T.M.P., a Common Malady, Can Create Illusion of Muscle
Paul Magriel, 1979
New York Times, May 17, 1979
Backgammon In backgammon, a player strives with each roll to improve his position. What constitutes improvement, however, often depends on the overall board position. As a result, plays that appear constructive may have little value or may actually be detrimental.

For example, a basic goal is to construct new points. Generally, each new point restricts the opponent’s movement while facilitating the safe movement of one’s own men. Because building points is such a natural objective, many players will do so automatically, without stopping to consider if they serve a useful function.

In the diagrammed position, Black has escaped with both his back men and is well ahead in the race. White is playing a holding game — that is, waiting for Black to leave a man exposed and then hoping to hit.

Black to play 2-1.
With the roll of 2-1, Black’s first concern is to safety his blot on the 16-point. One way to do so is to play 16/14, 15/14, making the 14-point. This play appears both safe and constructive but, in fact, it is neither.

Owning the 14-point serves no useful function: it does not significantly hinder White’s movement; more important, it does not help Black achieve his main objective — to bring his men home safely. Indeed it is a liability, because it gives Black an additional point to “clear.” Furthermore, by tying up all his spare men, it leaves Black with an inflexible and dangerous position.

The correct play is 16/13, simply moving the exposed man on the 16-point all the way to the mid-point (13-point). By not making an unnecessary extra point, Black reaches a much safer position.

(a) 16/14, 15/14
(b) 16/13
To see why, compare the chances of Black’s being forced to leave a man exposed on his immediate next roll. If Black makes the 14-point, then more than one half of Black’s throws (20 chances out of 36) will force him to leave a man open somewhere. Indeed, 14 of these combinations force Black to leave a dangerous direct shot. By contrast, 16/13 forces Black, on his next turn, to leave a direct shot only if he rolls 6-5 (2 chances out of 36). The reason for this dramatic difference is that playing 16/13 gives Black greater mobility — the spare men on the 13- and 15-points enable Black to safely handle almost all his numbers.

When evaluating a play, it is important to consider how the position will evolve. Failure to do so, by taking a static viewpoint, may result in a malady known as T.M.P (too many points). Holding too many points at one time can create a position that looks strong but is untenable because it lacks flexibility. To avoid T.M.P., you must examine the dynamics of a position. In particular, before making points you must consider if you can profitably hold them.

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Centered cube
Black rolls 2-1

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2-1: Game BG   Equity
1 16/13 W
+0.3892 x  (b)
2 16/14, 15/14 W
+0.3266 (0.0626)  (a)

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