Planning to Play to Win
by Mary Hickey - November 2006

Welcome to the eighth article in my Game Plan Selection series here on GammonLife.com.

Be honest now. What would you do over the board in the problem position below?

Problem 1

You probably got the answer here, since the obvious, safe 13/8 couldn’t possibly be right if it’s called a “problem”.  This is sometimes called “Quiz Factor” - -will whoever coined this term please stand up and step forward?  The trap here over the actual board is to make the comfortable play without seeing its hidden dangers.  Here, the quiet play is just too quiet.


Usually when we think about an opponent’s “threat”, we think of how he can hit us.  Here, we have no stray blots if we play safe, but his real threat is to hem us in on the deuce point anchor.  If he succeeds, then he will double us out since that game doesn’t win often enough for a take unless it has some other “outs”, as the poker players might say.  Here, a large part of our game plan is just preventing him from carrying out his plan to beat us!


White’s plan has three parts:  Make his 4 point, run the back checker to be sure we have no immediate “outs” by means of an attack, then use the cube against us.  If we hit him with 8/3*, we can stop him in his tracks at least for this turn.  By hitting, we prevent his making the 4 point, and probably also prevent his escape.  If he stays out, the tide has already turned in our favor, and if we cover, we will be the ones thinking about a cube instead of him.  If he flunks again after we cover, he has to pass when we double.  (If you thought we had a cube after his first flunk, you need to rub some calamine on your itchy fingers - we’re a favorite then, but not by enough to give him sole access to the cube.)


You won’t find this term in the backgammon glossary on this site, or any others I know of, but I call positions like this “frogboilers”.  This refers to the belief which many hold, that if you drop a frog in boiling water he will leap out, but if you put him in cool water and gradually turn up the heat, he won’t perceive the danger and will boil to death. I haven’t tried this at home, and I hope you won’t either, but I find the concept useful anyway.


Moving 13/8 is a play of passive resignation. Before you roll, you need to recognize that here, unlike the previous problem in this series, you are ready to attack.  Your board is better than your opponent’s, and he’s threatening to do you harm if you don’t stop him.  If you let him get away,  he’s likely to win the game without a fight  By hitting, you are still leaving it up to the dice in the end, but you’re doing your best with what you have been given to work with.  In this case, a pre-emptive strike is superior to a wait-and-see approach.


Plays like this are sometimes described as “courageous”.  And so they are, but so sometimes are plays that look weak!  Real courage is doing what you believe is right, regardless of what your opponent will think of you, and no matter what the kibitzers are going to say.  It means making an unusual play when you think it’s called for, not rejecting it a priori because you are afraid of being wrong.  It means taking voluntary risks when you must, even if you know others will criticize you if your plan fails.


Courage also means using all the knowledge and mental power you have, making no excuses, and accepting in advance that sometimes it will not be enough.  That’s backgammon, the game that most closely resembles the world outside of games, and so helps us to understand and deal with real life.

Problem 1 with rollout:


Click here to return to Mary Hickey's section

Copyright © 2006-2011 by GammonLife.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, re-written, or re-distributed in any form.