Forum Archive : Terminology

"Holding game"

From:   Alan Webb
Address:   vsg-isg@t-online.de
Date:   21 December 1998
Subject:   Holding Games?
Forum:   rec.games.backgammon
Google:   75l9j3$dqu$1@news02.btx.dtag.de

What is a holding game?

My impression is that it is the making of an advanced anchor, which
should not be broken, so that if you find yourself behind in the game,
it acts to slow down your opponents bearing in and gives you the
opportunity to build your board and hope for a hit.

Surely that can't be it?

Alan Webb

Brian Sheppard  writes:

You nailed it: a holding game involves a high defensive anchor that
provides some chance of getting a shot.

The distinction between "high" and "low" defensive anchors is
important because of cube-handling. If you hold the 18 or 20 point you
can almost always take a double, but the 21 point does not always
provide enough equity to justify taking and it gets still worse as you
go still lower.

I would put the dividing line for holding games at the 22 point,
calling games with lower anchors "ace-point" or "deuce-point" games.


Julian Hayward  writes:

The point is not to slow down your opponent's bearing in but to hinder
him from clearing points to bear in safely. A typical position along
these lines is:

    o  o  o  x  o     o  o           x
       o  o  x  o     o  o           x
       o  o

          x  x  x     x  x           o
          x  x  x     x  x           o

The aim is to make life as difficult for O to clear the three
remaining outfield points. In this position X is not badly placed -
there are plenty of rolls for O which force him to leave 17 rather
than 12 in order to avoid leaving shots, and 6-3 forces him off 18
(even beter for you). The critical aims for you are:

(i)   You hold points that cover more or less all the outfield space
      that O has to play through, so if O leaves shots they will be
      direct ones,
(ii)  You have a relatively good home board *now*, so that O is under
      pressure to play safely,
(iii) O's position is relatively stripped, so he is likely to be
      forced off his outfield points very soon.

(iii) is very important - if you move O's two spares from 21/22 to
19/18 he has three, maybe four rolls to get a 65 or any double. That
flexibility means the game will turn out to be little more than a race
in which you are far behind.

Another common position is for you to hold 13 and 18, in which case O
reduces to two men on his midpoint, then often gets forced to play one
of them off with 6-x.

If O sees this sort of situation developing, he can try to defeat it
in several ways - use good numbers to clear points at the back rather
than build the home board - accept an early shot to clear an awkward
point *before* X has built up his prime - avoid building outfield
points that don't extend the prime in front of X's back men without
good reason.

Hope that's helpful!


Donald Kahn  writes:

The checker play in these games is not among the most intricate.  I
don't pose as an expert on the matter, but here are a few random

If opponent has three points inside or better, breaking the point can
be dangerous.  You tend to wait for a "convoy" (set of doubles).
Otherwise, expect to be "worked over", as my old teacher Art Dickman
put it.  Remember if he hits you loose, you are not a favorite to

Certainly never run off voluntarily when you are behind in the race.
It can't be right to race, when you are losing the race.

If he still has the midpoint to clear, you can use some sets of
doubles to move into the outfield to "oppose" it.

The real art, from both sides, is the cube element.  This separates
the men from the boys.  If you have a 20-pt anchor, what racing lead
and how many outfield points does the racing leader need to double
you?  When is it a take?

Used to be you had to have played a **lot** of backgammon to have your
feet on the ground on this kind of stuff.  But with programs such as
JellyFish, you set up variation after variation, ask the evaluation,
roll it out if it's close, and deduce your own set of rules for active


David Montgomery  writes:

The term isn't really well-defined.  There are positions that everyone
would call a holding game, but there are also a lot of positions that
some would call holding games, while others would call them something
else.  I call a lot of positions anchor games that others call holding

The fundamental idea is maintaining contact in order to be able to
hit the opponent while they are coming home (bearing in or clearing
their last few outside points).

Usually you maintain this contact with a point, although often a blot
a ways behind the point provides additional contact, making it harder
for the opponent to play safely behind you.

The point(s) held usually include the 22, 21, 20, or 18 points.
However, you could also have a 15 point vs 15 point holding game,
and a midpoint holding the 18 point isn't that uncommon.

I tend to think of a position as a holding game only when there is
a credible chance of getting a shot while the leader is bearing home.
So I wouldn't call holding the 22 (or 21 or 20) point against a six
prime a holding game -- I would call it an anchor game.  However, if I
held the 22 point against the 4, 5, 6, and 9 points, it looks more
like a holding game.

If your main holding point is an anchor, you may need a second point
in the outfield to have a good chance of a shot.  Let's say your
opponent is bearing in and needs to clear the mid and 8 points.
Holding the 22 point alone, I would tend to think of this as an
anchor game.  With the 22 point and the midpoint (or some other
outside point bearing on the opponent's mid) I would call it a
holding game.

Holding games are distinguished from backgames primarily by when you
intend to hit your opponent.  In a backgame, often the plan is not
to hit until your opponent is bearing off.  In a holding game, usually
you will hit as soon as possible, as long as your offense isn't a
shambles.  (However, in advanced backgames, like a 54 or 53 backgame,
you usually do intend to hit while the opponent is bearing in.)

David Montgomery
monty on FIBS
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