Sylvester v. Schiesser – With Commentary Sylvester & Kit Woolsey

First printed in “Hoosier Backgammon Club” July-September 1996 Issue

11 Point Match
Game 10

 Joe Sylvester (Black) – 10
Gerd Schiesser (Red) – 5

(Rollouts from eXtreme Gammon™ are shown as applicable.)


Joe: Black opens with 6-3 by moving 24/18 13/10.  Personally I suggest 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4 are out and down.  That’s just my personal preference.


Kit: Me too, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

Joe: Absolutely.

Red doubles and Black takes.

Joe: Red rolls 6-2.


Kit: As you can see, it’s certainly right to hit with the 6.  That’s one of the things you’re looking for.  If you roll a 1 or a 6, you’re going to hit.  And with the 2, we can either come down and create a builder or we can split because this is a safe time to split.  Personally, I have no preference.

Joe: Red played down.  6-1 for Black.


Kit: Clearly in and hit B/18x. That’s not even close.

Red dances with 6-6.  Black to play 2-1


Kit: This is the first position we have think about

Joe: What is Black trying to do here? Is he trying to escape and break contact?  Is he trying to create more builders?  Is he trying to play safely?  What is Black trying to do here?

Audience: Get some structure out of it.

Kit: The structure play would appear to be 13/10.

Joe:  What about moving 13/11 and 10/9?

Audience: NO!

Kit: That gets more builders but it leaves you in a looser position.

Joe: Yes a looser position but you pretty much expect you’re going to be involved in some contact, right?  If you want to look at this conceptually, you’re going to be involved in some contact because of the blot on the 18-point.  He’s got 27 numbers…28 numbers that come in and hit.  You probably want to play a little more safe.

Kit: You can cut down on those numbers by moving 18/15.  Now fewer numbers will come in and hit and since Red has three checkers back, it would be nice for Black to only have one checker back. That’s another alternative.

Joe: I would think that would be the alternative to playing 13/10, but 13/10 was the play that was made.

Kit: This would be my personal choice.  I like having that asset.  I think that has the highest priority. That’s my judgment.

Joe: And if you’re looking at these things conceptually, we’re looking at a position where I’m going to be involved in some contact.  I want to be a little bit safer. So I make the 10-point and create a little structure.

Red to play 3-2.


Kit: There are two plays that jump out. One is coming in with the three and making the 11-point. Certainly a nice point to have. And the other one is just making the 22-point. Other possibilities might be Bar/20 trying for an advanced anchor.

Joe: That play gives Black good ones, threes and fives along with fours. I think that’s a bit too much.

Kit: I do too. I was just trying to look at the candidates.

Joe: Red decided to make the 22-point.

Kit: I would be inclined to…I can’t say this is wrong, but I would be inclined to come in and make the 11-point.

Joe: One of the drawbacks to making the 11-point, of course, is stripping out your midpoint. That’s something you should always be careful of because suddenly these things become double shots in the outfield. Let’s say I move a checker out to the 15-point, I think of it as a single shot, aces only! It doesn’t bother me if I get hit with a three with two checkers on the midpoint, because he’s going to break his midpoint and cause structural damage, so I only think of it as an ace shot.

Kit: Making the 22-point is quite reasonable though.

Joe: And that’s what he did.

Kit: The key point is since Red has more checkers back it’s very important for him to establish a defense. He’s got to make sure if Black gets by he’s still going to have problems. So this could well be his best play.

Joe: Black rolls 4-1.


Joe: As we prioritize – hitting, obviously, and I would just safety up.

Kit: Why not, there’s no other great ace.

Joe: You can’t diversify to create any more builders.

Kit: Black now has a fairly strong position. He’s got four of Red’s checkers back to one of his so he’s way ahead in the race. Red still has no structure, and Black has the 10-point which he made a while ago to back him up. Black is definitely the clear favorite here.

Joe: Red rolls 6-2 from the bar.


Joe: The two is forced and there’s really only a choice between 24/18 and 13/7.

