The Right Strategy at the Wrong Time
Paul Magriel, 1977
New York Times, October 6, 1977
Backgammon The Bar Point House of Backgammon is marking its first anniversary this month with the second annual Bar Point Open on Oct. 15. This event, which was successful last year, is one of several tournaments regularly sponsored by the club.

The Bar Point, at 69 West 14th Street, is also the New York City representative of the Metropolitan Backgammon Association and so participates in interclub matches. Indeed, backgammon enthusiasts find the club attractive because of its wide range of backgammon activities — social play, stake play and chouettes, as well as free beginners’ lessons.

The diagrammed position occurred during causal play at the Bar Point last week and deceived Black, a seasoned player. Black was way ahead in the race but he had two exposed outfield blots to bring home.

Black to play 6-2.
When Black rolled a 6-2, his first thought was naturally to minimize his chance of being hit. He therefore played 17/15, 13/7, duplicating 4’s. Although this move left two blots, it effectively gave White only a single direct shot — a 4 in each case. If, instead, Black had not considered duplication and had played 13/5, Black would have safetied one man and left the remaining man (on the 17-point) exposed to a double direct shot (6’s and 1’s hit).

Black’s strategy backfired. White next rolled a 4-2 and correctly played 3/7*/9, hitting Black; Black stayed out. White hit Black’s second blot and eventually closed Black out. Black’s misfortune continued — he was gammoned.

The correct play is 13/5, safetying the blot on the mid-point. Granted, by not making use of duplication Black is somewhat more likely to be hit next roll (24 combinations out of 36 will hit him, instead of 17). However, Black has more important considerations than reducing his immediate danger.

(a) 17/15, 13/7
(b) 13/5
Black must weigh, with each play, the consequences of being hit:

  1. By playing 17/15, 13/7, Black leaves two blots. If he is hit, there is an excellent chance his other blot will also be hit before he can come in and safety it. White would then be a strong favorite to win the game and even possibly a gammon (as, in fact, actually happened).

  2. By correctly playing 13/5, Black leaves only one blot. Now if he is hit, the consequences will be far less severe. White obviously cannot hit a second man; nor can he double Black. Thus Black can play the game out until the end, and will probably have many opportunities to escape with his last man. In fact, Black will still be a slight favorite even after being hit!

Black’s knowledge of duplication enabled him to minimize shots. However, Black was led astray — a little knowledge proved dangerous. In general, it is important to remember that minimizing blots, not shots, may have first priority. Duplication is certainly an important tactical principle. However, it does not take into account long-range strategic implications. Use duplication as a tool, but don’t let it dictate overall strategy.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
Black owns 2-cube
Black rolls 6-2

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

6-2: Game BG   Equity
1 13/5 W
+0.2866 x  (b)
2 17/15, 13/7 W
+0.1789 (0.1077)  (a)

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