Bray’s Learning Curve: One Checker Back

Money Play. How should Red play 53?

2019 - Intermediates 20

XGID=–a-BCB—A-bBb-Cc-dc-B—:1:1:1:53:0:0:3:0:10

One of backgammon’s more useful adages is this: “Prime an anchor, attack a lone rear checker.”

That instruction has stood the test of time and I have applied it countless times in my backgammon career.

It should be clear that this week’s position cries out for an attack on that rear White checker. Because it is alone it can never anchor so it will be subject to an attack until either it can escape, or the blitz succeeds.

Therefore, Red’s 3 must be played 5/2*. After that Red shouldn’t just safety the blot on the 10-pt with 10/5 but should maximise his coverage of the outer boards by playing 16/11. The halfway play of 10/2* is a blunder but the move played over the board, 16/13, 10/5, demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of one of the fundamental stratagems of backgammon, namely the adage at the head of the article.

How will Red plan to win after 16/13, 10/5? It certainly isn’t clear unless he gets very lucky. Meanwhile, 16/11, 5/2* gives a very clear path to victory and don’t forget Red owns the cube which hopefully he will get to use very efficiently.

So remember: “Prime an anchor, attack a lone rear checker”.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 20 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: 3-pt Holding Game

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

2019 - Beginners 20

XGID=–CbBBC-B–A——beB-bbb-:0:0:1:00:0:0:1:0:10

 There is well-known saying in backgammon that all 3-pt holding games are takes.

This is not quite true, but it is an excellent guiding principle. Normally the player of the 3-pt holding game has both racing and hitting chances and is rarely primed to the point where he/she has to drop. Obviously, the player of the 3-pt game cannot be too far behind in the race so that catching up is nigh on impossible.

What about this week’s position? White leads by a small amount in the race but Red has nearly total control of the outer boards.  It is easy to foresee White’s position deteriorating quickly and a gammon being lost when he has to run off red’s 3-pt.

However, it hasn’t happened yet and for the moment White’s home board is as strong as Red’s. Red is certainly the favourite, but he doesn’t have any clear-cut threats and very few market-losing sequences.

Over the board Red doubled but in fact he is not strong enough to double and he should wait. If you put the two checkers on White’s bar-point out of play on his 1-pt although White gains 10 pips in the race his position is far weaker and Red now has a clear double.

Once again, the relative lack of volatility in the 3-pt game has been demonstrated. Red should bide his time and wait for his position to improve before doubling. Doubling here is actually a blunder and of course, White has a trivial take.

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 20 Rollout

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Early Strategy

Money Play. How should Red play 63?

Basic Begiiners 10

XGID=-b–B-D-B—cE—c-e–b-B-:0:0:1:63:0:0:3:0:10

Red started the game by rolling 42, making his 4-pt. White responded with 55, making his 3-pt. How should Red now play 63?

I frequently see this type of position misplayed. White’s 55 has given him a lead in the race but a slightly overextended structure. The one thing that Red should not do is to split his rear checkers. This gives White attacking options that he doesn’t deserve. Red should (at least for now) play a priming game.

The best move is 13/10, 13/7. Only very slightly weaker is 13/4 which is safer but does less to develop Red’s position.

The two really bad moves are 24/15 and 24/18, 13/10 because they are anti-thematic, allowing White an attack.

This position is but one example of the strategy of playing a priming game when your opponent has rolled an early double fives. It is a strategy that is worth remembering.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Basic Beginners Rollout 10

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Triple Shot

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take? 

Match Play. 0-1 to 3. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 19

XGID=-BBB–CA—-A—-aBacbcBe-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

This position came up at a tournament at the Hurlingham Club. I was White and had just rolled a very unfortunate 61, played 14/8, 6/5.

My opponent enthusiastically doubled, no doubt with a vision of a gammon in his mind. Although you will get some passes in positions like this it is still virtually a blunder to double. Red has too much work still to do, always assuming he hits at least one blot on his first roll. With two open home-board points and a lot of freight to shift (checkers to move) around the board Red should hold the cube.

Even if he closes out both White checkers he will only win a gammon 40% of the time. And, of course, he only has 27 hits initially. On the nine misses he will nearly certainly lose the game and the match. Red does much better to hold the cube and double when White has a much more difficult decision.

If Red hits one checker and White fans that is the time to double. Even then White will still have a comfortable take.

For money it should be clear that if Red doubles, White should beaver. Doubling would be a truly horrendous blunder. Red gives up nearly a full point of equity by doubling!

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Money

Experts 19 Rollout - Money

Match

Experts 19 Rollout - Match

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Time for a Plan

Money Play. How should Red play 41?

2019 - Intermediates 19

XGID=–aB–DCB—bB—bde-B-a–:0:0:1:41:0:0:3:0:10

 Just making moves is never a good idea. You should always have a game plan. That plan is subject to change according to the vagaries of the dice, but any plan is better than no plan.

