A Time for Letting Go
by Mary Hickey - January 2007
Whenever we roll a big double, it may mean it’s time for a change of game plans. In the position below, a 4-4 swings the pip count advantage to our favor:


When we play online, the automatic pip counter is our friend, but there’s only so much it can do for us.  It can tell us we “want” to hit a shot, but it can’t tell us exactly how far to go in our efforts to get one. It also can’t tell us what will happen if we stay back to try for a later shot.  Our choices here are to play for the race with bar/21, 20/16(3), or hold the anchor with bar/21, 20/8.


The 20-anchor is a point we also tend to think of as a friend. In this case, despite our five-pip lead in the race after any play we make, there are advantages to keeping the 20 point.  It avoids stranding our last back man, though he’s not in much danger at the moment.  It also prevents White from putting any checkers on the five point, which he wants to do because it’s better for the race to have all the high points occupied.  Another reason to stay is that if this is the last big number you roll, you might get back in the game with a late shot if you haven’t committed to the race.


The problem with keeping the anchor, though, is that even if White outrolls you by a small margin, you’re still the one more likely to be forced to break.  He will then be the one attacking instead of you.  The reason is that the standoff is occurring close to his home, and far from yours.  The number of pips you have tied up in your holding point, 40, is much larger than the number he has tied up in his most distant point, 22. Another effect of this placement is that he has several points in front of your anchor, while all your checkers aside from the anchor will soon be on your side of the board, away from the action if there is any.


Your missing 4 point would also make any shot you hit later less decisive, but if you had the 4 point made, it wouldn’t make it better to stay back and wait for shots.  In fact, a mini-rollout shows that it’s even better to get off the 20-anchor now if you own the 4 point with the same pip count (it’s made from the spare on the 2 and one of the spares from the 6).  The reason is that owning the 4 point improves your chances of winning the race, since it prevents your missing with 4s in the bearoff.


For situations like this, instead of pips, try counting crossovers till you have to choose between breaking your anchor and crashing your home board.  In this case, you will have only four crossovers to play with even if you get Junior out safely next turn.  Meanwhile, he will have been building his board or playing around with the many spares he has, waiting for you to weaken one place or the other.


So what’s our game plan here?  “Get out while the getting out is good!”  Play bar/21, 20/16(3), and hope the dice cooperate with your plan to win the game in the race.  It is time to give up the 20-anchor, recognizing that this big roll has turned it from an asset to a liability.

Problem 1 with rollout:

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