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: Red rolls 6-1 and lo and behold the formulation of his backgame.

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

Joe: Black rolls 6-3.


Kit: I believe he moves 22/13.

Joe: OK! I have to admit I got creative. Go back, I did not play that.

Kit: Oh?

Joe: I said I got creative. I didn’t say I’m proud of it.

Kit: Alright, what is Plan B? I want to utilize this time to complete my prime and then break his back.

Joe: Well, I wanted to make sure I had more time and then break his back. I broke the 8-point and hit him with the 6. I have plenty of time to remake the 8- and 9-points, and probably get hit in doing so. This is not as bad of a play as your puke is now signaling.

Audience: Lots of discussion.

Kit: With what checkers are you going to remake all these points?

Joe: I rolled a six and moved out to the 16-point. Seriously, if I move 16/13 and 8/2x, he can’t play a 1,2,3,4 backgame right away, and I can get hit and my checkers are recirculated. This is genius!

Audience: Now we know why you didn’t double.

Joe: I don’t think you’ll find there’s that big of a difference. If anything, I think I like my play still. And I have 1 dollar a point to play it.

Joe: Red fans.  Black rolls 3-2. I remake the point.


Kit: Very good.

Joe: He rolls 6-4.


Kit: So far, your plan worked.

Joe: Black rolls 1-1.  Moves 23/21, 22/21 and 10/9.


Joe: He rolls 3-1.  Forced – bar/24, bar/22.

Kit: And then you crack with…


Joe: He rolls 4-2.


Kit: Now, 4-2. It’s nice to have a 4 to move by the way.

Joe: He actually brings in the two as well. I think he’s supposed to kill 6’s.

Kit: Well, there’s an argument for and an argument against, by the way.

Joe: The argument says you play 6/4…

Kit: … because you want to try to avoid having to put a checker on the ace point.

Joe: You could look ahead and try to kill your 5’s first if you don’t roll a 6 on your next immediate shake.

Kit: So, I think I would play 6/4 but I’m not sure.

Joe: I’m not sure either, but it’s hard to argue with that play. The more I look at it, the better I like 6/4 because even if I roll a 6, it’s going to the 2-point and it isn’t dead and instead of having three viable 5’s, I’ve only got one. I think 6/4 is right.

Kit: One thing Red wants to avoid is making the ace point, because once he does that his chances to win the game really go down. Even if he hits, he can’t trap a checker back on the ace point and jar another one loose. You know, the way backgames are supposed to work but never do.

Joe: Black rolls 2-2.


Kit: 2-2? So where do we want to be?

Joe: Notice what Kit is saying. What’s going on in this position is saying where do I want my checkers?

Kit: To me, it’s a reflex. Bang! – 12/6.

Joe: That’s right. That was my reflex play and the last two plays 18/16.

Kit: You should know that the 6-point is where I want the checker. I like that spare on the 6-point. That’s always good.

Joe: Red rolls 5-3.


Joe: He’s forced to play 6/1, which he could be doing with one checker had he only played 6/4 last time.  He could now be playing 8/5 and 6/1. He now takes a second checker off of the 6-point which is also correct.

Kit: I think this is the right play, although it could be a little too late.

Joe: Black rolls 4-1.


Kit: So, do we want to make the 2-point, or do we leave things the way they are?

Joe: I don’t know. I thought about that a long time.

Kit: Yeah, you lose the spare on the 6-point, but you prevent him from advancing and recycling some things.

Joe: I have a question: Is it a pro or a con? Getting sent back and maybe being forced to hit something deep or recycle any checker versus the time it takes me to get back in and around. My contention was that it is better to get hit and have to come back in and around. I MAY NOT have to hit something. My worst roll would be 5-1 coming in this position where I have to hit him off the ace point, but even if I have to clip another checker back, like off the 6-point, I thought the rest of them would be that much further advanced by the time I work my checker back around.

Kit: However, even granting this to be true, which I think it is, by the way, you want the spare on the 6-point to cover the blot on the 2-point, since that’s where it belongs, obviously…

Joe: Well, maybe…

Kit: Secondly you might want to be holding the 2-point later, and thirdly by playing 6/2 you avoid having to move 16/12 which may allow you to hold the prime longer. So, for those reasons I would make the 2-point, because my third reason is the most important one.

Joe: I played 16/11.

Kit: OK, I’m just not sure…

Joe: Red rolls 4-2.


Kit: OK, he should start with 6/2 in order to give himself no 5’s.

Joe: Now with the 2, does he want to try to advance in Black’s board or does he want to diminish the number of 3’s 4’s on his side of the board.

Kit: I don’t see how coming up accomplishes anything.  I would play 5/3, trying to diminish 4’s.

