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Run, or Let Him Run?

by Mary Hickey - March 2007

MARY HICKEY
Red’s anchor is an island of safety in a hostile sea, but he can’t stay there forever. Should he run now, or begin dismantling the block that is making it difficult for his opponent to do likewise?

Problem 1:

Last time, we introduced the concept of respect for a five point board, and showed how we can get that respect by building one.  This time, the lead concept is showing respect for your opponent’s five point board.  This is what will give him a great game plan--blowing you off the board if you give him an opportunity!  Sometimes our best game plan is to hold the fort and not allow your opponent too many openings while you wait for an opportunity to get the party started.

Here, White’s five point board combined with an anchor allows him to attack freely, knowing that even total failure is unlikely to get him gammoned.  That’s more assurance than you have, if you permit the attack to happen, since you have no anchor and a gappy board with an awkward builder distribution for the unmade points.

Any opponent who has read Magriel’s timeless classic Backgammon, knows that the Safe vs. Bold Play criteria emphatically demand that he hit if he reasonably can here.  He has more men back; he has a bigger board; and he has a good anchor.  His first choice is to point on you with a 2-2 or 1-1, but he’ll be more than happy to hit loose with any 2, or with 4-3 or 6-1 from his 11 point.

Is that all?  No indeed!  If he rolls a low ace, that is, a 3-1 or a 4-1, if he’s good he’ll use that to make a play that Looks Really Cool!  He’ll hit loose on his 4 point by breaking his 5 point, 5/4*, and use the other half of the roll to bring that builder from the 11 point into direct covering range.  That’s the power of his anchor--he can afford to take this wild shot at winning the game, even with this terrible roll.

This doesn’t mean he’d hit with absolutely anything that can, of course.  With a 5-1 he’d move one of his back men into the outer boards, 22/16.  With a 6-6, he wouldn’t hit since playing 22/10(2) usually allows him to win with the cube next turn.  The only way you’d get back in the game is with a hitting 4-3 or 5-2, or a racing 5-5.  That adds up to much less risk than leaving you a direct shot.

We’ve shown that if you run, your opponent’s plays can be tricky and difficult.  Against a weak opponent, would it possibly be right to run, figuring he’s going to concede back more than the .167 of equity this rollout shows in bad decisions of his own?  Playing your opponent as well as the technical aspects of a position can be quite profitable, but it can also be overdone. 

To justify such a move here, give this huge equity difference, you need to be pretty sure your opponent is absolutely petrified of hitting when it means leaving shots.  Better yet would be if he’s also the sort who clings to an anchor the way barnacles do.  For example, if he rolls a 2-1 or a 3-2, will he know enough to hit and bring his outfield builder closer, or will he wrongly pick and pass?  Will he hit with the 3-1 and 4-1 we already discussed?

Maybe the best way to decide here would be to ask yourself how he’d play a 6-2 after you run.  Correct is 22/16, 6/4*, but if he at least knows enough to hit, even if he’d do it blunderously with 11/5, 6/4*, you might still need to make the objectively right play of clearing the 8 point, though it’s close.  After all, you don’t know that he’ll roll a treacherous number!  However, if you think he’d run with 22/14 or play safe with 11/3, both of which are horrors beyond imagining, then I think you would be right to run, since it would allow you to keep your valuable block awhile longer.

This decision arose in a local tournament, at a score where this play would be the same as for money.  I thought awhile before playing 8/2, 8/6, but counting the shots convinced me that running was way too dangerous.  I sure wasn’t pleased when my opponent rolled a 5-5 and won the game, and later the match, nor when I then had to listen to a couple of kibitzers insisting I should have run.  But playing the equities, not the results, is the key to winning at backgammon.  I hope you will never let anyone stop you from making correct plays because you are afraid of what they will say, to you or about you, if the immediate results are not as good as you hoped.

Problem 1 with rollout:

 

 

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