Anybody who plays tournament backgammon will have encountered the Crawford Rule. It stipulates that when one player reaches a score one point from victory, the doubling cube may not be used for the next game. If the trailer wins the Crawford game, he can and should double the next game at the first legal opportunity. I have often wondered though, why only one game? If you have reached 10-2 in an 11pt match, but then lose the Crawford game, your opponent will be doubling every game and will effectively be handed four points for nothing! In practice, he doesnt trail 10-3, he trails 10-7 in a match where the cube doesnt count. How can that be fair?
I can see that it is fair that he benefits from winning gammons, that requires skill, but there's no skill to just turning the cube straight away. Changing the rule, so that no doubling was permitted for the rest of the match would be fairer and would incidentally, increase the wins for the more skilful player, a desirable outcome in itself. I have to say that I have yet to meet anybody who agrees with me here!
Why have a Crawford rule at all? Without it, certain cube actions at the end of the match become nonsensical. At the 2-away, 3-away score for example, if the trailer doubles, the leader can take anything at all in a gammon free position! If he passes, he is 50/50 in the match, if he takes and loses he trails 2-away, 1-away, doubles the next game immediately and is still almost 50/50, except for the leader's free drop.
For our newbies it might be good to explain the "Free Drop" and it's close relation, the "Mandatory Take". The Free Drop occurs post Crawford, when the trailer needs an even number of points for victory and doubles. The leader can drop without losing any equity. Having the free drop is worth a little bit, perhaps as much as 1.5% in match equity. When the trailer needs an odd number of points, the leader always has a take, even if he is well behind in the game. This is known as the Mandatory Take. The exception to this comes when the trailer stands to win more gammons than he loses games, but these positions are rare. However a clever trailer may sometimes delay his cube until there is a substantial gammon threat in the hope of getting a wrong pass! You have to be careful though; reaching a position where the leader really should pass would be a disaster!
Another rule change that would slightly reduce the luck factor, would be for players to alternate getting the first roll of the game. Roll dice for it on the first game, then alternate after that.
Any thoughts on these ideas? Any rule changes you would like to see? Use the comment feature and let's get interactive!