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Beginners Please - Lesson 10
by Paul Money - November 2006
PAUL MONEY
In this lesson I’d like to talk to you about anchors. The set-up gives us the 24pt anchor to start with. Anchors however, are always known by their numbers from the point of view of the opponent, so if you are anchored on the 24pt, it is usually known as a 1pt or ace point anchor.

The ace point anchor is the weakest that one can have, so our early play is often directed towards improving it. It is the weakest anchor because it is the hardest from which to escape and is the most easily primed.

 

If in the later stages one is trapped there hoping to hit a shot, then losing a gammon is often the price of failure. The 2pt anchor is a little better, getting a shot almost as often and tending to get it earlier, but still liable to a lot of gammons.

 

The high anchors on the 4 or 5pts are a lot better. They can’t be so easily primed and they lose far fewer gammons. They also command the outfield, so that the opponent can’t leave blots there in relative safety.

 

The 3pt anchor has some of the characteristics of both high and deep anchors; it can be primed but doesn’t often lose gammons and it has a limited command of the outfield.

 

The bar point anchor (on the 18pt) is a unique case. It can’t of course prevent the opponent from making a closed board, but it is great for outfield control and re-circulating any other checkers that you may have in the opponent’s board.

 

When you hold two points in your opponent’s board, you are said to be playing a back game. We will look at these another time, but for now let’s examine the doubling strategies associated with the holding of various single anchors.

 

The Ace Point Anchor: If you can escape to the midpoint and your opponent is still back on her ace point anchor, then you often have a powerful double. Sometimes it’s a take, sometimes a pass, depending on the rest of the position. This is a typical example. White is on roll and this is the first game of an 11-point match.

 

White hasn’t quite completed her escape, but she will unless she rolls 2-2 and that’s good enough. She leads in the race by 107 pips to 155 and if Red can’t get a shot, hit it, and hold it behind a prime long enough to turn the race around, then he will go under.

 

Often he will lose a gammon in the process and White can expect to win 75% from here, including 20% gammons. That’s just too much and this position is a clear pass as you might expect.

 

The real mistake here is more often made by White, whose thinking tends to go like this. “If I double now, he will certainly pass. Hmm, actually I must win a lot of gammons from here, so I think that I’ll play on and try for that.”

 

Just because your opponent has a clear pass doesn’t mean that you are too good to double. Working out whether or not you are too good is incredibly difficult, even for the very best players, so my advice to you is this...

In every situation where you are in doubt whether or not you are too good to double, then turn the cube.

 

Sometimes you will be making a small error, but after doubling, one of two good things can happen. Either your opponent will correctly pass, putting a point on the score sheet for you, or she will make a terrible mistake and take! White is almost too good in this position and playing on is quite reasonable, but she should really double.

 

You don’t even need to escape to have a double against an ace point anchor, if you have managed to improve your position in some other ways. In this next position below, White has survived an early 5-5 from Red, anchored on the 21pt and made a neat little four prime on her side of the board. The race is practically even, but White’s positional advantage is so strong that Red must pass if doubled. This is largely because he has so little freedom to play. The movement of his back men is very restricted and he only has 13 checkers to play with anyway, as two men are dead on his own ace point.

 

As in the first position, White wins about 75% with 20% gammons. The combination of the prime and the high anchor is decisive. If your opponent improves her anchor, then you must immediately take action to improve your own, because if you don’t then the game will inevitably drift away from you.

 

Every position is different and it is very important to look at every checker on the board before finally making up your mind on your cube action. Ace point games can be takes if there are some ways to win other than just sitting and waiting for a shot. Of course there are an infinite number of ways for positions to vary, but this next one is an example of the sort of thing to look for. Red is on roll and it is a money game.

 

 

Red leads in the race, 121 to 156 and on the face of it has a better position. He threatens to make a five prime, or improve his board or complete the escape of his straggler, but he can’t do all of these things at once and none of these tasks are particularly easy.

 

Notice that he has some subtle positional weaknesses; in particular his spares are awkwardly stacked, two on the 8pt and three on the 6pt. This means that they don’t combine easily to make new points and if White is able to attack the straggler, then Red can often struggle to find ways to play awkward entering rolls.

 

All this means that White will sometimes be able to find other ways to win. She won’t always have to sit and wait for her shot and although this is a strong double, she should have a go at this one. Note in particular a factor rarely considered below the expert level, which is that this game still has a long way to go. The more moves before the end, the more chances White has to catch up and the more the cube will be worth to her.

 

Compared to the previous positions, Red will win about 70% of the time, with about 17% gammons, which could easily be enough to cash if the game was in its later stages. Here, it’s a very tough take and I wouldn’t be too harsh on a student who passed this one. You should also consider that White is going to have to play very well with checkers and cube to achieve her theoretical equity, so I suggest that this might well be a pass against a superior opponent, although if they are that much better, you shouldn’t be playing them for money anyway! Try rolling this one out with your practice partner and record your results.

 

As ever we could fill a book just talking about the ace point anchor and the play of checkers and cube. Bob Wachtel did just that with his delightful “In The Game Until The End”, which I believe to be still available from Gammon Press. He wrote it long before the advent of the neural network bots that now provide us with the answers to life, the universe and everything. His amusing style, elegant reasoning and witty anecdotes make for a great read and I recommend it to you.

 

Let’s move on to the Deuce Point Anchor: Like the ace point it is vulnerable to being primed and losing a gammon, but you get very nearly as many shots and they tend to come earlier, sometimes before your opponent has even completed his bear-in. It can be surprisingly resilient if there are still some gaps to be filled in front of it and you are more likely to have a take than from the ace point.

