What play would you make in the following backgammon position?
One of the skills that differentiates strong backgammon players is their ability to calmly take risks at the appropriate moment. Put another way they will often play to win rather than play to lose not too badly.
This week’s position graphically illustrates this concept. Black has a poor position. Had he rolled a 5 he would have had reasonable winning chances but instead the dice gods have seen fit to give him a 62 to play.
Whatever he does he will be leaving shots and at least two blots for white to attack. He can make a 5-pt point board with plays like 13/7, 6/4 or 15/9, 6/4 but both these plays leave multiple shots and that nice home board will soon disintegrate once several black checkers end up behind white’s broken five-point prime.
The ‘play not to lose too badly’ approach is to try 15/9, 15/13. This leaves only two blots but any 4 by white still more or less wins the game and white will often attack the blot on his 2-pt when he can’t hit the outfield blot. Even if black survives this roll he is still in trouble and the initiative is with white.
Can that initiative be taken by black? Yes it can. It may seem suicidal but the correct play in this backgammon position is actually 13/5*! Can a play that exposes four blots possibly be correct?
Again the answer is yes and for the following reasons:
- Black has a four-point home board, as strong as white’s, so he should seek to use that asset.
- The main reason is that on 16 (out of a possible 36) rolls next turn white will languish on the bar If black survives that next roll he will have very real winning chances and will even win some gammons. As an example look how 33 for white plays after 13/5* and 15/9, 15/13 – quite a difference!
- This is the ‘play to win’ approach. Black has been given the chance to pluck victory from the jaws of defeat and should seize that chance.
As can be seen from the rollouts below the decision is not close. 13/5* is clearly correct. It loses about the same number of gammons as the apparently ‘safer’ 15/13, 15/9 but wins an extra 10% of the games – that is a huge difference.
It takes good nerve to make this sort of play but playing backgammon to win rather than playing not to lose too badly is a theme that often recurs in backgammon and is one that should be in every player’s armoury. Remember it and use it!!