Double Back

by Jake Jacobs
13 April 2015

Jake Jacobs

My fellow columnist here at GammonVillage, Stick Rice, hosts a web site devoted to backgammon: The site has two special features that set it apart.

One is a database of openings and responses; the other is a forum. Players of all skill levels post there, and among them some of the world's best are frequent contributors.

Today's position arose in an online game and was posted soliciting commentary and analysis.

It looks as though both players tried for massive backgames, both succeeded in getting most of their men sent back, but Black has now brought his around.

One expert asked (rhetorically) why Black had abandoned his 6pt. Once upon a time backgames fascinated players. The books of the seventies told us that backgames were a powerful tool, but so complex that only experts understood them. Naturally, everyone wanted to master them, if only to be thought expert! There were players who would deploy them every chance they got, convinced that their expertise made them the favorite. I can recall a short-lived Canadian backgammon magazine from the mid-seventies that sent a reporter to the Mayfair Club in New York. They found a number of experts in residence, including Paul Magriel and Joe Dwek. Each interviewee, sooner rather than later, was asked some incredibly naive questions about backgames, e.g. "Do you like backgames?" The players would do their best: "It depends ..." But the interviewer pressed on, hoping for who knows what? "Yes, backgames, those are the secret to winning backgammon! Just play a two-three backgame and you are a ninety-seven percent favorite."

Expert players loved playing people who loved playing backgames! A losing backgame, after all, spots the opponent double for lost gammons and triple for lost backgammons, so one would need to be a substantial favorite in the game just to break even. And even wonderful, beautifully timed backgames do not make one a substantial favorite unless the opponent's position is truly horrendous.

There is something to be said for them if you are playing a really weak opponent at DMP, perhaps. Or one who is in time trouble.

Meanwhile, a game such as the above looks like what might result if two legendary players, Jim Hickey and Jim Pasko, slugged it out. Both just loved getting all fifteen checkers sent back, and Jim Pasko, in particular, has plenty of experience playing that sort of position. He used to play a proposition called Snake against Kumar Motakhasses, back in the day, his favorite side of which was a massive backgame.

At any rate two players did get to this position, and Black has rolled a 54: how should he play it?
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