If the Opponent Is in a Mess, Well . . . That's His Problem
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, March 2, 1980
Book: Championship Backgammon In backgammon tournaments, players are often vexed by the caprice of the dice. Although luck is an integral element of the game, many wish it could be reduced. In bridge competitions, the luck of the cards can be reduced by playing duplicate — that is, each pair is dealt the exact same cards at different tables.

Backgammon can also be played duplicate-style, with players at different tables having the same dice rolls. In duplicate backgammon, the same opening rolls allow the player to get off to an equal start. Very early on, however, the games will tend to diverge. When this happens, the fact that the same numbers are being used at each table becomes irrelevant. Quite arbitrarily and unforeseeably, the same number may work well at one table but be a disaster at another.

One of the few significant tests of duplicate backgammon came during the World Championship Cup in London in 1973, between four of the world’s leading players. This event was a team match with Barclay Cooke and his late son, Walter, representing the United States, against Phillip Martyn and Joe Dwek, representing Europe.

Barclay Cooke
Barclay Cooke
Walter Cooke
Walter Cooke
Phillip Martyn
Phillip Martyn
Joe Dwek
Joe Dwek

The identical rolls were played by opposing sides at both tables. The results of this match, with a detailed and highly instructive commentary on each play, are presented in Barclay Cooke’s new book, “Championship Backgammon” (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1980).

An informative example of how the duplicate format works may be seen in the diagrammed position taken form “Championship Backgammon.” In the two simultaneous games, the first two rolls for each side were played identically. Thus, on the third roll, the same position was reached with Black to play 3-2.

Black to play 3-2.
On Table I, Barclay Cooke (Black) competed against Joe Dwek (White). On Table II, Phillip Martyn (Black) was playing Walter Cooke (White). At both tables, Black chose to use the 2 to play 11/9, making the 9-point. The 3, however, was played differently by each, and so the games diverged at this point.

Phillip Martyn decided to split his back men by playing 24/21. With this play, Black hopes to next establish the 21-point, or else escape with one of his back runners. Cooke, well known for his determination to keep an anchor in his opponent’s board, chose to play his 3, 13/10, creating another builder.

Martyn's play:
11/9, 24/2
Cooke's play:
11/9, 13/10
In the diagrammed position, White is already at a great disadvantage even though the game is only beginning its third turn. All of White’s points are stripped except the 19-point, which has too many men. Thus, White will have trouble making new points and developing his game. Black, on the other hand, has a stronger, more flexible position. His men are well placed, and so Black has many constructive rolls. Black should try to avoid contact with White in order to allow his game to improve naturally.

The correct play, then, is Cooke’s conservative choice: 13/10, 11/9. Black consolidates his gains, while leaving White to struggle with his unwieldy position.

The alternate play, 24/21, exposes both of Black’s back men, inviting an immediate attack. Now, many of White’s rolls, which would otherwise be awkward, become playable: White may be able to activate his excess men on the 19-point; White may be able to hit and point on Black on the 21-point (10 combinations out of a possible 36); White may hit one or both of Black’s back men. Thus, splitting is likely to result in a wild, tactical melee in which neither side has a clear advantage.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
Centered cube
Black rolls 3-2

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

3-2: Game BG   Equity
1 13/10, 11/9 W
+0.1425 x  Cooke
2 24/21, 11/9 W
+0.0826 (0.0599)  Martyn

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