Brays Learning Curve: Risk and Reward

Money Play. How should Red play 61?

2018 - Beginners 7

XGID=-aB-CCC-B—bB—–cbcb-b-:1:-1:1:61:0:0:3:0:10

Red stands well in this position but has not yet won the game. The question is whether he should play this 61 relatively safely with something like 8/2, 5/4 or whether he should play boldly with 13/7, 8/7.

With the cube in the middle you can win the game either by making a well-timed double or by utilising your checkers efficiently. Once you have doubled only the latter option is available to you, so you need to optimise the placement of your checkers.

Beginners have a hatred of leaving unnecessary shots when they think they have already won the game, but the harsh reality is that your opponent will nearly always have winning chances – you must do your best to limit those chances. Everything in backgammon is risk and reward so it is a question of weighing one against the other.

In this position the race is close so White can win by rolling a couple of big numbers. If Red makes the bar that option is largely denied to White but 13/7, 8/7 leaves 13 hitting numbers for White (all 1’s plus 52). Is the risk worth the reward. The answer is yes, Red does better to make the bar than play relatively safely (the safe plays leaves 4 shots).

One key point is that if White hits the blot on Red’s mid-point he won’t be strong enough to redouble unless he has rolled precisely 12 or 21. That is because Red’s broken prime is a still a fearsome barrier that White has to leap with a 2 and then a 5 or a 6.

Learning when to take a calculated risk is key to winning at backgammon. Too often I see beginners shy away from risk because they only look at the negative aspects of a play. They improve when they learn to see the positives, but I admit that it does take time to learn how to think

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 7 Rollout

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Brays Learning Curve: DMP Problem

Match Play. Double Match point. How should Red play 11?

 

2018 - Experts 6

XGID=baaaBBBbBB-aABA–b-c-Ab—:0:0:1:11:4:4:0:5:10

Firstly, this is DMP so Red wants to make the move that wins the most games. Gammons are irrelevant. Secondly, double aces normally give you a very wide range of choices and this position is no exception. I rolled out ten moves in depth, but it could have been double that number.

The key is that Red must have a plan and not just shuffle the checkers. At the moment White looks as if he is going to get some sort of playable back game and that is precisely what Red must stop from happening. For that reason, moving the checkers in the outer boards is not the right idea. Red should also not worry too much about safety, White’s home board is largely irrelevant at this point.

When I first evaluated this position XG came up with the somewhat exotic 12/11*, 4/3*/2*/1*. That certainly stops White anchoring any time soon! When I performed a rollout sampling 2592 games that play came second! I venture that no human player would find it over the board and even if he/she found it they wouldn’t play it and yet it is entirely thematic with Red’s objectives.

The somewhat more prosaic 4/3(2)*, 3/2(2)* is actually the best play. For the moment that tries to restrict White to an ace-point game at best and Red may do better than that.

Once you have a plan the play is easy to find and extremely logical but without a plan Red may not find the move. So, remember, plan first, play later!

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 6 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Bray’s Law

Match Play. Double Match Point. How should Red play 43?

 

2018 - Intermediates 6

XGID=-BCBBBB—–b——–gBcc-:0:0:1:43:4:4:0:5:10

This position occurred in a London League match this week and provides a classic demonstration of Bray’s Law.

That law states that when hoping to hit a late shot to win a game you should only break up your home board  upon pain of death or because there is no other legal play.

The reason for the law is that after hitting a late shot you need to contain the hit blot and you cannot do that easily if your home board is compromised.

That means that in this position 6/3, 6/2 and 5/2, 5/1 should be discounted as candidate plays. Red must advance one or both of his rear checkers while maintaining his perfect home board. Having solved half the problem (maintaining the home board) we are left with two choices; (a) 22/15 and (b) 22/19, 22/18.

