• Early Days

    A couple of weeks ago I looked at how well we play over the first three moves of a game and discovered there were fundamental errors being made, even very early in the game.

    I would have thought that most players would be able to play their second moves correctly but sadly even here I find that bad errors are being made. The first few moves by both players define the future direction of the game and so it is crucial to be able to play accurately in the opening.

    There are about six hundred possibilities for the opening roll and response. By the time we get to the opener’s second roll we are looking at about fifty thousand possible variations so perhaps it is not surprising that so many mistakes are made.

    This week’s position arises after Black opens with 61 (13/7, 9/7) and White responds with 54 (24/20, 13/8). How should Black now play his 43? Over the board my opponent chose 8/5*/1*, putting two checkers on the bar. Sadly for him XG classifies this as a blunder. Why?

    Black’s structure after this play is truly horrible and he has given up his excellent 8-pt for what is likely to be a very short-term gain. In addition, Black’s one-point home board is hardly threatening to White so the possibility of a blitz succeeding is remote.

    Our objectives in the opening are: make new points; unstack the heavy points and mobilise the rear checkers. 8/5*/1* meets none of these objectives.

    Black’s second best move is 24/21, 13/9. This creates triplication of White’s fours and meets two of the objectives outlined above. However, it is still very nearly an error. The best move is to mobilise both rear checkers with 24/20, 24/21. This time there is duplication of fours but Black is really attempting to secure an advanced anchor in White’s board. Unlike 24/21, 13/9 it doesn’t risk losing much ground in the race and, after all, Black is ahead in the race so a racing move is thematic.

    This double split of the rear checkers was popularised by German players in the late 1990s. I have seen it less of late but here it is tactically astute and, most importantly, the best move.

    I cannot stress strongly enough just how important it is to learn these early sequences and the thinking behind the moves. It is a key element on the road to winning backgammon.

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  • 2017 - Position 96

    XGID=-a--B-D-B-a-eE---b-d--b-B-:0:0:1:62:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. How should Red play 62?

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  • 2017 - Position 95

    XGID=--DBBBBa-----B-Aa----bcdd-:0:0:1:43:0:0:3:0:10

    Money. How should Red play 43?

    What is perhaps surprising about this position is just how bad anything but the right move is.

    Breaking the board is a 1.5 blunder because that reduces the containment possibilities after a hit. 15/8 is a triple blunder and Red can only just take White’s double after that play.

    The correct play is 13/6. This creates many more hitting possibilities for Red because of the weakness of White’s board and in some variations Red can pick up two White checkers.

    After 13/6 White still has a double but the take is very trivial. The key is to see 13/6 as a candidate play. Once you see it you can play it – an unusual but perfectly correct voluntary exposure of a blot.

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  • 2017 - Position 94

    XGID=---a-CCB-BBAa---ab-cc-dB--:2:-1:1:55:3:4:0:7:10

    Match Play. Double Match Point. How should Red play 55?

    For once I am going to let one of my regular commenters, Leo, provide the answer as his explanation is both concise and accurate:

    It seems counter intuitive to run 23/13(2), being down in the race and taking the pressure off White's two blots on his 12 and 9pt. However, if you're stopping at 23/18(2) where are the other two 5s? 9/4(2) is all well and good, but those checkers are already doing a good job of constraining White's back checker and now the 10-pt is no longer part of the prime. Any other two 5s just worsen Red’s position. 23/13(2) it is then.

    Thank you, Leo. In fact, any play other than 23/13(2) is an outright blunder.

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  • 2017 - Position 93

    XGID=-----bEBB-A-eC---cAe----A-:0:0:1:33:0:1:0:7:10

    Money Play. How should Red play 33?

    Most people who see this position anchor on White’s bar-point and then find some way to play the other two threes. The problem with this approach is how to bring it home with that bar-point still to clear.

    The only move that is not an outright blunder is 24/15, 18/15. If Red hits the blot he has to give up his anchor at a time when he doesn’t have any new points in his home board. If he doesn’t hit Red is creeping his way to a very efficient double.

    This is one of those plays that once you see it, it becomes obvious. The issue is seeing beyond leaving a blot when there is no apparent need. However, Red’s game plan is to race and that is precisely what he should do here.

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