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Play safe or hit loose

from: Marc Werner

Often you are faced with the alternatives to either hit loose or play safe. Some general guidelines should help you to find the right decision.

This is a position (nr. 74) originate from the excellent book "New Ideas in Backgammon" from Kit Woolsey and Hal Heinrich. It shows a typical early middle game, where black is faced with a common key problem.

Position 379, Category Middle Game

Black to play 4 3

Black vs White

Moneygame: Jacoby and Beaver

added at 2/4/2010 12:17 AM, from dongbang

Pipcount: 147(+10) - 137(-10)

1) 13/9 8/5* [show allhide all]
Equity: +0.063 6 ply

Player: 49.78%34.26%15.16%0.36%
Opponent: 50.22%39.93%9.87%0.42%

Pipcount: 140(-2) - 142(+2)

2) 8/5* 5/1 [show positionhide position]
Equity: -0.076 (-0.139) 6 ply

Player: 46.33%33.53%12.53%0.27%
Opponent: 53.67%43.66%9.63%0.38%

Pipcount: 140(-2) - 142(+2)

3) 8/4 8/5* [show positionhide position]
Equity: -0.091 (-0.154) 6 ply

Player: 45.92%32.72%12.88%0.32%
Opponent: 54.08%43.17%10.47%0.44%

Pipcount: 140(-2) - 142(+2)

4) 13/10 6/2 [show positionhide position]
Equity: -0.100 (-0.163) 6 ply

Player: 45.10%35.54%9.35%0.21%
Opponent: 54.90%48.63%6.07%0.20%

Pipcount: 140(+3) - 137(-3)

5) 10/6 8/5* [show positionhide position]
Equity: -0.107 (-0.170) 6 ply

Player: 45.44%32.63%12.53%0.28%
Opponent: 54.56%44.43%9.75%0.38%

Pipcount: 140(-2) - 142(+2)

Software: eXtreme Gammon Version: 1.12

Black has two alternatives. He can hit loose with 13/9, 8/5* or play safe with either 13/10, 6/2 or simply 13/6.

Between the two safe alternatives 13/10, 6/2 looks much smoother, because it does start a potentially (so not very valuable) inner point,  but gives black an extra checker on the 10 point who is ready to attack the white blot without breaking the valuable 10 point in case white cannot escape with his next move. But the downsides of the safe play also weight heavily. If white can escape with his last back checker the next roll and bring him to safety he has a very comfortable and flexible  position where he will lead in the race (after playing the 4-3, black still trails in the race by 3 pips). Also after escaping with his last checker white will have a very easy position to play, simply bringing his checkers home without leaving shots and consolidate his race advantage.

If black chooses to hit loose and gets away with it, he will reach a very strong position immediately, ready to make the best inner point, having a three point board and putting a lot of pressure on white's lonely back checker, also gaining 5 pips in the race. Getting hit will hurt, but black has already an advanced anchor and white no board so he will not face a blitz attack by white (e.g. by a double hit). Even after black is getting hit back he has a lot of ways to win the game for example by installing a back game (not unusual in this position because after the loose hit black has many blots but white no board) or simply to continue the attack against the white blot. The conclusion is that hitting loose has obvious attractions and it is the best move by a very wide margin.

This position is a paradigm how you should handle this kind of positions when they occur in your game.
The key features of this position are:

  • Black owns an advanced anchor and white has no board, so black is in no danger to be attacked in white's inner board or closed out.
  • Black stills trails in the race after his move, 13 rolls (66,65,63,61,54,52,43) bring the last checker to safety, this is too much.
  • Whites last checker is on the verge of escaping completely, leaving black with a four anchor game and a substantially underdog in the race.
  • Black has the better board and White no anchor, so the blitz becomes definitely an alternative.

If all of these criteria are met in this kind of positions you can assume, that hitting loose is the right choice.

updated: Friday, March 22, 2013