Opening Rolls

Kit Woolsey

Reprinted from

Subject: Re: What are the best ways to play the opening rolls?
From: (Kit Woolsey)
Date: Sun, 19 Mar 1995 05:19:43 GMT

Andrew Paik ( wrote:

"Hi Everyone. On the surface, this seems like a really easy question. What is currently believed to be the best way to play the different opening rolls? I thought I knew this stuff, but when I read the ACM/TD-Gammon article, they said that TD-Gammon had `changed the way experts play'. For instance, they said that slotting the five was now generally considered inferior to splitting the back men to use the 1 for some of the opening rolls. This was news to me, but then I'm not one of the experts. Since there are experts here, I thought I would ask..."

It is quite true that rollout results from three backgammon playing computer programs (Expert Backgammon, TD-Gammon, and Jellyfish) have given us new insights into opening rolls and other phases of the game. Before taking any of these as gospel, there are several things to keep in mind:

  1. The strengths and weakness of the programs. For example, a program which is weak in backgame play might downgrade early slotting plays in its rollouts since these plays will probably lead to backgames more often when the slotted blots are hit.

  2. The rollouts do not take into account access to the cube, which might make a difference.

  3. There can be quite a bit of variance in the rollouts due to luck, even with large sample sizes.

  4. The rollouts do not take into account individual personalities of players playing. A player may well do better with an "inferior" opening play if it suits his personal style.

  5. If playing a match, the match score may affect the value of different plays.

Now, on the what I believe is an accurate synopsis of the 15 possible opening rolls:


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