Games: Backgammon

Click to follow
As I strolled between the boards of the weekly tournament at the Double Fives (DF) Club I spotted this position where The Doyen - George Sulimirski - had a 61 to play with the score at double match point.

Trivial, I thought. He must make the full prime by playing 13/7, 8/7. Even if his opponent hits with a 1 he is likely to stay on the bar while his opponent's home board will self-destruct. Even if Black is unfortunate enough to enter immediately after being hit he will still have a full prime versus a 5-prime. If in the original position The Doyen plays something like 8/2, 6/5 then he runs a number of risks: losing the race to a well- timed set of double fours; having a man on his mid-point hit as he brings home his men; and having difficulty clearing his outside points. By making his bar-point now he avoids all these problems.

Meanwhile The Doyen continued to ponder. We don't keep records at the DF, but it is reckoned that he last left a voluntary shot at the time of the Suez crisis. True to form, after another minute's thought he duly played 8/2, 6/5. Nothing exciting happened for the rest of the game and he easily won both game and match.

Intrigued, I analysed the position using Jellyfish. The results surprised me. The two plays lead to an identical winning percentage (75 per cent). The advantages of making the bar-point are offset by the times that White hits the blot and goes on to win. The lesson is that two plans can be equally valid. Don't assume, as I did, that the obvious move is necessarily the best.

Incidentally, if Black had already doubled, making the bar is best as this leads to winning more gammons - But this factor is irrelevant at double match point.