Bray’s Learning Curve: An Anchor Question

Money Play. How should Red play 65?

8-13-18 Intermediate Position


This sort of position often confuses even good players. Red was hoping to attack the White blot on his 4-pt but instead rolled this useless 65. How should he play it?

The instinctive reaction of the majority of my students when shown this position was to elect to hold the status quo with 8/3, 8/2. A few brave souls decided to risk a 3-shot and cleared the mid-point with 13/8, 13/7. This play has the merit of keeping those two checkers in play. About 10% chose the running play 21/10, exposing two blots. So which group was correct?

One of the things I stress to my students is that irrespective of how they conduct themselves in their day-to-day lives, when they play backgammon they have to be bold and fearless. That is easier said than done and it takes a long time to learn to adopt the correct persona over the backgammon board.

One of the best books for backgammon players was written 2,500 years ago! It is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, a Chinese army general. Backgammon is fundamentally a representation of war and many of Sun Tzu’s maxims apply as well today as when they were first written and browsing some of the quotes from the book will help anybody’s backgammon game.

Back to the position. 8/3, 8/2 buries two checkers (soldiers away from the field of battle are of no use) and does not improve Red’s position. 13/8, 13/7 is better but now the rear checkers are really stranded (a divided army fights inefficiently).

Red must make the bold play 21/10. This play follows the principles of war by engaging in a skirmish while you have superior forces (a stronger home board) and also follows the basic tenet of backgammon, “when ahead in the race, race”.

White’s sixes are duplicated and unless he manages to point on the Red blot in White’s home board, Red will have lots of counter play, including remaking the 4-pt anchor in some variations. The play forces White into a fight when he is not quite ready.

The XG rollout shows just how weak the two ‘do nothing’ plays are. In XG terms they are both triple blunders, precisely the type of mistake none of us can afford to make.

21/10 looks risky and we are taught to only give up anchors after long thought but here it should be very clear it is the right play following the right game plan. If White rolls 66 so be it, you will just know it is not your day!

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

8-13-18 Intermediate Position-XG 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: Early Game Dilemma

Money Play. How should Red play 31? 

CB problembd 1

For this first column I am going start at the beginning of the game. This position is reached after Red opens with 31: 8/5, 6/5 and White responds with 32 which he has correctly played 24/22, 13/10. If your opponent opens with 31 it is very often correct to split the rear checkers as soon as possible. Red now has to play another 31.

Newcomers to the game will quite likely play 13/10, 6/5, unstacking the two heavy points and getting a good distribution of checkers. Unfortunately, this move and the more aggressive 24/21, 6/5 are both bad blunders. In backgammon there are errors (a mistake but not a huge one) and blunders, which are very bad mistakes and to be avoided if at all possible.

In the opening we try to do three things: make new points, unstack the heavy points (the mid-point and the 6-pt) and get the rear checkers moving. There is a fourth possibility when replying to the opening move and subsequently and that is to hit an opposing checker and send it to the bar. If your opponent opens with 32, played 24/21, 13/11, and you respond with 64 I am sure you will hit 24/14*.

What beginners often do not realise, because they have yet to learn the tactic, is that a hit in the home board can often be the correct play. It may seem counter-intuitive to give your opponent a direct shot at a home-board blot because if it is hit you lose a lot of ground in the race. However, that is negative thinking which is to be avoided whenever possible in backgammon.

The key to hitting in the opening phase of the game is that it takes away half (or sometimes all) of your opponent’s next roll as he must first enter his hit checker from the bar. He might return hit one of your checkers but unless he rolls a double he won’t be making any new points in his home or outer boards (he might make an anchor in your home board).

In the opening taking tempo (time) from your opponent is very important. If he is busy dealing with your threats he won’t have time to develop his own threats.

The correct answer to this week’s problem is 24/23, 6/3*. This move activates the rear checkers, unstacks a heavy point and puts your opponent on the bar – not bad for one simple play! On four of your opponent’s rolls (66, 55, 65 and 56) you will be delighted with the outcome. He will return hit you with sixteen rolls but that’s no disaster as he has no home board. With double 1s he will play bar/23, 6/5(2). He misses with the other fifteen rolls after which you will have a good advantage.

An expert will play 24/23, 6/3* here without even thinking but as a beginner you have to understand the reasoning and then make the play. Once you have learnt the technique it will become second nature.

If you extend this concept you will understand why after your opponent opens with 52, played 24/22, 13/8, and you respond with 64, the correct play (although only just) is 13/3*. In summary, the opening is largely about tempo.

–Chris Bray

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

CB problem 1