Cube Handling in Matches

Cube Critical in Tournament Play
Jerry Nathan, 1982

From Backgammon Times, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1982.

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 (4 away)
Should Black double?
Should White take?
White (2 away)
Black was trailing (1 to 3) in a five point match when he turned the cube to two. From White's swift acceptance and facial expression, it was obvious that he viewed the double as ill-advised and premature. After all, a two-point game was all that White needed to win the match.

White's disdain for Black's double might have been more justified had this been a money game. Too early a double places the cube in an opponent's possession, where it can be turned back at a critical moment later in the game.

However, this was a tournament match rather than a game for stakes, and White was at a disadvantage as far as cube equity was concerned. He could not gain by subsequently redoubling to four.

On the other hand, this particular match point score made the use of the cube very advantageous to Black. If he failed to double and won this game, he would still be behind by a score of 3 to 2, and could expect to have to win two more games, although White could win the match by winning one two-point game.

But if Black doubled and won, he would be in even contention with White at 3 to 3.

And if Black didn't double and lost, he would be behind 4 to 1, almost as bad as losing completely since the Crawford rule would prohibit cube use in the next game. Black would probably have to win three in a row, compared to only a single one-point game for White.

The tournament match score alone would seem to warrant the light double. Considering the likelihood of a gammon (and that it immediately wins the match for Black), the cube becomes a must. In fact, a prudent White would decline, giving up only one point instead of risking the loss of four points and the match.

Most of Black's possible rolls can easily lead to a gammon. Fifteen combinations hit on the eleven point (any 2, 6-3, 5-4) of which 2-5 and 2-3 hit two men. Five additional rolls point on the blot on the one point (6-6, 5-5, 5-3, 1-1).

With twelve more of the combinations, Black can hit loose on the one point (6-5, 5-1, 4-1, 4-3, 3-1, 4-4, 3-3). Even the remaining four throws that hit nothing are easily playable.

Whenever White is hit and fails to recover an anchor in Black's home table, a blitz attack can succeed in closing out one or both of White's men, in this position a very likely gammon since so many of White's checkers are in the outer boards.

With only one point blocked in White's board, Black will be able to play very aggressively, hitting freely with a single man, since he will have easy reentry from the bar as often as he may be hit. Even when the blitz fails, Black will probably remain a favorite to win the game.

White was mistaken in thinking it was a premature double. In this particular situation, considering the score and the gammon potential, Black's double was almost mandatory.

More articles by Jerry Nathan
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