Backgammon

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The Independent Online
This was a difficult decision which faced Wendy Kaplan in the final of the Illinois State Championship. At double match point Wendy - who remains the only woman ever to have won the World Championship - has a 52 to play.

As she is trailing in the race by 62 pips to 90, the running play 20/13 can quickly be discounted. There are three real choices: (a) 13/8, 13/11; (b) 13/8, 7/5; (c) 7/5, 6/1. All three plays have their merits. Play (a) keeps contact without damaging the home board; play (b) constructs a closed home board making any hit by Black a game winner, but leaves White a direct shot; play (c) maintains maximum contact at the cost of a weakening of the home board.

In the game, Wendy made the bold choice of 13/8, 7/5. Her opponent rolled 43 which he played 6/2, 6/3. On her next roll Wendy had to move her remaining man from her mid-point. White then rolled 51, played 13/7. Wendy rolled 62, hitting both blots with 20/18*/12*, and easily won the game.

Wendy had made a bold play under pressure and reaped her due reward. The ability to play well under extreme pressure is the hallmark of a good player. And what of her choice of move?

Extensive roll-outs show that the best move is play (c), albeit not by much. The key thing for Black in this position is to hit a shot, and she should play the move that optimises her chances of a shot on the next roll. The slight damage to the home board is not as important as generating that possible shot. A good lesson in weighing the importance of different elements of a position.

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