Best-Kept Secrets: A Gift – by Sly Sylvester

Flint Area Backgammon News – December 1994

by Sly Sylvester IMG_4598[1]

1994 World Cup Finals:
Black (Sly) – Red (Horan)
3rd Match to 11, score tied 6-6

Red on roll.  Cube action?


Perhaps the best lesson to be learned in this position is that it is equally (if not more!) important to analyze the score, as well as the position.

At this score, we are essentially faced with a 5-point match.  Let’s look at the resulting scores from possible cube actions.  I call these SEVs…Subsequent Equity Values:

Cube Action

Score SEV


7-6 59-41




Double/Win Gammon 10-6 Crawford


Note that Black’s take point (excluding gammons) is right about that of a money game (approximately 24%).

This position would not appear to be very gammonish, but clearly the majority of gammons favor Red.  This is particularly important at the 5-away/5-away score.  Let’s illustrate this by looking at 0-0 in a 6 point match (6-away/6-away) and SEVs:

Cube Action

Score SEV


6-5 57-43




Double/Win Gammon



The Double/Drop and Double/Win equities are very similar.  But, notice the premium to winning a gammon – a 7% increase because of getting to Crawford!  This equity situation clearly suggests that doubling aggressively in a favorable gammon ratio is called for at this score.

I consider the take to be trivial here since Black’s checkers are all still active, he has the bar/mid-point holding position as a first line of defense, and then, lastly, the ace-point game if all goes awry.  Red’s checkers are well-positioned, and, as I said, at this score he should double aggressively with gammons on the horizon.  Verdict:  DOUBLE/TAKE.

Let’s digress for a moment, and look at the most important lesson here:  The world-class player reaches the 5-away/5-away score, and prior to ever moving a checker, knows that he should double aggressively in gammonish positions.  He knows this, and he steers his checkers accordingly.  Sometimes it is even right to make a play that yields less winning chances to augment win-gammon chances!

Secondly, for those of you who are new to this concept of “score analysis first/play the game second”, I suggest you tinker around with the SEVs of various scores at home, and try to work out what types of positions are the most advantageous for you at that score, and how to steer effectively to them.  You will find your opening moves and responses set the tone immediately and probably have the greatest impact on the percentage breakdowns of wins/losses and (again, more importantly) the percentage of gammons in a game.  This is why I say the world-class player knows his SEVs prior to move #1 of a given game.  It’s a little late even at move #2 to start thinking about steering to a holding position or a prime versus prime.

Don’t worry too much, though.  I would guess 90% of all players don’t even know about, or how to, “steer” their checkers.  And, 99% don’t even think about what type of position yielded will give them their best results (i.e. Match Equity) prior to moving the first checker.

I hate to give away too many “secrets”, but I feel that with the advent of neural networks to break down (analyze) positions more accurately, it’s time to open a new chapter for many open and strong open players.

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