• 2018 - Position 165

    XGID=-b----E-CA--dD---cad----aB:0:0:1:33:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. How should Red play 33?

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  • One Army

    Black has hit a late shot to give himself chances both to save the gammon and perhaps even win the game. How should he play this double fives?

    I have already mentioned “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu in my columns and once again we can use his wise words to help guide us to the solution. One of the fundamental principles of war is not to let your army be split into disparate groups. Soldiers work efficiently when they work together towards a common goal. Keep that idea in your mind.

    In the early days of backgammon bots the first effective program was Dr. Gerry Tesauro’s TD-Gammon. Bill Robertie analysed some of its early games in “Inside Backgammon”, a magazine he brilliantly co-authored with Kent Goulding. I remember him analysing a position similar to this one and querying one of TD-Gammon’s moves which looked somewhat awkward to him. Its opponent’s next roll was 44, which TD-Gammon had carefully blocked with its ‘awkward’ play. That particular comment stuck in my mind and ever since in positions like this one, I have taken careful note of how my opponent’s doubles play on his next turn.

    The final clue to solving positions like this is to note that Black can choose where to build his prime and then roll it home from wherever he elects builds it. Rolling it home will eventually end with a closeout, but the key idea is to build a prime somewhere. Here, Black could for example, initially target building his prime from his 11-pt to his 6-pt.

    Armed with these ideas what is Black’s best play? Certainly, anything that involves hitting on his 5-pt is completely the wrong idea as that splits his army too much and, in any case, what is the point of hitting with a one-point home board? 20/10(2) is reasonable because it blocks White’s double fives but Black can do better.

    Look at 22/17, 21/16, 20/15(2). It blocks all six doubles! Not only that but the soldiers of the army (the checkers) are working together in tight formation and are well place to build an effective prime in Blacks’s outer board. It is very clearly the best play. Any other move, other than 20/10 (2), is at least an error and any hitting play is a blunder.

    I am pleased to say that having learnt how to think about such positions I found this play over the board. The bad news is that my opponent rolled 65, played 20/9*. I fanned with double ones and I was lucky to save the backgammon! Such is backgammon. I may have lost this game but the ability to reuse the thinking outlined in this article will win me many more games in the future.

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  • 2018 - Position 164

    XGID=bA-BCCBB--------abbcbcA-A-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

    The two comments were spot on. This is a prime versus prime position and they are often both doubles and takes. This one is no exception.

    Red’s gammon percentage (42%) pushes him into double territory but it is close as time is running out. White’s take is trivial.

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  • 2018 - Position 163

    XGID=-a----E-CA-acC--ad-eA---B-:0:0:1:51:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. How should Red play 51?

    Not an easy play. 24/23, 20/15 is a little bit too open and 24/18 far too risky. Conversely 20/15, 9/8 is too weak. 24/23, 6/1* with five blots and no structure is way too aggressive.

    Following the principles of duplication and putting the checkers where you want them we arrive at 20/15, 6/5 which maximises the potential from a poor roll.

    Perhaps surprisingly, all other moves are least blunders

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  • 2018 - Position 162

    XGID=cBBBBCB-------a--bbcbbB---:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

    If White had only two checkers on the bar, then he would have an easy take of Red’s double. However, that third checker makes a big difference because of the extra time it takes White to enter it into the field of play.

    If you safety the White checker on the 1-pt to his 8-pt then the position is a marginal pass but the position as shown is a huge drop – it is a double blunder to take. Red wins a gammon 50% of the time from here.

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