This is an apparently simple position and many would follow the known tactic in such positions of attacking the lone checker by playing 7/2*. Alternatively, Red could try to prime that rear White checker by playing 13/9, 6/5 although some may consider that too bold.

However, most of Red’s checkers are well-placed and that suggests a third game plan. That plan is to leave with one of the rear checkers despite being behind in the race by moving 21/16.

This play keeps all the other checkers doing good work. In addition, White has a blot in his home board which gives Red tactical opportunities. Finally, 21/16 creates meaningful duplication of White’s fours.

Is all that enough to make running the right game plan? Not quite. It turns out that both running and priming are valid game plans while hitting is not. It is not unusual in the middle game to have two valid plans.

The key here is to consider all three game plans and then choose between them. Sometimes you will make the wrong choice, but backgammon is too difficult to be right all the time. But has often been said before – if you don’t even see a move as a viable alternative then you will never play it!

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 19 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Weighing Anchors 2

Money Play. How should Red play 54?

2019 - Beginners 19

XGID=-B-B-CBbB—-B–bbbbBcaa–:0:0:1:54:0:0:3:0:10

Over the years I have learnt to be very circumspect about giving up anchors. The conditions have to be right to give up such a strong asset. However, there are times when giving up the anchor is correct. Let us look at this week’s position.

Red has the choice between (a) 8/4, 8/3 (b) 20/11 (c) 13/4 and (d) 13/9, 13/8. Red is stripped on all his outer board points and something has to give. (a) is the wrong idea – it takes checkers beyond where they want to go and Red may have even worse problems next turn.

If Red is going to give up his mid-point it seems logical to leave minimum shots and so 13/9, 13/8 must be better than 13/4. But, should Red risk departing from the anchor with (b)? He will have only a marginal lead in the race after the play so that argues for staying. White has two blots in his home board while Red has a four-point home board so that argues for going. Staying will also strand those rear checkers. Finally (b) creates meaningful duplication of White’s fours.

It is hard to balance these conflicting priorities without a lot of experience but in this position the positives for leaving the anchor outweigh the negatives and Red should play 20/11. I got this right over the board, but my opponent rolled 33. Backgammon can be a cruel game.

The lesson is that conditions have to be just right to give up an anchor. In this position those conditions exist but I’ve seen many an anchor given up prematurely. Take care!

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 19 Rollout

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Extended Jeopardy

Money Play. How should Red play 41?

Basic Begiiners 9

XGID=aBCCBBB———aa-bcbbba-:1:-1:1:41:0:0:3:0:10

What could be easier than a simple bear-off? However, while there is still contact, there will always be an opportunity to make an error. I have seen many players get this position wrong.

Red has three choices: (a) 6/5, 6/2 (b) 5/4, 5/1 (c) 4/off, 4/3

Given this position as a problem many players choose (c) because then Red has only two bad numbers on his next turn, 62 and 26. (a) leaves nine bad numbers (66, 55, 44, 65, 56, 64, 46, 54, 45) and (b) leaves seven bad numbers (66, 55, 44, 61, 16, 51, 15). Thus, it would seem that (c) must be correct but that is not the case, because of the concept of extended jeopardy.

After 6/5, 6/2 if White enters with a six any jeopardy disappears. And Red’s problems are over. After either of the other plays the gap that is created by those plays may live for quite some time and, even if White enters into the gap from the bar, the point(s) above the gap must still subsequently be cleared. This is called extended jeopardy.

How does one weigh extended jeopardy against immediate jeopardy? The answer for most players is one of experience. I have seen this type of position many times and so I “know” the answer. The other answer is to use computers that can calculate this position exactly.

As you will see from the rollout (a) is correct. The extended jeopardy from the other two plays outweighs the immediate jeopardy of the extra shots. Note also that (a) wins more gammons because Red is able to keep a stronger home board for longer. The three plays are close in terms of equity, but it pays to get this type of position correct as it will reoccur frequently.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Basic Beginners Rollout 9

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Money vs Match

(a) Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

(b) Match Play. 0-0 to 7. Should Red redouble? If Redoubled, should White take?


2019 - Experts 18

XGID=aBCBcCD——-a–bbbbbA—:1:1:1:00:0:0:0:7:10

Whenever you face a match play doubling problem you should first consider the correct actions for money to give yourself a base.

In this week’s position I hope it is clear that this is a highly volatile situation. If Red rolls a six he will have lost his market by a huge margin. Red should redouble now.

Equally well, although it is scary because of the gammon losses, White has a very comfortable take because one bad roll by Red (55,44,22) could swing the game immediately and if Red fails to rolls a 6 and White immediately rolls a 4 (which happens 21% of the time), White will be very well placed with a redouble to 8 imminent. In addition, if Red doesn’t roll a 6 within three rolls his position will rapidly deteriorate anyway.

