• Learning to Learn

    One of the most frequent questions I get asked is: “XG has said my play was a blunder but I don’t understand why its play is necessarily right. Can you please help me?”

    Therein lies one of the problems in improving at backgammon. Knowing why is a move is correct is more important than just knowing what the best move is. If you understand the reasoning you can repeat that logic for future events. If you solve a one-off problem it merely applies to a single instance. You might win the game but your knowledge base is no richer.

    American teacher Phil Simborg posted this position on Facebook earlier this week and expressed sentiments similar to my own above. In the chouette from which it was taken the right play was eventually made with Black’s 63 but did those who disagreed with the play learn from the situation?

    The two choices are 9/3*, 6/3 and 22/13. One of those plays is a blunder. Take a few moments to make your own choice before reading on.

    The correct play is 22/13. Now let us try to understand why. 9/3*, 6/3 puts White on the bar but Black’s three-point board is unlikely to detain White for long. If he does stay on the bar then there are no further weaknesses for Black to attack. Meanwhile Black still has two checkers stuck behind White’s four-point prime and to add to his problems he now has a blot on his 9-pt. Prior to hitting he had the makings of a decent prime but now his structure is much weaker.

    Meanwhile, 22/13 escapes a rear checker to safety, putting Black marginally ahead in the race. White has ten checkers in the zone to attack Black’s remaining rear checkers but that might mean dismantling his prime. After 22/13 Black has another checker acting as a builder for his improving prime.

    Adding all of this up it is very clear that 22/13 is correct but it is only by examining all the factors that we are able to understand just how strong 22/13 is in comparison to 9/3*, 6/3. This learning can then be applied to future positions that have similar features.

    To extend the learning I looked at how to adjust the position to make hitting the correct play. To do that I initially moved one of White’s checkers from his mid-point to his 10-pt. That weakness is still not enough, 22/13 is still the right play. Then, in addition, I moved the spare checker from White’s 8-pt and put it on his 2-pt. That did it – now running is an error and hitting is correct. The tactics that come into play because of the two white blots changes the dynamics sufficiently to promote 9/3*, 6/3 to being the correct play.

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  • 2017 - Position 173

    XGID=----BbDBD---bB--acbe----A-:0:0:1:31:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. How should Red play 31?

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  • 2017 - Position 172

    XGID=--a---EbBA--bCbB-b-bbb-B--:0:0:1:61:2:6:1:7:10

    Match Play. Red trails 2-6 to 7 (Crawford). How should Red play 61?

    15/9, 6/5 looks logical with duplication of 3’s and this is the play made by one of the world’s top players.

    However, at this score Red not fear the gammon and to win he needs to mobilise his rear checkers rather than play a 2-pt holding game. The best two plays are 23/16 and 23/22, 9/3 and there is no difference between them in the rollout. The key here is to apply the correct thinking to the match score and play accordingly.

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  • 2017 - Position 171

    XGID=bB-BBBB-----ba---A-dbb-bD-:2:1:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

    It should be clear that when things go well for Red he will win a lot of gammons. In fact, he wins a gammon more than 50% of the time. The position is volatile, any six by Red followed by a fan by White will likely make Red too good to redouble.

    Equally well Red could quickly crash and after 45 (17/12*/8) and a fan by White Red can’t even redouble despite three checkers on the bar! Red needs 83 pips to bear in all his checkers so that is circa ten rolls. That gives White a lot of time to enter his checkers from the bar and Red won’t be able to attack those checkers for some time. Once he anchors White may well have a very strong position.

    The upshot is that this is only just a redouble and a very easy take. However, with the cube coming on 8 and the threat of losing 16 points I think Red will get some undeserved drops! Note that dropping is nearly a quadruple blunder.

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  • 2017 - Position 170 (Correction)

    Position originally posted by Phil Simborg

    XGID=aB-B-BC-A-A--Ba-bc-cbB----:1:-1:1:63:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. How should Red play 63?

    One of things the bots have taught us is to go while the going is good. A 1970s player might have found 13/7, 10/7 but anyone playing in this millennium will find 21/8, 21/15 relatively swiftly.

    The move has some duplication but the key is put pressure on the other White blot and hopefully significantly increase the percentage of gammon won.

    20/15, 13/10 is reasonable but still small error.

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