Kit: He’s certainly not going to move 22/16, that would just be opening up the floodgates. The question is, thematically, does he want to slot his bar point (13/7) in hopes of making it? By doing so, he may get hit, sending another checker back and getting into a backgame. Or should he hop up 24/18 and try to keep Black busy; and if Black doesn’t hit he can make a more advanced anchor and get more control of the position? I think, by the way, the answer is very clear and I think you do, too.

Joe: I think it’s clear too. I think he’s supposed to bring this checker up 24/18.

Kit: Right, Joe.

Joe: But he didn’t. He ends up playing to the 7-point. The drawback on this is 2-fold. One: he strips out his midpoint. Two: he’s slotting a point that he can really only cover effectively with aces. He doesn’t want to make it with the six and give up total outfield control for the sake of a 3-prime. That isn’t much. And what’s more, he’s in a position, now, where he doesn’t want to commit to a backgame of any sort or having that many checkers back. If anything, he wants to create some contact in this point of conflict on the 18-point, whereas if he gets hit loose, he’ll have a number of return shots from the air and try and recirculate some of Black checkers. This at least balances the position.

Kit: The game right now is on Black’s side of the board. Red has got to try and get control of Black’s outer board. He doesn’t want Black to come down with a 2 and get more builders. He wants to create the action now. Just look at the position. Here’s the one position – moving 13/7; and here’s the other one – moving 24/18. These are the types of things I was talking about that you can’t calculate. You’ve got to look and do what feels right for Red.

Joe: Kit is touching on what I said is the point of conflict. You want to see where the action is. What is the point of conflict and concentrate on that area. You normally want to strengthen the point of conflict as much as you can.

Kit: He did in fact slot the 7-point.

Joe: Double 3’s for Black.


Kit: That’s a sweet roll.

Joe: I liked it. The way I see it, Red is falling into a backgame. That seems 100% clear. What I want to do is solidify my structure which, unfortunately, the 5-point really doesn’t do. I’m going to hit first 24/18x of all let’s make that clear. That one is going airborne. But now I have 2 more 3’s left. I could make my 5-point, the bar point or I could continue on 18/15 and come down 13/10. I’m not concerned with the prospect of getting hit on the 18-point. There’s too many checkers back for me to be effectively contained. What I want to do is start to contain those checkers and the best way is through some form of purity so I went ahead and made the bar 10/7(2).

Kit: I’m not exactly sure I agree with this.

Joe: I knew you wouldn’t.

Kit: It looks nice but the main problem is that it gives Red a crack at the 5-point. Whereas if you move 8/5(2) which I think is my choice, the 5-point is yours forever. The thing Joe doesn’t like about this is that you have all these checkers stacked on the 6-point. Those are the checkers that are supposed to go to the 5-point. What I’m worried about is if I don’t make it, my opponent will.

Audience: Is it so important to hit right now? And why not make your bar point
13/7(2) without hitting?

Joe: Sure, confuse the issue.

Audience: What’s wrong with that play?

Joe: I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it.

Kit: It’s not a bad play. The only trouble with it is it gives Red a chance to start building his board. This is one very important concept. Anytime someone has a builder out here in the outer board and you knock that builder away, that’s a builder that isn’t going to make a point.

Joe: This is something I might also point out that I think maybe not computers so much as evolution and time have pointed out. Early in the game, many players through the 80’s and even up to 1991 as far as I can remember, prefer not hitting. They were playing with a lot of finesse as your play is. Just build your structure and leave him alone. Let him do what he wants to do; I can do what I want to get done. I think the computer, especially, as we’re feeding some positions and problems into it, is showing pound, pound, pound, pound – the game’s a race. I think that’s one reason why it goes along and follows the theory of a lot of our opening splits now instead of slots. The game is a race and you want to pound.

Audience: I agree this would be different if he only had 1 or 2 checkers back but the fact is he already has the 4 checkers back.

Kit: These are good arguments.

Joe: Whether he has 4 checkers back, he’s still going to have some sort of flexibility to come forth and make something. Why do I want to have the checker on the 18-point effectively building something?

Kit: Joe instinctively hit the first thing he saw. He doesn’t want that checker to be used; 2-1 makes the 5-point, 3-2 makes the 5-point and whatever makes the 4-point. Hit and get that checker out of there.

Audience: How about a double hit 24/18x 8/2x? If you can get away with it, I would do it.