The match play situation is subtly different. If Red redoubles to 4 and wins a gammon, he will have won 8 points, one more than he needs. That is a warning sign that his redouble is not perfectly efficient.

In addition, if White takes and then turns the game round he will be able to give some very efficient redoubles to 8. If Red accepts the cube on 8, he can never subsequently win with another redouble and so the game must be played to the end – the cube will be valueless to Red. These are all indicators that Red should perhaps play on for a gammon with the cube on 2 and, if things go badly, he will probably only lose 2 points.

This is very difficult to judge over the board, but many will err on the side of caution, which turns out to be correct. However, this is a great practical redouble because you will get quite a few erroneous drops. Knowing your opponent is sometimes more valuable than knowing backgammon theory.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Money

Experts 18 rollout money

Match

Experts 18 rollout match

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Match Play Thoughts

Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take? 

Match Play. 4-4 to 7. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take? 

2019 - Intermediates 18

XGID=a-BBBBBA-A———-bccbC-:1:1:1:00:4:4:0:7:10

For money this would be a grossly premature redouble. White has already borne off four checkers so he would be close to a take even with his last checker closed out. Additionally, Red still has to escape three checkers from behind a four-point prime (look how 44 plays!). Finally, White will sometimes escape his rear checker and win a gammon – in fact that happens 10% of the time.

At this match score things are very different. If Red redoubles this effectively becomes Double Match Point. Gammons become irrelevant and White can never win the cube. White’s take point for the redouble is exactly 25%. Does that make enough of a difference to make this a redouble?

Yes, it does. The position is highly volatile. If Red escapes a checker and White stays on the bar (and that happen nearly 40% of the time) Red will have lost his market by a huge margin. Not redoubling is a bad blunder. White has an easy take because his winning chances are around 30%.

Never forget just how different match play doubling is compared to money play, especially towards the end of a match.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 18 rollout - money

 

Intermediates 18 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Risk and Reward

Money Play. How should Red play 33?

2019 - Beginners 18

XGID=-BbCBBB-B—dA-A-c-e-a—-:1:-1:1:33:0:0:3:0:10

 Over the board Red quickly played 13/1. Sadly, this play doesn’t meet the demands of the position.

Consider these factors:

  • Red has already doubled and so must win with his play of the checkers.
  • White’s position is virtually undeveloped.
  • White will be loth to give up his anchor to hit when he has no home board.
  • If Red leaves blots and is hit he will have a lot of return shots, many of which will lead to gammons.
  • 13/1 puts a checker permanently out of play

All of the above clarify why it is right for Red to take some risk now, rather than wait while White develops his home board.

Red’s real choice is between 13/7, 8/5(2) and 13/4, 8/5. Not surprisingly the move that best distributes Rd’s checkers for return hits and for the bear-off is the winning play.

The correct move is 13/4, 8/5.

The key to the position is in understanding that now is precisely the right time to take a risk. Every move in the game is about risk and reward and learning how to balance those two things is the key to long-term winning backgammon.

 

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

 

Beginners 18 rollout

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Robertie’s Addition Method

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

Basic Begiiners 8

XGID=-C–B——————bd-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

 This is a basic technique for calculating that everybody needs to do. I believe it was first documented by Bill Robertie in his “Advanced Backgammon” and so it is known as Robertie’s Addition Method.

This looks like a three-roll ending which is known to be a double and a pass. White only wins a pure three roll position just under 22% of the time and so must pass. However, small details matter.

Look what happens if Red rolls 32 – he cannot bear off a checker. Red will roll 32 one time in eighteen, which equates to 5.5%. Once we add that 5.5% to the 22% for the basic three-roll ending then we get over 27% winning chances. What was thought to be a pass at first glance turns out to be a very easy take and passing would be a blunder. Often when you add up your ways to win in a position you can pass the 25% figure and find you have a take.

Over the years the Addition Method has helped me to make the correct decision hundreds of times.

Learn it and use it.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

basic Beginners Rollout 8

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Prime versus Prime Part 2

Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 17

XGID=a-BBBBC—-A—–AAdbdbbA-:1:1:1:00:0:0:1:0:10

 Once more we return to a Prime versus Prime problem. It is often said that all prime versus prime problems are doubles and takes. Is this the one that breaks that rule?

No, it is not, but it is still possible to make some big mistakes here. The position is hugely volatile and if Red rolls a six he will have lost market by a distance. He must redouble now to ensure the cube is on 4 when he wins a gammon (75% of his wins are gammons). It is a double blunder not to redouble here.

Many players of the Red checkers fail to redouble here because they fear crashing their home board. For them the glass is half-empty. In fact, Red will have to open two home board points (assuming White’s checkers remain on the bar) before White can redouble. The optimist, for whom the glass is half-full, redoubles immediately here.

What about the take? This is a very clear take, precisely because Red may crash his board. White will win 40% of the time from here, including 9% gammons. Dropping is nearly a triple blunder.

