Games: Backgammon

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The Independent Online
This was problem three in the Christmas Quiz. Black to play 54. Should he play: (a) 13/4 (b) 13/8, 13/9 or (c) 8/3, 8/4?

This problem returns to the theme of "pay me now or pay me later". Black is well ahead in the race (78-111 before the roll) and if he can clear his two outside points he should win easily. White must hit to win. Of the three plays (a) can be quickly eliminated. If Black is going to leave a voluntary shot he should leave the minimum number of hits. 13/4 leaves 17 hits while 13/8, 13/9 leaves only 12 and brings the last man nearer to home.

So, pay me now or pay me later? Playing 13/8, 13/9 now seeks to settle the game in one move and as Black has already doubled this seems to fit in with the policy of aggression once the cube has been given away. On the other hand, if Black plays 8/3, 8/4, unless he rolls a 6 next roll he should be able to play most rolls safely and White may have to give up his mid-point.

When this position occurred at the Double Fives club it occasioned vigorous debate. After several minutes the team playing Black moved 8/3, 8/4 and went on to lose the game. In fact they made the right play and were just unlucky to lose. This is the sort of position where computers are better at weighing the possibilities than humans and can be relied upon. Jellyfish analysis shows move (c) as clearly correct.

One indicator that should lead you to the right play here is that White's position is just about as strong as it could be. It is much better to leave a voluntary shot when there is a weakness in your opponent's board. Here, waiting for White to create that weakness is correct, and pay me later is the correct approach.