Will Plenz take as long with the clock as in his semi-final? Will he get as twitchy? We know what we’ll get from Hurst: the same suave, aloof, clinical, radical, fearless, and tremendously entertaining play that we always do. The man has become a backgammon legend this weekend, but what an anti-climax it’ll be for his fans if he can’t bring home the spoils, and the finest win by a British backgammon player for 30 years. We kick off at 11.08 p.m., over four hours behind schedule, but ‘am I bovvered’?
Game 1: Plenz tumbles into something of back game and starts to nibble at his clock immediately. Soon though it is a classic holding game with both on the 5-point. Lots of punching and counter-punching before finally things become too dangerous, and Hurst passes the cube. Score 1-0 Plenz.
Game 2: Hurst blitzes but Plenz keeps entering on the 5 point. Then later on it’s Hurst hanging on to the golden anchor. Plenz ships in late, the go before would surely have been better. JH is off to another sticky start, and CP is playing quicker this time too. Score 2-0 Plenz.
Game 3: A dramatic, crunching 1-1 hands the initiative to Hurst, but his cube still oozes chutzpah. He has made his 4 and 5 points, Plenz is anchored on the 3, and has lost his 6-point. However, Hurst has one man stranded back on the 24 point – it could all kick off here. Hurst tries to escape his man and gets smacked. He tries again and pulls it off. Suddenly looks like a rocking cube this. Bearing in to his board he has to leave a scary fly shot. Plenz misses and the British boy is up-and-running. Plenz has a minor time issue with 15:22 left. Score 2-2.
Game 4: A great entering fly-shot briefly makes Plenz too good, before he cashes. Score 3-2 Plenz.
Game 5: Plenz immediately escapes his back game and then cashes on the back of a sweet, pointing 2-2. The luck is all with Plenz here, Hurst has done well to be only two points down. Score 4-2 Plenz.
Game 6: It’s not long before Hurst has his two back men pinned behind Plenz’s 5-prime. Does he have possible counter-priming or blitzing chances though? He hits speculatively in the outfield. Plenz fans on Hurst’s four point-board! Hurst nails a 6-5 to escape one of his back men – what a volatile position. Plenz fans again, and HURST CUBES! A superb “action double” that. Take. Hurst’s sweet 6-2 then closes his 4-point! Now Hurst is screaming for one more 6 to escape the last primed man. It doesn’t come but meanwhile he closes Plenz out, who now has two on the bar, and two more men on a point in the outfield. It’s a near certain gammon if Hurst could only find the 6. FINALLY IT COMES just in the nick of time. When Hurst is bearing-off, Plenz races desperately to get off the ‘G’. A big, booming 5-5 makes him big favourite to do so, although there are question marks over how he played it. Hurst isn’t going to do this… he has one final roll at a compulsory double, and even then a 6-something will do it for Plenz. HURST NAILS 3-3! And out pops a pitiful 3-1 for Plenz. Fantastic gammon, and time for a break. Score 6-4 Hurst.
Game 7: A long, complex fascinating holding game. Both players managed to negotiate their men around the minefield and their opponent’s snipers, with a 2-2 here, a 3-3 there. Contact is broken, and Hurst rolls a 5-5 in the bear-off to get right back into the race. A 3-3 from Plenz is effective though, and he ships in a cube 34-38 pips down, but Hurst has big wastage and ugly distribution and must pass. Score 6-5 Hurst.
Game 8: A cube for Plenz with JH pinned back on the 23-point behind a broken 5-prime. Hurst gets the chance to smack a straggler, but misses. Hurst in real trouble in this one now, and there’s no way back. Dodgy take me thinks. Score 7-6 Plenz.
Game 9: Wow – Plenz has roared back after the break with three tasty points. They’re both doing fine for time. Plenz constructs a robust defence in this one with a 5-7 holding game. Plenz crunches his board desperately waiting for his shot. It comes, a double shot no less, and Hurst FANS on Plenz’s 4-point DOUBLE BLOT board. Plenz cashes and that’s a gutting loss for Hurst who had bossed the game. You’ve gotta hand it to the German though, that was spirited stuff. Score 8-6 Plenz.
Game 10: Fasten your seatbelts, folks, the business end of the match has arrived. Hurst is immediately in trouble in the next. Is the match slowly slipping away from him – or is he gearing up for a final big push? A 3-3 is critical for Hurst as it advances his anchor to the 21-point. Plenz holds the one on the other side. Hurst constructs an edge with a broken five-prime. Then he gets a shot at an ace as Plenz slots the 5-point. This is volatile! There’s another blot in the outfield, seven pips away… Hurst scents the danger – AND CUBES! Magnificent action-double. Plenz happy to take. HURST ROLLS 1-6!! It’s the perfect number and the best roll of the match. You simply can’t give this maniac a chink of light like that! Hurst descends on Plenz like a stray dog would an old chicken carcass. Plenz searches desperately for a second anchor off the roof but Hurst won’t hear of it, and soon Plenz is aiming solely at the anchor on the 21 point. A fat lot of good that’ll do him. Hurst quickly swings his men around the board and rips those babies off for a sensational gammon. It’s savage! It’s brutal! It’s John Hurst. Score 10-8 Hurst.