The key to the position is Red’s spare checker. Here Red has only 8 spare pips until he has to crash his board. If you move that checker around the board then then you get different answers to the doubling question. If you put the checker on the 13-pt then the answer is double/pass but on the 12-pt it is double/take.

Kit Woolsey analyses this type of position in his excellent “Backgammon Encyclopedia Volume 1”. It is currently out of print but if you ever get the chance to obtain a copy, do so without delay.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 17 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Sixes don’t grow on trees

Match Play. 2-2 to 7. How should Red play 63?

2019 - Intermediates 17

XGID=a–BACBB—–Ba—bbbbcCb-:1:1:1:63:2:2:0:7:10:1

When you get the chance to make a five-point prime and your opponent is on the bar you normally take it.

That is precisely what Red did here, playing 13/4.

The problem was that he had three of his own checkers trapped behind a five-point prime and precious little time to escape.

As Paul Magriel once said to me in a lesson: “sixes don’t grow on trees”.

By playing 23/14* Red escapes one of the rear checkers AND puts a second White checker on the bar. What more can he want? Yes, White will sometimes roll a couple of fours and Red’s game will disintegrate but that doesn’t nearly compensate for the 5% extra game wins and 5% extra gammons that Red wins after 23/14*. At 2-2 to 7 gammons are particularly useful as they get Red to the Crawford Game.

One could make an argument for 23/17, 7/4 which both escapes a checker and makes a four-point board but that reduces the time available to escape the other two rear checkers (as White has only one checker to enter from the bar) and also reduces the percentage of gammons won. 23/17, 7/4 is a better move than 13/4.

23/14* would be correct in a money game as well.

In XG terms 13/4 is a bad blunder.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 17 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: PRaT

Money Play. Should Red Double? If doubled, should White take?

2019 - Beginners 17

XGID=-aB-aBB-BAA-cB–ad-e—AB-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

Doubles in races and bear-offs can be learnt and there are formulae to assist with the decision making. The same is not true of the middle game which is far too complex for a set of rules to be doggedly applied.

Most middle-game doubling decisions are made using pattern recognition. Specific positions virtually never repeat but types of positions repeat constantly. We use knowledge of prior positions to make a judgement of the position in front of us. The better and more experienced the player the more likely it is that his judgement will be accurate.

One guide we can use is PRaT which stands for Position, Race, Threat. Those three elements form the core of any decision. If you stand better in two of the three elements you should be considering a double. If you lead in all three it is nearly certainly a double and a pass.

Let’s apply this to this week’s problem:

  • The race is equal.
  • Red has the better home board but he has made his 2-pt which is a bit ugly. On the downside he has three rear checkers to White’s two. Meanwhile White does not have an anchor so could be blitzed.
  • The position is volatile and Red has several threats which if carried out could lose his market. For example, after the sequence Red 65: 10/4*, 9/4 White 65: Fan Red will clearly have lost his market.

Red is ahead in two of the three elements, so it looks like a double. White’s position is scary, but he has no checkers out of play and if he can create an anchor he will be in the game for a long time. Red has a lot of work to do to win the game so it looks as if White can accept the double despite the gammon risk.

The rollout bears out this thinking. The position is a double and a take and in fact, the take is very easy, and it is the double/no double decision that is much closer.

PraT is not an exact science but merely a useful aid to making doubling decisions. Use it, but remember some of it subjective, i.e. how strong are the threats? It will assist your game but don’t expect it to make clear-cut decisions for you. That is your job!

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 17 Rollout

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve – Early Dilemma

Money Play. How should Red play 31?

Basic Begiiners 7

XGID=-b—-E-CA–eD—c-c-b–AA:0:0:1:31:0:0:3:0:10

This early game position gives Red a dilemma. Should he take the safety of the ace-point anchor or not?

A common error here is to play bar/24, 13/10, securing an anchor and then hoping to develop the home board. The problem with this play is that Red is playing catch-up because White is ahead in development. It also leaves 11 shots.

When your opponent has built an early home board point it is normally correct to try to build an advanced anchor.

This position is no exception despite the fact that White still has three checkers on his 8-pt.

Red should play bar/22 with the 3, hoping to subsequently make the 22-pt. After bar/22 he can choose between 24/23 and 9/8 for the ace. Because White may well try to launch a blitz attack in his home board Red should safety the blot on his 9-pt so that he is not trying to fight a war on two fronts.

24/23 is certainly a reasonable move but it gives White just too many attacking options.

Bar/22, 9/8 is the best play in this position.

 

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

 

Basic Beginners Rollout 7

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: Prime versus Prime

Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 16

XGID=a-BBBBC—-A—–AAdbdbbA-:1:1:1:00:0:0:1:0:10

 There is a well-known backgammon saying that all Prime Versus prime Positions are doubles and takes. Could this be the one that breaks the rule?

