Unlimited Games. How should Red play 44?
I used this position in one of my articles for The Times (every Friday). So, for a change, here is the full article:
One of the most common pieces of advice given to students of the game is simply, “when ahead in the race, race”. The converse is obviously that if you are behind in the race, you should not make a dash for home.
Like all adages there are exceptions to the rule. The trick is to spot them. This week’s position is but one example. I have given this position to many of my students as a test and, almost without exception, they choose to move 8/4(2), 6/2(2) with Red’s roll of double fours. That move would be the choice of many experts as well as it looks to be the obvious choice.
To understand why it is incorrect we need look more deeply into the position. Firstly, after 8/4(2), 6/4(2) Red’s position is very inflexible with every outer board point stripped (no spare checkers on any of the points). Another concept in backgammon is connectivity. The checkers work better when they are in close communication with each other. 8/4(2), 6/2(2) leaves the rear checkers on the 20-pt somewhat stranded and in need of a big double to move them safely.
Now let us look at the correct move, 20/12(2). After that play Red has a very strong blockade of the White checkers on Red’s bar-point. 44 and 22 are good rolls for White but those are the only rolls he can run with. Meanwhile, Red can decide later which points to keep and which to dismantle, thus giving him a very flexible position. In this instance connectivity outweighs racing considerations. 20/16(2), 8/4(2) is the second-best play with connectivity and blockade still being the key themes.
It is highly unusual to select what appears to be a racing play when you will still be twenty pips behind after making your move, so it is not surprising that not many players find the right move in this position. It is just too easy to make what looks like a strong move without giving any great thought to the overall game plan. That is something we are all guilty of from time to time. The very best players spot these exceptions and adjust their play accordingly.