To Hit and Hold or to Hold and Be Hit
Paul Magriel, 1978
New York Times, April 6, 1978
Tobias StoneLyn Goldsmith
Tobias Stone and Lyn Goldsmith
The Empire State Backgammon championship Tournament, sponsored by the World Backgammon Club, was held a week ago at the Manhattan Bridge Club in New York. In order to limit the event to one evening, all matches had to be restricted to 9 points. The winner was Mike Singer, who beat Tobias Stone in the finals. Douglas Huch triumphed over A. Alkceder to win the consolation flight.

The hardest-fought match was the semifinals between two world-class players, Tobias Stone and Lyn Goldsmith. Miss Goldsmith is widely considered the world’s best woman player. Stone, noted for his backgammon expertise, is even better known for his bridge accomplishments. Along with Alvin Roth, he created the Roth-Stone system, with which they revolutionized bidding strategy and took many national titles.

The diagrammed position, taken from the Stone-Goldsmith match, illustrates the tactics of aggressive modern opening strategy in backgammon. Just before this position was reached, Goldsmith (White) began the game with a roll of 4-3. She played 1/5, 12/15, making an early bid to seize the 5-point by splitting her back runners. (Expert players consider the 5-points on both sides of the board the critical points to control early in the game. For this reason, many games between them begin with violent fighting for these points.)

Black to play 5-3.
Stone (Black) now had a 5-3 to play. He immediately rejected a safe but passive play such as 8/3, 5/3, making his 3-point. With the 3, he played 8/5*, hitting on his own 5-point. In so doing, he had two objectives: to prevent White from making the point and to start making it himself. The remaining 5 in this position is commonly misplayed by moving 13/8. Stone, however, made a tactically more astute play.

The correct play is 8/5*, 6/1*, hitting both of White’s back men. However, this move leaves two blots (on the 1- and 5-points) exposed to attack by White’s men reentering from the bar, and may thus appear unnecessarily risky. Compare the correct play and the alternative play, 13/5*, hitting and leaving only one man exposed.

(a) 8/5*, 6/1*
(b) 13/5*
Both plays actually give Black approximately the same overall chances of being hit — either way, Black effectively leaves a double shot. With the alternative play, Black is much more likely to be hit by White on the critical 5-point, either with 5’s from the bar or with 4’s from the 1-point. The correct play — the one that leaves two blots — cuts in half the chances of Black being hit on the all-important 5-point. Being hit on the 5-point at this stage is what counts; being hit on the 1-point is of little concern.

Stone eventually won his semifinals match, 9–8, but (as often seems the case when one match is particularly hard-fought) he succumbed next round to Singer.

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Tom Keith 2013 
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Centered cube
Black rolls 5-3

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Checker play: 2-ply
Cube play: 3-ply Red

5-3: Game BG   Equity
1 13/5* W
−0.1002 x  (b)
2 8/3, 6/3 W
−0.1607 (0.0605) 
3 8/5*, 6/1* W
−0.1985 (0.0983)  (a)

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