Are You Sure it's a Backgame?
by Mary Hickey - September 2006

Mary Hickey
When you have two deep points in your opponent’s board, don’t label it “backgame” in your mind too soon. At the early stages, just having two points in the opponent’s board isn’t enough. This is true even if you have what are normally considered excellent points for a backgame, as you do here:

Problem 1

How far behind in the race should you be to play a backgame?  There are various ways you can count and compare the pips and to see whether or not you have enough “timing” to play one, but here you don’t need to count anything.


First, picture your position after any reasonable play of this double 4.  Then consider how easy it will be for your opponent to lollygag his way home while you try to build your board, but not overshoot the points you want and collapse it to the lower points.


Now that we see that we need a different game plan, what should it be?  How about priming, since he has two checkers back?


The pure priming play, 13/9(2), 11/7(2), looks good for one roll, but then we’ll need to do some fancy footwork to free all those back men without ever being forced to break our fragile five point block.  There must be something better than this!


How about trying to prime, but hedging a bit by getting two of the four back checkers out right now?


We can do this with 22/18(2) combined with either 11/7(2) or 13/9(2).  The better of these choices is 11/7(2), since it preserves the midpoint, which could still prove useful to us.  It also creates a solid block instead of a broken one. 


Those of you who have played poker can understand why this last consideration is important.  If we play 13/9(2), the only way we can improve to a powerful five point prime is to make the bar point.  This is comparable to trying to fill an inside straight.  If instead we play 11/7(2), we can later make either the 9 point or the 4 point and have a five point prime.  A solid four point block is like an open-ended straight in that it has more ways it can improve.


There is another way to create a four point block here: 11/7(2), 8/4*(2).  This has the usual advantage we gain from hitting, that is, taking away half or maybe even all of our opponent’s next roll.  It also upgrades our 8 point to the better 4 point.  If we are going to hit him at all, we’d expect this play to be better than 8/4*(2), 13/9(2), if our reasoning comparing four point blocks to straights in poker applies.  The rollouts below show that this is the case.


Does this mean we have found the best play?  Not so fast!  Just as in poker a straight is a good hand but not always the winner, in this case the hit-and-block play is second best.  The play that gives us the most “outs”, and the best insurance against the backgammon equivalent of a pair falling on the river, is to hit inside with 8/4*(2) and get two men out to his bar point with 22/18(2).


This leaves us with a good primary game plan, to play a holding game from the opponent’s bar point.  It also preserves the options to prime or attack him later if the dice permit it, or as a last resort, play a well-timed deep anchor defensive game.

Problem 1 with rollout:



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