Logic says that you want to keep one checker on the 22-pt for later shots if the initial shots are missed. Logic also says that White is very likely to have to separate his two checkers on his mid-point and ideally Red will want to put pressure on both blots. So far this points to 22/15 as the right play. Is there any merit in play (a)? Not really. It makes most of White’s sixes good for him and allows the possibility of one checker reaching the sanctuary of White’s home board.

This simple analysis shows that 22/15 is clearly correct and the rollouts agree with it. Play (b) is an error and any move that breaks the home board is a blunder.

Bray’s Law has helped me to make the correct decision time after time, so I suggest you commit it to memory and use it whenever appropriate.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 6 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Basic Blitz

 

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

2018 - Beginners 6

XGID=aB-Ba-C-A—dEa–c-e—-B-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

White opened with 32 which was played, 24/21, 13/11. Red rolled 55 which he played 8/3(2), 6/1(2)*. White then fanned and Red has to decide whether to double.

Before the bots came along everybody knew that if you opened 6x which was played 24/18, 13/x and your opponent rolled 55, played 8/3(2), 6/1(2)*, and you fanned you had to drop your opponent’s double because you lose too many gammons.

But there are lots of other early 55 blitzes and ideally you need to know what to do as either side in such situations. With the bots came knowledge and Kit Woolsey was kind enough to document much of that knowledge in his “The Backgammon Encyclopedia – Volume 1”. If you look in there then you will find this position is a double (just) and an easy take. If the White blot were on Red’s 2-pt then Red would not even have a double because White’s blot is further removed from Red’s attacking force.

Kit documented many other early blitz positions in his book. The only problem is that the book is currently out of print because the proofs were lost. Hopefully he will recreate it in the not too distant future. The second volume “The Backgammon Encyclopedia- Volume 2” is in print. Meanwhile if you come across a second-hand copy of Volume 1 my advice is to snap it up quickly.

It is easy to learn these basic reference blitz positions and then use them effectively in live play. Knowing the correct action in such situations saves both time and mental energy and, given how difficult backgammon can be, you need to make use of reference positions as often as you can.

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 6 Rollout

 

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Complex Endgame


Match Play. Red trails 2-5 to 7. How should Red play 21?

2018 - Experts 5

XGID=-aCC-A——a——-a-ddd-:1:-1:1:12:2:5:0:7:10

This position occurred at the recent Cyprus tournament. Red played the rather dull and prosaic 5/2.

After playing his 21, Red will have either six or seven crossovers left to bear off his remaining checkers. White will have to make six crossovers (don’t forget the one to bear off a checker) to save the gammon. White will also need to roll a minimum of 26 pips to save the gammon. All this implies the race to save the gammon will be close and so Red must play aggressively. There is a huge difference between leading 6-5 (Crawford) and trailing 4-5. Note also that Red will hardly ever lose from this position (see rollout details).

Therefore, Red must take the extra crossover this roll if he can, despite any risks. Having six crossovers left rather than seven may save him a whole roll.

3/1*, 2/1 puts White on the bar but doesn’t get that vital extra crossover. 3/1*/off is the correct play by some way. Red gets a bonus if White rolls 22, 33 or 32 but the key point is the extra crossover. 5/4, 2/off is the same idea but in this variation White is not on the bar and that may be crucial. Despite the few extra shots Red should put White on the bar. Note also, that if White does hit from the bar, he may not be able to safety the blot on his own 5-pt. That will add to Red’s gammon percentage.

This is not the time for timidity (it rarely is in backgammon). 3/1*/off is the play.

 

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 5 Rollout

 

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Brays Learning Curve: Offence or Defence

Money Play. How should Red play 32?

 

2018 - Intermediates 5

XGID=-b—-EBB—eD—b-db—B-:0:0:1:32:0:0:3:0:10

Red has opened with 61 (13/7, 8/7) and White has replied with 31, making his 5-pt. How should Red now play his 32?

The most common plays that I see are 24/21, 13/11 and 24/22, 13/10 but they are both incorrect.

Worse than these two plays is 13/11, 13/10. That play strips the mid-point of spares too early and gives White two tempting targets at a time when he has the better board. 13/8 is the dreadful ‘do nothing’ play. The two hybrid plays mentioned above are better but still wrong.