Game 11: Plenz looks on tilt here and miserably fans on Hurst’s one-point board with boxes. Hurst is a little too good at this score as his outside 4-prime is only going to get bigger. Plenz does have counter-priming chances though, and then rolls a rocking 5-3 to leap through Hurst’s prime and anchor on the 15-point. Suddenly Plenz can cube, and Hurst takes – he has one man back behind a 4-prime. Oh dear, it quickly becomes a 5-prime after Plenz’s boxes. No way is Hurst talking his way out of this, and for a moment later he even gets into gammon danger, before he calls up boxes. Whaaaah, it’s a 3 point match. Score 10-10.
Game 12: Plenz nabs the golden anchor, while Hurst escapes his men and has a strong edge, but then he starts to get very stripped. He has to give up his 8-point, which leaves the 11 and 13 points to clear. This could get ugly. Where’s that famous Hurst big doublet when he needs it? It doesn’t come and he has to give up the point he was born with, the sacred 6-point. Plenz is starting to look very ominous in this game. He has a big race, and will surely get shots. He even starts pausing before he rolls to consider you know what. Hurst rolls a 2-1 to avoid the music, then Plenz keeps a five-point board but must break his 6-point so to do. Hurst rolls and has to give Plenz a shot at a 4! Could this be a radical action-double by Plenz? HE CUBES! Wow, that was big one, trivial take for Hurst. THERE’S THE 4 FOR PLENZ! Hurst fans, then again, then again. It’s suddenly a tad gammonish. Finally Hurst enters and Plenz has one final point to clear, 5 pips away. He rolls 6-4 to leave Hurst an ace-shot. Uncharacteristically Hurst misses. And embarks on a miserable 3% race. Plenz has ripped off 6 checkers before any for Hurst. Hurst has the much faster bear-off though. He fires off a 3-3 to Plenz’s solicitor and tears off 3 men. Hurst up to over 10% now. Hurst rolls 2-1 to munch two more. He really needs a 6 next go to gobble two more… AND ROLLS 4-4 to tear off another three men!! Fabulous rolling by Hurst, but he still requires yet another double! Seven checkers left, to Plenz’s 4, which becomes 5 to Plenz’s 3, which becomes 3 to Plenz’s one. Any double now for Hurst! He smiles wanly at a face in the crowd. Heck – he almost winks. DOUBLE-TWO’S!!! The man is a MONSTER! What an unbelievable 4-point swing that was. Score 12-10 Hurst.
Game 13: Was this ever going to be anything but a double-match pointer? Far from lying down, Plenz launches a brutal blitz in the next which comes off beautifully. Gammon. Score 12-12.
Game 14: Here we are at the great England-Germany penalty shoot-out. For the second match in a row, Hurst has had to go a mind-numbing, gut-wrenching 14 games. Plenz down to 2:59 in time – he has managed it well, but immediately starts to nibble seconds in the decider, and goes to under 2 minutes with an early 3-3. It was worth thinking about though, Hurst is in trouble here and is screaming for a 5 to anchor on the bar point. It’s not there and he is smacked and has to settle for the weak 23-point anchor instead. Plenz’s time comes down to 1:03, then 36 seconds. But as his time dwindles his match winning chances are rising – to around 70%. A typically flamboyant Hurst 6-2 from the roof enters, leaps and hits the fly-shot. Big cheer from the crowd. But an even better 6-4 from Plenz, enters, leaps and anchors on 15. The Germans roar their approval. Hurst is down to about 20%, still stuck on that grisly 23-point.
The final phase of the match is upon us then: Plenz starts to get a little stripped and awkward, and has to leave Hurst a 6-1 6-2 fly shot. Hurst rolls 6-3! Oooooooh. Plenz brings down a checker from his mid-point leaving Hurst an ace-shot from his own mid-point to put him back in the game. Hurst also has a 6-2 or 6-5 hit available to him. HURST ROLLS 6-5!! A superb roll that boosts his chances… He has a four-point board and a slotted deuce. He needs Plenz to PLEASE do a little dance. Plenz finds the deuce and lunges out at Hurst’s stranded checker back on the 23 point. Is that an error? Who cares! Hurst has two in the air now, he MUST hit back on the deuce, AND FINDS IT! This is a breath-taking, stunning sequence of play. Now Plenz is screaming for another deuce of his own to anchor up. It’s THERE! Hurst MUST re-anchor himself now back on the 23-point, or else he’ll get blitzed. He fans with 6-1, but Plenz can’t capitalize, and then Hurst DOES find the 2! Both players punch-drunk now, it really is like a boxing match.
Look at this, Hurst has the better timing here! Plenz is rather stripped and must run from the back with a 5-3. He can’t break his 4 prime in front of Hurst’s two men on 23. There is a gap on Plenz’s 3 point, so in a way it is a phantom 5-prime. HURST ROLLS A GLORIOUS 2-1 to smack Plenz’s running man, and creep to the 22 point from the back! THAT COULD BE IT YOU KNOW! Plenz finally fans, and Hurst points gloriously on the deuce with a 4-2, for the 5 point board. He’s over 90% now for sure, just gotta extricate those two back men. A 5-5 gets one of them out of stir, and Hurst stylishly switches to his ace-point to get Plenz out of his hair. Boxes would be a minor embarrassment for Hurst but he’d still be well up in the race. Hurst frees his last man and he's there!! Plenz has a million-to-one race which his 6-6s can’t do anything about! Final score 13-12 Hurst.
WSOB's hostess Jessie Cantrell bounds onto the stage, microphone in hand.
“Congratulations John! How do you feel?”
“Tired,” he says.
JOHN HURST, 2007 WSOB - UK MASTERS CHAMPION
This article and photos courtesy of
World Series of Backgammon (WSOB) and all material is
Copyright © 2007 by World Series of Backgammon Enterprises.