• 2018 - Position 74

    XGID=aa-C--D-CA--bD---b-d-bb-a-:0:0:1:00:0:0:1:0:10

    Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

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  • What The Eye Doesn't See...

    Eric McAlpine showed me this position. How would you play 44 as Black?

    Most players that Eric showed this position to went for 24/16, 13/9(2). You can make a case for 13/5(2) and possibly even 24/16, 13/5 with duplication of ones despite the two blots. Given that the race is close one brave fellow even went for 24/16, 20/16(2). Virtually nobody found the best play.

    This is a case of backgammon players being loth to change their principles when the position demands it. We are taught that we should not put checkers out of play voluntarily (dead men tell no tales). Everyone assumes that the checker on Black’s 5-pt still has a role to play in the game. After all, if Black can cover that blot he will have a five-point home board which could well be important and hence why 13/5(2) is a candidate play.

    The key point is that the blot on the 5-pt does have a role to play but it is a passive one. The correct play is 24/16, 20/16, 5/1. This move leaves a position where the race is even. Black has solved the problem of escaping his rear checker to safety and the position will be finely balanced. There will now be awkward rolls for both sides and the game may well be decided by who gets into trouble first.

    The point about 24/16, 20/16, 5/1 is that Black does not give White an immediate opportunity to gain the initiative. Black may have to release his mid-point next turn but by then White will have had to make a move. It is often wrong to give your opponent a gratuitous shot in an even game and that is the exactly the case here.

    The blot on the 5-pt must be sacrificed for the greater good. So many players got this position wrong precisely because they applied the wrong principle – do not kill the checkers. Because they applied this principle they were unable to even consider the correct move as a candidate play and if you do not see a play you cannot make it!

    In the cold light of day and given as a quiz question most players will solve this problem but that is not good enough. To succeed at backgammon you have to get the plays correct over the board. 24/16, 13/9(2) is an error, anything else is a blunder or worse.

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  • 2018 - Position 73

    XGID=-DBBBBA--B------b--ccabbb-:1:1:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

    Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

    I posted this position because I got it wrong over the board by accepting the redouble from Red.

    The problem is that all the formulae get it wrong as well. I use Trice and Reichert and they both give White a take.

    Both formulae undervalue the potential weakness on White’s 4-pt. Because he has a high number of checkers above what will soon become an empty 4-pt White’s fours become very inefficient. That turns a take into a drop.

    Red wins 79.5% of the time from here - a clear drop.

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  • 2018 - Position 72

    XGID=---b--E-CBA-dB--Bd-da-----:0:0:1:00:1:3:0:5:10

    Match Play. 4-4 to 9. How should Red play 21?

    A glorious opportunity for a trap play here.

    11/8 would be a very wooden play. The simple trap play is 11/10, 4/2 but better by quite some way is 8/7, 4/2. Red wants to separate the White checkers on his 5-pt as soon as possible and 8/7, 4/2 makes White run on plays such as 43 and 63. In some variations the blot on White’s 6-pt can be picked up.

    11/10, 4/2 and 8/7, 4/2 win the same percentage of games but 8/7, 4/2 picks up 3.5% more gammons and that is quite a big swing.

    Now be honest, did you consider 8/7, 4/2 as a candidate play? If not, then this is a highly educational position. Bank it for future use.

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  • 2018 - Position 71

    XGID=---b--E-CBA-dB--Bd-da-----:0:0:1:00:1:3:0:5:10

    Match Play. Red trails 1-3 to 5. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

    My wife, Gill, and I had this position against Richard and Caroline Biddle in the Cotswolds Doubles tournament earlier this year. Despite White’s 3-pt anchor this looks like a clear double at this score despite the lack of gammon threat. For money it would certainly be premature.

    We did double and our opponents disagreed on their correct action. In the end Richard prevailed, they took the double and went on to win the game and match.

    Because of the lack of volatility this is only just a double and as Richard calculated, it is a clear take. Dropping would be a double blunder.

    From a practical viewpoint this is definitely a double as one should always give the opponents a chance to make a mistake and they very nearly did!

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