CSI Final with Commentary by Gerry Tansey – Part I

Final of the  2015 Central States Invitational


Tak Morioka and Gerry Tansey

13 point match

Score is Gerry Tansey (White): 0, Tak Morioka (Brown): 0


Most top players prefer to slot the 5-point with an opening 21. It has a greater upside when it works than splitting, and it leads to more complex positions.


Hitting is far better than making the 5-point with this 31, as it leads to a concrete advantage, namely a large lead in the race. If White makes the 5-point, then Brown usually makes his own 5-point, and the game is even.

Interestingly, with a roll of 1-1, the bots slightly prefer making the 5 and bar points to hitting with the whole roll.



After hitting, moving 20/14 with the 6 is clear to minimize return shots. A good rule of thumb in the early going is to not leave your opponent a good 6 from the bar.


Coming in with the 3 is clear, since Brown does not want to have 3 checkers on the 24 point. Brown has several choices with the ace, but since Brown’s back checkers are already pretty well placed for making an advanced anchor, I like Tak’s play of slotting the 5-point. Since Brown already has 4 checkers back and White has a 1-point board, Brown is not too concerned about having another checker sent back. He can afford to play “purely,” placing his checkers where they belong without concern for their safety.


Hitting two here is right by a mile. White’s most direct path to victory is to prevent Brown from making a second anchor.

Tak entered with a 6-3.  Bar/22*.


White just keeps hitting here. Before you become too concerned about fighting against your opponent’s backgame, you should make certain that your opponent is actually forced to play a backgame.


Tak now has two deep anchors and a checker on the bar. Do you think he’s committed to a backgame yet? Read on.


I chose to partially escape my back checkers by making the 16-point. Another idea is to realize that the point 6 pips away from Black’s front anchor, the 9-point, might be a good point to have. Slotting the 9-point with 13/9 and playing 20/14 is attractive and perhaps worth the shots from the bar, which are not too damaging in any case.


The 5 comes in, and after that Tak breaks the back anchor. Tak is not committed to playing a deep backgame, and the added flexibility of splitting the back men allows him to fight for a more advanced anchor or hit any blots White might leave in the outfield. Even if I point on Tak’s head with 31, he can usually remake the second deep anchor later if he needs to.


Mainly, I thought the 11-point was important here to pressure my 5-point. Tak’s 2’s and 4’s are duplicated to make the 20-point and to hit. If Tak does make my 5-point, I have builders to make more points in my outside blockade. If he fails to make my 5-point, I might be able to attack and make my 5-point myself. Even if Tak hits one or both of my blots, it is not the end of the world.

I felt that the one-blot plays were tough to follow up, even if I got away with them. I would be left with an awkward structure on my 13- and 14- points, which would be tough to deal with in the face of Tak’s likely 2-anchor structure.


Brown rolls a great number, but doesn’t quite get the most out of it. Tak’s mistake is understandable though. He’s well down in the race even after this roll, so he wants to take care of his defensive position first. But making the offensive 5-point is so good with this roll that it cries out to be made. The anchors can be improved later.


I thought balancing out the spares in the outfield with Bar/24 14/11 outweighed the potential benefits of creeping closer to safety with Bar/22 14/13. I was also concerned about playing 6s if I made the latter play and Tak then made his 9-point.



Now we really do want to try to get out with the 2.


An excellent roll for Tak played 13/9, making my 6s awkward again.


Hey! I made an inner board point. This is much better than making the 9-point, which doesn’t really block much and just strips my outfield points of spares.


Tak’s structure is good. There’s nothing to do here but move the remaining checker 23/18.


A big mistake for me. With a big lead in the race, my biggest problem is escaping the back checker. The ace simply has to be 22/21. Many times 22/18 is right in positions like these. It isn’t here because it gives Black good 6s when he otherwise doesn’t have them. Just 11/8 with the 3 is fine.


Slotting the bar point is right by a mile. Pointing on my head would be very wrong here. Tak is still well down in the race and does not have the ammunition in place to blitz me. If he can make the 5-prime, Tak will have a very strong position.


Stepping up to the edge of the “almost 5-prime” is still right, even though it comes at a cost of breaking my 4-point with 4/3. I was concerned that busting my board would leave Tak freer to attack me, but not being at the edge of Tak’s 5-prime is pretty disconcerting too.


Brown rolls 2-2 played 13/11, 13/7.


Stepping up with the ace is huge.


Tak rolls 2-1 played 11/8.


