Failure to Look to the End May Contain Triple Dangers
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, June 29, 1980
Michael Valentine playing Tim Holland in 1977
Michael Valentine (right) playing Tim Holland in 1977.
The BathDune Backgammon Classic last weekend at Westhampton Beach, L.I., was won by Michael Valentine of New Jersey. Valentine, with long experience at tournament play, often gets invovled with high cubes because of his propensity for speculative doubles and dangerous takes. Earlier this year, his aggressive style earned him first place in the prestigious Turnberry Isle Gold Cup of Backgammon.

The other results: Blake Fleetwood was the losing finalist; Vera Swift and Joseph Mirzoeff the semifinalists. Roger Low defeated Avi Samuels to win the consolation; Susan Kahn bested Louis Tyrell in the intermediate division; and Rose Liebert took first place in the beginners.

Valentine made a dramatic comeback in his 25-point finals match against Fleetwood. Behind 23–19, Valentine gave Fleetwood an early but necessary double. Fleetwood accepted the double but soon regretted his decision when one of his many blots was hit and he was unable to reenter Valentine’s 2-point home board. After the smoke cleared, Fleetwood found himself with eight men on Valentine’s 1-point, as Valentine prepared to bear off.

Indeed, as Valentine took his last men off, Fleetwood was still struggling to bring his men off the 1-point. This entitled Valentine to a match-winning backgammon, or triple game, worth 6 points (with the cube at the 2-level). A backgammon, usually a rare event, occurs when the winner bears off all his checkers before his opponent bears off any, and does so while his opponent has one or more checkers in the winner’s home board. At the end of the game, Fleetwood was powerless to prevent losing a backgammon, the maximum possible penalty.

Many backgammons, however, are the result of careless play and could be avoided. For example, some players neglect to start moving out of their opponent’s home board as soon as possible; others stay back longer than is prudent, in hopes of a shot. In the same tournament, an opportunity to save a triple game was missed because the player did not bother to calculate precisely his best move.

Black to play 5-1.
In the diagrammed position, Black (that errant player) has just rolled a 5-1 and failed to hit White’s blot on the 23-point. He quickly played bar/20/19, reentering on the 20-point and moving the same man forward to the 19-point.

To see why this play is inferior, examine what Black needs to do to avoid the backgammon. Assuming White does not roll an immediate double (except 1-1), Black will have but one roll remaining to take his three back men out of White’s home board. Black can do this only by rolling specific doubles (3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6).

The correct play is bar/20, 21/20, making the 20-point.

(a) bar/19
(b) bar/20, 21/20
This move is technically superior to the play made in the game because it gives Black an extra way to save the backgammon. If Black’s next roll is 2-2, he can play 22/18, 20/18(2), bringing all three of his men out of White’s home board. Note that attention to detail, even in losing positions, may well prevent extra points from being needlessly squandered.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
Centered cube
Black rolls 5-1

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

5-1: Game BG   Equity
1 bar/20, 21/20 W
−2.8804 x  (b)
6 bar/19 W
−2.9043 (0.0239)  (a)

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