Nitschke and Kalantari Win at Wisconsin State Championships
by Gregg Cattanach - 4 August 2006


The Madison Backgammon Club ran another successful and entertaining American Backgammon Tour (ABT) event last weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. Attendance increased to 73 main event entrants with 37 in the Championship division.

They are fortunate to have a lot of avid backgammon players from the surrounding area with the lion's share of participants coming from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana. I was one of the few that flew in from across the country. The tournament was ably directed by Tom Machaj and Sam Pottle with Ilia Guzei and Sonya Sidky assisting with the brackets and Calcutta Auction.


One difficulty for me was getting in (actually out) of Madison via the airlines. For whatever reason there just aren't any flights that leave Madison for Atlanta in the evening, making the Sunday getaway rather problematic. I ‘solved’ this problem by flying into Chicago-Midway and renting a car. But the 3-1/2 hour drive on the Illinois Tollway left something to be desired. Perhaps next year I'll just book a flight on the following morning and plan on hosting the post-tournament chouette marathon.


Big changes are in store for the Wisconsin Championships due to the retirement from the tournament directing scene of Indiana's Butch and Mary Ann Meese. Their very popular Indiana Open will be held for the last time this Sept. 1-4, 2006. The Madison Club has decided to adopt the 'Indy Swiss Movement' format for their tournament and move into the extended Labor Day weekend spot in 2007. Tom Machaj and Sam Pottle will continue as co-directors of the event and we're looking forward to the fun of the Swiss-style tournament next year.


Tournament staff (L-R): Sam Pottle, Tom Machaj and Ilia Guzei.

For me the competition started on Friday evening with the Badger Classic Master's Jackpot. In the first round I faced Jeff Nitschke (MN). Jeff was the eventual winner of the Championship division so I feel good that I was able to prevail against him in this jackpot match. I offered up this volatile 4-cube in the second game:


Red to redouble to 4?

Red: Gregg Cattanach, score 1

White: Jeff Nitschke, score 0

Match to 11.

Jeff fearlessly took the redouble which turns out to be the correct action. Snowie's evaluation shows it as a tiny pass, but a rollout indicates no double and a clear take as he can win this 26% of the time with no real market losers on this roll. For him the list of things to do is difficult: roll a 1, roll a 6 then don't get hit back in the outfield. After one escape which got sent back, I made the full 6 prime but failed to roll it forward cleanly. A propitious 16 from the bar and a miss of a 7+8 shot forced me to pass the 8 cube. But I had better luck in the rest of the match winning the Crawford, 2-away game and advancing to the next round.


In Round 2, I played the excellent Steve Brown (MN). Steve has been at the game for a long time and is clearly one of the best players from this part of the country. Unfortunately for him I had all the dice in our match. After winning the first three games and staking myself to an 8-0 lead I found myself in this position:


Red to redouble to 4?

Red: Gregg Cattanach, score 8

White: Steve Brown, score 0

Match to 11.

For money, of course, this is a huge pass but the lopsided score changes everything. Steve only needs 6% to take this cube. Knowing how many checkers he should have off in order to give him 6% is a reference position that I did not have in my arsenal. Two checkers off certainly makes him a huge underdog, but 6%? The rollout shows that he still has about 9% in the game and the double is premature. The doubling window only goes from 91% to 94%, so hitting that target isn't easy! If the position evolved to a complete closeout with perfectly arranged spares it is a pass, so it's obviously pretty difficult to find the exact spot for a proper double that's still a take.


I commented that if redoubled Steve might incorrectly take a pass or pass a take so it seemed simplest to just turn the cube and let him worry about it. After he correctly took and reshipped to 8 I completed the closeout. But I then rolled a 61 from a stripped home board making me a big favorite to leave a direct shot on the next roll. I did just that but Steve cooperated by missing with a 6 and it was all over.


Saturday morning featured an excellent lecture by Paul Weaver. The discussion was around 6 different third roll positions with a 31 to play. The positions were all from his upcoming book 'Backgammon Openings' co-authored with Nack Ballard. He announced that the plan is to release the book in separate volumes starting with the book on 31. Each book will contain sections on the particular number as the first, second and third roll of the game.


Jeff Nitschke zoomed through the main event after his loss to me in the jackpot, winning six matches and defeating Art Moore in the final and taking home the Champion's trophy. The finals were particularly exciting, going to DMP in the 13-point match. In that last game Art had two remaining checkers on the 6 and 2 point to Jeff's single checker on the ace, but Art couldn't find the 6 making Jeff the new Wisconsin Champion.

Jeff Nitschke - Wisconsin Champion

In the Badger Classic, Fred Kalantari continued his mastery of the Masters events by winning the 13-player Badger Classic, defeating Stan Livingston (WI) in the final. This year he also won the Michigan Masters in Detroit and was the runner-up in the Grand Crystal Beaver in Chicago.


Fred Kalantari - Badger Classic Champion

Scheduling for my matches on Saturday turned out to be a problem. I got a first round bye but had to wait for the winner of the previous round before I could start. That first match took 2-1/2 hours and put me behind the 8-ball the rest of the evening. I won my first two, lost the third then had to play two more Consolation matches that night.

None of these matches were over quickly even though all of them were clocked, and I finished the last match at 2:30 a.m. I urge directors to proactively apply clocks to matches in progress that are clearly going too slowly. That first match had only completed five games after 75 minutes of play. Once the damage is done, merely clocking the following matches doesn't necessarily solve the problem.


At 2:00 a.m. in my match with the red-hot Ken Fischer (CA) I had this early game 61 to play:


Red to play 61

Red: Gregg Cattanach, score 2

White: Ken Fischer, score 5

Match to 9.


I've seen this misplayed by lots of players and I've been misplaying it myself. I have to offer up a shot if I make the bar point. So if I'm going to give up a direct shot anyway, why not just try to blitz both checkers? It also adds some juice to the double-hit play when I've made another home board point. However, this play is wrong based on Gnu and Snowie rollouts. The stack of 6 checkers on the midpoint is a bad thing, and though it looks like a nothing play, the best move is to simply play 13/6. The distribution of spares is improved and nothing really bad can happen on the next roll. I need to realize that 61 is a poor number and I shouldn't overextend myself to try to make it into a winning play. Even with a 41 in this position, it's still wrong to play the double-hit.


The other major highlight of the tournament (except for his opponents) was the incredible run Wayne Wiest (IL) had through the weekend. He won three different events and lost not a single match, defeating 12 straight opponents. He won the 16-player Early Bird tournament on Friday, won the Doubles event with his partner Tak Morioka (IL), and then went on to win the Advanced 1st place trophy over Dave Settles (IL). Quite a run of good play and good luck! Congratulations to Wayne.


Wayne Wiest - Advanced Champion, Doubles, Early Bird Winner.

It was an exciting event but not a productive one for me. After winning my first four matches I only managed to win one of the next five. It's better to be lucky on Sunday!


Thanks to Sam, Tom, Ilia and Sonya for hosting a fun and expertly-run event. We look forward to the Swiss-movement tournament next Labor Day. The next ABT events are the South Florida Championships (Aug. 18-20) and the Indiana Open (Sept 1-4).


Good luck and I hope to see you there!

Full results on this tournament are in the GammonLife Results Section.


Gregg Cattanach's previous reports can be found in the News Section.


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