Backgammon

Here's a position that caused an argument in the weekly chouette. The team, playing Black, consisted of three players. The captain had already doubled but the other two team members hadn't (all three cubes are shown in the diagram). Black now rolled 21. Should they play (a) 13/11, 6/5 or (b) 13/11, 4/3*?

Always remember that backgammon is a race. Here, before the roll, the racing counts are Black 114, White 108. So even after the roll Black will be slightly behind. The captain argued hard that move (a) was correct. His view was that White was unlikely to escape and so he could still attack next roll when he might roll a better number. The team wanted to hit with move (b) as in many variations - for example when White throws one of the nine numbers that keep him on the bar - they would be able to double White out. Even if White does hit, Black is far from dead because if he re-enters at once it could be anybody's game.

In a chouette the captain has the final choice of move and the team could not persuade him to agree to their choice. White's next roll was 65 which he played 22/11 and he went on to win the game easily. But who was right?

The answer is the hit by a big margin. For the team members, it is true that after move (a) they may still have a good double next roll or the roll after. For the captain, however, the choice should have been crystal clear. He had already doubled and, as I have often said, once you have doubled you must play aggressively as the cube can no longer help you. By hitting, the captain would have won not only more games but also many more gammons as quite often he will close out White's lone back man. It may seem odd to give your opponent a voluntary shot after escaping your own back men but in this case the gains far outweigh the risks.

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