Strategy--Checker play

Forum Archive : Strategy--Checker play

Play versus a novice

From:   Courtney S Foster
Date:   6 April 2004
Subject:   Play vs a true novice
Forum:   GammOnLine

How do you handle playing a novice opponent who makes such inane moves
that, despite mostly correct play by yourself, gets the board into
unfamiliar positions?

I've noticed this recently playing some friends of mine (very casual
players (what's that cube thingy?)). Typically they would play
hellatiously safe , killing checkers, building towers, and hitting
anything they can regardless of what's going on, etc. And this gets the
board into such disarray that I want to throw up my hands and scream. It
gets to the point that I don't even know what's thematic and thus lose
track of what I should be doing. Hit? Slot? How safe should *I* play in
response? Have any of you run into this before? I understand that what
needs to be done is going to vary according to the specific situation, but
I was wondering if any of you had any general advice on dealing with this?


Robert-Jan Veldhuizen  writes:

If I'm playing a "really bad" player, the main principle I use for
adjusting plays is purity. Especially against much weaker opponents,
playing more purely often increases the number of moves per game, which
should gain more MWC.

Also, pure play could lead to more (big) errors by your weak opponent I
think. Of course, the real challenge is in how much one should try to
adjust play versus (much) weaker opponents.

Happyjuggler0  writes:

First and foremost simply play good backgammon and try to avoid outfaking
yourself into doing something dumb. That said ...

Slot more aggressively in the opening stages of the game. 21, 51 and 41 on
the opening roll should all be played 6/5 when playing "vs a true novice"
and arguably vs bots too btw. If you make your 5pt there then that edge is
great as always but should be worth a bit more here. If you get hit then
your chances of a high anchor go up a lot and so does your likelihood of a
backgame. I guarantee your novice opponent will not aggressively try to
prime in front of your backgame and will help you out with your timing by
hitting your blots. If you are in the least bit familiar with how to play
backgames with 3 or 4pts in your opponent's board then you should not be
afraid to play a hari-kari type of game where you leave a lot of blots to
be hit(and the novice will indeed hit). Obviously playing this right from
the get go is not the best of ideas but if you do find yourself behind in
the race keep the hari-kari play in mind.

Go for anchors/holding games while avoiding the prime vs prime type
positions that your opponent is probably least deficient in. If you have
an anchor you will be surprised how often your opponent will stack
checkers on his 1 and 2pt or even breaks her 6pt before her midpoint. If
this happens and your opponent has no home board as a result do not forget
to split your anchor when crunch time comes around and your opponent is
sure to leave a blot soon.

Pay close attention to blitzing possibilities due to foolish blots in your
home board.

Pay attention to opponent's blots in her home board behind your anchor.
This gives you license to be aggressive in slotting points you need to
make or breaking points you need to break.

Gregg Cattanach  writes:

> Go for anchors/holding games while avoiding the prime vs prime type
> positions that your opponent is probably least deficient in.

I'd have to completely disagree with this when playing against a novice.
Prime vs. prime games are much more complicated then high anchor games
with the delicate timing issues that emerge (which the novice probably
doesn't understand at all). He's likely to double when ahead in the race
when this is usually a bad thing. Also, the notion of slotting the front
or back of primes is probably something they don't understand.

High anchor games are much easier to play and the checker plays are much
simpler. If you both make the 20 point, and he rolls 55 first, you haven't
given your skill advantage much of a chance to play out. Also, high anchor
games usually evolve into straight races that must be played out, and here
your skill advantage is almost no use.

I seriously doubt most novices understands much about prime vs. prime at

Gregg C.

Happyjuggler0  writes:

I think that going for a high anchor is still a good idea even against a
weak player. I routinely, regardless of opponent's strength, try hard to
make both 5pts. Making your own 5pt is great for both primes and
blitzes/hitting contests and helps make your outer board a bit safer.
Making your opponent's 5pt prevents her from doing so and because of the
safety against gammons it allows you to play aggressively all over the
rest of the board with less risk. This is perfectly compatible with
slotting. Some of them will indeed turn out to be holding games but as I
tried to make clear, unless you are tutored or experienced in them it is
not always obvious how to play against them properly. I have seen many
players seriously botch them by breaking all the wrong points at all the
wrong times and by not making a strong home board for the day of reckoning
that occurs when no one rolls doubles breaking the holding game.

