Eschew the Obvious to Force Miss Muffet off That Tuffet
Paul Magriel, 1979
New York Times, December 23, 1979
Anatoly Karpov
Anatoly Karpov was world chess
champion from 1975 to 1985.
Chess and backgammon, the two oldest board games, have many elements in common. They are both profound games of position and strategy, in which the ability to recognize visual patterns is critical. Many concepts, such as mobility, flexibility, tempo, and control apply to both.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that several of today’s most talented backgammon players were devoted chess players when they were young. Psychologically, however, the games are far apart. Many chess players fail to develop their ability in backgammon because they never learn to adjust to the caprice of the dice.

World chess champion Anatoly Karpov is also a backgammon enthusiast. Even over the backgammon board, however, he still looks like a chess player: he frowns intently, then his eyes dart back and forth across the board as he studies a roll.

In the diagrammed position, taken from a casual game last summer against this writer, Karpov borrowed a concept from chess to find the winning move.

Black to play 5-4.
With the roll of 5-4, the obvious play for Black (Karpov) is bar/21*, reentering and hitting with the 4, and then 15/10, making the 10-point with the 5. Indeed, many players, when given an opportunity for a direct hit while reentering, automatically seize it. Furthermore, in this position the hit seems all the more attractive because Black has a strong home board and because he is far behind in the race. Nevertheless, as Karpov realized, hitting now would be a major conceptual error.

He correctly played bar/20, 10/6, reentering with the 5 and not hitting.

(a) bar/21*, 15/10
(b) bar/20, 10/6
Black must attempt to force White off the 4-point, rather than to contain him there. Karpov recognized that by simply leaving White alone, White would be put in a state of zugzwang.” This chess term literally means “a compulsion to move.” Although White would gladly relinquish rolling for several turns and just sit still on the 4-point, he is obliged to continue. With any but a few small numbers, he will be compelled to abandon the safety of the 4-point, and run naked into the outfield. Without a single landing space there, White will be disastrously exposed to multiple shots, and is likely to end up with both men closed out. White will then not only lose the game, but even be in serious jeopardy of losing a gammon (double game).

By hitting immediately, Black rescues White from this fate. With a third man back, White will now be able to cling to the 4-point without any danger of being completely closed out. Even if White stays out for several rolls, when he does finally reenter, he will still have good racing potential. Thus, not only will White avert a gammon, he will, in fact, have suprisingly good winning chances.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
White owns 2-cube
Black rolls 5-4

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

5-4: Game BG   Equity
1 bar/21*, 10/5 W
+0.9306 x  (a)
5 bar/20, 10/6 W
+0.7014 (0.2292)  (b)

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