Kit: All I can say is when your opponent has an anchor, you want to avoid playing behind that anchor if you can conveniently do so. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Joe: You want to play your game with 15 active checkers and the moment you put a checker behind an opponent’s anchor, you’re playing with 14 checkers. And what’s worse, I don’t like it if I get hit, and I hate it more if I get missed. I’m going to end up making that point, then I’m playing with 13 checkers.

Audience: A 5-point with nothing behind you when you’re going to slot the 3- and 4- points to make them are you.

Joe: That’s later in the game. The game has progressed comfortably by now and I want to clear for safety. That’s much more advanced; this is basically an opening position.

Kit: In fact, the reason Joe chooses make the bar point rather than the 5-point is he’s afraid these checkers on the 6-point are going to be cramped and have no place to go but behind the anchor.

Audience: While it’s true that by hitting the checker on the 18-point, you’re taking a builder from that side of the board and also giving another builder to support his backgame and more combinations to make either your 4- or 5-points.

Joe: This is true and Kit verbalizes something you’ll find is very, very prevalent in high open and world class players. The expert and the master will not fear playing against a backgame. The backgame wins far, far greater percentages than it should at a low level of play because the average open player and below doesn’t know how to protect against it. That’s one reason I chose this game and I can show you how to protect against it.

Kit: In the early stages, your aim is to go forward, not backward. Backgames should be your total last resort once you see you can’t win this game going forward. But the first goals are to make sure you go forward and don’t let your opponent go forward.

Audience: There is one more play. How do you feel about hitting 24/18x and going out 18/15 and move one more 3?

Joe: And bring the 3 down? That was my second choice.

Kit: It’s reasonable.

Audience: It’s totally pure.

Joe: It’s a totally pure play and if I get hit on the 15-point, the midpoint has to go bye-bye. At the same time, I still have nice structure of 3, 3, 3. And you recall I spent a lot of time over the board debating between the two plays and decided that since he had 5 checkers back I wanted as solid a structure as possible and I was willing to get involved.

Audience: So you hit and make the bar?

Joe: Yes, but your play is a very close second to me, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know how Kit feels about it.

Kit: I would still make the 5-point.

Joe: We had to disagree somewhere.

Kit: I think all three plays are equal. Anything that doesn’t hit, I don’t like.

Joe: Red rolls 6-1.


Kit: He enters with the one. Now we start to see the problem of the last six he played before. What has happened? The midpoint is stripped. Now if he doesn’t hit with the six, God only knows what he does. If he does hit with the six, the midpoint is gone forever and in this position, it’s a pretty serious loss. However, I think he has to hit.

Joe: He hits! And what’s more, Black rolls 6-ace.


Joe: Black rolls ace-six right back at him. Recycle checkers.

Kit: Again, you don’t worry about sending more checkers back. That’s not a problem. Take away those builders and make sure he can’t go forward. We’ll take care of his backgame later.

Joe: 3-1 for Red.


Audience: In and slot.

Kit: The reflex play is to hit. Now it might not be right here. I would give serious consideration to something like 22/21 just to try to advance my anchor. However, after thinking about it, I’m sure I’d hit.

Joe: Yes. And the reason you hit in this position is you don’t want Black to have a full roll. Again, is Red going to think conceptually what are you doing? We’re going to analyze as qualitatively as we can. There are points where we will have to get quantitative but not at this point. Red says to himself, what am I trying to do? I don’t want Black to have a full roll to build something, to utilize these checkers (pointing to Black’s 3-point prime), to bring builders down. And by hitting on the 7-point, I might actually effectively use this checker on the 7-point to build something on my side of the board. If I get hit back, I have all the more combinations to make even more points in Black’s home board. So I think the hit is 100% clear.

Kit: This is an extremely important concept. Anytime you hit the checker, unless he rolls doubles, he has to use half his roll to come in. He can’t make a point. He can’t hit two of your checkers. He can’t do all those nice things. He must use half of his roll to come in. There are such big arguments for hitting and that’s the main thing here.

Joe: One of my favorite axioms is – When in doubt, pound it out.