Joe: Yes, if moving up would get him to the 21-point, I think it would be right, but in this position I think he needs to diminish the number of 4’s he can play which can’t be played on the defensive side of the board.  Once he gets rid of his last checker on the 5-point, he can then play his 3’s 24/21.  So, I think it is clear to play 5/3, which he did.

Joe: Black rolls 6-5.


Kit: 6-5 by you?

Joe: Yep.

Kit: The five is clear 10/5, and the l is also clear 11/5.

Joe: Yes, that was how I played it.

Joe: Red then rolls 3-1.


Kit: OK, this was what he was looking for. With the ace he plays 5/4 and kills his fours and now with the 3 he move: 24/21. Based on what he was given to work with, this was an ideal roll for him.

Joe: Bear in mind this is a very winnable position for Red.

Kit: Provided he doesn’t have to make the ace point.

Joe: Exactly. Provided he doesn’t have to kill any checkers. But even if he makes the ace point, as long as he doesn’t have to put three checkers on the ace point – a dead checker – he has a very winnable position. Nine checkers back leads to a lot of flexibility especially after my last shake. since anything I roll is going to break a point now.

Joe: Black then rolls 5-2.


Kit: So you have to play 10/5 and then move 9/7 with the 2. Or is there something more imaginative?

Joe: Yes, there is.

Audience: You can break the bar point.

Kit: Let’s take a look.

Audience: Make the 2-point with the 5, and then play 7/5 with the 2.

Joe: I don’t want to do that. If he is going to have to play a 3, especially a small 3, I either want him to go down to the ace point or break the 24-point.

Kit: You don’t want to give him 3’s.

Joe: I simply played 9/2 and left two blots in the outfield. It’s the same number of shots – 5’s and 6’s. And I don’t really mind getting hit, although I don’t want to recycle his checkers over there. There is only 3-1, 4-1, 3-2, 4-2, 1-1…There are only about a dozen numbers which force me to recycle a Red checker; that leaves 24 good ones.

Kit: I like this play, I just didn’t see it.

Joe: 5-3 for Red. It’s forced – 12/16x/13.   Then 6-2 for Black.


Kit: (Playfully moving bar/23x) NOT!!

Joe: (After Kit moves bar/18) OK. Where’s the 2?

Kit: I don’t see any reason to leave the blot on the 10-point.

Joe: I don’t see any reason to pick him up. I’m not gonna crunch Red’s timing here, but if I play 18/16 with the 2, I might just get hit with 4-1, 3-2, or whatever, maybe with 5-x, if you’re playing a weaker player. Of course I didn’t expect this player to do that. I don’t mind getting hit, because while I’m bringing these checkers around, the longer I can hold my 7- and 8-points. Then 3-3, 4-4, or 4-3 or whatever for Red can cause him to crush inside. I didn’t see how he was going to hop out, build his 6- and 5-points, contain my checker, and turn the game around in that fashion.

Kit: You played bar/17? I don’t think it’s a really critical play.

Joe: Yes, well that was my thinking.

Joe: Red now rolls 5-4.


Kit: By your analysis, he should not be hitting, but he should definitely use the 5 to bring a checker out into the outfield (21/16).

Joe: He brings the 4 down 13/9, duplicating aces…

Kit: I think that is wrong, and here is why: Black’s 9-point is what the battle is all about. He doesn’t want Joe hitting him on the 9-point and sending him back and now being forced to come out again and hit. Playing the full roll 21/12; he doesn’t mind getting hit on his 12-point. If Joe starts the 9-point, Red doesn’t want to be hit there in the process. That’s my thinking.

Joe: I think the other reason to advance to the 12-point is that you want to encourage me to hit. Aces and eights are 17 numbers while the other play leaves 24. Many people at this point would continue to hit, myself included.

Audience: Kit, would you repeat the reason you don’t want to be hit on Black’s 9-point.

Kit: OK. The reason I don’t want to be hit on Black’s 9-point is that if Black hits me there, I need to reenter and then jump into the outfield again, and I may be forced to hit Black’s loose checker on his 9-point, which I don’t want to do.

Joe: My reasoning is a little bit different. With Red’s outfield checkers on his 9- and 16-points, a hit on the 16-point leaves only the checker on the 9-point to play freely and that’s only a few pips away from his inner board. If Red’s outfield checkers are on his 12- and 13-points, then if either one is hit, the other has more distance to move to get home.

Kit: Another valuable and accurate point.

Joe: 5-4 by Black.


Joe: I just played 17/8.

Kit: 17/12 and 10/6 feels right to me, but it’s probably not a big deal. Joe just made the play which felt right. Again, I guarantee you that at the table he’s not going to go through a bunch of calculations: what happens if he rolls 65, what happens if he rolls 64, blah, blah, blah. Forget that. He’s putting the checkers where they feel right; where they belong.

Joe: Red rolls 2-1.


Audience: The ace is pretty clear.

Kit: It is?

Audience: Yes. Come up to get out – 22/21.

