If a Head Needs Bloodying, Bloody Away, or Pay Price
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, March 9, 1980
The Charlotte Observer Backgammon Tournament was held recently in Charlotte, N.C. This successful event, the first major tournament in Charlotte, was limited to 128 players. The local favorite, Jim Tobin, took first place by defeating Gibson Daniel; semifinalists were Gary Kay and Larry Carroll. Douglas Martin overcame Shirley Cooper to take the consolation.

One player went astray in the diagrammed position, which occurred in an early round of play. White had already borne off 10 men when he was forced to leave a double shot with two men exposed. Black hit both men and redoubled, which White unwisely accepted.

Black to play 4-2.
With the roll of 4-2, Black was confident of victory and happily played 11/7, 9/7, making the bar-point (7-point) and so forming a full prime. This prime prevents White from escaping, even if White reenters and establishes Black’s 1-point. Unfortunately for Black, although his play seemed natural, it was a fatal mistake.

The correct play is 9/5, 6/4. This move creates a third builder with which to attack White on the 1-point. Black’s overriding concern must be to close White out, not to contain him. Closing out White will make Black a strong favorite (well over 80 percent) to win the game. By contrast, Black’s chances will be considerably reduced if White establishes the 1-point. Indeed, if White stays on the 1-point until Black begins bearing in, then White will have an excellent chance (almost 50 percent) of winning by either hitting a shot or outrolling Black in a straight race.

(a) Black's play:
11/7, 9/7.
(b) Correct play:
9/5, 6/4.
Compare the play the Black actually made with the correct play if (a) White stays out next roll, or (b) White comes in immediately with a 1.

  1. If White stays out, then the correct play gives Black spare men on the 4-, 5-, and 6-points that bear directly on the 1-point. The incorrect play gives Black only two builders. Thus, 9/5, 6/4 gives Black better ammunition with which to attack White and close him out.

  2. Surprisingly, if White comes in (the more important variation), then the correct play is still superior. Black’s strategy in this case should be to attempt to dislodge White from the 1-point, which is impossible if Black completes his prime. By leaving the 7-point open, Black is preparing for the “trap play.” In other words, he hopes that White will roll a single 6 and be forced to break his anchor on the 1-point, moving one man out. White’s remaining back man will then be isolated and exposed. If Black attacks both of White’s men, and closes him out, he vastly increases his chances of winning the game.

In the actual game, White reentered immediately behind Black’s prime. When Black cleared the bar-point to bear in, White rolled 6-6 to easily win the game and, eventually, the match. White’s poor acceptance of the redouble worked out for him, because of a combination of poor strategy by Black and a fortuitous 6-6.

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

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

4-2: Game BG   Equity
1 11/7, 3/1* W
+0.4419 x 
2 11/7, 6/4 W
+0.4378 (0.0041) 
3 9/5, 6/4 W
+0.4274 (0.0145)  (b)
8 11/7, 9/7 W
+0.4045 (0.0374)  (a)

Previous Column
March 2, 1980
Next Column
March 16, 1980

Main page for Magriel's NYT Columns

Index to the Columns

More articles by Paul Magriel

Backgammon Galore : Articles