(Another golden oldie from the New York Times of December 7, 1978.)
by Paul Magriel
In the last 5 years, the enormous growth in the popularity of backgammon has resulted in many significant theoretical advances. Even though the game is thousands of years old, many fundamental concepts have only recently been discovered. A new generation of talented young players is spearheading this advance.
Foremost among this new breed is 21-year-old Roger Low. His play combines exceptional analytical ability with a tough competitive spirit. He alone, among all the world’s best players, seems to have the uncanny capacity to effortlessly remember whole series of games roll by roll and move by move. This same capacity has helped make him the uncontested top player in the world at blindfold backgammon.
After attending Cornell University, where he learned to play, he is now on Wall Street training to be a broker, so that he can divide his time between the backgammon board and the Big Board.
In the position above, Low showed his ability to visualize all possible plays. With the roll of 1-1, Black seemingly has little choice because he cannot move the men on the 20-point or 13-point. The routine play is to hit 24/23* with the first 1, and then break the 16-point and move 16/13, putting another man safely on the midpoint (13-point).
Low discovered a better play, which many players would have overlooked – 24/23*, 16/14, 16/15. Again, Black hits with his first 1 and then breaks his 16-point, but now he intentionally leaves 2 blots in Red’s outfield.
By leaving spare men on the 14 and 15-points, Black is able to exert more control over his own outfield. Specifically, Black gains an extra builder to make his 8-point, and 2 extra builders for his 9-point. Black and Red are engaged in a 2-way holding game – in which both players have anchors in each other’s home boards. In such positions, outfield control is often a vital winning factor.
The additional danger incurred by leaving 2 blots is minimal. Surprisingly, the possibility of being hit is only slightly increased (8 chances out of a possible 36 instead of 7) by this play. (Note that the duplication principle is at work here. Red needs 2s and 3s to re-enter, and 2s and 3s to hit.) Even if Red does re-enter and hit, Black has little to fear because he has security of owning the 20-point and the prospect of return shots at Red’s blot on the 21-point.