White has made his best offensive point and the standard tactic against that is to make an advanced anchor somewhere. Red gives himself the best chance to do that with 24/22, 24/21. The idea behind the play is that if White does point on one of the checkers then he will probably have to give up his 8-pt to do so and also Red will have good chances to make the other point that he has started with 24/22, 24/21.

I must reiterate that the time to take risks is in the opening when both players have relatively weak boards.

If Red gets wiped out by White by rolling a double next turn then Red can just drop the subsequent double and move on to the next game. He will still have played correctly and learning to lose is one of the key skills that any backgammon player has to acquire – it happens a lot!

As you can see from the rollout any play other than 24/22, 24/21 is at least an error and some of the plays mentioned above are blunders.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 5 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Late Hit

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

 

2018 - Beginners 5

XGID=aBBBBBE—————-de-:1:1:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

This type of position occurs frequently – White was happily bearing off and looking forward to two points (or even a freak gammon) when he left a shot and got hit. Therefore, it is best to know how to handle the cube in such situations.

The rule of thumb is that you should redouble when you have borne off five fewer checkers (or ten fewer checkers if your opponent has two checkers on the bar) than your opponent. Your opponent can take in such situations if he cannot miss when his straggler has once again reached his home board. Typically, that happens when Red has hit a shot from the ace-point anchor rather than from the bar. In that case White will have an empty ace-point and will miss with all aces in the bear-off. That turns the take into a drop.

Once you know the basic reference position you can make adjustments for your particular position. In this week’s position Red will leave an immediate shot with 66 and his sixes and big doubles play awkwardly putting him in jeopardy of a later shot. That is enough to make this position a no double.  Red should take a roll to tidy up his position.

To really learn about this position you should move the checkers around and see what difference that makes. Take one spare checker from the 6-pt and put it on the 5-pt and the position is still not quite a double. Take another checker from the 6-pt and put it on the 4-pt so that the spares are on the 4-, 5- and 6-pts (the perfect bear-off position) and White has a take but by the tiniest of margins.

1-pip differences can make a huge difference in backgammon.

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 5 Rollout

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Brays Learning Curve: Three on the Bar

 

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

 

Experts 4

XGID=cA–BbC-B–BbB—–dAb-Bb-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

 

Three checkers on the bar is normally a recipe for a swift drop, a resetting of the board and the starting of a new the game. This week’s position is relatively unusual and if you have seen nothing like it before you are going to have trouble evaluating it.

White has three checkers on the bar and a disjointed home board. He also trails in the race by 18 pips with his opponent on roll. However, he holds a 5-pt anchor and his opponent only has two and a half home board points. Furthermore, Red has only ten checkers in the attack zone and three of his checkers still in White’s home board. These latter factors should give White hope especially if Red cannot cover the blot on his ace-point next time.

This position occurred in the Battersea chouette where there are more takes than in “normal” backgammon. The box (Red) did double and of course all four opponents took. What do you think of the cube decisions?

White’s 5-pt anchor is the key point on the board. That will keep him in the game forever and because Red has a shortage of checkers in the attack zone, he doesn’t really have many immediate market losing rolls, unless of course, you think he has already lost his market. However, only the big doubles really threaten White immediately.

In fact, the take is trivial for White, he just has too much play and too many ways to win to give this one up. As for the double it is right on the borderline. You can double or not double and you will be correct. Despite appearances, the position is not very volatile, I would only double this position if I thought my opponent would pass and that wouldn’t happen in the Battersea chouette!

In this instance, the takers were rewarded by being able to redouble Red out later on but of course a one game rollout proves nothing!

The key is to file this position in your memory bank and reuse it. The other way to learn is to play around with the position to see how that changes things. For example, if you take the spare checker on Red’s 6-pt and put it on his 1-pt giving him a three-point home board then the borderline decision is the take and not the double!

