How a Master Turns the Tide
Paul Magriel, 1977
New York Times, September 1, 1977
Barclay Cooke
Barclay Cooke
Barclay Cooke is widely respected as a senior member of the backgammon establishment — expert player, backgammon author, backgammon teacher. He has been a backgammon enthusiast for more than 30 years, and is a regular player at New York’s Racquet & Tennis Club.

Although the game has, for some, become ruthlessly competitive in recent years, Cooke has remained an exemplary sportsman. He and his late son Walter once formed the most famous father-son team in backgammon. Barclay is known for his steady, conservative playing style; Walter transformed traditional backgammon strategy with his bold, creative plays.

In 1973, the Cookes, representing the United States, played in a duplicate match against Joe Dwek and Phillip Martyn, Europe’s best players. The diagrammed position is drawn from that match. Barclay Cooke (Black), who was playing aginst Martyn (White), was under great pressure.

Black has already been doubled and is now in an unenviable position. Obviously he is far behind in a running game; he has three men back in White’s home board, while White has only one man back. More importantly, Black is in immediate tactical danger: two of his men, on the 21-point and on the 13-point (the mid-point), are vulnerable.

Black to play 4-1.

The exposed blot on the 21-point cannot be either moved or covered. The man on the mid-point could be brought to safety by playing 13/9, 10/9, making the 9-point (usually a solid positional point). Making the valuable 4-point with 8/4, 5/4 is another constructive play. It strengthens Black’s home board and is, relatively, a better play than making the 9-point.

(a) 13/9, 10/9
(b) 8/4, 5/4
Black, however, cannot afford to passively strengthen his position while ignoring pressing tactical problems.

Consider, for example, what will happen on White’s next roll if Black makes the 4-point. With too many combinations, White will now reach an extremely favorable position. White could either hit Black on the mid-point, or, worse yet, point on Black (hit with two men) on the 21-point. White has builders poised on the 19-,18-, 17-, and 15-points; thus with all combinations consisting of 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, and 6’s, White can point on Black. The majority of combinations that don’t point on Black contain a 1, with which White can hit on the 13-point.

(c) 6/1*

Barclay Cooke found a more active and aggressive defense — 6/1*, hitting first in self-defense. With the correct play, hitting on the 1-point, Black greatly restricts White’s possible responses.

White will have to waste one half his roll coming in, which may give Black a badly needed opportunity to reorganize his defenses. After Black hits, White will no longer be able to point on Black on the 21-point: barring doubles, White needs a full roll to make this point. Even if White comes in with a 1 and hits Black on the 1-point, Black will have a chance to establish White’s 4-point.

Because Black already has three men back, Black has little to lose by having a fourth man sent back. In fact, with a fourth man back, Black may be able to play a back game. Whenever you have more men back than your opponent, you welcome tactical confrontations because you will benefit by an exchange of hits.

In the actual game, Cooke was rewarded for his astute play. Martyn rolled badly and Cooke was in a position to continue the attack. He pressed his advantage, closed out his opponent and eventually gammoned him. The Cooke team went on to win the match.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
Black owns 2-cube
Black rolls 4-1

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

4-1: Game BG   Equity
1 13/9, 10/9 W
−0.4720 x  (a)
2 8/4, 5/4 W
−0.5075 (0.0355)  (b)
3 24/23, 13/9 W
−0.5481 (0.0761) 
4 24/23, 5/1* W
−0.5488 (0.0768) 
5 6/1* W
−0.5534 (0.0814)  (c)

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