Checker Problem

The Fundamental Point
Mike Labins, 1983

From Backgammon Times, Volume 3, Number 2, Summer 1983.

Most players today can execute their first five to six rolls quickly and automatically. More often than not the choices for a roll during the opening seems equally plausible, and choosing one play over the others usually will not significantly alter the outcome of that game. Nonethesless, in the long run, choosing the move that is most flexible and preserves the most options will increase one's chances of success.
13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Magriel (White)
to play 3-1.
The diagrammed position, taken from Competitive Backgammon, Volume II, by Labins, Storer, and Talmadge, arose during one of Paul Magriel's matches at the 1980 NEBC Black-and-White Classic in Boston. Magriel (White) has a 3-1 to play. Playing the three 13/10 is relatively easy, for it brings down a builder from the mid-point to bear on the bar and four point. Playing 24/20 is inadvisable unless you enjoy sitting on the teeth of a dragon.

Playing the one is more difficult. Many players would play 6/5, unstacking the six point and adding another builder for the four point. The other choice is simply to split the back checkers, 24/23. Barclay Cooke and others have recently emphasized the dangers in splitting the back men early, and many of us might be afraid to split in this position. However, players like Cooke and Magriel tend to be less dogmatic than we might be, and I'd bet that even Cooke would have split here without hesitation.

The Fundamental Point here is that splitting back checkers puts more pressure on the opponent's outer board, especially the stripped 17-point, and allows the back checkers a better chance to escape. When Black rolls some of his point-making numbers, such as 3-1, 4-3, 5-3, and 6-1, then White's split back checkers will minimize the advantage Black gains with these good rolls. Also, by splitting, White gains by having more numbers available next roll to make an advanced anchor, as well as by making any enemy blots left in Black's outer board more vulnerable. The downside risk of the suggested play is that White may be pointed on, or hit twice.

Even if we are playing quickly and semi-mechanically during the opening, in situations like this we should be able to recognize that splitting the back checkers gains on many more rolls and subsequent situations than not splitting. With a good inner board already made, now is the time to seek action!

A chess expert and son of the world class bridge player, Mike Labins has been writing about and teaching backgammon in the Boston area for the last several years. He has had several major tournaments victories, including the 1982 Louisville Labor Day Tournament.

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