This article originally appeared in the September 2000 issue of GammOnLine.|
Thank you to Kit Woolsey for his kind permission to reproduce it here.
Making the two point with an opening 6-4 was, until the advent of the neural nets, considered by experts to be an inferior alternative to either 24/18, 13/9 or 24/14. Modern rollouts have shown otherwise.
There are everyday occurrences where 8/2, 6/2 comes out ahead of running or splitting with an opening 6-4. Due to the threat of a potential blitz, there are greater gammon chances associated with making the deuce point. So, at match scores like 2-away, 1-away (Crawford), where gammons are very valuable, this play becomes quite viable. Yet, in an effort to familiarize yourself with all plausible openings, this play can be made often, and with a good deal of success.
Bear in mind that this choice for an opening roll is not without its pitfalls -- careful, thematic follow-up plays are called for once you commit -- and can prove detrimental if not played properly. However, with the right approach and the proper mindset, making the two point with an opening 6-4 can be the best way to play an opening 6-4 for money and at most match scores.
At first, playing 8/2, 6/2 with an opening 6-4 may seem counterintuitive: Making the two point is too deep to establish a priming game. However, the reason why this play comes out close to the two other choices is clear. The two point is still an inner board point, and each additional inner board point that has been established increases the chance that the opponent will dance, if he finds himself on the bar.
Once you have chosen to commit to the two point, realize that you should be trying to steer the game away from a priming game and towards a blitzing, holding, or running game. A blitzing game is the plan that benefits most from making the two point, since in a blitz all inner board points are of approximately equal value, so the deepness of the two point doesn't hurt. The game plan that suffers most is the priming game. Here, the advance of two checkers onto the deuce point makes a priming game awkward and difficult.
It's important to understand what happens on both sides of the board after this play is made. Let's examine some possible sequences after the opening roll.
Knowing that your opponent wants to blitz argues against splitting the back men. Instead, Blue should play into his own strength by trying to prime his opponent's back checkers. Therefore, 3-2, 4-3, 5-2, or 5-4, should be used to pull two men down from the midpoint.
The slot is much more productive when replying to 8/2, 6/2, since slotting directly steers towards a priming game where the slotting player has the best of it. Thus, 5-1 and 2-1 should be used to slot the five point. With 4-1, slotting is reasonable, but may leave too many shots against the stronger board, the simple 13/8 is probably best. Slotting also becomes correct with 6-2 (13/7, 13/11 or 13/5 are both good). Running or splitting with 6-3, clearly correct for the opening roll, are still reasonable, but slotting, 13/4! is a solid thematic play.
Splitting your back men leaves you so vulnerable, that now a 6-4 can't be played traditionally by running or splitting when there is another alternative; clearly best is 8/2, 6/2! which avoids attack and makes an inner board point.
To continue the theme, small doubles should be played with an emphasis on priming the opponent, and not moving the back checkers forward. So, 2-2 should be played 13/11(2), 6/4(2), and 3-3 should be played 8/5(2), 6/3(2). Save running for when doubles are large.
Back to the opener. Assuming the defender has made a good priming play, the opener should now steer away from the priming game. An advanced anchor is now imperative when your opponent threatens to prime. Failing to step up now causes problems with extrication and timing when your opponent achieves his goal. Take the following position, where your opponent has thrown 3-1 after your opening 6-4:
In this case, all the non-doubles, except 3-1, 4-2, and 6-1, should be used to split the back men, if possible.
What about 5-3? Doesn't the value of a third inner board point supercede any other possible play here? Here, your opponent made a play critical to his objective of priming you. It is better to split with 13/8, 24/21, and worry about securing the advanced anchor. The immediate need to steer the game away from a priming game, coupled with the strippage of the eight point, makes splitting clearly superior to making the three point.
Doubles must also be used to counteract the opponent's prime. The split is so important when your opponent threatens to add to a contiguous prime, that even 1-1 must be used to split by playing 24/22, 6/5(2). When your opponent makes a good priming play (not necessarily 3-1), and you throw 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, or 6-6, grab the advanced anchor, if possible.
This is only a small sampling of positions that can arise after making the two point with an opening 6-4. Past the first exchange, continue by making the appropriate thematic play. Should your opponent split, look for solid blitzing plays. When your opponent threatens with a prime, get those back checkers moving. If you're defending against the opening two point, and your timing still looks good, continue to make priming plays. Advance your own back men only when the roll plays safely, and you can't extend your prime efficiently.
The backgammon maxim of "playing into your strengths and your opponent's weaknesses" holds doubly true here, since making the two point creates such pronounced strengths and weaknesses.