On Attacking and Defending, Containment and Escaping
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, April 13, 1980
The average game of backgammon lasts less than 10 turns (rolls by both sides) if the doubling cube is used. Therefore, the first few rolls are often decisive in setting the course of the game. In the opening, players must maintain a delicate balance among many factors: attack, defense, development, containment of the opponent, and escape of one’s own back men.

Several of these factors must be weighed by Black in the diagrammed position, which occurred on Black’s second turn of a game. The entire sequence of rolls preceding this position was:

1.    5-3: 12/15, 12/17
2.    2-2: 24/20(2) 6-5: 1/12
3.    5-2:

So far, White has escaped with one man, and so has only one man left back in Black’s home board. Black has made the 20-point (his opponent’s 5-point).

Black to play 5-2.
Black must first decide between hitting 20/15* or keeping the 20-point (attack versus defense). The 20-point (the opponent’s 5-point) is the single most important point to own at the beginning of the game. It provides a secure anchor in the opposing home board and effectively prevents the back men from being primed. For this reason, the 20-point should never be given up lightly.
(a) 20/15*/13

Nevertheless, in the diagrammed position, it is correct to hit: Black is behind in the race, White’s home board is weak, and White has only one man back. This last is usually the deciding factor. With no men or one man back, there is a strong tendency to hit, even at the expense of the 20-point; with two or more men back, there is not.

After hitting 20/15*, the obvious play with the 2 is 15/13, moving the same man to safety on the mid-point. Unfortunately, this move stacks a sixth man on the 13-point and gives Black a weak, static position.

(b) 20/15*, 13/11

A better play is 20/15*, 13/11. 13/11 creates a valuable builder on the 11-point. Both spare men on the 15- and the 11-points can now be used to make new points. By spreading his men out, Black has the potential to quickly develop his position.

At the beginning of the game, especially when neither side has constructed any new points in the home boards, it is important to bring all your men into play as rapidly as possible. In this case, developing your position is more important than worrying about immediate shots.

It should be noted that the tactical danger of this play is somewhat less than first appears. By leaving a blot (exposed man) on the 15-point, Black is vulnerable to being hit with a 3 after White reenters from the bar. However, White in any case already has a good 3 to play: 17/20*. In moving to the 15-point, then, Black “duplicates” White’s 3’s.

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Tom Keith 2013 
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Centered cube
Black rolls 5-2

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Checker play: 2-ply
Cube play: 3-ply Red

5-2: Game BG   Equity
1 20/15*, 13/11 W
+0.1467 x  (b)
2 20/15*/13 W
+0.1318 (0.0149)  (a)

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