Successful Bearoff — Done by the Rules
Paul Magriel, 1978
New York Times, February 2, 1978
Backgammon Despite the great complexity and subtlety of strategy in backgammon, the actual rules of the game are simple and easily stated. However, situations can arise where misinterpretation is possible. The diagrammed position, taken from the Amateur Backgammon Championship last week in Las Vegas, Nev., illustrates one such case.

Black, behind 5 to 3 in a 7-point match, had already doubled and begun to bear off. The outcome of the match hinged on Black’s avoiding being hit. By bearing off safely, Black would win not only the game but also a probable gammon, thus winning the match 7 to 5. On the other hand, if Black were hit he could easily lose both game and match.

Black to play 6-1.
When Black rolled a 6-1, the obvious play was 4/off, 3/2; using the 6 to bear off his single man on the 4-point and moving a different man from the 3-point to the 2-point. This play would leave Black’s remaining eight men in a potentially dangerous situation. By being “odd” with three men on the 3-point, Black could leave a direct shot on the succeeding roll. In fact, Black would be forced to leave a critical shot unless he rolled either a 2 or any double (except double 2’s). With only these 15 safe combinations (out of the 36 possible) Black would actually be a favorite to expose a blot.

With this in mind, Black instead played 4/3/off; first playing the 1 to the 3-point and then bearing off the same man with the 6. The superiority of this play is evident. By leaving himself “even,” with four men on the 3-point, there were no immediate unsafe rolls.

The legality of the play, however, was immediately challenged by White.

The rule in dispute states that a player “must always play the full roll if possible.” White heatedly claimed that by playing the 1 first and then taking the same man off with the 6, Black had played one pip less than possible and so had not played the full extent of the roll.

A referee was summoned. He dismissed White’s objection and allowed Black’s play to stand. His ruling was correct: The official interpretation is that because both the 1 and the 6 were legally played the full roll had indeed been taken.

Endless debate can be made a priori for either side. However, there is only one correct ruling: the one given. It is the standard uniformly accepted rule in all international competition.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 7
White 5, Black 3
White owns 2-cube
Black rolls 6-1

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

6-1: Game BG   Equity
1 4/off W
+2.2601 x 
2 4/off, 3/2 W
+1.9680 (0.2921) 

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