Robert-Jan Veldhuizen  writes:

High anchors are in themselves valuable things to own most of the time,
regardless of your opponent's skill. So if you roll a nice number to make
one with no serious alternatives, go for it.

If you have a choice though, then especially if you're not (much) ahead in
the race, I would go for the priming game (and/or a low anchor) any time
versus a weak player. More moves to be made means more errors by your weak
opponent. Also, potential move errors in priming games are often MUCH more
serious than poor play in holding games.

It is true that weak players often miss good pay now moves and might mess
up their homeboard too much behind your anchor, but this usually doesn't
really gain you all that much in equity. When you're behind in the race on
a high anchor there's not much to demonstrate your skill with, except
hitting a lucky shot hopefully.

Last but not least I think priming games will win you much more gammons
versus weak players, and low anchor games give you the safety-rope of a
potential backgame in which your winning chances figure to be much higher
than usual against weak play.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     


Strategy--Checker play

Avoiding major oversights  (Chuck Bower+, Mar 2008) 
Bearing off with contact  (Walter Trice, Dec 1999) 
Bearing off with contact  (Daniel Murphy, Mar 1998)  [Long message]
Blitzing strategy  (Michael J. Zehr, July 1997) 
Blitzing strategy  (Fredrik Dahl, July 1997) 
Blitzing technique  (Albert Silver+, July 2003)  [GammOnLine forum]
Breaking anchor  (abc, Mar 2004) 
Breaking contact  (Alan Webb+, Oct 1999) 
Coming under the gun  (Kit Woolsey, July 1996) 
Common errors  (David Levy, Oct 2009) 
Containment positions  (Brian Sheppard, July 1998) 
Coup Classique  (Paul Epstein+, Dec 2006) 
Cube ownership considerations  (Kit Woolsey, Apr 1996) 
Cube-influenced checker play  (Rew Francis+, Apr 2003)  [GammOnLine forum]
Defending against a blitz  (Michael J. Zehr, Jan 1995) 
Estimating in volatile situations  (Kit Woolsey, Mar 1997) 
Gammonish positions  (Michael Manolios, Nov 1999) 
Golden point  (Henry Logan+, Nov 2002) 
Hitting loose in your home board  (Douglas Zare, June 2000) 
Holding games  (Casual_Observer, Jan 1999)  [Long message]
How to trap an anchor  (Timothy Chow+, Apr 2010) 
Jacoby rule consideration  (Ron Karr, Nov 1996) 
Kamikaze plays  (christian munk-christensen+, Nov 2010) 
Kleinman Count for bringing checkers home  (Øystein Johansen, Feb 2001) 
Late loose hits  (Douglas Zare+, Aug 2007)  [GammOnLine forum]
Mutual holding game  (Ron Karr, Dec 1996) 
Pay now or pay later?  (Stuart Katz, MD, Nov 1997) 
Pay now or pay later?  (Stephen Turner, Mar 1997) 
Pay now or play later?  (Hank Youngerman+, Sept 1998) 
Play versus a novice  (Courtney S Foster+, Apr 2004)  [GammOnLine forum]
Playing doublets  (Grunty, Jan 2008) 
Playing when opponent has one man back  (Kit Woolsey, May 1995) 
Prime versus prime  (Albert Silver+, Aug 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Prime versus prime  (Michael J. Zehr, Mar 1996) 
Saving gammon  (Bill Riles, Oct 2009) 
Saving gammon  (Ron Karr, Dec 1997) 
Splitting your back men  (KL Gerber+, Nov 2002) 
Splitting your back men  (David Montgomery, June 1995) 
Trap play problem  (Brian Sheppard, Feb 1997) 
When in doubt  (Stick+, Apr 2011) 
When to run the last checker  (Stick Rice+, Jan 2009) 
When you can't decide  (John O'Hagan, Oct 2009) 

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