Introduction to 'High Anchor' type of game
In the first article on backgammon game types , we defined eight different categories of middle game:
1. Running Game (or Race)
2. High Anchor
3. Mutual Holding Game
4. Low Anchor
5. Blitz (see article on the topic - Backgammon Blitz)
6. Prime versus Prime
7. Back Game
In this Article, We are looking a little more deeply into each of these and focusing on the High Anchor game type. We will define the basic game plan for both sides and also look at the doubling strategies for both players.
A high anchor game is one where you have moved your back men at least as far as your mid-point whilst your opponent still holds either your 4pt, 5pt or bar point. An example of this is shown in the position above.
The game plans for the two sides in this position are quite clear. Black tries to bring all his men into his home board without leaving a shot. If he does have to leave a shot it will normally be on his mid-point after red has vacated his own mid-point, and red will therefore only have an indirect shot (a shot which requires a combination of the two dice) to hit and win the game.
Ideally, black would like to throw a set of doubles and clear his mid-point without ever leaving a shot. Red’s strategy is slightly more complex as he has three objectives: keep the high anchor, keep the mid-point as long as possible and build a strong home board to ensure that if he does hit a loose black checker he will win immediately. Of course a set of big doubles by red can put him right back in the race.
It is important that red builds his home board points in order (beginning with the 6-pt and then 5-pt, 4-pt, 3-pt and so on) as far as he can and he should slot points aggressively with the idea of building a strong home board as quickly as possible. He should hardly ever compromise his home board in order to keep his mid-point – he should prefer instead to let the mid-point go in order to keep a winning home board.
Doubling strategy is relatively straightforward. Black can double when he has slightly better than the equivalent of a racing double (i.e. a double based on the pip count alone). In a pure race black can double with an 8% lead and red can take with up to a 12% deficit. In a typical high anchor position black needs to have a racing lead of about 15% in order to double. High anchor positions are not very volatile as there are very few market losing sequences. Therefore black should try to get to a point where he is very close to red’s take/pass borderline before he doubles.
What is slightly surprising is that red can take with quite a large deficit in the pip count (up to 50 pips) because as his chances of winning the race decrease so his chances from winning by hitting increase. In the variations where his hitting chances are high it is imperative that he has a good home board; if he hasn’t then what would be a take becomes a drop.
In the position above the pip count is black 99 white 118 so the correct cube action is for black to double and red to take. As noted above red can be far worse off in the pip count and still have a take so if we change the position to:
Now black leads in the race by 42 pips but red still has a take. Note that red is correctly building a prime on his own side of the board. If he had a weaker home board structure, for example if he had already made his ace point, then the position would be a pass.
As with many backgammon positions small changes can lead to a difference in the doubling decisions. In the next diagram we have strengthened red’s board by giving him his 4-pt but we have given black his bar-point:
The change for black has more influence than that for red. Now he has two landing points for his men on the mid-point so that a roll of 65 becomes a very good roll for him. This small change turns a clear take for red in the previous diagram to one that is now right on the take / drop borderline.
High anchor games are easy to play well from both sides, the strategies can quickly be taught and it is difficult to make a huge error. The key as ever is to get the doubling decisions right and especially as the doubler to give your opponent a difficult choice. Psychology also comes into the equation because if you know your opponent well you can tune your doubling decisions according to your understanding of his take / drop habits. For example, if he often takes positions that are drops you can wait a little longer than normal before doubling.
What if the anchor is on the bar-point or 4-pt ? We will look at these in subsequent articles.
Chris Bray, June 2006
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