Backgammon

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The Independent Culture
I WAS kibitzing the other night at the Double Fives Club when this position arose. The Doyen and Quickdouble were the team playing black in this position. Their situation is parlous, and their main concern was to save the gammon. How to play a 51 with this in mind and also to maintain any slim winning chances they may have had?

The two obvious plays are (a) Bar/20, 8/7 and (b) Bar/24*, 20/15. The two plays are markedly different. The first tries to keep both back-game points as long as possible by putting a third man on the 20-point. Black will give up the 20-point at the appropriate moment and then play from the 22-point. Move (b) elects to put a white man on the bar, create some coverage of the outfield and attempts (at least temporarily) to win by going forward. After all black has a three-point board which at the moment is as good as white's.

Quickdouble wanted to hit, the Doyen (who was captain) wanted the more solid play, which I also preferred. The Doyen prevailed, nothing remarkable happened and the team lost a gammon. Intrigued, I fed the position to my two favourite pets, Jellyfish and Snowie.

Both elected for the more adventurous move (b), albeit not by a huge margin. What is more they came up with a third alternative not considered over the board, Bar/24*, 8/3. This combines the hit with an element of caution. Thus it saves time for black by sending a white man to the bar but takes less risks with blots than move (b). A long rollout using Snowie gives this third alternative as slightly the best move of the three. A salutary reminder that you cannot play the best move if you don't even consider it!

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