Backgammon

There is no disagreement about how the opening rolls of 31, 42, 53 and 65 should be played. With the other opening rolls, however, there is continuing debate as theory evolves. What about an opening 64? In the Seventies there was no argument: you ran a man out by playing 24/14. The theory was that escaping one back man gave you an edge if your opponent didn't roll a 2. In the Eighties, players realised that even if you weren't hit by a 2 you would have to spend your next roll tidying up the blot; meanwhile your opponent could be building up his board. For this reason the major split 24/18, 13/9 became fashionable. This normally provokes an exchange of hits on your opponent's bar point, and can lead to complex games with many men back for both sides.

In the Nineties came backgammon-playing computers. Early versions of Jellyfish recommended making your own 2-point with 8/2, 6/2. However the computers quickly realised this was too committal and put men out of play too early. Later versions of Jellyfish and other programs preferred 24/18, 13/9.

Now Jellyfish 3.0 has arrived and it marginally prefers 24/14! It clearly believes that the possibility of getting one man close to the safety of the mid-point now outweighs the tactical possibilities of 24/18, 13/9. So where does this leave us? First, remember that computers are not yet all-powerful, so Jellyfish's view is but one of many. Second, the two moves normally lead to radically different types of game, so you should choose the move that leads to one with which you are comfortable. For simple games, choose 24/14; otherwise 24/18, 13/9. If you are playing someone stronger than yourself go for 24/14; against a weaker player I would always play 24/18, 13/9.

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