The position occurred in the Battersea chouette and when Red (the box) redoubled all the team members bar one dropped. That hardy soul went on to win the game by hitting a shot in the bear-off. But was his take correct?

The answer is yes and by a long way. It is much more the redouble that is in question here, rather than the take. Dropping this redouble is worse than a double blunder. The team members visualised Red rolling a six and subsequently building a full prime to contain the White rear checker.

That is certainly one scenario but more likely is Red will not roll a six next turn. If White then rolls an immediate ace (30% chance) he is right back in the game and can mount an attack on the Red checker on White’s ace-point. If Red continues to fail to escape that rear checker then White can even win by Red crashing his home board.

As you can see from the rollout White will win 25% of the time and with a good percentage of gammons. Remember also that White will own the doubling cube and may well get the chance to use it to very good effect.

The team were far too pessimistic in their assessment of their position, only looking at the negative aspects of the position. It is crucial in all doubling cube evaluations to look at how you can win the game and not just look at how badly you can lose it.

Technically this only just a redouble as Red, but it is a very strong practical redouble as you will get a lot of drops, as evidenced by what happened in the chouette.

This skill, the ability to take a dispassionate view of a position, separates true experts from intermediates

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 16 Rollout

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Connectivity

Money Play. How should Red play 44?

2019 - Intermediates 16

XGID=—-AbDBB—cC—bBcba-bA-:0:0:1:44:0:0:3:0:10

Always remember that backgammon is a representation of war. An essential element of warfare is communication, the soldiers need to be able to speak to each other. Bearing that idea in mind, how should Red play his double fours?

Certainly not 18/10(2) which completely strands the rear checker and Red would be racing when trailing in the race. 7/3(2), 6/2(2) creates a stripped structure with gaps, very poor for communication and future development.

8/4(2), 7/3(2) is much better, creating a compact structure with some spares for future rolls. Best by a very short distance is 13/9(3), 6/2. This creates a four-point prime, again with some spares to cope with future rolls. Meanwhile Red needs to escape his rear checker to give himself another spare. That will give him options for racing or priming as his future game plans.

Flexibility and communication are the key factors in the decision-making process here.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 16 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: When in Doubt

Money Play. How should Red play 42?

2019 - Beginners 16

XGID=—B–DbC—dC-a-Bbd–b-A-:0:0:1:42:0:0:3:0:10

The age-old saying in backgammon is, “when in doubt, hit”. This position is a classic demonstration of that principle. Over the board Red played the very passive 8/4, 6/4 but that leaves an equal position.  What will Red do next turn after the passive play.

Having decided to hit which is the correct play?

The weakest hit is 17/15*, 17/13 which isolates the rear checker and gives White good threes, a number that doesn’t enter from the bar. Better is 17/15*/11 which nicely duplicates White’s fours and fives.

The best hit is 24/20, 17/5*. Crucially this connects all the rear checkers so that, if White does enter and hit, Red will have a lot of return shots the following roll.

Aggression normally pays dividends in backgammon and this position ably supports that principle. Backgammon is a game of risk and reward. Here there is certainly some risk but that is nicely counterbalanced by the potential reward.

“When in doubt, HIT”.

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 16 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Simple Bear-Off

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

Basic Begiiners 6

 XGID=-DD——————–ec-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

When we learn about doubling in backgammon we start with bear-off positions because we can calculate exactly each player’s winning chances and so we can be certain about the correct doubling positions.

So we “know” that a pure (neither player can fail to take off two checkers with each roll) three roll position is a double and drop, a four roll position is a double and a take and five roll position is a double (but not a redouble) and a take.

The next stage in our education is to introduce slight variations to the know positions to see if that makes any difference. This position is the standard four roll position but one of White’s checkers has been moved from his 1-pt to his 2-pt. Can this possibly change the doubling decisions?

Surprisingly, it can. Red should clearly still double but now White has to drop the double!

Why is this? Two reasons: White’s double ones no longer takes off four checkers thus saving him a roll; White might roll four successive aces in which case on his last roll he will only take off one checker.

These two possibilities combine to push White into drop territory although I have seen many players erroneously take this position when playing the White checkers.

So we learn the basics and then we vary things a little and gain more knowledge. Quite simply, basic education applied to backgammon.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Basic Beginners Rollout 6

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve: More on Match Play Redoubles

Match Play. Red trails 0-2 to 7. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

2019 - Experts 15

XGID=–aCABBB—-AA—-c-Cc-dd-:1:1:1:00:0:2:0:7:10

This continues the theme from last week. When I first started playing backgammon match play doubling was still a very little researched and understood area of the game. With the advent of the bots things changed dramatically and modern players are light years ahead of their counterparts from the 1970s and 1980s.

However, players still wait too long to redouble in certain match plays situations and this week’s problem is one of them. White’s board is a mess and he already has four dead checkers. Red’s position is very sound with the exception of the dilly builder on his 3-pt.

