Grant’s Puzzles #221 to Present

Courtesy of Grant Hoffman

#232 – How should White play 52 here?

This is an interesting position, with an interesting story. I saw this position in a teaching video where the rollout was never shown. The answer was just explained, and I disagreed with it.

The commentator believed that 6/4 “was a given” as it gave you the 6, 5 and 4 combination and that this combination was so strong it justified leaving 2 inner board blots. Then the play made over the board was 16/11:

I believe that 6/4 was wrong and that 3/1 should have been played as it only leaves one inner board blot. Every move that has 6/4 in it is a blunder.

So let us consider 16/11 3/1:

Now we have only one inner board blot.

Playing 16/11 has only added 4 more covers 61 and 43 as 62 already covered. You cover with any 2, 61, 43 and 44. That is 16 rolls or 44% of the time.

Playing 16/11 takes a lot of pressure off Black’s checker on your 12 point.

You need to ask yourself why you need to keep to anchors on your opponent’s home board.

Consider 3/1 23/18:

43 and 61 no longer cover but 33 does.

This move puts Black under a lot more pressure, as many more rolls will now hit Black’s blot on your 12 point.

If you look at this position in terms of Paul Magriel’s safe versus bold play, you have a better board, an advanced anchor, more checkers back and you are behind in the race. Those factors should be pointing you to make a bold play here, but you can make a bold play and still minimise your inner board blots.

I really enjoy watching teaching videos, but if the rollouts are not given, it is always good to check them yourselves. This is also true when you read books when the analysis was done by earlier software than XG.

#231 – How should White play 61 here?

The point you would you most like to make is your 5 point, so why not slot it now and bring in another builder with 17/11 6/5?

Paul Magriel wrote that it was unwise to slot while your back checkers are split. The problem being that your opponent can attack the back checker if they miss the slotted point. Although there are exceptions to this advice, it is a very good rule of thumb.

Black has 3 builders aimed at the blot on your 22 point. You should heed Paul Magriel’s advice, and find another play.

The blot on your 22 point is in such danger that you have to you play 22/21 so that Black cannot attack that checker.

Then you could just play 17/11, which aims another builder at your open 5 point.

There are two problems with this play. First, Black will hit you with 64.

You will still have 3 checkers stuck behind a broken 4 prime.

Consider 22/21 21/15:

When neither player has many checkers in their outfield, the first player puts checkers there has an advantage if the other player still has checkers to escape.

After this play, Black’s problems are not over when they escape into the outfield, as they will leave either direct or indirect shots at the fleeing checker.

This does allow Black to hit with any 1, but to hit they have to give up their 9 point meaning that you will be less trapped unless they roll 11. Some of their hitting rolls like 61 will force them to leave another blot.

When you are trying to contain opponent’s checker, it is good to have your checkers in every quadrant of the board. 22/15 achieves that goal, and leaves you the favourite.

Every other move is a blunder.

Neither of the players have much of an outfield presence. When both of you still have checkers that must travel through the outfield to get home, then the first player to put their checkers into the outfield will have an advantage. Make sure that you are that player.

In his book “Understanding Backgammon”, Kit Woolsey called this concept “Outfield Wars” and devoted an entire section to it.

#230 – How should White play 43 here?

Suppose you hit with 8/4* 8/4*, but the same issues will exist for any of the hitting plays – they will leave two blots in your inner board.

Because Black has a solid 5 prime, any hit will be very bad. Therefore, you have to reject any play that hits.

If you give up your 9 point with 9/5 9/6:

Then Black will escape with any 6, 5 or 3. Although you will have some direct and indirect shots, you will have to hit. This is giving Black too much freedom.

This narrows your alternatives down to two. First, you could play 13/7:

You will be hoping that Black does not escape, and indeed any combination of 5, 4, 2 and 1 as well as 31 and 32 stop black escaping. That is a total of 20 rolls or 56% of the time.

However, to win this game you will have to attack Black, and although you have some pick and pass numbers here, you have some pointing numbers that still leave the blot on your 2 point.

If you are hoping that Black does not escape, you need to prepare your board so that it is easier for you to attack and it is as strong as possible for next roll.

Consider 13/10 6/2:

This is the strongest of the plays that make your 2 point. All the others involve you giving up either your 9 or 8 point. If you give up either of those points, Black can escape with more rolls.

Black does not escape with the same 20 rolls, but now you are in a much better position by making your 4 point, hitting loose or pick and passing. You are in a much better position because your board is so much stronger.

