Opening Rolls

Forum Archive : Opening Rolls

How computers play

From:   Kit Woolsey
Date:   19 March 1995
Subject:   Re: What are the best ways to play the opening rolls?

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

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

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

2-1: The slotting play 13/11, 6/5 and the splitting play 24/23, 13/11,
the two most common plays, seem to be about equal.  Nothing else is a
serious contender.

3-1: 8/5, 6/5 is obviously the only play.

4-1: The splitting play 24/23, 13/9 has come out clearly superior to the
slotting play 13/9, 6/5.  Probably the reason is that with the builder on
the 9 point there are so many good pointing numbers next turn anyway that
you don't need the 5 point slotted.

5-1: The splitting play 24/23, 13/8 has come out a bit better than the
slotting play 13/8, 6/5.  A third less common alternative, 24/18, came
out clearly worse.

6-1: The obvious 13/7, 8/7 is correct.  Magriel's experiment of 13/7, 6/5
is awful.

3-2: The splitting play 24/21, 13/11 came out a bit better than building
with 13/10, 13/11.

4-2: 8/4, 6/4 of course.

5-2: The normal play for years has been 13/11, 13/8.  However the newer
splitting play, 24/22, 13/8, (shunned because of the crushing 5-5 threat)
has come out a bit better.  The slotting play of 13/8, 6/4 (which used to
be my choice) did not survive the rollouts -- it was clearly inferior.

6-2: The splitting play of 24/18, 13/11 comes out fairly clearly
superior.  Running with 24/16 is 2nd, but the run isn't far enough.
Slotting with 13/5 (a common choice several years ago) was definitely in
third place.

4-3: The building play of 13/10, 13/9 and the common splitting play of
24/20, 13/10 were just about tied.  The alternative split of 24/21, 13/9
was only a little behind.

5-3: The simple 8/3, 6/3 is clearly best.  The once common 13/10, 13/8
has been found vastly inferior.

6-3: The splitting 24/18, 13/10 comes out best, but the running play of
24/15 is not too far behind.

5-4: Splitting with 24/20, 13/8 and building with 13/9, 13/8 come out
quite close (that builder on the 9 point is powerful), with the split
generally a tiny bit better.  24/15 is weaker still.

6-4: Both running with 24/14 and splitting with 24/18, 13/9 are about
equal.  However the once laughed at 8/2, 6/2 has reared its head as a
serious contender and comes out about equal with the other choices --
nice play to try if you get familiar with it, since your opponent
probably won't be.

6-5: The simple 24/13 is clearly better than any other possibilities.

Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     


Opening Rolls

At different match scores  (Louis Nardy Pillards, July 2002) 
Average advantage of winning opening roll  (Chuck Bower, Oct 1998) 
Choosing a strategy  (Daniel Murphy, June 2001) 
Early game rule of thumb  (Rich Munitz, Feb 2009) 
Factors to consider  (Kit Woolsey, July 1994) 
How computers play  (Kit Woolsey, Mar 1995)  [Recommended reading]
Magriel's Chapter 5  (Hayden Alfano+, May 2006)  [Long message]
Mloner vs Jellyfish  (Kit Woolsey, Dec 1995) 
Nactating a whole game  (Nack Ballard+, Jan 2011)  [Long message]
Nactation  (Jim Stutz+, June 2010) 
Nactation overview  (Nack Ballard, Oct 2009) 
Nactation--Why use it?  (leobueno+, Jan 2011) 
Opening 1's: Split or slot?  (Douglas Zare, Dec 2003) 
Opening 21: Rollout  (Stick, Mar 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 21: Split or slot?  (Dick Adams+, Dec 2003) 
Opening 32: Rollout  (Stick, Feb 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 43: In GOL online match  (Raccoon+, Feb 2004)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 43: Pros and cons  (Stick+, Jan 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 43: Which split is better?  (Peter Backgren+, Aug 2000) 
Opening 43: Which split is better?  (Michael J. Zehr+, Mar 1996) 
Opening 51: Rollout  (Stick, Feb 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 52: Merits of splitting  (Peter Bell, Apr 1995) 
Opening 53: Magriel's recommendation  (George Parker+, July 1997)  [Long message]
Opening 53: Split to 21?  (Alex Zamanian, Aug 2000) 
Opening 53: Why make the three point?  (Kit Woolsey+, Feb 1996) 
Opening 6's: Slot the bar point?  (Chuck Bower+, Feb 2000) 
Opening 6's: Slot the bar point?  (David Montgomery, June 1995) 
Opening 62: Could running be best?  (Gary Wong, Sept 1997) 
Opening 62: Split, run, or slot?  (Chuck Bower, May 1997) 
Opening 63: Middle Eastern split?  (Mark+, Apr 2002) 
Opening 63: Slot the four point?  (Dennis Cartwright+, Mar 2002) 
Opening 64: Make the two point?  (William Hill+, Jan 1998) 
Opening 64: Make the two point?  (Darse Billings, Feb 1995) 
Opening 64: Rollout  (Peter Grotrian, Jan 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 64: Split to 20?  (Peter Bell, June 1995) 
Opening 64: Three choices  (Brian Sheppard, July 1997) 
Opening 65: Becker on lover's leap  (Jeffrey Spiegler+, Aug 1991) 
Opening 65: Computer rankings  (Chuck Bower, Jan 1997) 
Opening rolls ranked  (Arthur+, Apr 2005) 
Rollouts of opening 21 and replies  (Alexander Nitschke, Oct 1997) 
Rollouts of openings  (Tom Keith+, Jan 2006) 
Rollouts: Expert Backgammon  (Tom Fahland, Aug 1994) 
Rollouts: Jellyfish 3.0  (Midas+, Sept 1997) 
Rollouts: Jellyfish 3.0 level 6  (Chuck Bower, Feb 1999)  [Recommended reading]
Rollouts: Snowie 4.1  (Rene Cerutti, Apr 2004) 
Slotting the four point  (Joe Loria+, Oct 1999) 
Snowie's openers and replies  (rcerutti, Feb 1999)  [Long message]
Splitting versus building  (Dave Slayton+, Aug 2000) 
Splitting versus slotting  (Daniel Murphy, Apr 2001) 
Splitting versus slotting  (Daniel Murphy, Sept 1997) 
Trice's rankings  (Marty Storer, Feb 1992) 

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