Joe: 2-1 for Black


Kit: It seems fairly clear, come in with the two and hit. Again, he’s not worried about the backgame. (Laughs)

Joe: I did not do that. (Lots of laughs)

Kit: Did you think Red had two checkers on the midpoint?

Joe: No. Did I miss something?

Kit: What is Plan B?

Joe: Someone tell me what my play was?

Audience: Many suggestions.

Joe: Wait… Wait… No one has come up with my play. What am I trying to do in this position? Trying to build a prime. Trying to avoid sending too many of his checkers back. I feel I have control of the outfield already and his position is so static and has so many checkers back already, I don’t care if I get a second checker back. To me, he has a backgame already. Why do I want to put a seventh checker back? There’s no way I’m going to untime the seventh checker back, in my opinion. So I could simultaneously unstack the 6-point while slotting the endpoint of this prime and if it gets hit I don’t care. What’s he going to do? Contain me with this nothing over here (pointing to Red’s bar-point area)? He even misses me sometimes. Believe it or not, there are eight rolls that miss, in which case I’m well on my way to making a very solid four prime with only six checkers back instead of seven.

Kit: What numbers are there that miss? Am I missing something? Let’s see…deuces, threes, fours, fives, sixes and double aces.

Joe: God bless him. Please hit me on the 23-point. He might make it hard for you but I contend this isn’t so hopeless a play as you all thought.

Audience: Lots of laughs.

Kit: Thematically, the checker on the midpoint is chopping his armies in two pieces. The thing I do not like about playing 6/5 is it gives Red first crack at starting Black’s 5-point while Black is on the bar. If Red would just come up here to the 5-point with Black not on the bar, then Black has full fire power to go after him. But if Black is on the bar, while Red’s started it, now suddenly Red has a good shot at it, which is NOT what Joe wants. Which is why I don’t like this play.

Audience: What play do you like, Kit?

Kit: Hit him 13/12x.

Audience: What about coming in with the one B/24 and the two down 13/11?

Kit: Why? You want to put him on the bar and take control. I want half of his checkers over here in Black’s home board, and the other over here in Red’s bar area. I build the prime and the half that is here in Red’s bar area cracks. That’s my concept of what is supposed to happen. The midpoint checker is the one I want to get rid of. This is my qualitative way of seeing this position.

Joe: Now the truth be known, I did not roll 2-1 in this position, but I did want your opinions on it.

Audience: Laughs.

Joe: Hey, I can play games once in a while, too. I could have rolled a 2-1 in this position and that’s the reason I brought it up. There’s a lot of contrasting themes and I would have played B/23 6/5 in that position.

Kit: You’re lucky you didn’t roll it.

Audience: Lots of laughs

Joe: I really rolled 3-3!


Kit: So we can make the 5-point stranding all the checkers on the 6-point. We can bring two checkers down or play 13/7 13/10, that’s the pure play. Or we could make the 4-point which leaves lots of direct shots.

Audience: Joe, is this really the roll? (Laughs)

Joe: Yes, this is the real roll. Once again, no one is suggesting my play…

Audience: Lots of suggestions.

Joe: I came in B/22 and down with the other three checkers 13/10(3).

Kit: Interesting play.

Joe: I’m thinking that I’m wanting to keep my checkers in front and I wouldn’t mind making my 9-point with a 4-1. I have a tendency to like an outside prime more than the average bear. I can see where coming down with two and continuing one to the bar might be a little bit better.

Audience: What’s your play, Kit?

Kit: Make the 5-point, what else? I would actually take one down 13/10 and make the 5-point. I would be willing to leave the double shot.

Joe: The 6-point checkers are meant to make the inside points you can’t bring in from the 7- and 8-points.

Kit: But I’m not rolling double ones every roll.

Joe: I could roll 4-1, 5-1, 3-1, 1-1…

Kit: Except for one thing, you might roll 4-2, 3-2 and 4-3.

Joe: And that’s why I like the 10-point. That’s one reason I did this — in case he does make one of those things I want this out here (pointing to Black’s outfield) to keep him in.

Kit: Joe’s play is OK.

Joe: Red rolls double 4’s. Ahem.

Audience: Laughs.


Kit: I think we know where two of Red’s 4’s are going to be. Move two checkers to the 20-point.

