• New Year at Brinkley Court

    Aunt Dahlia had been kind enough to invite her favourite nephew to Brinkley Court for the festive season. Her French chef, Anatole, had surpassed himself and by the time of the New Year’s Eve White Tie dinner my waistline was looking the worse for wear.

    The dinner and party continued into the small hours and then, when all good thinking men would have retired to their slumbers, I had been roped into a game of backgammon with several well-known suspects including, amongst others, Roderick Spode, Madelaine Bassett and Stiffy Byng.

    As usual, Bertram’s score had finished in the minus column. It was particularly galling to lose a game I seemed destined to win against Miss Bassett. After Jeeves had worked his magic the following morning with one of his pick-me-ups and I was once more vaguely human I showed him the position in question.

    “Jeeves, Miss Bassett had the temerity to tell me that I had misplayed my double sixes. What is more, that pipsqueak, Stiffy Byng, said she agreed with MB. What is the world coming to, I ask?”

    “Indeed, sir, Might I ask how you played your double sixes?”, enquired Jeeves.

    “I looked at several options, but fairly rapidly came to the conclusion that I wanted to win a gammon and so I chose 13/7(2)*/1(2)* putting two White checkers on the bar.”

    “And how did the game conclude?”.

    “Needless to say, MB stayed on the bar which was good, but I couldn’t roll the one and six that I needed to escape my last checker. My home board collapsed, and I had to drop her subsequent redouble. Now, tell me Jeeves, did I actually make a mistake or were the ladies correct?”.

    ”Sadly, sir. The ladies were indeed correct. You have heard me say before that you must first win the game and then the gammon and you should have applied that maxim to this position.

    “The double sixes take away a lot of your timing in what is essentially a prime versus prime position. Ideally you would like White to crack her five-point prime, thus helping your last checker to escape. By putting two of her checkers on the bar you nearly certainly eliminated that possibility.

    “You would have been better off to put only one of her checkers on the bar thus giving her time to crack her prime once she has re-entered her checker. I have a slight preference for 14/8(2), 13/7(2)*, making a full prime, but 14/2(2)* is likely to be just as good. You could even consider 14/2*, 13/7(2)* if you want to put two checkers on the bar.

    “I think 14/2(2)* will win more gammons but 14/8(2), 13/7(2)* will win more games because that maximises the chances of White’s prime being broken. I am not good enough to tell which of these two plays is the better, but I am certain that your play is the weakest of the available option.”

    “Good Lord, Jeeves,” I remarked, “I didn’t realise backgammon was quite so complex.”

    “Perhaps, sir, that is why it has lasted five thousand years and is the oldest game known to man? And now, sir, which outfit will you choose to wear for our journey back to London this afternoon?”.


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