• 2017 - Position 134

    XGID=--bB-CBC----bC---b-cBb-bb-:0:0:1:00:4:6:0:9:10

    Match Play. Red trails 4-6 to 9. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

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  • 2017 - Position 133

    XGID=--B---DbC----D-a-dce--A-A-:0:0:1:44:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. How should Red play 44?

    From memory, I played 24/8 here. Very pretty but not quite what the doctor ordered.

    13/5(2) look OK but does nothing about the fact that White has thirteen checkers poised to attack on his side of the board.

    The correct play is not obvious. 24/16 escapes a checker and keeps the rear checkers linked. 13/9(2) makes a very useful new point and the combination of these two parts creates the best move. 24/16 creates meaningful duplication of White’s aces and puts pressure on White’s blot on his 10-pt. !3/9(2) is better than 8/4(2) which creates another blot.

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  • 2017 - Position 132

    XGID=abB-BBB-----bE-bA--db--bA-:0:0:1:65:5:1:0:7:10

    Match Play. Red leads 5-1 to 7. How should Red play 65?

    Hopefully nobody wanted to double this! While it is a pass for money (it is a blunder to take) it would be an octuple blunder to double at this score.

    Red needs to play for an undoubled gammon, at least for the moment. 24/13 is too weak as it doesn’t add any more firepower for Red’s bar-point. Slotting Red’s bar-point is too aggressive, the extra blot is unnecessary.

    16/10, 13/8 is reasonable as it adds builders but it does nothing to solve the problem of freeing the rear checkers.

    The correct, and balanced play, is 24/28, 16/11 which starts to address all of Red’s game plan elements. The rear checker is partially freed, only one blot is subject to attack, a builder is added for the bar-point and there is pleasing duplication of White’s threes. Any play other than 24/18, 16/11 is at least an error.

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  • 2017 - Position 131

    XGID=-BbBBBBB---Bb-----Acccb---:0:0:1:00:4:1:0:7:10

    Match Play. Red leads 4-1 to 7. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

    For money, this would be a huge double but still a comfortable take - White has many ways to win but Red must activate the gammon threat by cubing.

    At the match score Red must be more circumspect but a key skill in match-play backgammon is knowing when to double when leading. Here two points get Red to the Crawford Game with his opponent on an odd number – that should start alarm bells ringing for both players.

    Even if Red can’t clear his rear checker and subsequently gets hit then White still has a lot of work to do to win. Because of the score and power of his redoubles White has an easy take but Red must double – it is a blunder not to do so. If he safely clears his rear checker he will have lost his market by a country mile by his next turn and 5-1 is very different from 6-1 (Crawford).

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  • More on Back Games

    Last week we looked at a position where the player of the back game should double before actually hitting a shot. This week we have a position where Black was playing a back game but now has two White checkers on his own side of the board, one of them on the bar. White has just made the mistake of fanning - is Black strong enough to double?

    If Black had a direct cover for the blot on his 5-pt I think most players would double but by then Black would have lost his market by a wide margin. In the actual position, Black has eight covering numbers but more importantly he is threatening to reach a position where White will have drop the double next turn. For example, if Black rolls 63 he will play 17/11, 13/10 and if White fans again or enters with an awkward number such as 13 then the position will be double and pass.

    The other key point is to reinforce what I said last week. If White does subsequently re-enter with a hit on Black’s 5-pt he will be nowhere near a redouble. His home board structure is awkward and Black will be taking for some time to come. The possibility of losing his market is sufficient for Black to turn the cube here and not doubling is actually a blunder. Of course, White has an easy take.

    This position actually occurred with Black trailing 0-2 in a 7-point match. Now the double is crystal clear. As the trailer in a match one needs to be more aggressive than in a money game. It may surprise you to learn that Black wins a higher percentage of gammons (20% versus 17%) than White from this position. As the trailer those gammons are very valuable and Black must double now while White still has a take. Not doubling at this match score is a triple blunder and although White has a take it is much closer to a drop than the equivalent position in a money game.

    As I have written before our knowledge of match-play doubling is really still in its infancy but studying positions such as this one can only help players improve that particular skill. Many strong players would still ‘take a roll’ here and double next turn if White fans. They might even be pleased with winning a point but they would have missed an opportunity to win four points.

    The key to winning backgammon, as Kit Woolsey pointed out long ago, is to consistently win two points or four points and not settle for one. Yes, there is more risk in doubling positions like this one but then the game is all about understanding risk and reward and balancing the two. Here, the reward fully justifies the risk.

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