In a Holding Game, Strategy Requires Tactics All the Way
Paul Magriel, 1979
New York Times, May 31, 1979
Memorial Day The Memorial Weekend Tournament last Sunday in Westbury, L.I. was sponsored by two active regional groups: Long Island Backgammon and the New Jersey Backgammon Association. Eighteen-year-old Howard Sloan, the youngest player in the field, took first place by defeating Robert Liebowitz. Marc Freeman won the first consolation; Mike Zviti the second consolation; Rena Caverly beat Mary Litrel to take the intermediate division.

In the diagrammed position, one player (Black) had the right overall strategy but failed to find the most precise tactical follow-through. Black realized that he was engaged in a “two-way holding game — that is, each player has an advanced point in the other’s home board (Black the 20-point, White the 4-point). Black has fallen behind in the race but, as is often the case in such holding games, this puts him at a strategic advantage. White is ahead in the race and so may be forced to break off the 4-point, leaving himself vulnerable to an attack by Black.

Black to play 4-1.
With the roll of 4-1, Black was not tempted to be the first to run by playing 20/16, 6/5, giving up the 20-point. Despite White’s exposed man on the 22-point, running now would be unnecessarily dangerous.

With time on his side, Black understood that the best strategy was to wait for White to run and, in the meantime, maintain as strong a position as possible. Accordingly, Black made the obvious delaying play, 6/1, moving a spare man to the 1-point and otherwise keeping his position intact. Black’s reasoning was correct, however, he overlooked a similar but technically superior play.

(a) 6/1
(b) 6/2, 3/2
The correct play is 6/2, 3/2, “switching” points — that is, Black gives up the 3-point while simultaneously making the 2-point. Both plays, unfortunately, leave a blot (exposed man) in Black’s home board. However, leaving the blot on the 3-point instead of the 1-point is preferable.

First, if Black remakes the 3-point next roll he will have a better structure than if he covers the 1-point. (The 1-point is the least valuable home-board point to own because it can never be part of a prime.)

Second, the blot on the 3-point is easier to cover that the blot on the 1-point because the 3-point is in direct range of the 8- and 9-points. Having extra ways to cover the 3-point has important consequences in the event that White runs out with one man next roll. Playing 6/2, 3/2 leaves Black in a better position to attack. Indeed, if Black wishes to attack after playing 6/1, he is many times as likely to leave two home-board blots than if he had switched points.

*  *  *

Information about future tournaments and backgammon activities in the greater metropolitan area may be obtained by calling Long Island Backgammon, Steve Kurzban, at (516) 785-5713, or the New Jersey Backgammon Association, Dan Caverly, at (201) 785-1574.

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, 3/2 W
+0.0412 x  (b)
2 6/1 W
+0.0038 (0.0374)  (a)

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