The Holding Game
Antonio Ortega, 1993
Fascinating Backgammon, © 1993 Ortega and Kleinman

What is a Holding Game?

In a holding game, you maintain an anchor — a point in your opponent’s home board, or occasionally, his bar point — to hinder your opponent’s bear-in and possibly hit a blot he leaves in clearing his outfield points.

Though technically holding games may include ace-point, deuce-point, or trey-point games, we usually mean games with anchors in the opponent’s higher points. The best anchors are the opponent’s five point, bar point, and four point, in that order.

From these points, you control your opponent’s outer court, will seldom be primed successfully, and can run to escape the gammon. Because you can sometimes roll large enough numbers to outrace your opponent, a holding game combines running and hitting chances. Clearly, it is superior to a pure race with similar pip counts.

When you can keep your mid point as well as your advanced anchor, you exert additional pressure on your opponent’s mid point. (When you cannot keep your mid point, a bar-anchor game may be superior to five-anchor game because it maintains direct contact with your opponent’s mid point.)

Likewise, a single checker deep in your opponent’s home board may stand sentry, inhibiting your opponent from moving single checkers of his own behind your advanced anchor, thus adding a kicker to your holding game.

Example 1

White doubles.
Should black take?

In a pure race, black could not afford to take, trailing 129 to 100 in the race, a difference of 29 pips and 29%. But the remaining contact offers sufficient extra chances for black to take.

White will soon have to clear the mid point, and has only one safe landing spot, his eight point, in communication with it. Black’s five-anchor stands ready to hit any blot white may leave in his outer court. If white leaves a blot on the mid point, black will have 8’s (all six of them) as well as (the eleven) aces to hit. Black’s strong prime allows him to win with the cube after hitting.

Despite the relatively low volatility of this position, white is right to double. Any doublet which clears the mid point safely, as well as the 6-1, which makes the bar point, will lose his market for a subsequent cube.

Example 2

White doubles.
Should black take?

In contrast to Example 1, here black should pass this double despite his smaller deficit in the race (119 to 100 pips).

Here white has cleared the mid point and has no gaps. White should have little trouble clearing his outfield points, often in order (which will prevent harmful gaps from developing). Black’s shot chances add little to his racing chances.

Black should therefore evaluate a position like this almost as if it were a pure race. His 19% racing deficit leaves him far from a take in a race, and thus falls short of a take in a holding game.

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