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Article from August 1999 HOOSIER BG Newsletter

If You Give Them Enough Rope,
Maybe They'll Hang Themselves

by Chuck Bower

Early this year, subscribers were saddened to hear of the demise of the quarterly publication, INSIDE BACKGAMMON. During its eight years many cutting edge ideas were introduced there, as well as challenging quizzes and instructive articles.

Not being one to get bogged down in disappointment, Kit Woolsey, one of the most prolific contributors to INSIDE BACKGAMMON, decided to create a new publication: GammOnLine. Instead of relying on expensive printed matter, this monthly publication is located on the World Wide Web. An annual subscription costs $36 or only $3 per issue. A sample issue is available. The URL of this online magazine is

The features of this publication take advantage of the negligible storage costs of today's computers and networks. Besides informative articles, each month there is a complete annotated match. A monthly quiz of eight problems is presented and the high finisher receives a prize. Detailed comments on the quiz problems by a panel of top analysts are included in the following issue. Back issues will be kept available until space needs increase. Kit anticipates several issues will be available at any given time.

I've found the most enjoyable part of this publication to be the interactive, ongoing match between Woolsey and the subscribers. Each day the subscribers have a decision (cube or checker play) to vote on. The option with the most votes becomes the crew's play for that day. Kit then comments upon our play and the other candidates before rolling for himself. Kit's wife, Sally, rolls the dice for the crew. He includes comments on the thought process that goes into his play as well. If plays for the crew are automatic the game continues that night without subscriber intervention until a decision needs to be made. That problem becomes the next day's vote.




Readers 1

11 point match

Woolsey 0

The illustrated position was one I found particularly informative. Kit is playing the Blue checkers. Does he have a double? Does White have a take? Make your decision before continuing.

The vote on this decision was as close as any that has yet come up. 28 said take and 21 voted for pass. Kit used this as an illustration of Woolsey's Doubling Law: If there is any doubt as to whether your opponent has a take, you MUST double! He was in doubt so he fired over the cube. The 57%-43% vote of the crew is a good indication that there is some doubt in a lot of minds!

Interestingly, JellyFish evaluates the position as no double, take. But even if JellyFish is correct, that technically the double is premature, in reality it was an excellent decision. Imagine if this were a large chouette. Blue made a technically incorrect double and got almost half the crew to incorrectly pass. If a double is a bit premature and thus a small error, then a pass of a premature double is a HUGE error. The premature doubler comes out way ahead in the exchange.

You can look at the possibilities to see the power of Woolsey's Doubling Law:

  • a) the position is technically a double/take and White takes. Here Blue made the right move (as did White).
  • b) the position is technically a double/take and White passes. Blue comes out ahead because of White's error.
  • c) the position is technically a double/pass and White takes. Blue made a good technical decision and was doubly rewarded by White's erroneous take.
  • d) the position is technically a double/pass and White passes. Again Blue did the right thing.
  • e) the position is technically a NO double/take but White passes. Now the reward for doubling is huge.
  • f) the position is technically a NO double/take and White correctly takes. In this case Blue's error was picked up by White and Blue suffers loss in equity.

Of the six possible scenarios, Blue only loses in Case F. In three of the scenarios Blue makes a big gain because of White's error. Unless you are playing an opponent who seldom mis-evaluates a drop/take decision then in practice a double is called for IF THERE IS ANY DOUBT that it is a take.

This rule also applies when a cash/play-on-for-gammon decision comes up. If there is any doubt, turn the cube. Maybe your opponent will take!

Don't forget, there needs to be doubt. If you get in the habit of doubling way too early when there is no doubt; the resulting take will cost you equity. And players of different skill level have varying abilities of judging doubt. But there are pages of recorded positions where champion players have blundered and passed takeable doubles. If you are not sure whether it's a take or a pass, send it over. They can't hang themselves if they don't have any rope.

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