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 4 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Priorities

Money Play.   How should Red play 22?

2018 - Intermediates 4

XGID=—–bE-CAA-cC–bc-e—-B-:0:0:1:22:0:0:3:0:10

Over the board Red chose 24/22(2), 13/9. Was he correct?  Sadly for him, he was a long way from the best move.

Not moving the back checkers at all is a huge error so they must at least advance 24/22(2). After that, if they remain there, then the best move for the other two twos is 10/8, 6/4, followed by 6/4(2) but both of these moves are blunders as is any move other than the correct one.

One the basic principles of backgammon in the early game is that if your opponent has made an advanced an anchor you should strive to do the same. Here Red has as a glorious opportunity to do just that with 24/20(2)!!

The blots left on the 9- and 10-pt are irrelevant. If hit, they can easily be recycled precisely because Red has his advanced anchor. The advanced anchor also cuts down Red’s gammon losses when thing go badly.

After 24/20(2) White is about a 60/40 favourite but Red is in the game for ever. If Red elects to anchor on the 22-pt his sixes are blocked and he can quickly get into trouble.

The key is to understand that the advanced anchor is far more important than the blots. There are many positions in backgammon where having two exposed blots spells extreme danger – this is not one of them!

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

intermediates 4 rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Third Move Thoughts

Money Play. How should Red play 62?

2018 - Beginners 4

XGID=-a—-E-D—fD—c-e–A-A-:0:0:1:62:0:0:3:0:10

There are 15 possible opening rolls. Many of these can be played in different ways. In response each of the possible 21 numbers can also be played in a number of different ways. There are approximately 600 opening rolls and responses. Most players will get the majority of these plays correct over the board.

The same is not true of the third move because by now there are too many possibilities for us to remember and we must rely on general principles to guide us most of the time. Those guiding principles are:

  • Make new points
  • Unstack the heavy points
  • Hit an opposing checker
  • Start the rear checkers moving

Over and above these principles I also like to try to maintain flexibility so that I have the ability to adopt different game plans as the game evolves.

This week’s position occurred in a teaching session with two of my students. Red opened with 52 played 24/22, 13/8 and White responded with 65, played 24/13. How should Red now play this 62?As usual we must consider the candidate plays and then make a choice:

  • 24/18, 13/11 too many double hits.
  • 22/14 minimises shots but it will be difficult to improve the position next time.
  • 24/16 leaves the rear checkers connected, but gives White many more hits, some of them double hits.
  • 24/22, 13/7 gives Red a solid anchor and slots a good point and would be the choice of many.
  • 22/16, 13/11 unstacks the mid-point while reducing White’s hitting numbers and keeps some connectivity between the rear checkers.

My students both selected 24/22, 13/7 and I wouldn’t argue with anybody who wanted to make that move in a chouette. However, settling for the 22-pt anchor so early is a little negative and the blot on the bar-point is exposed to 17 shots.

Long experience had me leaning towards the more flexible 22/16, 13/11 but I wasn’t certain by any means. A long rollout proved me to be correct. It turns out that 24/22, 13/7 is too committal so early in the game and technically it is an error. Remember that flexibility is a key element of backgammon and 22/16, 13/11 provides Red with exactly that.

The key here is to remember the solution to this problem and then apply the technique in similar future positions of your own.

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Beginners 4 Rollout

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Bray’s Learning Curve: Deep Thought

Money Play. How should Red play 42?

2018 - Experts 3

XGID=–bBbbCBCB-Ba—–abbab–A:0:0:1:42:0:0:3:0:10

Before the advent of the bots this roll would have been played bar/21*, 8/6 and nobody would have known that they were making a big error. The early bots such as TD-Gammon and JellyFish were not trusted to play back games correctly and so their recommendations would have largely been ignored in positions such as this.

However, by the time that gnubg and Snowie arrived players had begun to accept that their ideas were fundamentally sound, although there was still some doubt about complex positions. By the time Extreme Gammon took to the stage the bots were viewed as very strong players and everybody paid heed to their suggestions.