For money and with a fully active cube it would be a blunder to redouble here but at 0-2 to 7 it is a very different story. With the cube on 4 a gammon for White will only gain him one extra point. Secondly, he will be very slow to redouble to 8 because Red will only need about 8% winning chances to accept. These two factors are huge in making the redoubling decision.

The position is highly volatile and by next turn Red may have missed his market and doing that when trailing in a match is nearly a criminal offence! Red must redouble now to make sure White will still accept.

Look, for example, at the sequence 53 for Red played 12/4, followed by 54 for White, played 18/22, 18/23. Red will have missed his market by a huge margin and in fact he will be too good to redouble.

You should always take longer to consider a redouble than an initial double, purely because there will be more at stake.

A lot of players would miss the redouble here because they would be influenced by their “money play thinking”. Winning backgammon matches is largely about good cube handling. Not redoubling this position is a 2.5 blunder.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 15 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Containment

 

Match Play. Double Match Point. How should Red play 41?

2019 - Intermediates 15

XGID=-BBBCB———–aBbcBccc-:0:0:1:41:6:6:0:7:10

This is a problem about containment. A whole book could be written on the topic but let’s start with this one position.

Red has been lucky enough to roll a number where he can hit from either of his two anchors. The question is how should he hit the White blot?  Over the board Red played 18/17*/13 trying for coverage of his outer board but that play turns out to be an error.

The bots have taught us in positions like this to protect against jokers. What is White’s only joker? Double sixes, which will nearly certainly win the game and match for him. Therefore, Red should keep the 18-pt for the time being and later on, if White remains on the bar, he should make his 12-pt with the same idea.

This joker prevention play turns out be more important than diversifying the rear checkers. The best play in this position  is 21/17*/16. After that, if White stays on the bar, Red will have time to diversify his four rear checkers to give himself maximum coverage of the outer boards.

Here’s an additional question for you to ponder. After Red plays 21/17*/16 how should White subsequently play 61? I’ll leave you to sleep on that one!

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 15 rollout

 Bray’s Learning Curve — A Great Member Benefit
Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: Prat

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

2019 - Beginners 15

XGID=-a–BaCBC—eC—–e-b-Ba-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

 A classic middle game position. Red has the advantage, not least because he is on roll. Is he good enough to double? Can White accept a double?

Leaning doubling reference positions is long and arduous and so we need  shortcut. That shortcut is PRaT which stands for Position, Race, Threat. If you are ahead in two out of three key elements you should certainly be considering doubling. From the taker’s perspective. If you are behind in all three factors the position is nearly certainly a drop.

In this position the race is even. Red has slightly the better overall position as his structure is stronger than White’s. The position is volatile as Red is threatening a blitz. There are a lot of sequences where White won’t be taking a double next turn.

This implies Red should double, which is correct. What about the take? White trails in two of three factors but, other than the checker on his ace-point, his position is sound and if he can establish an anchor in Red’s home board he will be in the game for a long time. Of course, he may get blitzed as Red has ten checkers in the attack zone, but nearly all backgammon positions have inherent risk. White should take the double.

One way of learning is to see what adjustments to the position can alter the  result. Here, if we move a checker from Red’s mid-point to his 9-pt the position becomes double/drop because Red’s attack is now just too strong. This sort of exercise can rapidly improve your playing strength.

So remember to use PRaT – it is a fundamental tool for evaluating doubling decisions

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 15 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Blitz Reference

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

Basic Begiiners 5

XGID=aa-B-BC-A–AdDa–c-e—-B-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

Other than end-game situations and races how do we learn when to double and whether or not to take an offered double?

Backgammon is far too difficult a game to be able to evaluate doubling decisions over the board without prior knowledge of similar positions. These are known as ‘Reference Positions’. A Reference Position is one where we ‘know’ the correct cube action for both players. Expert players have thousands of reference positions in their mental library. Beginners have very few and consequently a) make a lot of mistakes and b) take a lot of time to make decisions. Building a library of reference positions takes time so the more you study the quicker you can build your own library.

Positions rarely repeat but types of positions constantly repeat. An expert will look at the position in front of him, call up a Reference Position, make adjustments for the differences between that and the actual position and, more often than not, arrive at the correct doubling decision.

This week’s position is an early blitz. Red has rolled an early 33 and White has stayed on the bar. The standard Reference Position for an early 33 is the same as this position but with the two blots on the respective 11-pts both on the mid-points. That position is known to be both a correct double and a correct take.

How do the two 11-pt blots affect things? They are both in Red’s favour. Firstly, his 64 hits another blot. Secondly he has a checker closer to the attack zone than in the standard reference position, strengthening his blitz attack.

Those two differences turn what was a reasonable take into a close pass for White, although many would take because of an imperfect Reference Position library.

