Sly vs. Kurzet Part II

Joe: Brown on roll. Cube action?


Audience: He doubles.

Joe: Absolutely.

Kit: This is a big rewhip!

Joe: Big rewhip! In fact, I guess it’s pretty clear what White should take, but…

Kit: Just to give you an idea how good a rewhip this is, suppose Brown makes the 4-point. Brown is probably the underdog here. But suppose he makes the 4-point and White rolls the double 4’s again. Not so happy now if you’re White.

Joe: One reason why Brown has to redouble here is there are so many market losing sequences. He makes his 4-point which he’s gonna do 28 times. And what if White rolls like any 6 besides deuce-6 or 3-6 – then he starts to crush. He’s under immediate pressure and Brown is perfectly placed to expand his prime.

Kit: This is a must redouble at this score, not even close.

Joe: OK, so Brown redoubled and he took.

Kit: I mean he has to take, he’s still the favorite, but he shouldn’t be liking what is happening.

Brown to play 5-3.


Joe: OK, Brown rolls 5-3. The 3 is pretty clear – 7/4.

Kit: Start the next point or bring the checker down?

Audience: Slot the 3-point.

Kit: That’s me!

Joe: You’re all experts. Going good so far.

Kit: Going right for the prime.

Joe: Yes, you must go for it. I mean for one thing Brown doesn’t have the flexibility. Two checkers back versus 1 checker back dictates that you put the checkers where you want them. If you bring this other checker down 13/8, you can imagine in this position rolling any 6 on your next roll. You’re going too far and you need to be pure so slotting seems pretty clear.

Kit: And so if you get hit you get another checker back. You fan, get better time, maybe. Anything can happen.

Joe: Maybe you will end-up with an ace point game. You get plenty of chances from there. Your checkers are pure. That’s one reason why if you go back to that 6-ace, why it’s so important not to slash down deep. You just have to keep your checkers in play. Purity counts.

White to play 5-2.


Kit: Pretty easy, I think. You could consider making the 3-point but that’s not right.

Joe: White’s objective here is to escape. Hitting takes Brown’s checker out of play and moves to the edge of the prime so it seems pretty natural. So we can reject making the 3-point. So there’s the deuce 24/22* and the 5 seems pretty easy 9/4.

Kit: Look how good the builders are for White’s 3-point.

Brown to play 2-1.


Joe: Okay, there’s a debate coming up here. Brown rolls 2-1.

Audience: Makes the 23-point. No, move to the 22-point.

Kit: I know what my play is here and I have a feeling Joe did the same thing.

Joe: OK, first of all I want you to look at it for a while. All in favor of moving up to the 22-point?

Audience: (About half raise their hands.)

Joe: All in favor of making 23-point?

Audience: (The other half raise their hands.)

Joe: Even split. Once again you have to get back to what your objectives are in this position. First of all, coming up to the edge of the prime is not the number 1 priority. If White rolls a 6 he pops out, if he rolls anything else he points on you. It sort of negates the whole play the whole roll. Also, an important thing to realize – and this is good because it will shoot us off into a short tangent. If the game goes awry here for Brown – as it’s starting to already – what’s likely to happen is that White points on Brown on the 23-point and Brown comes back in, then White escapes and Brown ends up with an ace point game of questionable timing.

Kit: Very questionable timing.

Joe: In decisions of questionable timing, you are better off with the deuce point. I’m glad I’m lecturing with Kit now. If Kit and I share a view on anything…

Kit: That would be…

Joe: That the 23-point in questionably timed positions is better than the 24-point. The 2-point game is better than the ace point game.

And this is one of the first projects I did when I started out playing backgammon about 10 years ago. I always thank Fleet Underwood and give him credit ‘cause he’s the one that prompted me into this game. He came over and said, “Well let’s look at this thing.” He had this little simulator. What we did is put the 2-point against the prime and the ace point game against the prime, and we rolled the prime in to see when it left shots, etc. And as we expected the ace point game yielded about 90% shots. And the deuce point game yielded about 75% shots. The only difference, the major difference though, is that the deuce point game was it was getting shots earlier. It was getting shots when, let’s assume Brown has the deuce point game here.

Brown was getting shots when White was getting 5-6-7 checkers off, and the shots were quality shots. The ace point game was getting 90% shots but a lot of that extra 15% was hitting the 15th checker. They were not quality hits by any means.

So we started to assign a figure for this. When a shot came, we assumed it got hit 30% of the time, and we assigned a value. And when we multiplied it out, we discovered in a non-gammon situation, the ace point game yielded about 22.4%, the deuce point game yielded about 25.2%. In terms of victories, the deuce point game actually outplayed the ace point game.

