Bold Building Blocks Escape To Produce a Crucial Victory – Paul Magriel

(This article appeared on May 10, 1979.
Back when Peaches and Herb topped the charts with Reunited, Woody Allen rocked the box office with Manhattan,
and backgammon had a weekly column in the the New York Times!)

by Paul Magriel

The American Stock Exchange Annual Tournament under the direction of Susan Bender was completed recently after several months of elimination rounds.  First place went to 25-year-old Michael Rosenberg, a talented young Scotsman from Glasgow, who took up backgammon seriously just a year ago when he moved to New York City.  A natural games player, he had previously gained international recognition as a bridge expert and member of the British Bridge Team.  The runner-up was Charles Silverman, semi-finalists were Robin Katz and Mel Weiss.

The diagrammed position illustrates a critical situation that arose in the 21-point finals between Rosenberg (Black) and Silverman (Red).  Many of their co-workers on the Amex watched as the lead changed hands several times in this hard fought contest.  Finally, after more than 4 hours and 20 games, the score was tied 19-19.  In the next game, Black built an early lead and doubled.  Red accepted and later the position shown in the diagram was reached.  The outcome of the match now depended on the next few rolls.


Black has a definite advantage, despite Red’s lead in the race.  Red’s home board has deteriorated and, of greater importance, Red has a man stuck in Black’s home board.  This man sits on the 2-point behind Black’s broken 5-point prime but is able to run out with a 5.  To win the game, Black must contain this last man.

With the roll of 4-1, Black’s immediate concern is to deploy his men in the outfield in order to get the best possible coverage to hit Red if he leaps out.  Black, however, must plan ahead and consider how to permanently prevent Red from escaping – as long as Red is sitting unmolested on the 2-point, he will constantly threated to run out.  One method is to prepare to attack Red and close him out.  To implement this plan, Black can bring a builder into his home board, 11/6 to hit Red later.  Another game plan to prevent Red from escaping permanently is to form a full 6-point prime.  Accordingly, Black might consider playing 14/10, 11/10 in order to keep all his men in the outfield as builders for the bar point (7 point).

After much thought, Rosenberg rejected both these plays.  Instead, he boldly and correctly played 11/7, 8/7 making the bar point, but leaving a blot on the 8-point exposed to a direct 6-shot by Red.  Rather than wait and give Red chances to escape, Black goes directly for the prime, and so forces the issue at once.  If Red fails to roll a 6 immediately, Black will then be a strong favorite (29 combinations out of 36) to cover the 8-point thus ending Red’s chances.  Further, even if Red rolls the 6 and hits Black, Black may still re-enter and hit Red back.  In the actual game, Rosenberg’s play succeeded.  Silverman failed to throw the needed 6.  Rosenberg covered next roll and easily went on to win.

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