Taking Risks

Strategy for the 80's
Gaby Horowitz and Dr. Bruce Roman, 1983

From Backgammon Times, Volume 3, Number 2, Summer 1983.

Imagine struggling to come back in a match in which you are a great underdog. You have reestablished equality at double match point and have a 3-2 to play in the position illustrated in Diagram 1.
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Diagram 1.
Black to play 3-2.
Which of the following two moves would you choose?

Play A: 23/20, 10/8 (Diagram 2). With this move you maintain a positionally sound configuration with no checkers killed, no blots, and an 8-pip lead in the race. Why complicate a position when you can win it straight forward?
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Diagram 2.
After 23/20, 10/8.

Play B: 23/21, 13/10 (Diagram 3). This play is for the slightly more pessimistic/realistic competitor who anticipates possible future developments.
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Diagram 3.
After 23/21, 13/10.
The man on the 21-point functions similarly to a man on the 20-point and without spare men on points 19–17, he is in no immediate danger. Making the 10-point creates prime potential and increases the containment and attack capability, while protecting against certain doubles.

Which of these moves did you select?

Play A could be termed the Middle Eastern Solution: "Let's all go forward at all times and the world will be a better place in which to live." It is a short-sighted choice which reflects the attitude that men can always be brought around by rolling fortuitous doubles and that the opponent will not be so fortunate.

Play B would be favored by the more skilled player who is aware of the possibility of a long game in which positional security may well determine the winner.

Experience shows that although both moves can be justified, neither one takes maximum advantage of the position with regard to the score at hand.

At double match point, single match point with your opponent in the lead, or in any situation where you can absolutely not afford to lose the immediate game the best strategy is:

  1. Winning the game going forward through successful priming/blitzing.

  2. Failing that, be prepared, willing, and able to establish a well-timed backgame or multiple holding position.

Should Strategy (1) fail, you will probably have had a number of men sent back with which to institute Strategy (2).

Much has been written by us and others concerning the liabilities of playing a backgame. A point which has not been mentioned is that the backgame can be a very effective transitory tactic. One does not have to continue playing a backgame just because one has at some point in the game positionally established a backgame or a double/multiple holding position.

A simultaneous backward-forward game is an extremely flexible position from which to play until it becomes clear that either a forward or backgame is optimum.

How many times have you lost from an advanced anchor holding position in which you were the favorite because your opponent rolled a lucky sequence? It is not unusual because these holding positions take a long time to play with both sides having many rolls in which to get lucky. Both Play A and Play B do nothing to prevent this from happening. They both tend to result in long-term single-holding positions.

With that in mind, we strongly advise Play C, 8/5*, 6/4* (Diagram 4), as the correct option. This play maximally aligns with both Strategy (1) and (2). The backgame, in addition to functioning as a transitory tactic, can also be used as a winning game plan of last resort.
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Diagram 4.
After 8/5*, 6/4*.
We maintain that at match point and similar situations the advanced anchor/single-holding strategy is feeble in comparison to the priming/blitzing fall-back-if-necessary game plan.

Should you be unsuccessful in executing Strategy (1), the second plan makes it materially more difficult for your opponent to get lucky and march past your last defensive bastion.

It is important to note that an understanding of Strategy (2) allows you to aggressively apply Strategy (1), thereby maximizing the probability that the first and best game play will be successful.

Without comprehension of the second strategy most players would fail in their bid to execute the optimum game plan for fear of having too many men hit and falling far behind in the race.

Thus a less aggressive approach not only decreases your chances of priming/blitzing, but results by default into playing the less effective single-holding position with an advanced anchor.

As the average skill level is continually increasing, it is mandatory for the expert and master to reevaluate former strategies. The player of the 80's is a far superior to his predecessor of the 70's. A mere decade ago the accomplished player need only watch his opponent self-destruct. Creativity and aggressiveness were many times inappropriate. That level of play is more properly relegated to the annals of backgammon lore than reflective of today's realities.

The crossroad has been reached. You may choose the way of the New Strategists or become a backgammon dinosaur—only you can make this choice.

More articles by Gaby Horowitz
More articles by Bruce Roman
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