:1:53:0:0:0:11:10
to play 53

1.xgXG Roller+6/1 4/1eq: +0.040
Player:
Opponent:
57.32% (G:10.17% B:0.13%)
42.68% (G:7.31% B:0.16%)
2.playedXG Roller+7/4 7/2eq: -0.005 (-0.044)
Player:
Opponent:
55.21% (G:12.89% B:0.28%)
44.79% (G:8.78% B:0.20%)
3.2-ply7/4 6/1eq: -0.128 (-0.168)
Player:
Opponent:
51.55% (G:10.61% B:0.23%)
48.45% (G:9.20% B:0.15%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

I made the best board with 7/4, 7/2.


While a stronger board will be useful in the event I am lucky enough to score a hit, I am more likely to be squeezed and offer up the first blot. In particular I will be forced to run with the next six which could be deadly.

Best was 6/1, 4/1. The obvious concept is to save a six.

Another small point is that holding the bar makes it more difficult for Roberto to break anchor and move both men to the outfield.


3A. Disaster has struck. I have been forced out with a six. Recube action?

is Bill

score: 0
pip: 77
11 point match
pip: 87
score: 0

is Roberto
XGID=-ACABCC-A---bb----Ababbbb-:1:-1:-1:00:0:0:0:11:10
on roll, cube action?

Analyzed in XG Roller+ No redouble Redouble/Take
  Player Winning Chances: 70.21% (G:4.30% B:0.15%) 70.10% (G:3.87% B:0.10%)
  Opponent Winning Chances: 29.79% (G:4.24% B:0.08%) 29.90% (G:4.23% B:0.09%)
  Cubeless Equities +0.406 +0.815
Cubeful Equities
     No redouble:+0.585 (-0.045)
xg Redouble/Take:+0.631
played Redouble/Pass:+1.000 (+0.369)
Best Cube action: Redouble / Take
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

Roberto redoubled and I dropped.

I got scared over the board and viewed my chanced pessimistically. As the computer shows, the win chances are only 70% to 30% with low gammons (less than 5%).  Acutally no gammons since I gammon him the same as me.

Now in the calm of my office, can I figure out why this is a proper take?

Let's break down the rolls into categories:  Hit and cover, Hit and not cover, Miss.

  • Hit and cover - 5 rolls (52, 62, 22) 
    • For simplicity I will give myself 0% win chances after this
  • Hit and not cover - 23 rolls (66, 65, 64, 63, 61, 55, 54, 53, 51, 42, 41, 32, 33)
    • Looking into some of these rolls, Roberto is supposed to hit and lift.  This is not entirely obvious and may be an additional reason to take as my checker plays are easier than Roberto's.
    • The computer gives me about 25% win chances on average after these variations - good enough for 5 wins and change in 36 games.
  • Miss  - 8 rolls (44, 43, 31, 21, 11). 
    • My win chances in these variations are slightly better than 50/50 on average - good enough for another 4 wins and change in 36 games.

That's 9 wins out of 36 - good enough for a take already.  Throw in a tiny bit for cube vig and I can get to about 10 wins in 36 (not matching the 30% per the computer but good enough to get us to take land)

Probably the most difficult part of this exercise is evaluating the win chances in the hit and not cover scenario.

3B.  For reference, here is a variation where Roberto hits and lifts with 54 and then I enter with 53.  What are my win chances?

is Player 2

score: 0
pip: 78
11 point match
pip: 84
score: 0

is Player 1
XGID=-ACABCC-A---ba----ab-bbbcA:2:1:1:53:0:0:0:11:10
to play 53

1.XG Roller+Bar/20 6/3eq: -0.076
Player:
Opponent:
39.94% (G:5.05% B:0.13%)
60.06% (G:1.30% B:0.02%)
2.XG Roller+Bar/20 8/5eq: -0.176 (-0.100)
Player:
Opponent:
35.83% (G:4.36% B:0.10%)
64.17% (G:2.17% B:0.04%)
3.3-plyBar/20 4/1eq: -0.186 (-0.109)
Player:
Opponent:
34.54% (G:3.43% B:0.04%)
65.46% (G:2.69% B:0.05%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

This seems about average. If I come in the first roll I have a fighting chance, say 35-40% to win. Putting this together with above analysis ....

Roberto hits and doesn't cover on 23 rolls.  Then I immediately enter 1/3 of the time (over estimate) and win those 1/3 of the time (underestimate) then as a rough calculation that I actually have a chance at over the board ... gives me about 2.5 wins out of 36 games.

3C.  Another variation for reference.  Robert hits and lifts with 54 and I dance.  What are my win chances here?

is Player 2

score: 0
pip: 78
11 point match
pip: 84
score: 0

is Player 1
XGID=-ACABCC-A---ba----ab-bbbcA:2:1:1:64:0:0:0:11:10
to play 64

1.3-plyCannot Moveeq: -0.589
Player:
Opponent:
18.10% (G:1.46% B:0.02%)
81.90% (G:3.13% B:0.07%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

This is obviously very bad but still not hopeless. If I gave myself another 20% wins (overestimate) on the 70% of time I dance (overestimate) then I get another 3 wins or so on the variations where Roberto hits and lifts and I dance. That is actually pretty significant. More than I would have thought.

