Magriel’s Criteria for Safe Plays and Bold Plays
Antonio Ortega, 1993
Fascinating Backgammon, © 1993 Ortega and Kleinman

What are Magriel’s Criteria?

In Chapter 16 of his classic Backgammon, Paul Magriel outlines several features of positions which should incline you towards bold plays:

Conversely, the absence of these features should incline you towards safe plays.

Example 1

Black to play 4-3.

Several features of this position call for a bold play:

Instead of the passive 15/11, 8/5, which poses only a minimal threat to white’s last checker if it can leap out to the outfield, black does well to play 20/16, 8/5. Now White’s last checker can be hit with 5’s or 2’s if it stays, or many different rolls if it escapes.

Though white may hit black on the 15 or 16 point, white has a stripped position and will leave many return shots. Remember, an exchange of hits favors the side with more men back and the better board.

Example 2

Black to play a 2.

Here, the bold play of 6/4, slotting the four point, would be wrong. Magriel’s criteria (fewer inside points, no anchor) suggest playing safely. 8/6 (keeping the active builder on the seven point and leaving only an indirect shot), or 7/5 (keeping the four-prime) is better.

Example 3

Black to play 6-1.

Again we see a position suitable for a bold play. Black has two men back while white has none and has the better board as well (two inside points to white’s one). Black should move 24/18 with the 6, creating contact and encouraging an exchange of hits rather than playing passively and letting white build points unmolested.

With the ace, black should move 10/9. (5/4 is also possible, but it is unwise to slot an inside point voluntarily when initiating a blot hitting contest — to do so offers your opponent a new target for the bar and sometimes lets him hit two checkers.)

Magriel calls this an action play. Black expects to get hit but threatens to hit back . . . or to hit white’s outfield blots if white doesn’t hit.

Most action plays occur when an opponent has escaped with both back checkers. If white still had a man back, black would do better just to make his four point, 10/4, 5/4.

More articles by Antonio Ortega

More articles on Basic Strategy

Backgammon Galore : Articles