Strategy--Checker play

Forum Archive : Strategy--Checker play

Avoiding major oversights

From:   Chuck Bower
Date:   26 March 2008
Subject:   Avoiding the major oversight
Forum:   BGonline

It's been harped upon for years (Magriel, Goulding, Woolsey,...) and yet it
continues to plague my game, and I assume many of yours. We completely miss
seeing/considering an 'obvious' play which results in a multi-whopper error
tag.  Any suggestions on how to prevent these?

One thing in common with many/most of my oversights: I anticipate a
particular roll or even single die I'd like to see (e.g. that makes a
certain point). When that 'wish' comes to fruition I make the play without
looking for better alternatives.

So, is my solution to avoid anticipation? Or should I do a better job
anticipating? Or simply keep my eyes open even after I get the roll I was
hoping for?

John Little  writes:

I typically overlook a really good play for a pretty good play so I've
trained myself to keep looking even when I find something I like. One thing
that I began noticing was opportunities to play small doubles with one

Achim  writes:

Woolsey:  "Always look for three alternatives."

Me:  "Look for a hit, point, connect, escape."

Tom Keith  writes:

One way to improve this aspect of your game is to play a bot in "tutor"
mode. Play as quickly as you can with the goal of trying to identify all
reasonable candidate plays.  The idea is to get immediate feedback so the
part of your brain responsible for finding a play you missed gets a chance
to reprogram while your thought processes are still fresh.

John O'Hagan  writes:

The best way to avoid these checker play oversights involves playing as
much as you can against Snowie or GNU. The key is to learn from those
positions where the bot's suggested play is one you hadn't even considered.

If you missed seeing an obviously better play, try to figure out why you
didn't see it. Maybe you incorrectly thought the play you chose was sort of
automatic? Or maybe you misevaluated the priorities of the position? If you
wouldn't have made the correct play even if you had seen it, try to figure
out why your evaluation of the play is so far off base. Are you playing too
big when a safe play is called for (or vice-versa)? Or maybe you have the
wrong gameplan altogether?

The more you can get these wrong concepts out of your head the better your
chances of finding the right play the next time a similar position comes
up. Learn from your mistakes!

Bill Riles  writes:

One of the easiest ways to overlook the obvious, in my experience, is to
seize upon a needed single die number, get it, move it, and then look
around for what to do with the second number.

As an example, a 1 will obviously cover a blot and I get a x-1. I
immediately cover with the 1 and then look around for an x. But perhaps x
would also cover the blot and the 1 would play much better elsewhere.

Another common error for many (including me at times, though I try to focus
and eliminate the tendency) is to visualize, and often move, doublets as
pairs rather than as singles. If you train yourself to always move them as
singles you may often end up, effectively, having moved them as pairs but
you may also find those occasional other situations where not moving them
as pairs works immensely better.

Mislav Radica  writes:

Here are a couple more answers.

Walter Trice: "There is a famous chess maxim that applies just as strongly
to backgammon: When you spot a good move, look around for a better move."

Stick Rice: "When I find obvious hitting play I find best nonhitting play
and compare both plays."

Keene  writes:

My own personal maxims:

1. Are there any laws I should be obeying? (Woolsey's, Lamford's,
Magriel's, Pottle's, and so on.)

2. Whats going to happen in a worst case and best case scenario next roll
for my opponent? Am I going to get cubed out? Is this play too big? Is this
play too small? This leaves how many blots?

3. Am I making an improvement to my position here? (I use this to gauge my
own game development.)

I am sure that I also use lots of others subconsiously, but really, the
three above tends to be what I think about whilst assessing a checker play.

Perry Gartner  writes:

There are two concepts that have helped me when I have the presence to use

1. Look at all four quadrants even though the action may seemingly not
involve all of them. Do it systematically scanning all points in the
quadrants to see if you can discover any plays.

2. Go through all legal plays on the board. If you start systematically
scanning from one quadrant to the next you can develop this skill to where
you dismiss absurd plays in a flash, and go through the process rather

Happyjuggler  writes:

Some, including Yours Truly, think that backgammon ought to be played
quickly. You want to play quickly, but not hastily; i.e., not before
reasonably ascertaining you have made the best play according to your
understanding of backgammon.

1. Don't hastily play big numbers like 6-5 or 6-3 or doubles. If you have a
checker on each of the 22 and 24 points, and your opponent has one on your
11pt, and you roll 6-5, it can be quite easy to miss 22/11*.

2. Don't hastily play an "automatic roll" like 4-2 or 6-5. Sometimes the
easy great play is second best (or worse) due to a blot somewhere else or a
priming type of play somewhere.