Do not worry about the fact that when Black escapes with the 6, they will hit you in the process. Yes, this is worse but any 6 was already a winner for Black.

Phil Simborg has a saying “make the move that your opponent least wants to see you make”. Here that move is 13/10 6/2. This move puts Black under the most pressure.

Phil’s saying can be applied equally well to cube decisions. If you think your opponent does not want to see you double, then double. If you think your opponent would be happy to be doubled, because either your position is too good or not strong enough then do not double.

#229 – How should White play 62 here?

It has been said that a good time to run as when your opponent is on the bar – so you could consider running here with 21/13.

Black will hit loose from the bar with 54, 53, 51, 42, 32, 21, 41, 31 and 11. If Black rolls 11 they will hit and lift. Black will also switch points with 22, so that is 18 rolls or 50% of the time.

If Black rolls one of those rolls, you will need to roll well from the bar or else be in a very dangerous position.

Although in principle it is good to run when your opponent is on the bar, you do have to you look at all their shots from the bar.

You will still be behind in the race after the roll, so this is not your best game plan.

You could play completely safe with 11/3:

This leaves no blots, but the goal of backgammon is to win not to leave the minimum number of blots.

You would really like to make your 5 point, and 11/3 removes a builder making it harder to make your 5 point.

Your 21 point anchor is a great backstop, so you should just leave it where it is.

You really want to make a 5 point, so play 13/11 13/7:

This aims four builders at your 5 point, slots your 7 point and stops Black from escaping if they roll 65.

Your game plan is either to close Black out or prime Black. This move advances both of those game plans. You have good priming possibilities and if you can close Black out you will win many Gammons due to Black needing many crossovers to get off the Gammon.

You only are hit with four rolls – 61 and 52.

Owning the cube, you want to reduce volatility and improve to the point where you can offer an efficient double and give your opponent a tough decision. You know that you have offered a good double when you opponent thinks about it for a long time.

This is the correct move.

#228 – How should White play 52 here?

You have done really well and escaped all of your back checkers.

You are ahead in the race by 21 pips after the roll, if you do not hit and 22 pips if you do hit.

You could play safe with 13/6, leaving Black with no rolls that will hit you:

If you look at the resulting position, three of your points have no spares on them and you will have awkward rolls next turn that could leave shots.

This is a classic “pay now or pay later” problem. Black’s board has an inner board blot now but it could soon be covered. There is a good chance that you will leave a blot in the future, so if you’re going to make a bold play, it would be good to do it now when you have the return shots at Blacks inner board blot and their board is weak.

You could hit 8/1*:

You are hoping that Black will miss you and enter higher up in your board. This will make it easier for you to play checkers behind them.

The resulting position still has three points with no spares on them and looks inflexible. By “inflexible”, I mean that you have very few point making rolls that do not also leave blots. Some non-point making rolls also leave blots.

You want to hit on your 1 point, and create some flexibility. 13/11 6/1*:

This starts to clear your midpoint, creates a more flexible position from which you can make points without leaving blots next turn.

This is the correct move. Whenever I am considering making a move that leaves me with a stripped, inflexible resulting position, I stop and reconsider the alternatives. Sometimes for tactical reasons, the flexible position will be correct, but I will only make it as a last resort, when I am convinced that all the other alternatives are incorrect.

The real question is how strong do we have to you make Black’s board before we have to you play safe?

If Black has a 3 point board, it is still correct to hit 13/11 6/1*.

With black having a 4 point board, now you should respect it and make the inflexible play 13/6.

#227 – How should White play 32 here?

You have rolled a bad roll, so do not waste time thinking about how unlucky you are, you cannot change what you rolled.

You could play bar/22 18/15:

It would be good to duplicate your opponent’s good rolls. Here they need 4’s to both cover 24/20 and to hit 20/16*. They also need 5’s to cover the blot on their 1 point.

By moving 18/15, you have also given them good 3’s to hit. You have diversified their good rolls.

It is true that you have given yourself good 6’s but now they have too many good rolls.

It is always good to be aggressive and to take the initiative, so you could consider bar/23 8/5*:

This play leads the most blots of any of the alternatives. You now have 4 blots around the board, you have stripped your 8 point and given your opponent, many return shots from the bar.

Black has an inner board blot, which would indicate being more aggressive. However, Black has the stronger board, which should deter you from a blot-hitting contest.

