Backgammon, Part 9

(For Red, the green box is his back field, and the red box is his home field. It’s the reverse for White.)

Let’s look at the home and back fields a bit more. Your back field is the 6 points farthest from you (19-24 for Red, 1-6 for White), and your home field is the closest 6 (1-6 for Red, 19-24 for White). If you’re sent to the bar, your stone returns to the board in your back field, based on the dice you roll. You have little to no control over where that will be, beyond choosing which of the 2 numbers to use, if both of them represent unblocked points (if both points are blocked, you stay on the bar). So, if Red rolls a 3-5, he can pick between point-22 and point-20. Beyond that, you want to get out of the back field as early as possible for a running game, and hang back as long as you can while waiting for the opponent’s blots for a back game.

(Red starts working on making a wall around the home field, with blocks on points 6, 7 and 8. For the stones on point-1, White’s dice will be blocked for each die showing a 5 or 6, right now. )

For the home field, your strategy changes throughout the game. At the beginning, you want to make as many contiguous points for a wall as you can, to trap your opponent from starting a running game. That means blocking point-7 (to keep him from leaving on a 6-5 or 6-6 roll) and then bringing your other stones in to make blocks, trying to keep from overloading all the stones onto just points 6 and 7. You want the stones evenly distributed on your home field blocks to prepare for making the next new block, with at least 3 stones each (having only two stones on a block means that you’re going to leave a blot if you move one to make a different block, which increases the risk of getting hit and making you less flexible).

(White moved his back field stones forward, so Red will throw as many of his stones behind them as possible, if preparing for a running game.)

When you’re preparing for a running game, at first all you care about is getting your stones safely into the home field – it doesn’t matter where as long as you don’t leave blots. Then, if your opponent moves his stones forward from the 24-point, just start throwing blots behind him where he can’t reach them. It does mean that you can’t just randomly hit his blots, because he has a chance of landing on yours when he comes off the board, and that’s going to hurt your chances for the running game. If you do get hit, or if some of your stones are trapped in your back field by your opponent’s wall, then use your chances to move all your free stones to the very front of your home field in preparation for bearing them off. Try to get them all on points 1 through 3 (for Red). Then, if you can escape from your opponent’s wall, bring the remaining stones into your home field as fast as possible and start bearing off as soon as you can.

(Red played a running game but White has two of his stones trapped behind a wall. If Red gets past the wall early enough, he’ll be perfectly prepared to bear off 2 stones per turn, while White may only get 1 off per turn towards the end of the game.)

Bearing Off

There are three situations just before, and during the bearing off stage. In the first, you have a pure running game, and no opponent stones in your home field. The second is when there is at least one stone between you and the tray (or on the bar) as you’re getting ready to bear off. The third is bearing off with at least one stone between you and the tray, or on the bar.

(Situation 2: Red is getting ready to bear off, and White has 2 stones between Red and the tray.)

Let’s start with the second situation. If you have at least one of your opponent’s stones trapped between you and the tray, you’re in a strong position to win (or at least improving your situation). This is where you want to make a wall 6 or 7 points long to prevent your opponent from escaping. Keep three stones on different points where you can to have that extra ready to use as needed (if you have the above board, you can make new points with rolls 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 4-3, 4-2 or 3-2) without leaving a vulnerable blot. Keep bringing up the stones at the back and add new points at the front for a rolling wall. Eventually, you may have points 1 through 6 blocked and one of the opponent’s stones on the bar (which is the ideal). From here, bring the extra stones as close to the 1-point as you can before you start bearing off.

(Red is at risk, having an odd number of stones on point-6, while White is trapped on the bar. A roll of 6-5, 5-6, 6-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 or 2-6 (pretty much anything with a 6 in it and the other die is not a 1) is going to result in Red leaving a blot behind somewhere. If Red goes to the bar, White’s wall will prevent him from returning to the board.)

What you want to avoid is having odd-numbered stones at the points farthest away from the tray. That is, if you have 2 stones each on points 2 through 5, and 3 on point 6, what happens if you roll a 6 and anything that’s not a 1? You take one stone off the 6-point, and the second stone you remove will leave a blot somewhere, to give your opponent a 1/6th chance of sending you to the bar, which could cost you the game.

Always move extra stones closer to the 1-point, if you can, as you jockey for position, even if it means that you can’t bear stones off with every roll. The goal is to minimize the threat posed by getting 6’s or high doubles.

Now, if your opponent has a block in your home field as you’re getting ready to bear off, this makes it a little harder. You can’t land on that block, but you can try to make it work for you. If White has a block on point 1, just build up the rolling wall and try to keep it 6 points wide until you have most of your stones in the home field. Avoid odd numbers of stones on the 7-point at the end, just in case you get double 5’s (or whatever). This is risky, though, because if your last 2 stones are on point-7 and you roll only one 6 (1/6th chance), you’ll only be able to move one stone and the other will be left as a blot that the opponent can hit if he gets a 6 (or whatever) next time (1/6th chance).

(White has a block in Red’s home field as Red prepares to bear off. What Red wants to avoid is rolling a 6-4, because he’d have to move one stone from the 7-point, leaving a blot. He’d also have to move a stone in closer to the tray from the 6- or 5-point, leaving a second blot.)

If your opponent’s block is on any other point in your home field, bring up your rolling wall and just start throwing stones behind the block when you can, trying to keep from having an odd number of stones at the farthest end of the wall in case you get double 6’s (or maybe double 5’s) and end up leaving a blot that the opponent can reach.

(Running game. There’s nothing between Red and the tray. If and when White returns to the board from the bar, it will be BEHIND Red’s stones, where it won’t be a threat. Since Red already has 4 stones in the tray, his odds of winning are very high, as long as White doesn’t cheat by getting high doubles four turns in a row.)

Once you have all your stones in your home field, you want to keep jockeying them closer to the tray to avoid having odd numbers of stones on the points farthest from the tray. When you’re ready, use 6’s to bear off, and all other numbers to bring the blots closer to the tray. What you’re looking for here is to let one of your opponent’s stones escape from their back field, while leaving a blot where you can hit it. If possible, put your opponent on the bar, and block the point he had been on. Don’t leave blots yourself. Keep an even number of stones on your farthest blocks. This way, your opponent loses turns while stuck on the bar, and when they DO get back on the board, it will be safely behind your wall and you can turn this into a running game that you’ll probably win (unless he gets lots of high doubles one after the other, in which case you want to check him for using loaded dice. Or, if it’s the yahoo game, you can complain that the software cheats.)

In situation 2, after you bring your stones into your home field, you have situation 3. Then, once all of your opponent’s stones are past yours and you have a running game, situation 3 turns into situation 1. The only real difference between cases 2, 3 and 1 is that when case 3 turns into a running game, you’ll have more of your stones around points 1-3, and several stones in the tray. In case 1, you may have most of your stones on point-6, while your opponent has already started bearing off.

We can ignore what White is doing tactically. When Red starts bearing off, it’s just Red against the dice.

To be continued.


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