Backgammon

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I reached this position in the "quarters" chouette in New York. (NB: in the US, they devalue everything by 100: a nickel game is actually $5 a point, a dime $10, a quarter $25 and so on.) How should Black play a 5-1?

I argued long and hard that we should play 13/8, 6/5*. He did not like the risk of having two blots exposed and wanted to play 8/2, arguing that we could hit later, and that White would have trouble clearing all the men on his mid-point. We couldn't agree, but my partner was the captain in this three-handed chouette, so he played his move. White won some moves later when he redoubled us out in what had become a race. But who was right?

Back to basics. Black has given the cube away so White is in the game to the end. So Black must win using his men; he can never double White out. He has two possible plans: (a) he can close out White's last man (or get it behind a full prime), (b) he can race (Black trails by one pip after the roll) and hope to hit a shot as White brings his men around the board.

My thinking was: If White doesn't hit one of my blots I am very likely to close him out completely or at least get his man behind a 5 or 6 point prime. This will lock up the game and I will win a large number of gammons as well, because of the number of men White still has to bring home. If he hits one of my blots I have a secure anchor in his board and there will be many further chances to win as White will be a long way from a redouble. But if I play 8/2 I don't see a clear path to victory and the game will become a toss-up. Therefore I want to be aggressive and hit.

Years of experience proved to be right - later roll-outs showed the hitting play is much stronger. It leads to more wins and many more gammons and, after all, it is backed up by the oldest backgammon adage of all: "When in doubt, hit".

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