Games: Backgammon

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THE PROPHYLACTIC Pole (PP) was considering doubling as black in the position above. His team-mate was Quentin Quickcube (QQ) and they were playing against the Tempestuous Turk (TT).

Well, this may be a cube, QQ. We have a positional edge even though we are behind in the race and we may lose our market by next roll. What say you? QQ is aptly named; without pausing for discussion, he announced "I double". PP pondered a little longer but he too doubled.

TT began his cigar-puffing, hair-twisting routine that in some way aids his thought processes when considering a double. Phrases such as "I might escape one man" and "Small numbers let me make another home board point" drifted over the night air. Three more especially strong puffs of his cigar and he reached for the two cubes, proudly announcing, "I take".

TT did indeed escape one back man, but the other one was closed out and he lost a gammon. Later analysis showed that while white can win the game about 25 per cent of the time, he also loses a gammon about 25 per cent of the time, making this a clear drop. White's two back men are too isolated to make his position tenable and black can either prime him, attack him in his home board when white runs a man out or, sometimes, send another man back when white rolls awkwardly. Black has just too many good ways to win. TT should have let this one go. The words "I drop" can sometimes be as powerful as "I take".