If I could continue for another second. One of the keys to the whole thing is that you have to bear off correctly against each of the games. The general strategy when you bear off against an ace point game is to clear points minimizing the shot values – clear the points quickly.

When you’re bearing off against the deuce point game, you should be peeling checkers off aggressively. That means taking a little bit of extra chances. Maybe leaving yourself somewhat uneven.

What generally happens is that people will bear off against the deuce point the same as the ace point game. To keep an even configuration on the outside, they take one checker off and start moving the other one to the ace point instead of peeling it off.

What generally happens is the ace point starts to apply suction. So much so that a shot with a deuce point game, is a lot of times a winner cause there’s only 9 checkers off or so. White may only be a 40-60 dog, ‘cause there’s a suction applied on the ace point.

Whereas the last ditch shot for the ace point, well that’s with 14 checkers off. That’s like saving a gammon if he hits. He’s only about 7% to win.

Kit: And also, another big consideration in making the deuce point is what does White want to do? He wants to escape his checker, but assuming he can’t do that, basically he wants to roll his prime in. Suppose White rolls something like a 4-3. With the deuce point open, he can just make the deuce point and smoothly roll it in. But now let’s put the deuce point in White’s face, now White can’t do anything. And another point, you might think, “Gee, I want to come up to that 22-point so I can escape.” But is that Brown’s game plan – to get into a racing game? No, he’s way behind. Do you want to play a 3-point game? No, because a 3-point game isn’t going to get nearly as many shots as a 2-point game. So for every reason you can look at, the 2-point is better.

Audience: One of the reasons that I want to come to the 22-point is not to make it, but Brown’s game deteriorates quite a bit if White rolls a 6 next time. I want to have a checker putting some pressure on the guy who’s on the backside of his prime. I don’t want him to be able to use the 6 freely to come out.

Kit: Let’s say he does. White rolls a 6 and moves in from the dark side of the prime…

Joe: He gets 4 shots, so what?.

Audience: Well at least you get “a” shot as opposed to other variations you get “no” shots.

Joe: You have a debatable argument there. My personal feeling is that it’s more important to establish some sort of foothold that I want to have. And the major swing for me in this position is, as Kit said, most of the 4’s for White play awkwardly and are going to go behind me. This strips his prime. The other thing is, if he rolls a 6 I don’t think it’s terrible for him to point on me if that’s a consideration with 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.

Audience: But if he does that, he’s still stuck, he still needs another 6 to get his last checker out.

Joe: He probably has the time to do it. I really don’t know whether he should make the point or come out. I really haven’t looked at that.

Kit: We’re both very strong on making the deuce point.

Joe: OK, we’ll move on.

Joe: White rolls 4-2.


Kit: Unlucky.

Joe: Any thoughts?

Kit: You know maybe we should make that 2-point.

Joe: OK

Kit: This rolls itself really indicates, really shows just how…

Joe: This is probably his root number here.

Kit: It’s pretty scary.

Audience: I hit him on the ace and 9/7. Just punt!

Joe: That’s what he did. I think it’s right. I don’t think you can justify leaving 20 numbers which not only hit but move up to the edge of the prime.

Kit: You can’t do anything. He’s allowed to play 9/5 and 6/4, though it would pretty ugly.

Joe: It’s a lot of ugly! Let’s look at what Kit’s saying here for a moment not leaving any shots at all. Imagine any scenario where Brown rolls a 3. And now White comes in ace-4, ace-5, ace-6…


Showing the position if White had played 9/5, 6/4.


Kit: If he doesn’t roll a 3 and White doesn’t roll a 6. Scary.


Audience: Still looks bad.

Joe: So he can’t afford to strip out his position, ‘cause that position leads to a gammon and costs him as much as 59% extra in match equity.

Kit: A slot here is scary ‘cause it makes every number for Brown good. He gets hit on the 3-point with 1’s and 2’s, and hit on the 22-point with 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s. That’s giving Brown a lot.

Brown to play 5-2.


Joe: OK, next big decision. Brown rolls 5-2.

Audience: Smack him. Hit.

Joe: OK, what’s your reasoning those of you who say “smack him”?

Audience: (Various answers.) Well, you don’t want to give him a free roll here …Yeah, you don’t want him to get away… If you let him come down, you let him get 11 rolls that are absolute crushers…If he hits you back, you can go into some kind of back game… This makes him make more decisions…You’re going to crash anyway-need to get out here.

Joe: How about 13/8?

Kit: That’s my play.

Audience: I like this one.