Audience: I disagree. He double hits.

Joe: Right, he double hits. He hit my blot on midpoint with 3 of them, thereby seizing the outfield from me and then he hit off the 3-point with that ugly blot on the bar. I don’t think it’s such a bad play. He still has time to roll something to move up and survive.

Kit: I love the way this game is being played. Nobody wants the 5-point.

Joe: You must remember, Kit has played backgammon a lot longer than I have, and still comes from that stone age era that I mentioned, where the 5-point is golden.

Kit: Interesting choice.

Joe: I played the next one right, I rolled a 3-1.


Kit: Now does Red get another chance to make the 5-point?

Joe: Yes but he rolls 2-1.


Joe: Now this is an interesting point where we start to ask what is going on in this position for Red? Red has a lot of different approaches?

Audience: Joe, what is the level of play of the player you are playing?

Joe: Strong open to expert. He belongs in the World Cup but will never win it, at least not this year. He’s not quite good enough to win the World Cup at this point in his career but he certainly has potential.

Audience: Many suggestions.

Joe: He plays B/23 and start to unstack 6/5. Does he care if he gets hit? No. Does he care if he gets missed? No. It’s what I call a double-edged sword play and I look for them whenever I play. I do not care if I get hit and I do not care if I get missed. I have something positive to do in either direction. I think this is a classic, and far and away the best play.

Kit: I agree with Joe 100%. This is the type of play which somebody who is busy counting and computing things might just refuse to do because they might say he’s got 2’s and 4’s to hit on the 20-point. He’s got 1’s, 3’s and 5’s to make the 5-point. He’s got 6’s out. That’s not the way you attack this type of position. You can’t attack this quantitatively. You just have to say from Red’s point of view where do I want my checkers? I want a checker on the 23-point because the 2-3 structure is a strong defense. The fifth checker on the 6-point is doing no good. I want it on the 5-point where I can make a point. If it gets sent back then I go into a backgame. You can’t do this quantitatively. You have to put your checkers where they belong. I think this is a very good play.

Audience: Are you committing yourself to a backgame at this point?

Kit: No, I’m not committing to anything.

Audience: Then why not slot his 5-point?

Kit: Because I don’t want him to get it.

Joe: Right. You don’t want the initiative here. You don’t want him to simultaneously make the point and hit you which he can now do with deuces, so called coming under the gun as Magriel coined it in his book. You’re not committing to a backgame but at the same time it’s a viable option.

Kit: In other words, I’ll let the dice determine what kind of game I’m going to play. I don’t know yet. I want to keep all the options open.

Audience: I have a pretty good idea. (Laughs)

Joe: You’re never really committed to a backgame until you’re behind a 4-prime. That’s like a neon light I’m going to play a backgame.

Kit: He’s got two checkers back. I can contain one of these checkers.

Joe: Until there’s a 4-prime, there’s enough flexibility to maneuver forward, hop out, establish an outside point, any number of things.

Audience: Joe, does this go back to “put them where they will do the most good if they don’t get hit”?

Kit: Just put them where they belong.

Joe: That’s another good axiom – yeah -good concept. But multiple places where they will do you good if they don’t get hit.

Kit: If the other player has a 5-point board, you don’t just calmly slide into a double shot, because if it does get hit it’s going to be a major calamity. Whereas here if it gets hit, it’s going to be nothing.

Joe: 6-4 for Black.


Joe: Ah hah! Crossroads again.  What is going on in this position for Black?

Kit: One obvious candidate is to ignore all that stuff and make the 4-point.  But the problem with that is it strips away all the builders, as Joe’s been trying to say.  The checkers on the 6-point are what you would like to use to make these points.  If we’re not going to do that, the big question is do we hit the checker on the 20-point or do we just make his bar point and let him play?

Audience: That gives him a full roll.  Take away half his roll.

Kit: What’s right?  God only knows.

Joe: I hit off the 20-point.  I don’t want him to make the 20-point so I’m going to hit this first and foremost and then I decided to leapfrog 22/16 to maintain some connection.

Kit: I disagree.  Assuming he hits 24/20x with the 4, I think coming out with the six 20/14 is better.  I don’t want to be sitting in the 20-point because I don’t want the return hit here.

