Always Think of the Future to Avert Last-Minute Defeat
Paul Magriel, 1979
New York Times, March 22, 1979
Planning ahead and anticipating problems many rolls in advance is recognized as an essential part of middle-game strategy. It is often overlooked that planning far ahead may still be necessary even in the final stages of the game. Failure to do so can result in costly upsets when one is hit in the bearoff.

In the diagrammed position, Black has already doubled and is well on his way to victory. Indeed, if Black safely completes his bearoff he will probably win a gammon (or double game).

Black to play 6-3.
Black’s unfortunate roll of 6-3, however, places him in peril. Black cannot avoid giving White a direct shot. To see why, examine Black’s only two legal plays:

  1. He can play 4/off, 3/off, bearing off two men. Black, with a single man on the 4-point, is now exposed to a direct 3-shot by White.

  2. He can play 4/off, 4/1*, bearing off one man and hitting White on the 1-point. This leaves Black exposed to a direct 1-shot as White reenters from the bar.
Option 1: 4/off, 3/off
Option 2: 4/off, 4/1*
Black must evaluate both plays to determine which one is safer. His first concern is to minimize the chances of being hit on the immediate next roll. In this regard, however, both plays are equal — each leaves a simple direct shot without any extra combinations (11 chances out of 36). Because these chances of being hit are precisely the same, Black must look further ahead than the immediate next roll.

The correct play is Option 2, hitting White on the 1-point. If White misses (by failing to roll a 1), he will most likely be forced to reenter on Black’s 4-, 5-, or 6-point, thus bypassing all of Black’s men. As long as Black must leave a man open anyway, he should seize the opportunity to be rid of White once and for all. By driving White off the 1-point, Black will be safe forever.

If Black instead bears two men off (Option 1), White will remain on the 1-point as a constant threat. Even though Black will almost certainly be able to play safe for one turn following White’s immediate next roll, there is always the danger he will have to leave another shot several rolls later. Black must anticipate problems clearing the 3- or the 2-point. A late hit by White will certainly cost Black the gammon. In fact, Black may still lose with even as many as 13 men off, if White knows the correct procedure that enables him to hit a second man.

Black cannot avoid a shot now — he can try to prevent leaving future shots.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
White owns 2-cube
Black rolls 6-3

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

6-3: Game BG   Equity
1 4/1*, 4/off W
+1.2530 x  Option 2
2 4/off, 3/off W
+1.1856 (0.0674)  Option 1

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