So remember, most doubling decisions are based on Reference Positions. This example was reasonably easy but sometimes the adjustments are much more difficult  to perform and then the expert comes into his own.

The quicker you can build your own reference library the stronger player you will become.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Basic Beginners Rollout 5

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Take Care With Redoubles

 a) Money Play. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

b) Match Play. Red trails 5-6 to 11. Should Red redouble? If redoubled, should White take?

 2019 - Experts 14

XGID=aB–b-DDB—-Ba-a–bbcAb–:1:1:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

Whenever I face a match play cube decision I first try to create a benchmark by looking at the correct action for money. Here Red still has a lot of work to do to win the game. His home board structure is poor and White is in the game for ever with his 4-pt anchor. If things go well for him, Red can win a gammon but given the strength of White’s home board Red will not expect to get many drops but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t redouble.

A cautious player might hold the cube but not redoubling is technically an error – the position is too volatile to wait.  Red will win a high percentage of gammons and he would rather win 8 points rather than 4.  Even so, White has an easy take and dropping would be a huge blunder.

What about the match play decision. Now things are very different. A 4-cube where either player could win a gammon and the match should give both sides pause for thought. Whenever I am redoubled in a match situation I always take extra thinking time. Note especially that cube will be virtually useless to White,. Red will only need 10% game-winning chances to take a redouble to 8 so White will hardly ever redouble.

That lack of cube usefulness for White plus the gammon threat means that now the cube decisions are very different. Not redoubling becomes a blunder and the take is right on the borderline for White. Because it is so close the opponent factor must be considered. If White is the stronger player he should probably drop but if he is the weaker the player he should take.

Remember, redoubling decisions in match play are usually crucial to the outcome of the match so ALWAYS take your time.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

 Money

Experts 14 Rollout - Money

 

Match

Experts 14 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Think Ahead

 Money Game. How should Red play 43?

2019 - Intermediates 14

XGID=-a—aE-C–AdD—a-bAb-bbA:1:1:1:43:0:0:3:0:10

Red is in a lot of trouble in this position. He faces a strong blitz and the loss of gammon.

His 3 is forced. He must play bar/22. The question is how to play the 4?

Exposing a new blot with 8/4 (although that duplicates 3’s) or 6/2 does not look right.That leaves the choice between 22/18, 20/16 and 11/7. Before making any play, Red must consider his game plan and uppermost in his mind should be this question, “how can I establish anchor?”. If he can establish an anchor, he will have a foothold in the game and some winning chances or at least he might save the gammon.

Over the board, Red chose 20/16 but that does not follow the game plan. After bar/22 he has two potential anchors, the 22-pt and the 20-pt. The best chance to make one of those points is to leave them both slotted.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 14 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: Pay me now, pay me later?

Money Play. How should Red play 54?

2019 - Beginners 14

XGID=-BCbBaF-aB———bbbbc–:0:0:1:54:0:0:3:0:10

This looks like a classic ‘Pay me now, pay me later’ problem. Should Red play 9/5*, 9/4, leaving White 13 shots to win the game or should he wait with 6/2, 6/1?

As it happens the two plays are very close with the ‘pay now’ play of 9/5*,  9/4 winning by the tiniest of margins.

However, that statement is only true if Red had already doubled. It is rarely right to ‘pay now’ if you haven’t made your opponent pay for that opportunity. That is the case here and, because Red hasn’t doubled, he should play safe with 6/2, 6/1 and see what the position looks like next turn when he is on roll. Playing 9/5*, 9/4 with the cube in the centre is very nearly a  double blunder.

In fact, Red made a big error in not doubling before rolling this 54. The position is highly volatile and he may have lost his market by his next turn. White would have had a comfortable take.

So remember, paying now with the cube in the centre is rarely correct.

 

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

 

Beginners 14 Rollout

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: Racing Formulae

Money Play. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

 

Basic Begiiners 4

XGID=–BBCCCB——–abbc-c-bb-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

Backgammon is at its simplest when the two armies have disengaged and the game becomes a simple race. Once that happens knowing how to use the doubling cube is much more important than moving the checkers.

The most important thing to know in a race is the pipcount for each player. When playing online this is given to you. In live play you have to do it yourself. Lots of people tell me they can’t count but it is surprising how much a  little practice can help. There are various shortcuts that can help. For example, two checkers on each of your home board points give a pipcount of 42. I’ll leave you to research other others.

How do we know when to double and when to take? The roughest guide is that you need to be about 10% ahead to double and at that point your opponent still has a take. Most beginners use the 8-9-12 rule. You can double when you are at least 8% ahead, you can redouble when you are at least 9% ahead and you can take until you are 12% behind.