Joe: So you’re more concerned with return hits as opposed to having some connection.

Audience: He’s also concerned for the same reason you want to put someone on the 5.  If he hits you there you could normally make that point.

Joe: Yes, assuming you don’t hit him back.

Audience: Kit’s play is also another builder for the nine.

Kit: That’s secondary.   That’s not my plan – to make the 9-point.

Joe: I’m waiting for the roll that utilizes one of the checkers on the 6-point.  (Laughs)  I’ve been waiting since the second roll for that. (Laughs)

Kit: And the reason I like my play is it gives him less ways…

Joe: How big is the joker here – double aces or double 3’s?  He’s got 7 checkers back.

Kit: I’m not worried about the joker.  I just don’t want him rolling 5-1 and hitting!

Audience: Why not?

Kit: I don’t want to be on the bar.  I want my full roll to make my 5-point.

Audience: Kit, why is the 9-point not important? Aren’t you looking to make a prime?  Joe’s been talking about a 4-prime all the time.  Now we would have a 5-prime.

Kit: It’s not going to last.

Joe: Yeah.  I have to roll in.  And eventually, even with a 5-prime or even 6-prime, by recycling or whatever until I utilize the checkers on the 6-point, I’ve got nothing.

Kit: Right now the whole game is the 4-and 5-points.

Joe: I have a question.  Who’s the favorite right now?  At double match point, who’s the favorite?

Audience: I don’t think anybody is.

Joe: Exactly.  I have no idea.  But I know who the favorite is if I utilize the 6-point checkers to make the 4- or 5-points.  Even so much as a 3-1 or a 4-2.  Even a 4-2 where I just use one of these checkers, I know who the favorite is then.  I don’t know who the favorite is if I come out to Red’s outer board and I get  hit  or  whichever.  Part of my reasoning right now is to not get return hits and to be able to connect these checkers to have enough stability so that I can have one roll from the ground eventually so that I can utilize those checkers.

Kit: Did you get your roll?

Joe: 4-2 for Red.


Kit: He has two options which stand out in my mind. Make the 21-point. The other would be to come in B/23 and hit 13/9x. And my choice would be … I don’t know. What’s your choice Joe?

Joe: My choice is to come in and hit. He didn’t do that. He made the 21-point.
But I think with all these checkers back in Black’s home board, keeping Black busy is what he’s supposed to be doing right now. Like I said, how do I determine that I’m the favorite at this point? It’s in utilizing one of the checkers on the 6-point to build a point. And when he makes the 21-point, albeit a good point, he gives me a full roll from the ground to either hit me or hit two and slot it; then roll 5-1, 5-3 or 3-1 or whatever to make the 5-point. And I just don’t want to let my opponent do that as Red in this position. I think he has to come in and hit.

Kit: I have no idea.

Audience: What’s your fast play Kit? Your less than 30 seconds play?

Kit: One of the two. I don’t know. I might make either play. I really think, they’re that close.

Joe: Black rolls 3-1.

Audience: Yeah!


Kit: Joe, you could have hit 2 checkers.

Joe: No. (Laughs)

Kit: I understand it’s a dirty job making the 5-point but someone had to do it.

Joe: Well, it might as well be me.

Joe: Red rolls 4-3


Audience: Hit. Smack twice. Hit and come up.

Kit: Well, there is a fairly obvious possibility, just to make the 9-point hitting.

Audience: No. Hit and 24/21.

Another audience member: I would play 8/5x, 8/4 and let him hit me again.

Joe: Let’s just take a break for a second. All those in favor of making the 9-point raise your hand? About 10. How many are in favor of hitting and coming up? About 15. How many like hitting two? No fair putting your hand up after I did. (Laughs)

Audience: How about 2 checkers from the 8-point? No hands. (Laughs)

Joe: It’s not that bad and it’s on the same line of what I like which is hitting and slotting. It’s interesting to note that of about 40 people here, I would say the numbers were 15,13 and 12 of the three different plays. I like hitting twice 12/9x/5x and this is the play he made. I agree with him whole heartedly. I think this is a classic double edge sword type of play. I don’t care if I’m hit and I certainly don’t care if I’m missed. I’m making the 5-point which is his goal, not the 9-point. Although I can see the strategy he could utilize if he made the 9-point, it’s sort of the beginning of your structure. It’s a temperizing play; it only puts one checker up which means Black will have to move forward a little more quickly. I can understand the play, but it’s not my style or the direction I would take.

