A Mighty Defense Can also Be a Strong Offense
Paul Magriel, 1977
New York Times, August 25, 1977
Lyn Goldsmith
Lyn Goldsmith
Backgammon has made substantial gains every year since its popular rediscovery in the late 1960’s. The game’s appeal is attributable in part to its dual social and competitive nature. Indeed backgammon’s swelling ranks include an almost equal number of women players. As yet, however, few have reached the highest levels of competitive play.

One notable exception is Lyn Goldsmith of New York, widely considered the world’s best woman backgammon player. Last week Miss Goldsmith added another credit to her fine tournament record. She won the World Backgammon Club tournament at New York’s Hippopotamus discothéque.

In 1975, in the last rounds of the Chicago Invitational Tournament, Miss Goldsmith faced the toughest backgammon lineup ever. She beat, in order, Claude Beer, Chuck Papazian, and Gino Scalamandre, three highly rated international champions. In the diagrammed position, drawn from the Chicago tournament, Miss Goldsmith made an imaginative play to give herself the best winning chances possible in a seemingly hopeless game.

Black to play 2-1.

Miss Goldsmith (Black) has a 2-1 to play. Black has two men locked behind White’s 6-point prime. No matter what Black rolls, these men cannot escape unless White is forced to break his prime. To win, then, Black must contain White’s back man (on Black’s 2-point) as long as possible. This way, White will have to keep taking his rolls without moving his back man, and his home board blockade will crumble. The question is, which play most effectively contains White? The obvious play is 6/3, keeping five points in front of White.

(a) 6/3
(b) 5/4, 6/4
The correct play, however, is 5/4, 6/4. Black switches points — that is, Black makes the 4-point and gives up the 5-point, leaving a man there. Both plays keep an equal number of points in front of White. Why did Miss Goldsmith make this unusual play, especially because it leaves an exposed blot?

In terms of breaking White, the second roll, not the first, is crucial. Because White has a spare man on the 12-point, he cannot be forced to break immediately (except for 3-3, 4-4, and 5-5). The difficulty for White may come on the following move, after White has already brought his man on the 12-point close to home.

With the obvious play, Black will certainly be forced to give up one of his five points in front of White next roll. With the correct play, Black has a variety of combinations with which to maintain a broken 5-point prime; most 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s will enable Black to switch again, remaking the 5-point. The correct play thus increases the chances that White will be trapped and forced to break, giving Black a chance to escape.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
Black owns 2-cube
Black rolls 2-1

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

2-1: Game BG   Equity
1 6/3 W
−0.7666 x  (a)
2 6/4, 5/4 W
−0.7957 (0.0291)  (b)
3 8/7, 8/6 W
−0.8078 (0.0412) 
4 7/6, 7/5 W
−0.8385 (0.0719) 

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