Backgammon

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In this position Black has a 5,3 to play. The question is should he clear his mid-point with13/8, 13/10 or play a waiting game with 6/1, 4/1?

First, let's look at the position and try to work out what is going on. Black has doubled and has a very healthy lead in the race by 98 to 139 before the roll. All he has to do is get those men home from the mid-point, and he will be virtually assured of victory. Should he take the risk now and leave White 13 potentially game-winning shots,, or should he sit on the position and hope to throw a set of doubles to clear his mid-point? This is known as a "pay me now or pay me later" problem.

In the late Seventies there would have been no argument; everyone would have played 13/8, 13/10. That was the way they played in those days - the riskier the play the more they liked it.

In the Nineties we are a little wiser than our colleagues of the past, and we also have the tools and techniques to examine problems such as this in some detail.

When the "pay me now" option means the clear loss of the game, as it would do in this position, it is nearly always wrong, and this position is no exception. Black does better to play quietly and wait for either a set of doubles or, at the very least, a weakness in White's position which would give him some chances even if hit.

If, for example, one of the two men on White's 5-point were on his 6-point, that would be sufficient to make 13/8, 13/10 the correct play, because many of the hits - for example 5,4 or 5,6 - wouldn't cover the blot on the 5-point, thus giving Black life after death.

We shall return with more on this theme next week.

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