Joe: This was mulled over by 6 experts when we looked at this afterwards, and they went 4-2 in favor 13/8. I, however, am a hitting fan. I don’t want to give him the free roll to get out. I want to maintain the double edge sword. I feel that if I get hit here, I can fall into a backgame. If I don’t get hit here, if he fans, I don’t mind. I felt as though I had 3’s, 5’s and aces to play if he danced. And if he came in, he might come back in on the ace point. Now he’s no longer up to the edge of the prime. Now I really have some potential at crushing his position.

Audience: How come you don’t bring those guys out of the back?

Kit: What Joe’s hoping for is that they get stuck back here which would give Joe considerably more time. Which is a reasonable argument, but I would still try and break it. White’s one roll away from really screwing up his position. Next 5 or 4 stinks. For that reason I would just assume he’s not gonna roll a 6.

Audience: Did we help his timing? Did we help White’s timing from here?

Kit: Maybe, maybe not.

Joe: He comes here with the ace and deuce, if he comes in on an ace, I’ve gained immensely. If he comes in on a deuce, I might be able to make the 8-point with the 5 instead of the 3-point, in which case it’s almost the same effect as if he’d come in on an ace. I’ve pushed him back so he needs an ace and a 6 instead of just an ace which he needs now. If he hits me with a 3, I feel I have something to fall back on. So it’s a relatively close debate.

Joe: Lo and behold! White rolls ace-4.


Kit: Oh what a cheese!

Audience: Nice play Joe, I will say!

Kit: He doesn’t have any choice with the 4 obviously. He had to come in with the ace.

Joe: Wait, wait, wait. No, no, no. He did not roll ace-4.

Audience: Laughs

Kit: What he really rolled…?

Joe: He rolled 3-1.


Kit: 3-1!

Kit: He played 6/5 I assume?

Joe: Yes he played 6/5.

Brown to play 3-1.


Joe: Now, Brown’s really got a lot of decisions to make. He’s starting to feel a little tense.

Audience and Kit: Oh yeah. Well! (Laughter)

Kit: The question is now do you want to win this now or later?

Joe: Why don’t you leave all your options open?

Audience: I like making the 3-point.

Kit: Your 2 options are to make the 22 or hit twice. The real question is what’s gonna happen to his timing if he hits twice. Can he survive it?

Joe: Do you really have the timing for a deuce-3 game here?

Audience: No…Yes…No

Kit: Do you really have timing to survive your worst plays?

Audience: You hit on his ace and on your 3…

Joe: And I pray that he fans…absolutely!

Audience: And does he fan?

Joe: You have to remember, I get such a huge premium. I go from 41% to 100% if I get the gammon. Look what will happen if I hit twice and he fans. I’ve got 5’s and some 4’s to cover, aces and deuces to come up, 3’s and 6’s I can handle from the 13-point. With this flexibility 55% of my numbers come up 20 aces and deuces. That’s a lot of flexibility actually. It’s a tremendous difference with this guy on the deuce point.

Kit: And guess what Joe, I would make the 22-point.

Joe: You make the 22. Well once again, there was pretty heavy debate about this play. But I say this, everyone who hit on the 24-point also hit on the 3-point. So at least there’s a consistent theme going on here.

White to play 4-1.


Joe: Now he rolls ace and 4. OK, so this is good. I’ve got him right where I want him. And in fact, if I could pick something here, I would have ace-4, ace-5, and ace-6. More so than him dancing with both. And far more so than if he’d come in with ace-deuce or something like that. I want him with a checker there so when I make a prime he’ll have numbers like ace-five and deuce-five. You can see what that will do to his position if I make the 8-point.

Kit: After coming in with the ace, Joe’s not much of a dog in this position.

Brown to play 4-1.


Joe: Ah, so we’ve had some tough plays for Brown so far, and so Brown keeps it up by rolling 4-1.

Kit: Oh 4-1, This does something.

Audience: OOH! (Laughs)

Joe: We had a couple of options on each of the last plays, now look at the options here. We can just cover the 3-point and make our 5 prime. We can cover with a 4 and slid up to the 23-point so we have that 6 to escape. Or we can make the 8-point, leave the block here, so not only ace-5, deuce-5, but 3-5 is a disaster. Not only did we get hit but we have 2 blots over here. Build our prime and maintain our flexibility. Now there’s 3 solid options.

Kit: I’ve got the play.

Audience: It’s easy, yeah easy. You cover and then you come up.

Joe: I felt as though getting hit on the 3-point with anything other than 3-5 was going to be a huge detriment. I really don’t have the flexibility, now I’m a big favorite to come in and crack. Now my prime would crack.

Kit: The problem with playing 13/8, which might not be immediately obvious, is you lose a man to play with, now he must be part of your prime.

Joe: Exactly.

