The Big Picture 2

By Perry Gartner and Phil Simborg

In Last Week's lesson of the week, we stressed the importance of looking at THE BIG PICTURE when deciding on a checker play.  We learned that if we first look at the score, the position of the cube, the value of gammons, the take points, the doubling windows, the recube potential--we then have a much better idea of which checker play to make.  After the above "strategical" factors, we then consider another very important strategical factor:  game plan. 

We must ask ourselves, "How am I going to win this game?" and "How is my opponent going to try to win this game?"  We know there are only three basic game plans:  racing, priming and hitting.  One of those three is our best chance and one of those three is our opponent's best chance.  Once you consider those factors, THEN, you can look at alternative plays and see which best supports your game plan and thwarts his.

In the position below, one of our students was not only upset that he made the wrong play, he couldn't really see why it was wrong even after ExtremeGammon told him what the right play is.

Here's the situation:  You are Red.  You are losing 5away/1away Crawford, and you have to play 5-4.  What's your play (decide before you scroll down and see the answer.)

Now, if you made your opponent's 5 point, welcome to the club.  That's a very "natural" and normal play that most players would make, and in many situations it is often the best play.  But here, as you can see from the ExtremeGammon rollout below, it is an 18% blunder.   There are several better plays that win more games.  Making the 5 point was our student's play also, by the way.

Now let's examine this play in light of what we stated in the introduction.  First, let's look at THE BIG PICTURE.  Gammons don't matter either way, so all that matters is how to win the game.  There will be no cubes.  All that matters is which play gives you the most wins. 

Now to the Game Plan.  How is Red going to win this game?  Racing, priming or hitting?   Of course, it's hitting.  And what play gives Red the best chance to get a shot before this game is over?   Normally, when gammons matter and the opponent has lots of checkers to bring in from the outfield, you make your opponent's 5 point.  You almost never get gammoned from there and you put pressure on his checkers on his midpoint and elsewhere in the outfield that he has to bring home.  But in this case, since the midpoint is gone and he only has those two stragglers in the outfield to clean up, what do you think is likely to happen on the next roll?  He's going to clean those up.  Now, you've put 2 of your checkers on the 5 point and that makes it easier for him to bring his checkers in behind you.  Of course, you still have that checker on your ace point, but how effective is the single checker on the ace compared to having 2 on the ace?


Several of the top XG plays you are leaving a blot on your 13, but how often do you get hit and what is the impact of these hits?


Positions like this require you to use MCV (Most Common Variation)--to project what is most likely to happen after you make your opponent's 5 point and what is likely to happen if you don’t.  If you start with the big picture and the game plan, you are more likely to find the right approach and then choose among several plays that execute this game plan.


Now let’s look more closely at the features of the position and the candidate plays:

1.      As a "reference" we know that a perfectly timed ace point game gets shots 90% of the time.  Of course some of these shots come with checkers off so you don’t win all of these, but this reference gives you a better idea of the magnitude of wins compared to the alternatives.

2.      A perfectly timed ace point game means you have an anchor on the ace until the bitter end if necessary.   Without that anchor you risk getting pointed on each roll and with White’s configuration the way it is you are much more likely to be pointed on than get a long term shot.

3.      Whatever play you make you rate to get a few immediate shots, directs or indirects. 

With the opponent’s 5,4,3 point open, the shots you rate to get from an anchor on the ace point game are increased considerably since the 90% figure quoted above is with your opponent owning his best 5 points.  Your timing for the ace point game is too fast to be considered perfect so the 90% number in this position is likely reduced, but because of the 3 open points in his inner board, you rate to get shots on the bear in and bear off that an ace point game by itself normally would not get.

Which of the candidate plays that don’t leave the ace point anchor is best?

A.     Bar/20 13/9.  A and B duplicate 1’s that hit on your mid-point or make the 5 point.    All 1’s that make his 5 point on your head will leave you alone on his mid-point (except 1-1) and yields 5 or 7 immediate returns.  If you get pointed on you may have difficulty extricating this checker early enough, degrading your timing. A plus for this play is that it slots a valuable point.


B.     Bar/20 8/4.  This alternative to leaving the mid is slotting the next most important point to make.


C.     Bar21 13/8. This makes an immediate 4 prime which will jump your equity more than any of the other plays if you hit a shot right off the bat.  It allows many of his 6’s to point on you, so these 6’s  play much better for him than if you come in on the 20 point.


D.    Bar/16. This also dups 1’s but now your opponent won’t ignore you on his 9 point when he rolls 2-1, 3-1, 5-1 and he won’t be making his 5 point. The longer you can delay him making an inner point the more difficult it becomes for him to make it.   It also extracts your checker so your timing is more assured when you don’t get hit.  When you do get hit and come in again on the 5, 4, or 3, this checker could add pressures to your opponent making inner points which otherwise could be made unimpeded.  The downside of this play is that your opponent is most likely to break contact with this checker now and can no longer play a contact role.  This is the play I would have made OTB.  It turns out to be the worst of the options and wins about 1% less games( not terrible).


A, B, and C are too close to call with the 1296 game rollout.  Any of these win  8% more games than making the 20 point.

The BIG LESSON here is all about considering the big picture and game plan (strategy) before you look at the actual moves (tactics).  And you start by realizing that every position is different and there are no "automatic" plays.  If you play this game on autopilot, you will simply make the 5 point and not even look at alternatives, and you will make huge blunders, like this one.