Games: Backgammon

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The Independent Online
Over the years that I have written this column I am conscious of the fact that I have neither published, nor analysed, a complete game. In giving instruction it is easier to make a point about a position than about a whole game.

However, all the really strong players have spent many hours studying matches in depth, move by move. This is because you must understand not only the tactics of each position as it arises, but also the dynamics of playing the game itself. Backgammon is not played in a void but in a world where emotion plays a large part in the decision-making process (this is not true of our silicon friends, but we'll leave them out of it for the moment). The best players keep their emotions under control, but even they have occasional lapses when a really dramatic turnaround occurs.

One of the first things that you notice from studying matches is the number of difficult decisions each player has to make in a single game. The advent of computer analysis has shown us that, if the wrong game plan is chosen, there can be quite big equity differences on even apparently the most simple of moves.

I am going to start with a short game from the 1994 world championships between Peter Thomsen (Black) and Frank Frigo (White). You are advised to use a board to play through the moves:

On his first move White rolled 62 and played 24/18, 13/11. Black countered with 21, and played 13/11, 8/7*. White's second roll was 21 and already he faced choices. He can play bar/24, 13/11; bar/22; bar/23, 6/5. Frigo chose bar/23, 6/5. This looks a little wide open with blots everywhere but often an aggressive style in the opening pays dividends. The weakest choice is bar/24, 13/11 that does nothing much to improve White's position. I like Frigo's choice.

Black rolled 62 and played the obvious and best 11/5, 7/5 though note that even here there are choices and you should at least notice that 13/7, 24/22 is a possibility. White's third roll was 22 and again he faced a difficult choice. There are at least six reasonable choices. I will leave you to find them before next week's article.

'Backgammon: an Independent View' - an anthology of Chris Bray's writings in 'The Independent' and elsewhere - is available from: C Bray, 18 Glendower Road, London SW18 8NY (pounds 11.99 + pounds 1.25 p&p).