Kit: White comes in and hits, and you’re in, and oops it goes away. Whereas if you play 8/3, now you’ve got your prime advanced a little bit. Still blocking him, and now you’ve got the checker on the 13-point to play with.

Audience: So what about the other options?

Joe: We discarded 13/8. The option would be 7/3, 23/22. Now this still leaves a man with ace-5 but that’s really about it. I’m giving him 8 numbers off the top. Six numbers to hit me on the 8-point.

Kit: It’s worse than that, ‘cause if he comes in and slashes on the 22-point, now suddenly your 5 prime is not together, big difference.

Joe: The whole gist of my game is that I’ve gotten the cube on 4, I need to gammon him. I need to loosen some checkers, I need to create some sort of gammon material. This is not it. I can’t possibly hope for him to come in and grab with this ace-5. Two numbers is not enough to root for. The other problem with position is let’s say I do get away with this. Let’s say he comes in with ace-X and does not slash me or fans, which is a huge cross-section of the games. Now I’ve duplicated my aces and 6’s. I need aces and 6’s to make the bar, I need aces and 6’s to come up and then come out. What if I roll 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s?

Kit: Brown’s main problem is he’s got 4 checkers back which means he’s only got 11 checkers to work with. When you’re short on checkers, they’ve all got to go to the right place. You just don’t have any spares to juggle things around. Where’s the right place? The 3- through the 7-points. These are the 5 points you want.

Joe: So you make the 3-point from the 8?

Kit: Consider it done.

Joe: Something Kit says is very important. Very thematic to every thought you should have in backgammon, and it parallels with the purest thought. You put the checkers where you want them. That includes slotting. That includes making points. In this particular instance, I have 10 checkers to work with. Where would I ideally want them? I want on the 3- through the 7-points. I already discounted points 4 through 8 because I didn’t have anybody extra to play with. So that’s where I want my checkers.

On the previous play, when we had ace-3., someone said, “Well you got 3-1, isn’t this where you want 2 checkers?” And my answer to him was NO. I want 2 of his checkers on the BAR! I want them in the air because I want to force him back. When you think sometimes – when you’re stuck on a problem, one of the things you can say to yourself is, “Where do I want my checkers?” AND PUT THEM THEREI THEY BELONG THERE! If they get hit, if the penalties are too great, you’ve got something to fall back on. If they don’t get hit, you’ve accomplished your goal.

Kit: The point is this. When Joe made his 3-1 play, of hitting 2 rather than making the 22-point, his plan was to win going forward. He’s going to build a bigger prime and make the other guy break. He gave up on the backgame when he made that play. If he wanted to steer toward the backgame, (which would have been my choice, but his choice is reasonable), he would have made the 22-point. He’s not trying to make the backgame.

Audience: How are going to win forward?

Kit: We’re going to get out by him coming in and having his board to go to hell. See, the whole key to this position is the checker on the 13-point. This guy is 12 pips of movability. White doesn’t have that.

Joe: Ok, let’s continue. White rolls 6-5 and fans.

Brown to play 3-1.


Joe: Brown rolls 3-1. I played 13/10, 23/22.

Joe: OK White fans with 4-3.

Brown to play 6-2.


Audience: That’s what you call talent.

Joe: All right 2-6 is nice but basically any 6 is a good number.

Kit: All he needs is one more man to get out there…

Joe: One more to get out here, I have flexibility. White rolls 6-5 again.

Brown to play 5-2.


Joe: That seems pretty easy right? 16/11, 10/8.

Kit: By the way this slot is correct. You don’t worry about the 2-6. He’s not going to roll it.

Joe: 2-6 is a great number for him anyway.

Kit: Another example of putting the man where you want him. Don’t worry about the nightmare.

Joe: Exactly! White rolls 5-5.

Brown to play 1-1.


Joe: Brown has another problem. Brown rolls double 1’s.

Audience: That’s a problem?

Joe: It’s a NICE problem, but it’s a problem. Three of them are clear 23/22 and 11/9. The problem is being down 3 to 8 in a 11-point match.

Kit: The question is – Is the last checker better moved by making the prime, or does he bring the 3rd checker up?

Joe: All in favor of the prime say raise your hand.

Audience: (A few hands were raised.)

Joe: All of you in favor of coming up?

Audience: (A few more raised hands.)

Audience: (Laughs) If you’re going get the gammon, what would be the most likely move?

Joe: I came up with both guys to the 22-point. And I left a guy on 11-point and plopped him in here 8/6.

Kit: I STRONGLY disagree with this play by the way.

Joe: Now, I give myself a 6 to spring without having to leave blots on the 22 and 23-points. I felt if I make this the 8-point, I was saying, “Hey I can roll a 6 on my next roll. I got a 6 prime, I’m just going to end up in this position anyway.”