Summarizing this bit of math ...

  • I get about 5.5 wins when Roberto hits and lifts
  • 2.5 when I immediately enter and another 3 when I dance
  • Add to this I am slight favorite when Roberto misses and I am at 9.5 wins - enough for a take.
  • Give me something for cube vig and we can get perhaps over 10 wins.

4. I trail 10 away 9 away and am being doubled.  Take or Pass?


is Bill

score: 1
pip: 93
11 point match
pip: 107
score: 2

is Roberto
XGID=-ABCBCBaa--------cbbbbBb--:0:0:-1:00:1:2:0:11:10
on roll, cube action?

Analyzed in Rollout No double Double/Take
  Player Winning Chances: 73.02% (G:10.38% B:0.27%) 73.48% (G:10.52% B:0.28%)
  Opponent Winning Chances: 26.98% (G:3.73% B:0.07%) 26.52% (G:3.89% B:0.08%)
  Cubeless Equities +0.529 +1.079
Cubeful Equities
xg No double:+0.899 (-0.024)±0.006 (+0.894..+0.905)
     Double/Take:+0.924±0.010 (+0.914..+0.933)
played Double/Pass:+1.000 (+0.076)
Best Cube action: Double / Take
Rollout details
1296 Games rolled with Variance Reduction.
Moves: 3-ply, cube decisions: XG Roller
Double Decision confidence:100.0%
Take Decision confidence:100.0%
Duration: 3 minutes 20 seconds
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

I dropped. My instinct or "mental reference" is a 3 point anchor against a 5 prime is always a drop, regardless of the race.

Obviously this isn't true. Computer has this as a relatively comfortable take.

  • Playing around with the position, one detail that seems to matter is that Roberto has the 2 point made. Thus he won't have as many active builders to attack me when I eventually pop out with a six.
  • Also I have a good board at the moment and a bit of a race lead. If do throw a six quickly Roberto will have to respect my home board. He can't just hit loose with no fear.
  • Gammons are relatively low at about 5%

So my new "current" thinking is I can take a primed 3 point anchor position as long as the above conditions are true.

  • I have a good board
  • I have a modest race lead
  • Stronger side lacks some active builders (checkers are past your anchor)

5.  8 away 8 away.  Early game 54.  Your move?

is Roberto

score: 3
pip: 160
11 point match
pip: 159
score: 3

is Bill
XGID=-a--a-E-C--AdD--acAe----A-:0:0:1:54:3:3:0:11:10
to play 54

1.XG Roller+24/20 18/13eq: -0.051
Player:
Opponent:
49.86% (G:10.97% B:0.53%)
50.14% (G:14.25% B:0.43%)
2.xgXG Roller+18/13 8/4* eq: -0.052 (-0.001)
Player:
Opponent:
49.22% (G:12.90% B:0.57%)
50.78% (G:14.46% B:0.68%)
3.playedXG Roller+18/9eq: -0.140 (-0.089)
Player:
Opponent:
46.81% (G:11.66% B:0.44%)
53.19% (G:14.31% B:0.65%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

I made the putrid 18/9. I think I knew this was bad even at the time but did this anyway. I was probably trying to hold onto my race lead.

Best by far is 18/13, 8/4*

The lesson? When you get a shitty roll in the early game, you need to hit to take away half the roll. It's great if you get away with it and if you don't the game simply continues. Both sides only have a 1 point board. getting hit isn't so bad.

Perhaps most important by not hitting I give Roberto the freedom to play his entire roll. He just has too many good things that can happen and almost no bad rolls. He can hit, make a defesive anchor or make an offensive point with almost any shake.

6. I lead 5 away 8 away, have doubled and am in the late stages of a blitz. Lift or leave the blot with this 32?

is Roberto

score: 3
pip: 154
11 point match
pip: 84
score: 5

is Bill
XGID=bBBBBAD-----c--Abb-eA---a-:1:-1:1:32:5:3:0:11:10
to play 32

1.XG Roller++20/18 5/2eq: +1.622
Player:
Opponent:
92.77% (G:77.01% B:0.46%)
7.23% (G:0.50% B:0.02%)
2.XG Roller++15/10eq: +1.619 (-0.003)
Player:
Opponent:
91.58% (G:80.30% B:0.71%)
8.42% (G:1.00% B:0.04%)
3.xgXG Roller++15/13 5/2eq: +1.618 (-0.004)
Player:
Opponent:
92.66% (G:76.98% B:0.45%)
7.34% (G:0.48% B:0.02%)
4.XG Roller++20/15eq: +1.607 (-0.015)
Player:
Opponent:
91.72% (G:78.49% B:0.65%)
8.28% (G:0.91% B:0.03%)
5.playedXG Roller++20/18 6/3eq: +1.529 (-0.093)
Player:
Opponent:
89.92% (G:76.16% B:0.62%)
10.08% (G:1.28% B:0.05%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

This is actually a bit of a trick question since it turns out it doesn't really matter. Leaving or lifting plays are all about the same as long as you don't make a half ass play like I did.