I misplayed this position over the board, making the pre-bot era move. As soon as I analysed the position with XG I realised I had forgotten to take its teachings into account. The correct move, by a long way, is bar/21*, 3/1, a move that would have been laughed at in the 1970s. Anyone wanting to make that move in a chouette of that era would have had their mental stability questioned.

However, when you look at the move and analyse it, it makes perfect sense. White has a very well-timed back game and his checkers are all working. In contrast thirteen of Red’s checkers are reasonably well positioned but the two checkers on his 2-pt are out of play. In military terms those two soldiers are off the field of battle and need to re-join their colleagues if possible.

The best way to correct Red’s timing is to force White to hit those checkers so that they can be recirculated. This is the key piece of logic behind bar/21*, 3/1. Having studied bot play in some depth I knew all about this particular recirculation tactic and I was annoyed with myself for missing the opportunity in live play.

Bar/21*, 8/6 is very nearly a blunder and any other move is a blunder or worse. So, please remember the idea and make use of it in your own games, the opportunity occurs more frequently than you might expect.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts Rollout 3

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Bray’s Learning Curve – Volatility

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

2018 - Intermediate 3

XGID=-B-BBaCCB-A———-bbcg-:0:0:1:00:0:0:3:0:10

This is a type of position that I often see misjudged. What normally happens is that Red rolls something like 63 which is played 10/4, 8/5*, White fans and then Red wins a point by doubling White out.

Red has committed the cardinal sin of losing his market because he feared the sequence where he hits loose and then White return hits from the bar and then Red fans. Beware, considering unlikely nightmare scenarios is not the way to make decisions in backgammon.

Red’s thinking should go along these lines:

  • If I point on White’s blot (15 rolls), unless he rolls 26 from the bar I will have lost my market.
  • I will pick and pass with 14, 24, 34, 54 (8 rolls) and if White fans, again I will have lost my market.
  • With all remaining numbers except 64, 44 and 66 I will hit loose and if White doesn’t hit back yet again I will have lost my market. I note that 44 and 66 are both very good for the race.
  • Yes, I will lose some games where I do get hit and stay on the bar but overall, I will gain many more points by doubling now than I will lose in the odd case where thing go wrong.
  • The position is incredibly volatile and so I must double now or I risk losing my market.
  • Therefore, I double.

On the other side of the coin White has an easy take based upon his hitting and racing chances. Like many middle game positions this is both a correct double and a correct take.

Note that if White had a five-point board or even a closed board the doubling decisions for both players remain the same.

Success in backgammon is largely determined by one’s cube handling and here not doubling would be a blunder. If you didn’t double because you were afraid of being hit from the bar then hopefully after reading this article you will have learnt to think more positively.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Intermediates 3 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: War Games

Money Play. How should Red play 65?

2018 - Experts 2

XGID=–BB-bBCA—bB—c-bcbCa–:0:0:1:65:0:0:3:0:10

Never forget that backgammon is a representation of war, as indeed are most of the older board games. Thinking in terms of war can often help you to arrive at the right decision with difficult plays.

Faced with this 65 to play over the board, Red elected to move 22/16, 8/3. This seems logical, escaping one of the rear checkers and moving the blot on his 8-pt to safety. The problem is that Red now has one soldier away from the field of battle (the third checker on his 3-pt) and another (the blot on his 16-pt) that might struggle to reach safety next turn.

He could have elected to play 13/8, 13/7, playing completely safe but that play cedes a huge part of the field of battle (the outer boards) to his opponent and he will really struggle to escape his three rear checkers. As is often the way in war cowardice is not rewarded.

He could try 22/16, 13/8. This makes the important 8-pt but leaves two checkers exposed to White’s attack and his hitting numbers are not duplicated with the numbers he needs to cover his blot on the 2-pt. Once again, Red will struggle to safety the blots next turn even if they are missed.