Kit: You’re going to roll a 6 up here anyway? I think you really miss the boat, cause if you roll the 6, you’re gin.

Joe: I don’t feel I’m gin.

White to play 5-1.


Joe: Ok, and sure enough 5-ace.

Kit: Oh my!

Joe: Well, as you can see Kit’s play would have worked much better, ‘cause the 5 would be forced to slash and we would have somebody to shoot it. But Nooooooooo. Not me. He moved bar/24 and 7/2.

Brown to play 4-1.


Joe: I played 11/7, 6/5.

Audience: Well if we want to get that extra man from there, why don’t we slot on the 2-point.

Kit: We do not want to get hit here. Slotting is not right. If he comes up, we need every gun we can to blow him out of the water.

Joe: And if we slot, this checker on the 11-point and nobody to hit with.

Audience: But at this point you don’t have any time. He has time.

Kit: He’s on roll. He’s in BIG trouble. We’re at the edge of his prime, where is he?

Joe: His prime’s coming down.

Kit: But also, some numbers he can’t even play. Brown can play 5 pips here from the 7-point, 3 pips here from the 5-point. White can play no pips anyplace.

Joe: I can handle any number.

White rolls 4-1.


From the editor:

And so, backgammon fans, here’s where the transcript ended…

Just when it was getting exciting too!

So here’s your assignment – should you choose to accept it – I challenge you all to play it out from here on a board or on the computer, and see what happens. Try to get a feel for how to play this really interesting prime vs. prime game.  Some tricky questions will come up.

In the meantime, the editor is attempting to see if a continuation of the transcript or record of the moves exists, and if it does, we’ll get it up as soon as possible.

Sylvester vs. Kurzet – Part I

Joe Sylvester vs. Jay Kurzet
Round 1 of the 1993 World Cup

From the transcript of a 1993 lecture by Joe Sylvester & Kit Woolsey
With updates from eXtreme Gammon™ as appropriate.

Joe: So what we are going to do up here today is we are going to look through a backgammon game and give you our thought processes on what goes into various stages of the game, the match, the match equities, etc.

Audience: Who are you guys?

Joe: Kit Woolsey is an esteemed bridge player who occasionally plays a little backgammon and we are graced by his presence when he does. My name is Joseph Sylvester and I play a little backgammon.

So it happens the other day that I did play a little backgammon. And I encountered a very exciting game. It was against Jay Kurzet and it was in the first round of the World Cup and the score was 3 to 8 in an 11-point match.

Kit: Joe will probably go into more exact details of the match equities, but in general with White (Kurzet) having only 3 points to go and Brown (Sylvester) having 8 points to go, it means that Brown will be much more aggressive in doubles and takes.

Joe: Someone said that in your basic holding positions etc., White should be upwards of 70% or so at least to double.

Kit: He is talking here about holding games, but a complex game is a different story. Basically, White almost shouldn’t be doubling if it is a complex game.

Joe: Exactly, you should not be doubling. And as I watch the first 2 or 3 days of backgammon here in the World Cup – there are your experts, your World-Class players, the best players – and that is clearly the most common mistake they are making. Time and time again, players will lead in a match and give up cubes in volatile positions that should clearly just not be given.

Kit: One further point, because of this in the opening plays, White should aim for nice simple games like holding games and races. Brown should aim for the complex games for exactly that reason. Brown has all cube leverage in complex games.

Joe: Absolutely. It’s a concept that I call steering. To give you a quick example of steering positions, let’s say White is trailing here 3-8 and has an opening 4-3.  White should clearly play 2 checkers down 13/9 and 13/10. The reason being that approximately 60 to 65% – closer to 65% – of the time, what develops in this position is a prime versus prime game. And when prime versus prime comes up, those are really your gammon swings that occur in a match. One side breaks down leaves a blot, gets hit, and ends up with 3 to 4 checkers back on the ace point. These are very volatile positions.

White to play 4-3 down 3 to 8 in match to 11.


To really understand why you as a leader would not want to have a prime versus prime game, envision the score at 5-3 in a 7-point match with the cube on 2. If you are the leader the gammon has absolutely no value to you whatsoever. However, as the trailer, the gammon means as much as a victory for the leader. So if you can increase the number of gammons, that is the type of position you want when you trail.

Kit: Now guess how Brown should move when ahead in a match with an opening 4-3 roll. Any guesses?

Audience: One up, one down.

Kit: You better believe it!

Brown to play 4-3 up 8-3 in a match to 11.


