Another Great Backgame -
to Avoid!

by Mary Hickey - October 2006
We saw in the last column that four checkers back on two points don’t necessarily make a good backgame. It would follow, then, that if you are likely to have a hard time even getting your two points, having a fourth sent back might be a pretty bad idea:

Problem 1

With that in mind, before we roll we have thoughts of safety and structure in mind.  Even if we roll, say, a 63, 64, or 54, we aren’t even thinking about hitting in the outer board from the back.  That would be asking to get at least one man hit immediately, with another likely to follow on the next turn.  This threat is so great that if we hit that way, and the opponent had access to the cube, he could double us out!  Instead, we’d clean up our blots and make whatever inside points we could (5 and also the bar point with 6-3, ace point with 6-4, and 3 point with 5-4) in the process.


But we do want to escape, and we sure wouldn’t be averse to hitting.  So should we do it all with this 3-3, since it allows us to hit in the outer board and also cover our 5 point?  It would still give him a lot of return shots from the bar, but he’d have to actually hit one before he could double us if we didn’t already own the cube.  The answer is no, but not because these thoughts are unreasonable.  As in the previous column, we shouldn’t settle for the first decent play we find.  Instead, we must be sure we’ve found the best alternative before we pick up our dice.


This resembles the third problem of this series in that you aren’t quite ready to “bring the game to your opponent”.  If you hit and cover, you not only give him many ways to hit back while he has a stronger board than yours, but you put yourself under pressure if he misses.  Now you must cover the bar point or move the blot elsewhere, perhaps with a lame inside hit or just a deuce you’d rather have been free to use elsewhere.  It’s not that you don’t want to attack, but that you aren’t ready to do it yet.


Well, then how can you use this 3-3 to get ready?  One very good thing to do is to build a solid four point block, which we considered in the last column but only rejected because something even better was available.  Try setting up 8/5, 13/7 with three of your 3s, and see how strong it looks!  It would take a heck of an alternative to push us off building this excellent structure, which will slow down our opponent’s escape and threaten to block in any additional checkers we may hit later.  And as we noted last time, it can later be expanded to a truly imposing five point prime if the dice are nice to us.


After we do this, we still have one 3 left to play.  We could hit right away with 6/3*, but even after making the block, we aren’t quite ready to get this pushy.  Even if he stays out, how do we follow up?  We need to get some more checkers to where the action is before we start some trouble.


We could try 13/10, bringing a new builder into range to make either the 4 or 9 point, extending our block further.  If we roll another 3, we could cover it and have a broken five point block, which isn’t quite as good but is still nice.


The problem with this play isn’t the placement of the checker, but that it leaves the opponent a little too free to carry out his own evil plans.  In fact, the rollout below shows this play to be slightly worse than 6/3*, which at least takes half his roll away from him.


What’s left?  Splitting with 24/21, of course.  Is it worth the risk of being pointed on, or being hit loose and then missing the return shot?  That’s a question worth asking, but at the same time we must also ask, can we afford not to split here?  If we wait too long, White will have more builders in place, and be ready to crush and bury us like a runaway snowplow when we split later on.  If instead we split now, we may force him to hit us before he wants to, while we still have plenty of counterplay.  If he can’t hit, we may be able to anchor on his 4 point (our 21 point), or perhaps outside on his bar point, defanging his later attacking potential.  If we can’t do that, at least we may be able to run one of the back men to safety, or hit him outside now that we’re better prepared at the front.


If the 21 point is so good, why not use two of our 3s to make it right now?  The remaining 3s could be used to cover the 5 point, then play 7/4 rather than 13/10 since it minimizes his shots and also avoids creating another blot.  The reason not to do this goes back to the beginning, when we chose our game plan of thinking about structure and avoiding getting a fourth man sent back.  That double shot on our 4 point is too much to leave him, and the four point block is too good a structure to pass up.  The rollout below shows that this play may be a little better than hitting and making the 5 point, but it loses out to all three of the plays that make the four point block. 


We can now be confident we have found the right approach, locking up the asset of a four point block and mobilizing our back checkers before it becomes too dangerous.

Problem 1 with rollout:


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