3. Pay attention to your opponent's plays. Any time he does something
unusual, try to take a mental note of it. One example of something unusual
for some people is slotting the 5pt (something that beginners don't expect
to see), meaning that you should usually "root" for 4's, although even then
don't automatically play the 4 with 24/20*, maybe there is something
better, although there usually won't be. For most of us, something unusual
is more like blotting on the midpoint. If you know that your 24pt is 12
pips away from the midpoint, you also know that 6-6, 4-4, and 3-3 hit,
assuming they aren't blocked by intervening points of course, and you
should make a mental note of that unusual blot. I guess a good rule of
thumb is when your opponent breaks a point that is usually there (the mid,
8 or 6), or has been there for a while, pay attention. You might miss it
due to a mirage where you "see" a point there.

4. It is tempting and logical to play the obvious half of your roll first
and only then look around for how to play your other die. Doing this
however can lead to missing something like 9/7* 7/1 with 62 when you can
only move 6's from the 9pt in the current position, i.e. you might play 9/3
and look around for the best 2. Therefore if you do in fact play half the
roll first, just double check first to see if you don't have a chance to
play the nonforced number first, followed by a continuation with your
"forced" die.

5. A classic error is during the bearoff to automatically bear off the big
number and move the little number, when sometimes you might be better off
to move the little number, and only then bear off the big number. If the
little number can fill in a gap or an underfilled point, then it is worth
exploring whether or not to do that instead.

6. Alternatively if you are very behind in the bearoff race a common
mistake is to fill in gaps when in fact maybe you should be stacking to let
you bear off more checkers with the doubles that you need to have a chance
at winning.

I'm sure there's a lot more in the "oh, why didn't I see that" category,
but that's what I can think of off the top of my head.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     


Strategy--Checker play

Avoiding major oversights  (Chuck Bower+, Mar 2008) 
Bearing off with contact  (Walter Trice, Dec 1999) 
Bearing off with contact  (Daniel Murphy, Mar 1998)  [Long message]
Blitzing strategy  (Michael J. Zehr, July 1997) 
Blitzing strategy  (Fredrik Dahl, July 1997) 
Blitzing technique  (Albert Silver+, July 2003)  [GammOnLine forum]
Breaking anchor  (abc, Mar 2004) 
Breaking contact  (Alan Webb+, Oct 1999) 
Coming under the gun  (Kit Woolsey, July 1996) 
Common errors  (David Levy, Oct 2009) 
Containment positions  (Brian Sheppard, July 1998) 
Coup Classique  (Paul Epstein+, Dec 2006) 
Cube ownership considerations  (Kit Woolsey, Apr 1996) 
Cube-influenced checker play  (Rew Francis+, Apr 2003)  [GammOnLine forum]
Defending against a blitz  (Michael J. Zehr, Jan 1995) 
Estimating in volatile situations  (Kit Woolsey, Mar 1997) 
Gammonish positions  (Michael Manolios, Nov 1999) 
Golden point  (Henry Logan+, Nov 2002) 
Hitting loose in your home board  (Douglas Zare, June 2000) 
Holding games  (Casual_Observer, Jan 1999)  [Long message]
How to trap an anchor  (Timothy Chow+, Apr 2010) 
Jacoby rule consideration  (Ron Karr, Nov 1996) 
Kamikaze plays  (christian munk-christensen+, Nov 2010) 
Kleinman Count for bringing checkers home  (Øystein Johansen, Feb 2001) 
Late loose hits  (Douglas Zare+, Aug 2007)  [GammOnLine forum]
Mutual holding game  (Ron Karr, Dec 1996) 
Pay now or pay later?  (Stuart Katz, MD, Nov 1997) 
Pay now or pay later?  (Stephen Turner, Mar 1997) 
Pay now or play later?  (Hank Youngerman+, Sept 1998) 
Play versus a novice  (Courtney S Foster+, Apr 2004)  [GammOnLine forum]
Playing doublets  (Grunty, Jan 2008) 
Playing when opponent has one man back  (Kit Woolsey, May 1995) 
Prime versus prime  (Albert Silver+, Aug 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Prime versus prime  (Michael J. Zehr, Mar 1996) 
Saving gammon  (Bill Riles, Oct 2009) 
Saving gammon  (Ron Karr, Dec 1997) 
Splitting your back men  (KL Gerber+, Nov 2002) 
Splitting your back men  (David Montgomery, June 1995) 
Trap play problem  (Brian Sheppard, Feb 1997) 
When in doubt  (Stick+, Apr 2011) 
When to run the last checker  (Stick Rice+, Jan 2009) 
When you can't decide  (John O'Hagan, Oct 2009) 

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