by Gerry Tansey
…you have all overbid.
The Springfield Series starts up on Saturday, October 4, and the Illinois State Championships, an ABT event, happen the following weekend in Peoria. These are both great events, and you should strongly consider going if you enjoy backgammon tournaments. I’m writing this article to prepare myself for something both of these events feature: the Calcutta auction (or just Calcutta for short).
For those of you who are unfamiliar, in a Calcutta, the players in the field are auctioned off before the tournament starts, either individually or in lots of 2 or more players. At the end of the tournament, the proceeds of the auction are paid out to people who bid on the winning players. Generally, the stronger players cost more than weaker players, but the stronger players also have the best chances of winning. Typically, players can buy a small percentage of themselves back from the person who bid on them, getting a small percentage of the auction winnings should they do well.
In Peoria last year, Calcutta bidders could either purchase a Giant of backgammon individually, or a two-player team consisting of non-Giants. The first and highest bidder opted for a two-player team in which I was one of the players. From my point of view, this was a disaster, because it meant that I would have to pay more money than most people would to buy myself back. It would be nice if I could lower my Calcutta price this year. With that in mind, let’s look at this decision I had from a recent online match, which I will present here as a money game problem.
Well, this is a fantastic 44 from the roof. I entered, made the 4-point on Black’s head, and I didn’t waste too much time unstacking the midpoint with the last 4, playing 13/9. The trouble with this last 4 is that there is another 4 that is a little better, namely 16/12. Although this play leaves 3 blots, it is not terribly convenient for Black to hit them after entering from the bar. Black will need to leave blots himself to hit them in most cases. My one-blot play gives Black an excellent 6 from the bar to hit and escape a back checker. Further, 16/12 gives White more builders to make an outfield point, and it begins the process of disengagement of the back checkers while Black is on the bar, a process that needs to begin sooner rather than later. Yes, 16/12 is probably a bit better than 13/9, although I would have to extend my rollout of the position a bit to be more confident of this fact.
Potential Calcutta bidders should study the following rollout closely. Notice the massive conceptual misunderstanding I exhibited, not just with my play, but also with my discussion of the position to this point.
The right play, by a mile, is Bar/21 13/9(3). Do not hit. Do not make an inner-board point. Just unstack the heavy midpoint and make the 9-point. I think the important feature in this position is the fact that Black has five checkers back, and three of them are on the 22-point, which is 6 pips away from White’s 9-point.
Black’s front position is somewhat fragile, and he will need to get those back checkers moving soon to prevent a collapse. Even if Black can escape a checker or make a second anchor, White’s control of the outfield should allow him to send back any fugitives while continuing to make effective blocking points, both in the outfield and in his own home board. Visually, the position after the correct play is striking. White has all of his checkers connected and working together as a team. Black has a group of five checkers cut off deep in enemy territory, far from the rest of their comrades.
The correct play beats every other play by at least .160 (for some perspective, a blunder is any error of at least .080; a whopper is an error of .100 or more). XG thinks that making the 9-point is so important that it slightly prefers burying a checker deep with the last 4 to either of the first two plays I discussed. The play I made over the board earned me a trip to Burger King for a double whopper.
So, Calcutta bidders, remember this play when you start tossing your money around. For further research on my playing abilities, I encourage you to look at my match with Victor Ashkenazi on Youtube. You’ll see more of the kind of play I am capable of.