Games: Backgammon

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The Independent Online
Black has rolled 65 and has the choice between two plays, 24/13 running a man to the mid-point, and 11/5, 10/5 making the very important 5-point.

Running a man to the safety of the mid-point is appealing. It leaves Black with one man back as opposed to White's two, which still languish on the 24-point. As we saw last week, having one man back versus two is quite a significant advantage. The men on the 10 and 11-points can be used to make new points on the next roll.

Making the 5-point is also very appealing. It very nearly equalises the position - White has very slightly the better structure - leaves no shots and prepares to engage in a prime v prime game.

So which is better? Back in the 1970s most players would have run, citing the continued flexibility of Black's position as a key criterion for their choice. Their cousins of the 1990s know better. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Making the 5-point gives Black a virtually even position.

The running play is great when it works, the problem is that it gives White too many attacking possibilities. Seven numbers, 63, 36, 54, 45, 46, 64, 33 hit one of Black's outfield blots and numbers such as 43, and 52 can be used to gain a tempo by hitting Black's exposed blot on White's 1-point. A hit followed by Black staying on the bar would result in White doubling and Black having to drop.

The lesson to be learnt here is to accept what the dice give you and don't strive for too much. 24/13 is great when it works, the problem is it doesn't work often enough to be worth the risk.

Be sure to watch "Movers & Shakers" at 8.00 pm on Channel 4 this Monday. The first episode features backgammon.