You could reduce your blot count to a minimum by playing bar/23 9/6:

This does reduce your blot count, but it creates an ugly stack on your 6 point and leaves you with an inflexible brittle position, which will be hard to improve and should result in you leaving many blots to come unless you roll really well and many doubles.

Consider bar/22 18/16:

This does not diversify your opponents numbers, as Black will be very reluctant to hit loose with 3’s in their inner board.

Now Black needs 4’s to anchor 24/20, to hit 20/16*and to hit 13/9*.

This roll gives you good 6’s to make an outfield blot with 22/16.

If Black does not hit, you will either baby able to attack or make your 9 or 16 points.

Duplication is a great tool, it allows you to minimise shots without counting every single roll. In positions like this where you have rolled a bad roll, I usually try to duplicate my opponent’s good numbers. It will not always be correct but many times, it will save me from making a blunder.

#226 – How should White play 31 here?

This is an interesting position, with an interesting story. The actual position occurred in the final 8 of the New Zealand Backgammon Championship this year. The score has been removed, as the result is the same as it would be in a money game without Jacoby.

White’s was Carl, a good player who made his move and afterwards was criticised by everyone watching with one notable exception who backed Carl’s move.

The players, who disagreed with Carl’s move, could not agree on what move they would make. They divided into two camps, one that wanted to play completely safe with 12/9 2/1:

The players, who wanted this move, argued that as White cannot win a gammon, White should just play safe and trust in the dice.

They also pointed out that Black was worse in the race because of the gap on their 3 point and the stack of checkers on their 2 point. This is true, but White is also worse off because of the gap on White’s 4 point and the extra checkers on White’s 1 point.

Even if you just look at the raw pip count’s, Black is ahead in the race by 1 pip and on roll.

The other group of players recognised that they should not rely on the race, and all of them want to hit 5/4* then leave the point slotted by playing 12/9:

This could work very well if Black rolls one of their 16 numbers where they stay on the bar.

The issue is that any 4 hits, and although White will have returned shots from the bar unless Black rolls 41 or 43, the cost of being hit is just too great.

Carl correctly played 5/4*/1:

This puts Black on the bar and only let’s Black return hit from the bar with 66, 63 and 54. That is 5 rolls or 17% of the time.

With 16 rolls Black stays on the bar, and then White is a cubeless 58% favourite.

What was impressive is although many very good players argued against the move, Carl could not be swayed. He stuck to his guns and was correct.

#225 – How should White play 52 here?

You might think that it is good to have diversified spares on your prime aimed at your opponent’s 22 point anchor, ready to attack when they leave your 22 point anchor.

If you thought this then 13/6 might be your move.

However, you leave 3 blots around your board, and you give up the opportunity to make your 22 point anchor.

One of the sayings in backgammon that has stood the test of time is “when your opponent has an anchor, you need to get an anchor”. All the top three moves involved playing 24/22.

You could try 24/22 9/4, as this leaves only 1 blot.

The issue with this move is that it gives up part of your blocking structure, making it easier for Black to escape their 2 rear most checkers.

A similar move is 24/22 7/2:

This has the same issue of giving up part of your blocking structure.

It is slightly better than 24/22 9/4 in that it at least starts another inner board point.

Consider 24/22 13/8:

This does leave 2 blots instead of only 1 blot, but it keeps your existing blocking structure.

If Black does not roll a 5 or 1, then you will have a very good chance to make your 8 point, giving you a 6 prime.

Even if you do not roll one of those numbers, your position will be much easier to tidy up.

Preserving your structure makes this the correct move, even though you leave an extra blot.

#224 – How should White play 21 here?

You could just avoid leaving any direct shot by playing 4/2 3/2:

You will still be hit with 6 rolls, but more importantly, when Black leaves your 1 point, you want to be able to attack the remaining checker. To do that it would be good to have your spares on different points, and this move puts both of your spares on your 2 point.

If you are going to leave a direct shot, you could leave the minimum number of shots by playing 17/14:

The problem with this move is not just the 15 rolls that hit, but also the rolls that do not hit where Black either moves his checker to safety or leaves only an indirect shot by moving to their 10 or 9 points.

The other issue with this move is that now Black has good 4’s to hit and 6’s to escape from behind your 5 prime.

The further back we stay the more rolls that Black has that do not safety their outfield blot.

Consider 17/16 4/2:

Now if Black rolls 11, 21, 31, 41 and 32, they leave a direct shot. That is 9 rolls, compared to when you played 17/14 where only 21 (two rolls) left you a direct shot. Even if they mistakenly chose to break the 7 point, you would have 17 rolls that hit their blot.