Joe: Exactly. Approximately 70% of the time, what occurs from here are holding positions, OK? The general response here is White comes down and slashes Brown. Brown has 26 numbers to hit back, hits are exchanged, 3-4 checkers get sent back, and the added flexibility really helps establish advanced anchors and holding positions…the coin flips of backgammon.

Your basic holding positions – generally what happens is one side convoys out on the other one, it becomes a race and sometimes a shot is given on the midpoint, but there is not cube action until that point. Either the shot is hit or the guy blows by on the race. It is not a gammon-type of position.

Kit: By the way, these are really clear-cut. Now, how you play the normal opening for a 4-3 even match score, that’s up in the air, it’s a matter of personal preference, some people bring 2 checkers down, some people split and bring 1 checker down, I don’t know what’s correct, Joe doesn’t know what’s correct, it’s what you like best. But at these scores, it is clear which is correct.

Brown to play 4-3 tied 8 to 8 in a match to 11.


Joe: If you are playing someone for money and you consider yourself stronger, you will generally want to bring the 2 checkers down. Perhaps you will want to bring the 2 checkers down because if you enter a prime versus prime position, with the timing elements it will be played at a really advanced level, it’s a complex part of backgammon. If you are the better player, in theory you should be able to handle it better. Conversely, if you are playing someone for money and you feel weaker, then you probably want to establish the holding position and play that type of game. It will bring less variance into your position.

11 Point Match

Brown-3 White-8

White to play opening 5-2?


Joe: White starts with an opening 5-2 by moving 13/8, 6/4. Here’s an example of something I don’t think I would start off the top of the game with anyway. I have heard pros and cons with regard to something like this for money, but to me this is somewhat like trying to establish a prime versus prime position. If Brown doesn’t hit, he’ll probably bring 2 down, White will probably build a point, Brown will build a point. I can see this evolving into a prime versus prime much quicker than a standard 5-2 opening.

Kit: I agree. Even though this is my personal preference for an opening 5-2. In a match at this score, I definitely think it is what Brown should do and do not think it is what White should do. All for the same reasons.

BROWN to play an opening 5-2.

Audience: What do you suggest White do? Play 2 down or split the back checkers?

Kit: Both are reasonable.

Joe: I want to put myself on record for saying that this deuce-split from Magriel’s book of the 1970’s that the world has so much chastised for years, isn’t as bad as its press. It isn’t my favorite. You can get blown away with double 3’s or 5’s, but you get blown away with those anyway.

Brown responds with 5-4.


Joe: Brown responds with 5-4 by moving 13/8, 13/9.

Kit: This is definitely right! It is not right for Brown to run in this position. He is not being threatened with a prime, he’s being threatened with an attack. What he wants to do is build his own counter-prime. His own board. The checkers on the 24-point can sit and wait.

Audience: Would you consider moving the 4 to the 20-point?

Kit: It’s dangerous for the same reason. You could get attacked, he hits and covers and all of a sudden you’re in trouble. You do not need that. The back guys are quite safe where they are. Brown builds his own prime and White builds a prime. Brown has the priming valve that he wants. By sliding you risk a disaster without any real gain if you get away with it.

Joe: You don’t want to enter into the mutual holding game. You are trying to create that prime versus prime position.

White to play 4-3.



Joe:  White covers with the 4 and moves the 3 to the 10-point.

Kit:  Certainly reasonable.  White should not be coming up to the 21-point because he would be coming under the gun of 3 or more builders since Brown brought his checker down.  This is why White should have made the effort to get out earlier, before Brown brought the checker down.  Now it’s a little more dangerous for the split.

Joe: Brown responds with 4-1 making the 5-point. White rolled 6-1 making the bar point.

Kit: Notice what’s happening!

Audience: Prime versus prime.

Kit: Prime versus prime. What Brown wanted and what White should have avoided. This is all largely because of White’s choice on his opening roll. This is how the game evolves. I have gone through a lot of matches and I have seen this time and time again. Your choice on the opening roll so often determines what type of game it is. This is the perfect example.

Brown to play 4-1.


Joe: Brown plays 4-1 by moving 13/9 6/5. He’s using the same bait of diversifying and creating builders.

Kit: What do you think about slotting the bar point here?

Joe: I really don’t want to give White the tempo in this position of hitting that shot. If Brown gets hit and comes in, he’s not necessarily a favorite to hit White back here. I feel as though I’m aiding White in establishing an advanced anchor and getting into the holding position I’m trying so hard to avoid.

Kit: I agree. And also the builder is excellent. Brown has a lot of ways to make points. And another thing by the way, even though White stole the bar point, Brown should not be in a hurry to come out here. He’s just going to get pounded if he does. So he should just sit back and build his own prime. Then see what happens. That should be Brown’s approach.

