An Impetuous Hit Can Lose the Game
Paul Magriel, 1977
New York Times, July 7, 1977
Crockford's Club LONDON — In the first two days of competition at Crockford’s Summer Backgammon tournament in London last week, all but two of the 24 seeded players were eliminated. Indeed one suprise upset was narrowly averted in the first round of play during which the diagrammed position occurred.

The 15-point match was tied 14 to 14; at double match point, the winner of this final game would take the match. This game would be played out until the last roll without any doubling, and gammons and backgammons were irrelevant.

With so much dependent on one game, both players were tense. Black, a comparatively inexperienced player, had played well against White, one of the best players in Europe. He now made a common error.

Black to play 6-4.

Often a player with a solid home board will seize an opposing blot and hit it impetuously, as Black did, without analyzing all aspects of the position.

White had just been forced to break his bar-point, and Black felt victory within his grasp. When he rolled 6-4 he triumphantly played 24/18*/14, hitting White and escaping with his back runner. White now had one man on the bar and two more trapped behind Black’s 6-point prime. Black, with no opponents between his last runner and home was certain he was a winner.

(a) 24/18*/14

Unfortunately, Black’s luck ran out. White was unable to roll a 1 and reenter for several rolls. Later, Black was forced to leave a man exposed while bearing off, and White hit him. White went on to close Black out and won the game easily. What went wrong?

A closer look at the key position shows that Black actually had no need to hit, especially since gammon was not needed to win the match.

Without that hit, White would have been forced to continue advancing and would have irrevocably damaged his inner board piling extra men on the 1 and 2 points. Now, even if White hit Black during the bearoff, Black would still be a favorite. With men permanently out of play, White couldn’t contain Black.

(b) 24/20/14

White was able to win only because he kept his inner board intact by wasting rolls trying to come in. With Black’s hit on the 18-point, he lost the insurance he needed to later withstand being hit himself.

Thus, instead of the fatal play 24/18*/14, Black should have played 24/20/14, giving himself an extra margin of safety.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 15
White 14, Black 14
Black rolls 6-4

1296 games with VR
Checker play: 2-ply
Cube play: 3-ply Red

6-4: Game BG   Equity
1 24/14 W
+0.8666 x  (b)
2 24/18*/14 W
+0.8218 (0.0448)  (a)
3 24/18*, 6/2 W
+0.8051 (0.0615) 
4 24/18*, 7/3 W
+0.7913 (0.0753) 

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