You have also duplicated their 6’s to hit and to escape there rear most checkers.

You might be thinking that this makes Blacks 66 into a great roll. However, you play this move, 66 is a great roll for Black.

This is the correct move.

#223 – How should White play 32 here?

I recently watched a German backgammon expert explain in a video, how reducing your blot count is so important. It was a nice simple piece of advice, but it depends on what else is happening on the board.

You could you reduce your blot count here by making your 8 point with 11/8 10/8. After that play, you only have one blot:

You do have a very powerful board here, but you still have to get your rear most checkers all the way home. You will be ahead in the race by 49 pips after the roll.

If you wait to escape your last checker, Black will either hit you loose on your 20 point, maybe covering the blot on their 3 point at the same time.

If they do not hit you loose, they will probably improve their board to a 4 point board and then attack you next roll when they have a better board.

You will most likely, be forced to run next roll.

The best time to run, as when your opponent’s board is at its weakest. Right now your opponent has an inner board blot on their 3 point. If you run 20/15:

Then you will have duplicated 3’s to hit on your 15 point and for your opponent to cover their 3 point.

If Black hits you from your 3 point, then it will be an indirect hit so that they will have to leave a checker on your 3 point. If that happens apart from hitting them with any 3, you will also have 52 and 21 to hit them from the bar.

It looks reckless to leave 3 blots around your board, but while their board is still weak and you have a 5 point board, this is the move that puts Black under the most pressure.

If Black fails to hit you, you will be so much closer to bringing all your checkers safely home.

#222 – How should White play 43 here?

It looks automatic to hit, and take the lead in the race.

If you hit 13/9*/6:

Then you have over stacked your 6 point.

It is always a good time to split when your opponent is on the bar so you could hit and split 13/9* 24/21:

This does have the advantage of splitting to the point your opponent least wants to make, but this should not be a worry, as they will be hitting loose unless they roll doubles. For that reason, if you are going to hit and split, you should split to the more valuable point with 13/9* 23/20:

This looks good but Black can hit your checker on the 9 point with 63. With 54, they should anchor on their 20 point. With 43, they should anchor on their 21 point.

They also enter and hit loose on your 20 point with 55, 44, 33, 22, 11, 41, 51, 31, 21, 42, and 52. That is 17 rolls or 47% of the time.

Although it is nice to hit and send your opponent back behind your 3 prime, consider the non-hitting 24/20 21/20:

You are leaving no blots, the race is equal and Black cannot extend their prime.

What is surprising is that Black has 11 rolls that fail to safety the blot on their 16 point. Those rolls are 22, 65, 61, 51, 42 and 41.

This looks like a passive play, but is the move that puts Black under the most pressure.

It also takes the initiative away from Black.

#221 – How should White play 22 here?

Walter Trice in his excellent book “Backgammon Boot Camp” suggested that if you are ahead in the race, simply moving your rear most checkers is usually a good option.

Unfortunately, in backgammon it seems like every good rule has exceptions.

If you were to play 13/9(2):

You would be making your 9 point which would be good if you were behind in the race, but as you are ahead in the race, you have just made a point that will be hard to clear. The hardest points to clear are those 6 pips away from your opponents anchor.

This move also leaves 12 hitting rolls for Black.

If you play 11/9(2) 6/4(2):

You again create a point 6 pips away from your opponent’s anchor, and you want to avoid doing that. You are ahead in the race by 39 pips after the roll, so you are not holding your opponent with this move, they are holding you.

The 5 point is usually a good point to have, so you could play 13/5:

This leaves Black 13 hitting rolls – any 1 as well as 64.

If your next roll is 64, you will leave a direct shot.

If your next roll is 63, you should play 11/5 13/10, which leaves 11 hitting rolls for Black.

If you want to minimise your shots, you could try 8/4(2):

This does leave the minimum 11 shots, but it still could be awkward to clear your 13 point.

Also 52 on your next roll, does not safety the blot on your 5 point.

Consider 13/11(2) 6/4(2):

This clears your midpoint, moves your two most rear checkers, and leaves only 11 hitting rolls for Black.

The other thing that this does, is fills the gap immediately in front of Black’s anchor. Gaps immediately in front of anchors are very dangerous. I will usually consider making a slightly more risky move, if it fills in a gap in front of one of my opponents anchors.

Although this position looks a little stripped, with two spares on your 11 point, this is the correct move.

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