Major Attack Later Requires Development Early in Game
Paul Magriel, 1980
New York Times, July 6, 1980
Backgammon Today, many variations of the traditional opening rolls and responses are seen. The modern style of opening play stresses quick development rather than safety. Early in the game there is more emphasis on constructive plays designed to seize key points.

The most valuable points to control are the 5-point and the 20-point (the opponent’s 5-point). Accordingly, many games begin with violent struggles for these two vital points.

In the diagrammed position, White has begun the game with the opening roll of 4-3. Instead of making the traditional play, 12/15, 12/16, bringing two builders down from his mid-point (the 12-point), White has made the more aggressive and increasingly popular play, 1/5, 12/15, splitting his back men in an effort to seize Black’s 5-point.

Black to play 4-1.
Black now has a 4-1 to play in response. With this roll, Black has only one move, 13/8, that leaves none of his men exposed. This overly cautious play is totally unacceptable at the beginning of the game. By playing passively, without attempting to develop his position, Black hands the initiative to White.

Black should not give White the opportunity to make the 5-point without a struggle. Therefore, it is essential for Black to drive White off this point by hitting him with the 1, 6/5*. The more difficult question is how to play the remaining 4. In practice, few players find the best move. The common response, 5/1*, hitting White on the 1-point, appears strong and aggressive, but is a serious error.

(a) 6/5*/1*

6/5*/1*, hitting two of White’s men, puts White off balance and temporarily prevents White from improving his position. The weakness of this play is that it fails to do anything constructive for Black. With it, Black does not start to build any valuable points.

Indeed, it does not even create any builders for new points. Rather than improving his position, this play will leave Black in worse shape. As White begins to reenter, Black will find himself without any logical follow-through. For example, a full-scale attack to close White out is premature. In addition, the blot on the 1-point, if not hit, will be a liability.

(b) 6/5*, 24/20

The correct play is 6/5*, 24/20, hitting White on the 5-point and then splitting to the 20-point. With this play, Black makes an effort to gain control of two vital points, the 5-point and the 20-point. Thus, Black begins to develop his men to build a strong position.

By contrast, 6/5*/1* does not even start to make a valuable point and so Black cannot possibly hope to improve his structure. The correct play gives White more return shots, but quick development — not safety — is what counts at the beginning of the game.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
Centered cube
Black rolls 4-1

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

4-1: Game BG   Equity
1 24/20, 6/5* W
−0.0941 x  (b)
2 13/9, 6/5* W
−0.1048 (0.0107) 
3 6/5*/1* W
−0.1366 (0.0425)  (a)

Previous Column
June 29, 1980
Next Column
July 13, 1980

Main page for Magriel's NYT Columns

Index to the Columns

More articles by Paul Magriel

Backgammon Galore : Articles