Joe: Getting back to the advanced concept of steering the position to match score. Coming out to the bar, even if it does succeed, that’s the one thing that Brown would want to avoid in this position. Let’s say he comes up there and White hits, Brown hits back, during that interval of time when White is coming in and Brown is hitting back and coming up, White has a 3rd or 4th checker back to establish an advanced anchor. If White doesn’t establish an advanced anchor, Brown cashes the game in a hurry. Which is fine and dandy, but down 8-3 it’s not the position we are striving for. We are striving for the prime vs. prime position where White’s cube is completely inhibited. White can go to as high as 70-75% in some sort of timing battle and really not be able to double. Because if he does cube, he gets the cube back at 4 and all the volatility of his position is against him. Not only are the gammons against him, but the 4 cube is too. He can only use 3 of the 4 points. Conversely, with the volatility of the position, Brown can use all 8 points. That way he can win the match.

Joe: White rolls 6-5, plays 24/13.

Brown rolls 2-1.


Kit: Brown has a choice of making the bar point or the 4-point.

Audience: Bar point.

Kit: The bar point is better. The main reason is not because it’s a good blocking point, the 4-point is a better blocking point. Look at Brown’s nice flexibility, builder, builder, builder. Let’s look at making the 4-point.

Make the 4-point

Yuk! Now you can see how much nicer Brown’s position is by making the bar point. I think that’s why Joe chose the play, not because the bar point is better than the 4-point, but because the resulting distribution is better. You are Brown aren’t you?

Joe: This by the way turns into a very exciting match. You won’t be disappointed.

White rolls 5-1 making the 5-point. Brown rolls 6-1.


Joe: Thoughts? Ideas?

Kit: This one you gotta think about. This is the first really non-trivial play.

Joe: Let’s start off with some thought process. I’ll give you a player plan. I play this entire game to try to create some volatile position. It’s not my intention to trash my position, kill checkers to the ace point and turn it into something impure. I want to keep my checkers pure. I am trying to induce a cube, I want to get something. I want to illicit an error. If I go and slash him on the ace point, and he doubles me, he won’t be making that big an error. If he hits me, he feels pretty good. If he doesn’t hit me, it’s no big deal. So the play from that standpoint looks pretty clear. In fact, it is THE prefect roll for the evil plan I had. So I moved 13/7, 5/4.

Kit: I like this.

Joe: The 6 is clear, the ace is a slide. I want to wave a White flag in front of him…”Hey, that’s a checker – shoot at him – come and get me.” If I do a stack play on him, I’m inflexible. If I play 8/7, 7/6 or 6/5, I’ll be taking away a builder. And I don’t want to split my back men either. That would be tempting. That’s probably the most tempting alternative. And I believe it’s a pretty big error in this position. Making my play, White now only has aces to hit, and 2’s and 3’s to come up effectively so that he can leap out. But if I split, he has 4’s, 5’s, and 6’s to point on me. With some aces he will gladly just mow one and take his chances with the cube in the center.

Kit: I agree. Splitting just asks to be blown out of the water. Brown is definitely in trouble in the timing battle, White can escape one checker and White has a bigger prime. But Brown is in more trouble if White fires away. White also has a bigger board and plenty of checkers to attack him. If Brown is sitting there anchored on White’s ace point, White can’t blow him out of the water. White’s got to get this checker out or Brown could just win the priming battle. Joe’s play is aimed at just what he wants to do. Make the 5th point of the prime and win the priming battle. So he if he gets hit he will have his anchor and try to win the struggle. It’s not going to be easy, but you guys have rolled very well during this game.

Joe: Trailing, we really want to induce volatility.

White on roll – cube action?


Joe: I think you’ve gathered from everything we’ve said that we felt it would be an error to double from here – but White doubles.

Kit: If this were a money game or an even match score, what do you think the proper cube action would be?

Audience: (More than one person talking.) Double. Double. No Cube. Double.

Kit: When I say cube action – there are two sides to cube action. What should White do and what should Brown do?

Audience: (More than one person talking.) Double/pass. No double/take

Kit: I agree. I would not take this.

Joe: White should double and Brown should pass for money.

White on roll.  Cube action?  Money game.


Kit: What should happen at this score?

Audience: (More than one person talking.) No double/take. Double/scoop.

Kit: I think at this score in this type of game, doubling is a big major blunder.

Joe: This is a type of position that falls in a real grey area that’s both not good enough and too good. When the game develops well for White here, he wins gammons. He gets a couple checkers, throws them back and wins a gammon. But the value of the gammon is seen only with the cube on 1, ‘cause when he turns it to 2, it’s coming back to 4 and all that value is gone.

