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  • Writer's pictureChris Bray

2024 - Position 70

Updated: Apr 24



Match Play. Red trails 3-4 to 5 (Crawford). How should Red play 52?

For a change here is a full-length article taken from one of my Times newspaper articles in 2023. My column appears every Friday morning.


Probably the most common mistake in backgammon is to agonise over two ways to play a dice roll, call them Play A and Play B, without ever realising that there is a third choice, Play C. That move turns out to be not only viable but actually stronger than either A or B.


A complete oversight is one reason for missing a play but more often it is because Play C doesn’t fit with the player’s mental model of how backgammon should be played and so the move is rejected without much thought.


This week’s position is a demonstration of this in practice. Black trails 3-4 to 5 and this is the Crawford Game so, ideally, he would like to win a gammon. He has a 52 to play. Most people given this as a problem choose either 11/4 or 8/6, 8/3. Of these plays 8/6, 8/3 is by far the stronger because it clears the troublesome 8-pt at the cost of four shots.


When asked to find Play C everybody chooses 6/4, 6/1 even though they know that is unlikely to be correct. The true Play C is 8/3, 6/4. Nobody finds that move because they don’t see why they should expose a blot to a direct six by White.  But that shot is an optical illusion.


What they fail to realise, as did I when I had this position in a match, is that the only six White can afford to hit with is double sixes. Hitting with any of the other sixes creates a very high risk of losing a gammon because of all the loose White blots. The risk is so high that White cannot to take it.


Meanwhile 8/3, 6/4 gives Black a much better distribution for the bear-off. 8/6, 8/3 creates an unwieldy structure and is rated by XG as a bad error. Meanwhile, 11/4 is a big blunder.


None of my students has ever got this problem right because 8/3, 6/4 never makes it into their list of candidate plays. To state the obvious, if you do not see a move, you cannot play it. This problem should encourage you to consider all aspects of a position before choosing your move.

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