Winning Safely Means Avoiding a Temptation
Paul Magriel, 1977
New York Times, November 10, 1977
Backgammon The 1977 Autumn Backgammon Tournament, sponsored by the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, was recently held at New York City’s Regency Whist Club. This distinguished event, limited to 64 contestants, always attracts some of the finest players in the country.

In one semifinals match, Andrew Rogacki overcame Judson Stuker; in the other, Jack Furey beat Joan Ault. In the finals, Furey took first prize, defeating Rogacki 25 to 23. Joe Pasternak won first place in the consolation tournament.

In the 25-point finals match between Rogacki and Furey, Furey held a small lead throughout. Furey reached match point, one point away from victory, with a score of 24 to 23. At this point the Crawford Rule prevented doubling in the game. (This rule, used only in tournament play, states that when one player reaches match point, no doubling is allowed in the next game.)

Black to play 3-1.
The diagrammed position occurred in this key game, which Rogacki (Black) needed to win in order to tie the match, 24 to 24. Black is way ahead in the race. His major concern is to bring home his last two men on the bar-point (7-point) so that he can begin bearing off. This may pose a problem, only because Black has a “gap” in his home board; that is, Black does not own his 4- and 5-points.

Black has two possible tactics for clearing the 7-point. His first option is to break this point immediately, playing 7/4*/3, hitting White on the 4-point and moving on to the 3-point. His second option is to wait for a better opportunity and simply play 6/2.

(a) 7/4*/3
(b) 6/2
By playing 7/4*/3, Black forces the issue at once but incurs a certain amount of risk. This play leaves a single man or blot on the 7-point. This man is then vulnerable to an indirect shot: White could reenter with one number and hit with the other. Specifically, White must roll a 4-2, 4-3, or 5-2 (6 combinations out of 36).

By playing 6/2, Black waits, hoping to clear the bar-point later, without leaving any shots at all. However, if Black does not roll well, he may be forced to leave a direct shot, or, worse yet, a double direct shot.

6/2 is actually the correct play. The other play, although tempting, is unnecessarily risky. 6/2, on the other hand, is safer than it appears; only 6-2 and 6-3 (4 combinations) on the next roll will force Black to leave a direct shot.

Note that with either play, Black unfortunately has virtually no chance of gammoning White and thus immediately gaining the 2 points needed to win the match. Consider for example, if instead of the diagrammed position White had more men in the outfield and a gammon were a close issue, then playing 7/4*/3 might indeed be correct. By hitting White, and possibly keeping him on the bar, Black might gain the extra time needed for a gammon. In such a case the extra risk would be justified.

In the actual game Black (Rogacki) made the correct play but was not rewarded for his patience. Next turn he rolled a 6-3, forcing him to hit “loose” (unprotected) on the 4-point. White (Furey) reentered from the bar with a 4 to hit Rogacki and went on to win the game and the match.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Match to 25
White 24, Black 23
White owns 2-cube
Black rolls 3-1

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

3-1: Game BG   Equity
1 6/2 W
+0.6745 x  (b)
2 7/4*/3 W
+0.5757 (0.0988)  (a)

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