Kit: At the table, I would make the 9-point for the solid structure. I’d want outer board checkers to be used for making inner points. With his play, the checkers are too spread out. I don’t think he can put it back together decently enough.

Audience: You can make the 9-point off the bar too?

Kit: That’s the kind of thinking you should avoid. That’s your computational thinking where you’re worried about one particular number that your opponent might roll.

Joe: And just in general, it’s a bad idea in most scenarios, especially middle or earlier opening to middle game, to worry about the joker. I think that’s a very common mistake.

Kit: If you think conceptually, I just want the solid structure of the 6-, 8- and 9-points which are going to be there forever, which is why I made the play. That’s the right way to think about it. If you think about making your opponent roll double 4’s, that’s the wrong way to think about it.

Joe: Black rolls 3-2 – forced bar/23, bar/22.   And Red comes back with a 5-3.


Kit: Straightforward 13/5.

Joe: And that’s what he does.  6-1 for Black.


Kit: The 6 is very clear, 22/16.

Joe: There’s an argument for four different aces. Do you want to distribute here 6/5, jam here 10/9, book here 16/15 or here 23/22 to work out in the outfield?

Audience: Shouting out many plays.

Joe: How many people want to move 6/5? Sixteen. How many people want to go here 10/9? Two. How many people want this ace 16/15? Seven. How many people want to move 23/22? Fifteen.

Kit: Where are you going?

Joe: I’m moving 6/5. This is where I went and I still like it.

Kit: This is a very important concept. If you know where a checker belongs and roll a number that puts it there, put it there. Now where does this checker belong? It belongs on the 5-point. You rolled an ace, nothing else is urgent so you put it there. You don’t know where this checker on the 23-point belongs, or where this checker on the 16-point belongs, or where this checker on the 9-point belongs for sure; but you know darn well sure where this checker on the 6-point belongs.

Joe: I was debating hard at the table that 16/15 might be right because I want to work on the 9-point. I’m not concerned because the checker on the 6-point does not have anything to work on.

Kit: All I know is, sometime in the future, you’re going to be glad that checker is on the 5-point.

Joe: The reason I did not move 16/15 is if Red makes the 9-point, do I want a checker six away? The only thing that moving 16/15 helps me with is 6-1 so that is why I moved 6/5.

Joe: 4-3 for Red. Not a pretty roll.


Audience: Lots of suggestions.

Joe: I’m throwing out numbers and you’re throwing back moves. How many of you are saying, “What’s going on in this position?” before you shout out an answer? Even if you are coming up with the right answer, you should be doing that anyway because you’re not always going to have a clear thing. Start training yourself or your thinking process so you start gearing in and kicking with this analytic attitude.

Audience: Red wants to get a checker out…two off the 6-point…Red does not want to break the 21-point if he rolls a five so he moving up with 3.

Kit: I agree, moving up is important.

Audience: I would slot the 4- and 3-points.

Joe: You’re my kind of player. That was my play. He played 6/2x, 6/3. He says to himself, “What’s going on in this position?” I’m playing a backgame, I’m pretty sure at this point. I need to get something hit and recycled. There is no guarantee that he will get hit, so I am not sure if this is the correct three. The four is correct.

Kit: I agree with the four. The three belongs 24/21. It’s the same principal.

Audience: How about slotting the point in front of him from the 8-point?

Joe: You want to force him to hit you on the way out.

Kit: The problem is you’re breaking 8-point rather than unstacking the 6-point. You’ve got four checkers on 6-point; they don’t belong there. The other consideration is that you take away the other half of his roll.

Joe: Here’s something I want to interject. When you are playing a backgame, you want your structure on your side of the board to be external as much as possible. You want the 6- through the 9-points built instead of the, 3- through the 6-points.

Audience: The checkers on the 2- and 3-points may not get hit.