By now you will have found the correct move, 22/11. This keeps all his soldiers (checkers) focused on a key area of the battlefield. The move duplicates White’s three and sixes and now, if the blots are missed, they can be usefully employed to make new points or more easily made safe. If White does give up his anchor to hit (in war terms giving up a key strategic point) then Red’s checkers (soldiers) are well-positioned to counter-attack.

You cannot implement a battle plan that do you not even consider. Here many generals (players) would not even see the possibility of 22/11 and even if they did, they might consider the risk to life and limb too high a price to pay.

However, much of war and all of backgammon is about exercising judgement, creating a balance between risk and reward. Here, the risk is worth the reward. Leaving a double direct shot is relatively rare but this position demands precisely that. In backgammon terms, any move other than 22/11 is a blunder.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Experts 2 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 – Match Play Doubling

Match Play. Red trails 8-9 to 11. Should Red double? If doubled, should White take?

2018 - Intermediate 2

XGID=-a-B-aDAB—cD–ad-e—-B-:0:0:1:00:8:9:0:11:10

For years match play doubling was little understood. Witness this quote from Georges Mabardi in 1930, four years after doubling was introduced into backgammon: “If two absolutely perfect players engaged in a match, there would never be an accepted double.” Match play would be dull indeed if we followed that piece of advice!

Until work began on match equity tables (Woolsey and Kleinman amongst others) everyone doubled as if playing for money. Slowly things changed, and the advent of the bots gave us a huge leap forward. Nowadays most players know at least some of the theory of match play doubling. To be successful in match playyou must know the correct doubling strategies for all the scores near the end of the match.

3-Away vs. 2-Away recurs constantly. The correct strategies for the two players are clear. The 3-Away player should double earlier than usual because the 2-Away player needs 28% winning chances to accept the cube (this figure can easily be derived from match equity tables).

If there is any threat of a gammon for the trailer, then the double should come even earlier. Note that for the leader the cube has no value (he can never win with a redouble) and winning a gammon is meaningless as it gives him more points than he needs.

I had this position against Eric McAlpine in the final of the Scope Charity Tournament earlier this year. I was Red and trailing 8-9 to 11. I studied the position for quite a while and then decided it met the criteria outlined above. The race is even but I am ahead in position and threat. Crucially, White does not have an anchor and hence I could sniff a hint of a gammon in the air.

Much to the surprise of the spectators I doubled. Eric correctly accepted. My next roll was 61 played 13/7, 6/5*. Eric didn’t anchor, and after I soon rolled a set of double fours he was in real trouble. I won a gammon (and the match) with a roll to spare.

The key lesson here is not to be afraid to put the match on the line if the odds favour you. This concept is alien to some players but until you learn that lesson and put it into practice you will never be a good match player. As you can see from the rollout data not doubling here is a blunder. Most experts would get this position right, but intermediates and beginners struggle with problems like this one.

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Screenshot 2018-09-01 16.53.51

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: One Back versus Two

Money Play. How should Red play 32?

2018 - Beginners 2

XGID=-aa–BD-B—dF–ab-d-b–A-:0:0:1:32:0:0:3:0:10

This is a type of position that I often see misplayed and not only by beginners! Red has done well to escape a rear checker and has also made his own 5-pt. Meanwhile White has made his 4-pt and split his rear checkers. What is Red’s game plan?

Ideally, he would like to escape his other rear checker, failing that he will try to make some new points, or if rolls something like 44 he could switch to blitz. However, he has rolled a poor 32 and must decide how to play it. Realistically there are four choices:

  1. 6/1*
  2. 13/11, 13/10
  3. 24/22, 13/10
  4. 13/8

Let us now discuss these in detail:

Move a) is the weakest of the four. White is not threatening anything on his side of the board and Red should not risk getting a second checker sent back having just escaped one.

Move b) looks like a natural developing move but it does leave nine shots. More importantly if White doesn’t hit one of the two new blots he may switch to attacking Red’s blot in his home board as a diversionary tactic. If Red were to stay on the bar at any point, then those two blots represent a large (and unnecessary) liability.