That is the best guide when starting out in backgammon but once you have mastered that technique there are advanced formulae for more complex positions. If you really want to understand the topic, please download “Backgammon Races” from the downloads section of my website:

http://www.chrisbraybackgammon.com/#/downloads/4577963017

What about this week’s position? Based upon the 8-9-12 rule and just looking at the pipcounts this is both a double and an easy take. Regrettably life is not that simple. Two key points: White needs five crossovers to bring his remaining checkers home while Red needs only 2; White has gaps on his 3-pt and 5-pt. These two facts mean that White must drop Red’s double although I know many would take.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Basic Beginners Rollout 4

 

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Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: High Value Cube

Match Play. Red trails 2-6 to 13.  Should Red redouble to 8. If redoubled, should White take?

 

2019 - Experts 13

XGID=aA-CB-DB–B-A—–bb-cbbc-:2:1:1:00:2:6:0:13:10

 High cubes in matches often determine the eventual outcome. Therefore, it is always worth taking some extra time when faced with a high-value cube decision and by that I mean at least a couple of minutes and probably longer. Too often I see even top players rush into crucial decisions without enough thought.

Such was the case in this week’s position. Red did not redouble to 8. He made his ace-point and after White fanned Red did redouble and White passed, tying the score at 6-6. Red went on to win the match

The first thing to do is to decide on the right action in a money game and then adjust that for the score.

For money this is not yet a redouble. Red has only a three-point home board versus White’s five-point home board. Red trails in the race and even if he makes his ace-point, White will still be favourite to enter from the bar. Red is the favourite, but he is not far enough into his doubling window to justify turning the cube. He needs to give White a much more difficult decision. With a fully active cube Red should hold on to the cube.

The match score changes things hugely. Now if Red redoubles and White takes, White can never use the cube to win the game. Also gammons are meaningless to White. In fact the score changes things so much that Red is longer within his doubling window. His market has gone. Red should redouble and White should drop. Taking is actually a blunder.

However, many players forget to adequately adjust their cube handling for the match score and as Red I would expect to get a few takes here. In the actual match Red missed a glorious opportunity to give White the chance to make a big mistake.

Always remember just how important the match score is when considering a high-value cube.

 

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 13 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: A Bot Play

Money Play. How should Red play 44?

2019 - Intermediates 13

XGID=a-a-BBBCD-A-b-a–cbc-b–A-:1:-1:1:44:0:0:3:0:10

This is a difficult position that I got wrong in my first analysis.

In fact there are two perfectly valid game plans. The pure blitz of 7/3(2), 10/2* is thematic because Red has fourteen checkers in the attack zone. Unless White rolls an immediate 2 or double 1 or double 3 he is going to be in a lot of trouble.

The second approach is the “bot” play of 24/16, 6/2(2)*. This leaves White no discernible target in Red’s home board and escapes Red’s last rear checker, something that the bots put a high premium on.

The rollout has the blitz as the winner by a tiny amount but, in reality, there is no difference between the two plays. The position neatly demonstrates that there can be two perfectly valid game plans in a single position.

30 years ago I would wager that nobody would have considered 24/16, 6/2(2)* but the bots have taught us to look at things differently and thus progress is made.

 

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 13 rollout

Bray’s Learning Curve — A Great Member Benefit
Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray

 

 

Bray’s Learning Curve: Which Point?

 

Money Play. How should Red play 33?

2019 - Beginners 13

XGID=-b—-E-C–AdD—cad—-aB:0:0:1:33:0:0:3:0:10

This is another third roll position that demonstrates an important learning point.

Obviously two of Red’s threes are forced, bar/22(2). The question is should Red then make his 5-pt with 8/5(2), his 3-pt with 6/3(2) or his 10-pt with 13/10(2)?

In the early skirmishes it is usually better to make home board points rather than outer board points as home board points have the advantage of reducing your opponent’s entry numbers if he/she has a blot hit. That is the case here and 13/10(2) comes last of our three plays, although it is extremely close.

So, which home board point should Red make? 6/3(2) leaves White only one hitting number, 64 while 8/5(2) leaves four hitting numbers: 64, 61, 52 and 43. Is it worth giving the extra shots to make the better point? The answer is yes, and it is because of the structure of White’s board with blots on his bar-point and ace-point. If Red is hit, he will have a lot of return shots. So ,in this case ,the risk is worth the reward.

If you take a checker from White’s 6-pt and put it on his ace-point thus giving him his ace-point then the two plays become equal.

There are two key learning points here:

  • If your opponent has home board weaknesses you can take more risk on your own side of the board to improve your position.
  • Always take the time to look at the whole board. Only then should you look at candidate plays and choose between them

 

 

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 13 Rollout

Bray’s Learning Curve — A Great Member Benefit
Bray’s Learning Curve is a USBGF online series by author Chris Bray. Each week Chris lends his sharp insight and easy to understand analysis to help you improve your game. Visit the USBGF Facebook page every Monday to view an interesting backgammon position and join in the lively discussion, return on Tuesday to view the answer. In addition, as a USBGF member, you get access to this companion blog article that includes an expanded explanation.  More about Chris Bray