A Loaded Forty-Five

by Jake Jacobs
10 June 2014

Jake Jacobs

Back in 1980 I had been playing backgammon for one year, and was at a point in my learning where I could begin to evaluate the concepts I had picked up from reading in terms of how strong players were actually playing the game. When you start playing – or at least, when I started playing – I read the best books available (and a few "less than best") and my head was filled with concepts. I knew about making anchors, hitting blots, building primes, etc. I knew which plays the experts recommended for positions appearing in their books, and tried to make similar plays when similar positions arose over the board. But if you have ever been in a consulting chouette you have no doubt heard every concept known to man, and a few known only to your teammates, advocated for a position. Gradually, if you paid attention, you observed that while "the 20pt is a better anchor than the 18pt," sometimes the really good players preferred the 18pt. Sometimes they made candlesticks, or even ... gasp! ... They made the guff. Since they won more often than you did, it was worth paying attention to when they did these things; perhaps by doing so you would also win more often.

One of the strong players played at Rumors, home of the Las Vegas Backgammon Club, in the heart of the Strip. His name was Eddie Green. They called him Fast Eddie. Eddie was very young; I am not sure whether he was legally old enough to enter a casino. But he had gotten his start playing at the country clubs back in Miami, where he would park his bicyle next to the Rolls-Royces and join the chouettes inside. Eddie was ahead of his time. He shifted to playing poker before it was fashionable. He was always short bankrolled, and so he, more than once, lived the dream: hit town in a five hundred dollar beater, and left in a one hundred and sixty thousand dollar Greyhound. Too bad there was no money in backgammon, because he was very, very good.

One thing I noticed about Eddie's game was that unlike the impression gleaned from Barclay Cooke, "slot 'em till you got 'em," Eddie would more cautiously slot and build from the rear, where it was safer. It seemed that every time you turned around Eddie had built a five-prime. Not remembering any particular position of his, I set about creating one that would offer choices, one of which would include making a prime. Here is one.

No plays here! You may make the prime, and then choose your favorite four. You can run. Or, you might make any of your inner board points.

Raise your hands: since I said I was looking for a play where you make a five-prime, how many of you played 13/8, 13/9? What about 22/18, 13/8? Ah, you are too smart for me! Those two plays are pretty close, practically tied for ... fourth and fifth place. Making your 4pt, so you don't leave a direct six, is bit better than those. But making the deuce is clearly better, and running to the midpoint is best of all.
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