The First Step in Learning
Gaby Horowitz and Dr. Bruce Roman, 1981
Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine, June 1981
Robert Hickey wrote an article in the March 1981 issue of Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine asking about this position:
Black to play 6-1.
In this position, from Labins's and Jerauld's book, Competitive Backgammon, Lee Genud (Black) played 6/5*, 24/18 with her roll of 6-1. Mr. Hickey asked why 24/18 with the 6 was better than 13/7, the move he preferred.

The first step in learning is realizing that one does not know everything. Mr. Hickey acknowledges the fact that he is "left a little lost."

The move suggested by Mr. Hickey is technically correct. However, when one considers The Opponent Factor*, Mrs Genud's move could be justified.

* The Opponent Factor: The concept of evaluating parameters other than the static position existing on the board when making a decision with regard to checker movement and/or the cube. These parameters include: The disparity in skill between the opponents, the emotional state of the opponent, and the score (especially in a tournament match). Mr. Hickey mentions in his article that there is no discussion by the authors of the relative strength of the opponent; thus any determination of the superior move in that particular match becomes a moot point.

Arguments can be made for either move. Aside from the reasons Mr. Hickey prefers slotting his own bar point (as Black), we would add that it allows Black to improve his distribution by unloading off his heavy midpoint.

As a general rule of thumb you should avoid being vulnerable in two different places on the board simultaneously — especially two keys as the five and eighteen points. White's man on the bar, however, makes this less undesirable, as White cannot utilize the full roll to his best advantage.

Diagram A:  Genud's 6/5*, 24/18.
Diagram B:  Hickey's 6/5*, 13/7.

In this type of position it is better to build before splitting, especially in a short match in which you pay a premium for any unfortunate accidents.

Finally, the alternative move in Diagram B allows Black to play with less blots. Entry failure, the skilled player's Achilles heel, is widely recognized. The antidote, playing with less blots, is rarely noted.

Backgammon is a game of escape and entrapment. The skilled player orchestrates both simultaneously. This is the concept behind certain variations of the opening rolls (splitting to the opponent's bar point and bringing a man down on 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 and splitting inside the opponent's home board and bringing a man down on 4-3, 3-2, and 5-4). Establishing an advanced anchor improves one's game both offensively and defensively.

Complicating the game by giving the less skilled player more decisions increases the chances that he will blunder or choose an entirely inappropriate game plan.

Barclay Cooke has termed backgammon a series of calculated risks — and so it is. One must determine before the match whether a slow, grinding strategy should be employed or if quick, volatile action is best.

In a short match of nine points against an inferior opponent we suggest the more conservative strategy of the slow "grind," avoiding any opportunity for a quick kill by one's adversary.

The exception to the above is when one's position is weak and subsequently needs a quick repair. That, however, is not the case here.

More articles by Gaby Horowitz

More articles by Bruce Roman

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