Skill, Caution, and Patience Can Be Undone by the Dice
Paul Magriel, 1979
New York Times, March 8, 1979
Backgammon The Los Angeles Spring Classics Backgammon Tournament, sponsored by the American Backgammon Championships, was held last weekend at the Pacifica Hotel in Culver City, Calif.

Elliot Winslow took first place in a field of 200 by defeating Todd Van der Plum. Gaby Horowitz overcame Alan Martin to win the consolation. In the intermediate section, Bill Franoff was the victor, and David Hershleder triumphed in the beginner’s group.

The diagrammed position shows how one player (Black) was deprived of a well-deserved victory by an unfortunate sequence of rolls. With White trapped securely behind Black’s six-point prime, Black felt confident. To win, Black had only to march his last man home and then bear off safely.

Black to play 4-1.
When Black rolled 4-1, however, he unexpectedly found himself in a predicament. Despite Black’s apparent freedom of movement, Black’s back man on the 18-point is now blocked. Because his back man is prevented from moving, Black is forced to play his roll elsewhere, and consequently to break his prime. All of a sudden Black is in serious jeopardy: Not only does White have the opportunity to escape from behind Black’s prime, but Black’s back man stands exposed to a triple direct shot from White.

Black remained calm and was determined to make the best of his precarious situation. His first concern was how best to break his prime. The obvious choices where 7/6, 7/3, breaking the bar-point (7-point), or 8/7, 8/4, giving up the 8-point.

(a) 7/6, 7/3
(b) 8/7, 8/4
With either play, White would be likely to hit Black first on the 18-point (29 chances out of 36) and then have ample time to escape with his own back man. Black realized that his primary concern was the defenseless man back on the 18-point. With this in mind, he found the best way to protect himself and maintain his winning chances — to counterattack.
(c) 6/2*/1

The correct play is 6/2*/1, giving up the 6-point in order to hit White and make the 1-point. By seizing the initiative and attacking first, Black greatly reduces White’s chances of hitting. In fact, White will reenter and hit less than one half of the time (16 chances out of 36). Giving up the 6-point is an unusual procedure, but Black must hit White and gamble to keep him off-balance for the next key roll.

In the actual game, Black was not rewarded for his valiant attempt to salvage the game. White next rolled a crushing 6-6 and played bar/6*, 12/18*, 17/23(2). White never redoubled, but went on to win a gammon.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
White 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 6/2*/1 W
+0.0825 x  (c)
2 7/2* W
−0.1780 (0.2605) 
3 8/7, 8/4 W
−0.4375 (0.5200)  (b)
4 7/6, 7/3 W
−0.4906 (0.5731)  (a)

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