Audience: Doesn’t Red want his loose checkers hit on his 1- and 2-points.

Joe: That’s a very good question.

Kit: I do not want to hit Black. There’s too much risk of going broke. I would want to lock up the timing. I’d play 22/21 and 16/14.

Joe: I thought this was a very tough play. He played very quickly; as quick as you 22/2 and 16/14, just leaping over my blot.

Kit: Yes, I agree with that play.

Joe: I’m not convinced at all. I still think his most viable game plan is to get those checkers in his home board recycled and there are a dozen numbers where I’ll be forced to hit one of them.

Kit: I’d be concerned that 4-4 would come popping out too soon.

Joe: Isn’t 4-4 pretty devastating with your play?

Kit: Not as devastating as they might be later. Anyway…

Joe: 2-2 by Black.


Kit: Nice roll! Phew! Where does everybody go? 8/6, 10/6 is three of them. 8/6 for the last I guess.

Joe: That’s it. I can’t see anything else.

Joe: Now Red rolls 5-4.


Joe: This is where I think he really choked.

Kit: Now it looks pretty safe to hit.

Joe: I think he’s supposed to hit for the same reason I was debating about it last roll. Now Black has only a 3-point prime and Red wants to get those checkers on his 1- and 2-points recycled.

Kit: Now Red doesn’t have to worry He has three checkers in the outfield so he’s not going to go broke.

Joe: But he doesn’t hit. He plays 21/16 and 14/10. I think this is a BIG mistake.

Kit: I agree with Joe.

Joe: 5-3 by Black.


Kit: 5 is forced, 7/2. 3 is easy.

Joe: 6-5 by Red.


Kit: Now he clearly can’t afford to hit.

Joe: Right. He’s put himself in a position where he can’t afford to hit from the 24-point.

Kit: I guess he plays 16/5.

Joe: That’s what he did.  Black rolls 6-4.

Kit: Forced. 6/2 – no 6 plays.

Joe: 6-4 for Red.


Kit: Notice Red’s timing. He’s not able to hold everything. Does he make his move to the hoop here?

Audience: Cover the 5-point and hit 24/18.

Joe: I think the structural damage he does to himself by hitting with the 6 and coming in with the 4….The 4-3 backgame is not viable unless it’s up against some sort of prime. Here all Black’s checkers are on the 5- and 6-points. The scramble to get in and around should be relatively easy for me. I think he shouldn’t hit with a 6. Committing himself to an ace-four backgame; that doesn’t look right to me, either. Looking at this position–obviously his best chance is an ace-three backgame. He wants to stay pure. That limits the choices to: taking two checkers off of the 21-point and not leaving a blot there at all, or coming out with a 6 playing 21/15 and covering the 5-point, which I like a little better. If Black is going to make his 4-point, it really doesn’t matter to Red if it’s on his head or not. In fact, on his head slows Red down a little bit more, so I think he made the correct play which was 21/15, 9/5.

Kit: I agree for all those reasons.

Joe: 4-3 for Black. Plays 7/4x/O.  6-1 for Red.


Kit: Enters bar/24. (Pauses)

Audience: 24/18.

Kit: Probably, but that’s not always correct. Sometimes there’s value to having a third checker on the 24-point, if you have time. Here, I don’t think he does.

Joe: Black rolls 6-2, takes 2 checkers off.  Red rolls 6-2, playing 18/12, 15/13.


Kit: Aiming at making the 6-point.

Joe: 3-2 for Black, playing 5/O.  Red rolls 6-1.


Kit: Starts the 6-point, 13/6.

Joe: As you can see, Red is not only far from dead, but with Black having the gap on his 4-point, and Red’s checkers being pure, once he makes his 6-point, he’s very much alive. And frankly, Black has played just about the best he could have… (Audience laughter.)

Joe: Black rolls 5-3 moving 5/O, 5/2.

Kit: There’s a theme here by the way that is very important coming in against any kind of backgame structure. Look at the numbers your back checkers CAN’T play, and give yourself as many of those as possible. In this case, a 1-3 backgame, 5’s and 3’s can’t play from the 5-point, so pile as many on the 5-point as possible.

Joe: Red rolls 6-4.


Kit: Oh boy!

Joe: Who’s the favorite?  Black to play 2-1 – 6/5, 2/O.  Red to play 6-4.


Joe: Black rolls 3-3. (Much audience laughter and discussion.)

Kit: 6/3x(3), 5/2 is the safest by far. Clear from the back and don’t ask any questions.

Joe: 4-3 for Red.


Kit: That’s a good roll for him. B/21 and stay there hoping to get a double shot. 16/13 with the 3.

Joe: Black rolls 2-1, plays 3/O.

Editor’s Note: At this point, the tape ran out. The rest of the game follows without commentary.






Bar/24, 5/3








24/22, 16/15







Joe Sylvester wins the game and match.

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