I moved 20/18, 6/3. I can't explain it, except to say this is obviously bad. I am not sure what my thought process was here.

Generally speaking Roberto is fucked whether or not I cover, which argues for simply lifting.

On the other hand, Roberto has a one point board with a blot so there is very limited danger in going for the closeout.  Which argues for leaving the blot.  If leave the blot, then 15/10 seems the most logical play.  This generates the most offensive, whether I get hit or not.

7. Later in the same game.  As you can see I didn't manage to close Roberto out.  How best to handle this 53?

is Roberto

score: 3
pip: 119
11 point match
pip: 78
score: 5

is Bill
XGID=-BECBa-A----c---bb-c-Bb-b-:1:-1:1:53:5:3:0:11:10
to play 53

1.xg4-ply21/13eq: -1.000
Player:
Opponent:
33.01% (G:11.57% B:0.14%)
66.99% (G:24.91% B:1.27%)
2.4-ply21/18 7/2eq: -1.000
Player:
Opponent:
30.07% (G:10.89% B:0.10%)
69.93% (G:20.29% B:0.47%)
3.played4-ply7/2 4/1eq: -1.000
Player:
Opponent:
30.31% (G:6.47% B:0.03%)
69.69% (G:22.42% B:0.61%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

This is another trick question. It really doesn't matter since I should be dropping after any play.

I thought for a long time on this one before eventually making the inferior 7/2, 4/1.

Even though this is the worst play per the computer I nevertheless think this is the most practical play. I have a better chance that Robert won't double me with no blots to shoot at. As it turned out, Roberto didn't in fact double and I later pulled out a miraculous win.


8. I lead 3 away 8 away and hold a two cube. Cube action?

is Roberto

score: 3
pip: 66
11 point match
pip: 78
score: 8

is Bill
XGID=aABCCBB------A---Aa-c-ccd-:1:1:1:00:8:3:0:11:10
on roll, cube action?

Analyzed in XG Roller++ No redouble Redouble/Take
  Player Winning Chances: 93.10% (G:4.23% B:0.06%) 93.29% (G:3.60% B:0.04%)
  Opponent Winning Chances: 6.90% (G:0.60% B:0.00%) 6.71% (G:0.77% B:0.01%)
  Cubeless Equities +0.880 +1.310
Cubeful Equities
played No redouble:+0.929 (-0.071)
xg Redouble/Take:+1.003 (+0.003)
     Redouble/Pass:+1.000
Best Cube action: Redouble / Pass
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

Should I rewhip and play for the match from here?

Roberto's takepoint is very low, about 7%. Does he have it? How the hell do you judge what 7% looks like?

I wasn't sure so I cautiously rolled.

I violated Woolsey's law! If unsure of a take, then simply double and let your opponent worry about it. Generally speaking I was timid with the cube the entire weekend at Novi. This is one of my big takeaways from the tournament. I was wimpy both ways - doubling too late and dropping too early. Not a good combination and something for me to work on. The one and only comment Victor Ashkenazi made after my heartbreaking loss to him was that I played like a pussy with he cube, or words to that effect. Sage advice!

I ended up losing this match, even though I had significantly better the luck factor per the computer. Perhaps if I had recubed here the result would have been different.


9. I lead 1 away 5 away post crawford and have just rolled a joker boxes. How best to make use of this great roll (66)?


is Roberto

score: 6
pip: 143
11 point match
pip: 139
score: 10

is Bill
XGID=-aa-B-CBCA--cB--ac-bBb-b--:0:0:1:66:10:6:0:11:10
to play 66

1.xgXG Roller++8/2*(2) 7/1*(2) eq: +0.567
Player:
Opponent:
81.57% (G:63.09% B:1.92%)
18.43% (G:3.68% B:0.22%)
2.playedXG Roller++20/14(2) 13/7(2)eq: +0.426 (-0.142)
Player:
Opponent:
74.78% (G:19.53% B:0.84%)
25.22% (G:4.05% B:0.10%)
3.3-ply20/8(2)eq: +0.416 (-0.152)
Player:
Opponent:
74.51% (G:15.84% B:0.50%)
25.49% (G:4.52% B:0.06%)
eXtreme Gammon Version: 2.10, MET: Kazaross XG2

This was my last key decision of the match and I blew it.

I figured I didn't need a gammon to win so simply ran around the board with 20/14(2), 13/7(2). My distribution looks sexy and I shouldn't have too much trouble bringing this one home provided Robert doesn't hit this turn. Or so I thought.

All true but closing out two (or even three) men is the simplest way to win. After 8/2*(2), 7/1* (2) Roberto is really behind the 8 ball . He has 2 men on the bar against a four point board and I am shooting at a third blot.

Roberto will find it very difficult to make an anchor and even if he does, I will likely be in a favorable holding game at that point anyway, retaining large winning chances no matter what happens. The computer shows the blitz play wins about 7% more often.

This blunder probably cost me the match.