Prime vs Prime

Wanna Bet?
Gaby Horowitz and Dr. Bruce Roman, 1983

From Backgammon Times, Volume 3, Number 1, Winter/Spring 1983.

13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Black to play 2-1.
This position was published in Gammon's of Chicago, August 1982, newsletter.

Bill Davis, the editor, spent a considerable amount of time and effort gathering the opinions of many of the notables who attended the Las Vegas Tournament and the Chicago Open. Below are the results.

Option 1:  Bar/23, 4/3 or bar/23, 13/12. The "no-hit" play was selected by Les Bart, Art Dickman, Vladimir Dobrich, Billy Horan, Gaby Horowitz, Kent Goulding, Darrell Marcus, and Chuck Papazian.

Option 2:  Bar/23, 2/1*. This was the favored play of Nack Ballard, Lee Genud, Nick Maffeo, Joe Monro, and Kathy Posner.

Option 3:  Bar/24*, 13/11. This was chosen by Jim Pasko, Bill Robertie, and Elliot Winslow.

It is fascinating that so many respected players would disagree so radically. Our interest in the position was initially educational, but as you will see eventually, we have other interests as well.

A cursory evaluation of the position may suggest that the three options are very close. This is not true.

We suspect (hope?) that several of the experts were not shown the position of the cube when asked for their opinion. This is rather common during tournaments, when positions are analyzed in seconds because the player is concentrating on his match or on money games.

We feel that the majority of readers have sufficient knowledge to assess the merits and liabilities of the three options. Therefore, we will present a brief overview:

Option 1:  The "no-hit" play could also be termed the "no-gammon" move. With this play, Black should not lose or win a gammon. The price for gammon protection is that White will become the favorite with an immediate 6.

Option 2:  Hitting in his own inner board, Black reduces White's exiting numbers to a 1-6. Black will not win a gammon with this play but could certainly lose a double game.

Option 3:  The "Dewar's Profile" play. It's action packed and creates a double gammon swing (either side could win or lose a gammon).

It is essential to take into consideration Black's cube action since Black controls the cube. High swings in both directions could develop quickly, depending on each player's maturity, experience, sanity, and ability to coordinate checker movement with cube action.

Let's quickly review some backgammon basics. When you own the cube, and your position is improving and options are available, more conservative actions are advised. Play should be oriented towards long-term survival. With both cube and checkers at your disposal, you should have them share an equal part of the battle.

Options 2 and 3 tend to produce the quicker result for Black by reducing his opponent's exiting numbers, but they do so at the price of increasing the gammon possibility.

It is the respectable player who can select the quickest winning move. But it is the seasoned expert or the master who is able to simultaneously keep his gammon exposure minimal while maintaining or increasing his positional advantage. Note well that "quick" does not necessarily mean "most effective."

It is acceptable to allow your opponent's bad numbers to play as long as they are in the majority.

Most players are apt to maximize their own good rolls, but they fail to employ the corollary action of not stopping the opponent from self-destructing.

This concept is well understood in the martial arts. Why stop a charging adversary by striking him when it is far simpler to direct him into the nearest telephone pole?

The "no-hit" play also offers the greatest number of options after White fails to roll the 6:

  1. Redouble into a take.
  2. Play on for the gammon.
  3. Wait to redouble into a drop.

You achieve all of the above while minimizing the gammon possibility.

We would like to give the experts that chose 2 and 3 the benefit of the doubt and assume that they've changed their minds. However, those who haven't may regard this as a public challenge to play this as a proposition.

This is one instance in which Gaby cannot be cited for "hustling." The challenged experts are some of the most respected names in the game.

To show his good faith, Gaby offers the following recession special: His opponent may choose whether he plays 4/3 or 13/12.

(Remember U.S. dollars only; no pesos, please.)

More articles by Gaby Horowitz
More articles by Bruce Roman
More articles on priming games
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