Move c) combines trying to escape with creating a new builder, a sort of halfway-house. This move gives White two targets as he will certainly hit on his3-pt if he can (assuming he doesn’t roll a number that hits Red’s outfield blot). 24/22 puts Red ’under the gun’ unnecessarily.

Move d) is the correct move. It maintains Red’s slight racing lead, doesn’t give White any new targets to shoot at and brings a new builder for Red’s home board. If you read Magriel’s Safe Play vs. Bold Play criteria in his seminal work “Backgammon” you will find that this position meets the criteria for a Safe Play. 13/8 looks somewhat dull and prosaic but it is the right play for this type of position.

When you have only one rear checker it is rarely right to advance it to a point where it can be attacked, unless it is imminent danger of being primed.

Rollout Data from Extreme Gammon

Screenshot 2018-08-22 11.17.09

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: Match Play Complexity

(a) Money Play. How should Red play 32?

(b) Match Play. Red leads 7-2 to 11. How should Red play 32?

Bray’s Learning Curve Match Play Complexity 8-21-18

XGID=–BaB-BBCa–dC—–b-bcbA-:0:0:1:32:7:2:0:11:10

The most common error that I see in backgammon is players not adjusting their play to the score and consistently making money-game decisions, both in checker play and cube handling, in match play situations. At an even score a lot of decisions are the same as their money counterparts but once the score becomes skewed then beware, a lot of things are going to change.

To demonstrate that point let us analyse this week’s position. In a money game it should be clear that the ‘do nothing’ play of 13/8 is not the right idea. Giving White his full roll cannot be the right idea. With two White blots to attack Red may well win with a blitz.

The correct play for money is 8/3*, starting a blitz. The strength of this play is that when White fans, which he will do 25% of the time, Red will win the game with a well-timed double. Red wins just too high a percentage of gammons for White to be able to accept the cube while of course the Jacoby Rule protects White from losing a gammon, i.e. Red will not play on.

Now let us consider the match play scenario. At this match score Red will be doubling much later than usual and ideally in a situation where there are very few gammons for either player. That is not the case at the moment.

Now after 8/3* followed by a fan Red cannot even double! White will accept with alacrity and be looking to redouble to 4 at the earliest opportunity. A gammon with the cube on 4 will get White to 10-7 (Crawford) with his opponent on an odd number which is perfect for him. (Always beware of giving your opponent the opportunity to get to either Crawford or to win the match with perfect efficiency)

Equally well, 13/8 is far too passive. Red needs to improve his position if he can. Is that possible? Yes, it is. It is close, but he should play 8/5, 7/5, making the all-important 5-pt. This leaves one fewer shot than 8/3* but crucially it strengthens Red’s home board so that in any ensuing exchange of hits Red’s stronger board may have a powerful influence and that in turn will reduce his gammon losses. With the score as it is Red wants to reduce the inherent volatility and making the 5-pt does just that.

8/5, 7/5 is difficult to find, particularly over the board where one’s natural instinct is to hit. The key is to make sure you consider the play. As has often been pointed out: if you don’t see a move, you can’t play it.

Match play is far more difficult than money play and although doubling has been around for 92 years we are still only now getting to grips with understanding it, and in match play our knowledge, for the vast majority of players, is still not where it needs to be. – Chris Bray

Rollout Information from Extreme Gammon

Money

Bray’s Learning Curve Match Play Complexity 8-21-18 XG Money

Match

Bray’s Learning Curve Match Play Complexity 8-21-18 XG Match

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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: An Anchor Question

Money Play. How should Red play 65?

8-13-18 Intermediate Position

XGID=-B-BaCB-B—bB-c-c-d-Bb—:0:0:1:65:0:0:3:0:10

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

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: Early Game Dilemma

Money Play. How should Red play 31? 

XGID=-a-a-BD-B—dE—d-e—-B-:0:0:1:31:0:0:3:0:10
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