 

Also, bearing in and bearing off against a deuce point anchor is not perfectly understood by players below expert, so you can often do better than the theoretical equity. Let’s take a look at a typical deuce point game. This one comes from the first game of a five-point match.

 

Actually, it’s very misleading to talk of a typical anything in backgammon. You must train yourself to look at every part of the board, particularly when trying to puzzle out a tough cube. Here, White’s rock solid home board means that any hit is almost a certain winner, while Red has yet to make that crucial 5pt.

 

Other than that, it’s a run of the mill deuce point game and Red has a powerful double. That home board and the empty 5pt give White just enough vig for a thin take. The pipcount is not really an important factor in these deep anchor games, as the trapped side hardly ever gets into the race, so you can usually disregard it.

 

The big difference between this position and the ace point games that we saw, is that while Red can probably win about 76% of the time, he can only expect about 5% gammons. This is because when he starts his bearoff, White will only be behind a four prime rather than a five prime, so that she can more easily run to save the gammon and can’t be attacked as often if she has to leave one behind. Again, I would expect a lot of passes here and a drop wouldn’t be a huge error.

 

Try to remember this position. Any improvement in Red’s position, moving the spare from the 4pt to the 6pt say, or of course any deterioration in White’s position, moving the checkers on her own 2pt to the 1pt perhaps, would turn this from a close take to a close pass, so it can be a useful reference position for you.

 

From the Red side, bear in mind that an improvement might mean that he becomes too good to double, not because his gammon threat is high, but because he can play on in almost complete safety, for a while at any rate.

 

Is it possible to remember positions? Indeed it is and the great players have a large mental library of them. A good way to imprint them on your brain is to play out a position like this a set number of times, perhaps with a partner. Not only will you be able to recall it later, impressively setting up the checkers from memory if asked, but you will also learn something about how to play the position and the confidence that comes with this is priceless.

 

I highly recommend this method of learning. Learning facts is useful, but acquiring understanding puts you on the road to being a world class player.

 

The 22pt anchor or Three Point Anchor is a rather insipid hybrid having most of the weaknesses of deep anchors and few of the strengths of high anchors. Behind a five prime, it is always a pass regardless of the race, but given a reasonable race and a strong home board you can often take with it when not primed. This next position is from a money game and is a good example:

 

Red is on roll and leads by 117 pips to 129. This would be enough for an initial double in a straight race and is also enough against the 3pt anchor. White can take because Red often fails to complete the five prime, so she might be able to get into the race, or Red might have to leave an indirect shot when he tries to clear the midpoint.

 

Later Red might also leave a shot when clearing any of the points in front of the anchor. None of these make for a take on their own but together they all add up to just enough. Red will probably win 75% from here with only 3% gammons. Red must double now, because rolling a 5 will lose the market. For some reason, the bots over estimate the strength of 3pt anchors, so that they will take when behind a five prime, but it isn’t correct.

 

We’ll look at some 4pt, 5pt and bar point anchors next time, but let’s finish with another chart of responses to the opening roll. This one gives us all the replies to an opening 5-4 played 24/20, 13/8. Study it carefully, because there are some surprises there even for experts.

  

Responses to 5-4, played 24/20, 13/8

 Roll

Money

DMP

GammonGo

GammonSave

6-6

24/18(2), 13/7(2)

24/18(2), 13/7(2)

24/18(2), 13/7(2)

24/18(2), 13/7(2)

6-5

24/13

24/13, #3

24/13

24/13

6-4

8/2, 6/2

8/2, 6/2 #4

8/2, 6/2

8/2, 6/2 #10

6-3

24/15

24/18, 8/5* #5

13/7, 8/5*

24/15

6-2

13/5*

13/5*

13/5*

13/5*

6-1

13/7, 8/7

13/7, 8/7

13/7, 6/5* #9

13/7, 8/7

5-5

8/3(2), 6/1*(2)

13/8(2), 6/1*(2) #6

8/3(2), 6/1*(2)

13/8(2), 6/1*(2) #11

5-4

24/20, 13/8

24/20, 13/8

13/9, 13/8

24/20, 13/8

5-3

13/5*

13/5*

13/5*

13/5* #12

5-2

24/22, 13/8

24/22, 13/8

24/22, 13/8 #8

24/22, 13/8

5-1

13/8, 6/5*

13/8, 6/5*

13/8, 6/5*

13/8, 6/5*

4-4

13/5*(2)

13/5*(2)

13/5*(2)

24/20(2), 13/9(2)

4-3

13/9, 8/5* #1

13/9, 8/5* #1

13/9, 8/5*

24/20, 8/5*

4-2

8/4, 6/4

8/4, 6/4

8/4, 6/4

8/4, 6/4

4-1

13/9, 6/5* #2

13/9, 6/5* #2

13/9, 6/5*

24/20, 6/5*

3-3

8/5*(2), 6/3(2)

8/5*(2), 6/3(2)

8/5*(2), 6/3(2)

8/5*(2), 6/3(2)

3-2

13/11, 8/5*

13/11, 8/5*

13/11, 8/5*

13/11, 8/5* #13

3-1

8/5*, 6/5

8/5*, 6/5

8/5*, 6/5

8/5*, 6/5

2-2

13/11(2), 6/4(2)

13/11(2), 6/4(2)

13/11(2), 6/4(2)

24/20(2)

2-1

13/11, 6/5*

13/11, 6/5*

13/11, 6/5*

13/11, 6/5* #14

1-1

8/7(2), 6/5(2)

24/22, 6/5*(2) #7

8/7(2), 6/5(2)

24/22, 6/5(2)

 

Note: The moves suggested above are the #1 results of rollouts, however, sometimes other possible moves for a dice roll may have been listed as very close or as a reasonable alternate.

Until next time, enjoy the game!

 

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