Backgammon Position #5

Here we are looking at a position in a real money game of backgammon, where the player is facing a classic backgammon dilemma, should you hit or not ?


The two moves that we are considering are ;

(a) 20/15*/13 and

(b) 13/8, 13/11.
How we do analyse these two options and make a decision?

First things first. Let us take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the two players and then decide how black is going to win this game? Key points of the position are ; After the roll black will be 8 pips behind, after play (b), or 7 pips ahead, after play (a). In a race of this length these are not significant differences. The hit will improve black’s winning chances but not by a large amount.

In terms of the strenght of the boardm white has the better home board (4 points made to 2). White has the better checker distribution. Black still has 5 checkers on his 6-pt which is a very inefficient use of his men. After (b) he will have, in addition, 4 checkers on his 8-pt.

Black owns the doubling cube. This is a powerful asset but it also means that gammons are active – remember that this is a real money game.

Before the roll the position was not particularly volatile. Mutual holding games,like this is, are quite often resolved when one side rolls a big double.

Black’s only real winning plan is to win the race. Given the distribution of his checkers he is unlikely to be able to prime any of white’s checkers. So now the question is should he sit quietly with (b) and be patient , or make a run for it and take the lead in the race with (a).

If he plays (b) he will be a slight underdog but holding the cube chances will be nearly equal. If he plays (a) he will take the lead in the race so from that point of view he will be better off but there is one potential downside to the play that we have not yet considered and that is without an anchor he will at risk of losing a gammon if one (or more) of his checkers does get hit.

After (a) White will return hits with 11 rolls (42, 24, 52, 25, 21, 12, 56, 65, 11, 44, 22). Were black then to fan (a), which is a 44% chance, then he will be in extreme gammon danger.

The upshot of this is that black will gain a slight edge after (a) when thing go well, but when thing go wrong he could find himself on the receiving end a gammon. There is an old saying in backgammon that you should never take a knife to a gunfight and that is the case in this situation.

Simply put Blacks’ plan should be :

  • Play safe
  • Develop a stronger home board.
  • Wait and hope for a big double so as to make a run for it

One of the key points is that holding the cube he doesn’t have to take huge risks – he can wait for a better time to break his anchor, for example when he does have a stronger home board.


The rollouts support this approach – look how many gammons black loses with the risky play. Play (a) does win more games but that will not compensate for all the extra gammon losses.