To give you some idea how easily that cube is coming back to 4, let’s assume that in a given position – not this one but in any position – White doubles to 2 and Brown accepts. With Brown owning the cube on 2, this is how you calculate doubling plays:


OK, when you own a cube on 2, Brown looks at the position and he says, “Alright, if I play this game to completion, I’m going to be down whether or not I redouble to 4.”

If he doesn’t redouble and loses, he’ll be down 3 to 10 Crawford. At 3-10 Crawford, you have approximately a 6% chance. That’s what I use, alright? If Brown does not redouble and wins, the score will be 5-8, right? At 5-8, I use about 27%.

OK, conversely say Brown does redouble and loses, he’s going to be down 3-11, 0%
right? And if he redoubles and wins, the score will be 7-8 and he’ll be about 41 %.

OK, that’s if he’s holding a 2 cube. With these numbers in mind, we can see by redoubling to 4, all Brown is risking is 6%. He can go from 6% to 0%, that’s his net risk on a redouble.

Kit: And what he gains!

Joe: And what he gains is going from 27% to 41%. He gains 14%. It’s not like a standard double risking 2 to gain 1 when he doubles. In this case he’s actually getting 14 to 6 odds on his cube. Which means a 14 to 6 ratio. He redoubles with approximately 30%, 14 to 6 is something like 70-30. In fact it is 70-30.

Kit: That’s not saying that you should automatically redouble.

Joe: Right!

Kit: He can.

Joe: But his doubling window starts at 30%. Brown can redouble with 30%.

Kit: But notice we haven’t even considered the possibility of Brown winning a gammon.

Joe: Right. Imagine now that he could go to 100%, he’s now risking 6% to gain 73%. If every game he won was a gammon, he would need 8% to redouble. It’s a 73 to 6 ratio, which is about 8%. So you can see now why White is so inhibited with the cube because he gets redoubled so easily. Especially with the volatility involved, White is paralyzed with the cube.

Kit: Did White double?

Joe: White doubles!

Kit: The next question is should Brown take? It not clear.

Joe: Yes, it is.

Audience: (Lots of laughter.)

Joe: We had to start disagreeing sooner or later.

Audience: You’re risking 6%, right?

Kit: No-no-no. It’s not so simple.

Joe: Alright, from an initial standpoint, this is how we calculated the doubling points.


Joe: Alright, from the other standpoint, Brown could pass and be down 3-9 to 11 and be about 15%. If he takes and loses he’s down 3-10 Crawford, he’s about 6%

Kit: He’s probably gonna redouble.

Joe: Right, he’s probably gonna redouble, so we figured that since we know we’re going to redouble, we’re risking that 15% to gain seemingly only 26% if every win was just a plain win.

Kit: There’re gonna be some gammons.

Joe: Right! There’s gonna be some gammons. It’s not easy to determine the take point, but it’s probably like Kit said, it’s not clear. From my standpoint, experience shows that I’m gonna win a lot of gammons ’cause that’s what I’m going to be playing for after I’ve rewhipped.

Kit: Well, I would say whether Brown takes or passes, White is much worse off than he would have been if he had just left the cube alone.

Joe: So Brown takes the cube at 2, and White rolls double 4’s.


Kit: Oh yeah, moving right along.

Joe: Any thoughts. Don’t be shy.

Audience: 13/9 with 2 checkers and 13/5.

Joe: OK. All right that’s what he did.

Kit: Noooooooow….

To be continued…


In Memoriam for Joe Brown 1940-2015

Francis Joseph Brown passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 1, 2015.  He was 74 years old.

Joe was introduced to the Club in a curious way.  After our brief sojourn at PJ’s Tavern & Jefferson Grill, Joe happened to stop in there for a drink following a bridge game.  Somehow backgammon came up, and the waitress who had served us at the tournament gave Joe our number.  The rest is history, hJoe Browne came to every tournament but one thereafter, and we’ve all been the beneficiaries of the coincidence that brought him to us.

I have expressed to his daughter Katherine what a joy he was to have in Club, and how much we all appreciated his sense of humor and sportsmanship. She was very touched, and told me that he talked a lot about the Club and how much he enjoyed it.  She indicated that Joe really looked forward to Tournament night, and had all but abandoned bridge for backgammon.  He also spoke to her about how friendly and welcoming all of you were to him.

If any of you would like to tell a story or say something about Joe, please use the Comments section to do that.  Katherine and the rest of his family would love to hear them.

The memorial service will be on Saturday, February 7th, at Kutis Funeral Home in Affton -10151 Gravois Road, St. Louis, MO 63123. Visitation at 1:00 pm on Saturday followed by the service at 2:00 pm.  Obituary for Francis Joseph Brown