This week we continue to look at the complexities of doubling by studying the position above. Just before we do that we should revisit the fundamental skills needed to play well. These are:
Pattern Recognition – backgammon is too complex to analyse each position anew. We have to rely on our knowledge of the game that we have built up over the years. When we are faced with a problem we call upon our experience and our mental model of the game. We make use of our store of reference positions to enable us to make a reasonable assessment of any new problem we face. Without that arsenal of previous positions the game would be impossible and this explains why it takes a number of years to become a good player – you have to take the time to build your reference library.
Arithmetic – it is impossible to become a good player without being able to do the basic arithmetic involved in doing pip counts (although on-line this is given to you) and counting shots. Good match players must also be able to do the necessary match equity calculations.
Psychology – always remember you are playing another human being (at least most of the time!). He/she is prone to making errors of judgement and can be subject to psychological pressure particularly where gammon threats abound.
Of these the most important is pattern recognition so it is critical to build your library of reference positions as quickly as possible. One way to do that is by studying and reading and that is why articles like this one can accelerate your learning. So what about this position? Should black double? Should white take?
Let’s use our key criteria to examine the position:
Race. Black is 7 pips ahead before the roll. A small advantage to black but there is a long way to go.
Position. Both sides have two point home boards. Black’s is better because he has the 4-pt rather than the 2-pt. He also has his 8-pt and his bar-point and is only one point away from having a five point prime. White has lost his 8-pt but has his mid-point. Black has slotted his opponent’s 5-pt whilst white’s three checkers are in danger of being hemmed in. Whilst white’s structure is weak all his checkers are still in play so he should be able to improve his position. Overall – a fairly large advantage to black.
Threat. Black is threatening to immediately make both 5 points. If he can make his own 5-pt he will have a very powerful position – virtually a won game. White has no immediate threats but one good roll, for example a small double, could significantly improve his position. Overall -advantage to black.
Opponent. Unknown in this particular position so we will assume both players make ‘normal’ cube decisions.
Black is ahead in all three of the key elements so he should double. Does white have enough chances that he can venture a take?
This is where the reference library and experience come in. Many players would give this up as white but in fact he has just enough structure to make this a take. A big point is that he holds an anchor in his opponent’s home board. This will give him chances throughout the game and save him from being gammoned (at least for much of the time). Those who have seen this type of position before will know it is a take. Those trying to work it out from first principles may well pass. Thus we see the advantage of experience.
The rollouts confirm that black must double and that white has a close but correct take.