The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
Paul Magriel, 1977
New York Times, December 1, 1977
Backgammon Often in backgammon a relatively experienced player will look ahead several moves, foresee danger and take measures to counteract it. However, backgammon is a deceptive game, and sometimes these apparent measures prove ineffective.

At the Thanksgiving invitational tournament in Sarasota, Fla., a situation of this type came up. In the diagrammed position, Black, a local player, had closed out two of White’s men and was well on his way to winning the game and a possible gammon.

His only problem was to extricate his back man on the 23-point from behind White’s broken 5-point prime. To do this, Black needed to roll a 5, the only number with which to escape. He was concerned that if he failed to roll a 5 in the next few turns, he would be forced to continue moving forward with his spare men (on the 5- and 15-points), and eventually break up his home board.

Black to play 4-3.
Naturally, then Black wanted as much time as possible in which to roll the necessary 5. For this reason, he played 15/12, 5/1. It appeared to him that by moving the man down to his 1-point, he might conserve time.

Black’s tactics, however, were misguided: they were a result of a commonplace optical illusion. In fact, every move Black makes will leave him exactly the same amount of time for his two spare men. With every play, he must move forward a total of 7 pips; and with every play he will have exactly the number of pips left over to move his spare men. Therefore the efficacy of moving a man to the 1-point to gain time is illusory.

(a) 15/12, 5/1
(b) 15/8
The correct play is 15/8, moving all 7 pips with the outfield man. Neither play slows down Black’s forward progress. But the correct play gives Black more flexibility later for possible awkward rolls. The move to the 1-point incurs two potential liabilities that the correct play avoids. If Black is forced to break up his board, he will have less control and may even have to leave a direct shot. Secondly, moving to the 1-point is disadvantageous even if Black does escape immediately. Experience has shown that the bearoff is always more dangerous with a spare man on the 1-point.

Further, the gammon in this situation is almost a 50–50 proposition, and any slight delay bearing off may well cost Black his chance for a double game.

XG logo
Tom Keith 2013 
Money play
White owns 2-cube
Black rolls 4-3

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

4-3: Game BG   Equity
1 15/8 W
+0.9651 x  (b)
2 15/11, 5/2 W
+0.9230 (0.0421) 
3 15/12, 5/1 W
+0.9167 (0.0484)  (a)

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