Mighty Winning Oaks — from Key Acorns
Paul Magriel, 1978
New York Times, January 12, 1978
The first few moves in backgammon are the formative stages of the game, during which both sides should develop their positions quickly by getting men into play and making key points. Knowing which points are most valuable to own is essential: The 5-point is the most strategically valuable point; next and approximately equal in importance are the 4-point and the 7-point (the bar-point). The diagrammed position is taken from the early developmental stages of a game.
Black to play 3-2.
Black has already made his bar-point. He rolls a 3-2, an excellent number — he can make his 5-point with it by playing 8/5, 7/5.

Surprisingly, the correct play is 7/4, 6/4, making the 4-point instead. Why would Black want to own his 4-point in preference to the 5-point?

Most players, because they are conditioned to make the 5-point automatically when given a choice, wouldn’t even consider making the 4-point. Even though in the abstract the 5-point is usually more valuable, other considerations may take precedence. In this position, for example, the resulting distribution of men after each play is the key.

(a) 8/5, 7/5 (b) 7/4, 6/4
Compare both plays with respect to distribution. If Black plays 8/5, 7/5, making the 5-point, the resulting position has a double defect. First, Black still has five men stacked awkwardly on the 6-point. Second, his other points (the 5-, 7-, and 8-points) are “stripped”; that is, they lack spare men. Because of this awkward distribution, Black will have trouble improving the position (making more home-board points) in the next few rolls.

The correct play gives Black improved distribution. With 7/4, 6/4, Black begins to pare down the stack on the 6-point and leaves himself a builder on the 8-point.

At the beginning of the game, you should both make points and prepare yourself to build new ones on succeeding rolls. Good distribution is vital for building up your position efficiently.

Rollout

Tom Keith 2013
Money play
Centered cube
Black rolls 3-2

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

 3-2: Game G BG Equity 1 8/5, 7/5 W L .4890 .5110 .1707 .1636 .0099 .0107 −0.0345 (a) 2 7/4, 6/4 W L .4760 .5240 .1644 .1684 .0096 .0096 −0.0849 (0.0504) (b)

 Previous Column January 5, 1978
 Next Column January 19, 1978