Joe: Yes but with this much flexibility, there’s a good chance they will. Red does not have a good option on the 4. He can either go 8/4 or 6/2x, but I don’t think he’s supposed to break the 8-point. He’s trying to keep the external structure.

Kit: The bad thing that can happen to Red is his checkers get totally isolated. The only two checkers in the outfield he has to work with are on the 8-point. When he loses them, he will lose flexibility.

Audience: Then he should have played 24/21.

Joe: We agree that he made a mistake but we must proceed.

Joe: Now genius roller that I am, boxes.

Kit: This is not a good roll by the way.

Joe: Why? I’d rather get it from the air than on the ground. I would have preferred 6-4, but…

Joe: Red rolls 5-1.


Joe: What is going on in this position? What is Red trying to do?

Audience: He needs to get out.

Kit: The obvious thing is to move the 5 out, 21/16.

Joe: The five goes 21/16 into the outfield. His number one priority is to move out. Now for the one. I don’t think you want to open up your opponent’s board, so the one is real clear. He remakes the 21-point with the one.

Joe: Black then rolls…boxes.

Kit: Who says Red can’t go forward?

Joe: Double 3’s by Red.


Kit: 1…2…3…4

Joe: 1…2…3…4…now we are doing the dinosaur. I see it. He moves 16/4.

Kit: Whoa! (Shaking his head) I’d move up 24/21.

Joe: What? Is Red playing a backgame or not? Doesn’t he want to get recycled?

Kit: Is Red playing a backgame? He wants checkers on the edge of the prime so you can jump out into the outfield.

Joe: I want to get hit.

Kit: That’s wonderful, but you need spares on the 21-point to be able to jump out. Did he really play 16/4?

Joe: That’s what he did and I like it.

Joe: Black rolls 4-4.


Joe: This is the number I was hoping to roll when I shook ’em up. Not 1-1 but 4-4. Now we have a chance to get the ultimate backgame breaker. The biggest evil in backgames is to have spare checkers stacked on your prime.

Kit: You can see I grabbed the spares on the 6- and 5-points and put them on the 1- and 2-points. These two spare checkers belong on the 1- and 2-points.

Joe: Actually, they belong on the bar. But to get there they have to start on the 1- and 2-points. I hit the one checker I really wanted to hit – his farthest back checker.

Audience: You might point out that this is another reason why Red was trying to get those spares off the 24- and 23-points to avoid this happening. If there weren’t Red blots then Black wouldn’t make this play.

Joe: Aha, so you agree with Kit’s previous play with 3-3 by bringing the fourth one up.

Kit: And your last four is 16/12?

Joe: Yes that’s what I did for my fourth four.

Audience: As you were saying earlier, you’re not guaranteed to be hit on the 1-and 2-points.

Joe: No I’m not. In fact, he danced with 5-5.   Black then rolls 5-3.


Joe: Before the dice have even stopped rolling, I moved my 3 from 12/9. And the five was clear. I just wanted to hop out 21/16. This was a very nice roll.

Kit: This is how experts make these plays. If he rolls a 1 or a 3, BANG into the 9-point. No questions asked and then see what’s left.

Joe: Now let’s really have some fun.   Red rolls ace-deuce.  Forced bar/23x, bar/24x.  A minute ago, Red had three checkers in the air, and now Black has two checkers in the air.

Audience: Is this a money game? Is it time to double yet?

Joe: No. I want signs of imminent dead checkers because I think my opposition has a take until that point.

Joe: Black rolls 3-2.  Forced bar/23x, bar/22x.  If we’re gonna be pure, let both sides be pure!

Audience: Lots of laughs. Joe, are you saying this is not a double for money?

Joe: I don’t think against this opposition I can lose my market.

Kit: I think Joe is right. From an ego point of view, who would ever pass Red’s position? I don’t care if it’s the biggest pass in the world. Who do you know who would go this far and do all that Red has done and then pass? Let’s be practical. I’m actually being serious here.

Joe: Who do you know who would pass this? I actually think you are more likely to get beavers here.

Joe: Red rolls 6-1 and lo and behold the formulation of his backgame.  (Forced bar/24)

Kit: It think we can now officially call this a backgame.


To be continued…

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