My outfield points are stripped, and Tak is very likely to at hit my straggler loose next turn. If I then roll a number like 61 from the bar, I’ll have to leave another blot. It is also not great to leave a blot in one’s home board if one is anticipating an exchange of hits. Finally, it is very likely one of my outfield points will be forced to break in a turn or two. This 21 lets me do it in the most constructive way possible, putting spares on the most valuable points in front of Brown’s anchors. I should have cleared the 10 point.


As promised, Tak hits loose, breaking his 5-prime to do so. Other plays are blunders, but do notice that the second and third best plays also hit. Tak cannot afford to give me the opportunity to roll a 6 to escape. If Tak were to play 8/3, even if I failed to escape, his follow-up would usually be difficult. When you have a lot of checkers back, it is important to use the checkers you have up front efficiently. Tak really needs to make the points in order, and the next point in line is the 4-point.

White rolls 3-1 playing bar/21*.


This is how you want to roll from the roof in the finals! Remember when it looked like Black was going to play a backgame?

White rolls 6-3.  Bar/22.



Another great roll. The cube is almost certainly coming next.

White rolls 4-4 fanning.


Since I have two on the roof against the best 4-point board, Tak clearly has at least a double. (Often times this is too good, but Tak has quite a bit of work to do in extricating his back checkers).

I need a lot of positional compensation to take this cube – more than I’ve actually got. XG 4-ply actually does think it’s a take, but the rollout reveals the horrible truth. The trouble is that Brown doesn’t really have many bad numbers. His 4s, 5s and 6s all move his back checkers constructively. Only 33 is a truly bad number here. The best I can really hope for is to make a deep anchor. By the time that happens, Tak will have probably done most of the work of escaping, and maybe added another point to his board or his prime. This is a big pass, and I should have let this one go.

Having said that, some blunderful passes are worse than others. Tak will have all of the decisions for a while, so he might give back some of the equity I frittered away…

Brown rolls 3-1 played 8/4.

White rolls 6-3, fanning.


Tak’s hardest checker to extricate is the one on the 22-point. He should have liberated it here. Instead, Tak tried to attain outfield control by breaking the bar point. Perhaps he wanted to build his own bar point quickly and form a 5-prime. Maybe he thought the defensive bar point could be a problematic point to clear later. But the defensive bar point is serving as an important bridge in the process of releasing the back checkers, and I still have two on the bar. Extrication has to be the priority now.

White rolls 6-6.


No escaping can be done with this number, so Tak slots his bar point. He might make the bar point later, or use this checker to build his two point.

White rolls 3-2, bar/23.


Brown can make the five-prime with this roll, or he can hit loose. Which should he do?

I know it doesn’t look like White is threatening much in this position, but he actually is. White’s biggest threat is making the 23-point anchor. If he does that, all of a sudden Brown has three checkers disconnected from the rest of his forces and almost no time to escape them before his front position starts breaking down.

If you are just starting to learn the game, this is an important lesson: Good backgammon players are not fearless; rather, they fear the right things. When you are in an attacking position, you should not be afraid to hit loose, and then get hit back. You should be afraid of your opponent *making an anchor.*


Even though I have to leave two outside blots, I’m thrilled with making this anchor. I’m over 40 percent to win now. We have a game again.


Remember when Tak had no bad escaping numbers? When he broke the defensive bar, 5s became useless for escaping. This is a horrific number that forces Tak to break his 6-point. It’s probably a little better to just clear the 6-point entirely, but it is not horrible to maintain a 4-point board while tempting me to hit the blot.

White rolls 6-1, 13/6.


A pretty good roll for Brown, escaping the toughest checker, while threatening to remake the 6-point.


This is how you roll in the finals! The first two 4s are clearly used to hit and make the 19-point. Then we make a third point in our board with the other two checkers while eyeing Brown’s outfield blot.

My plan was to redouble if Tak rolled one of his 9 fanning numbers. His 20-point anchor and good standing in the race would give him a comfortable take, of course. I didn’t even notice at the time that if Brown rolls 63, that is much worse than fanning. Tak would have to pass a redouble if that happened.


Tak keeps the blot count at 1 and prepares to escape by playing Bar/20.

Even though I’m a favorite here and shooting at a blot, I don’t have a proper redouble. I am down 11 pips in the race, and Tak is anchored, so I’ll feel rather silly if I give away the cube and roll a dud next turn. My thought was, “Let’s hit that blot and then see how we feel.”

White rolls 3-1, 12/8.


A good roll for Black, safetying his checker and springing one of his back men.

White rolls 3-1, 8/4.


The question of when to stay or go is always difficult. I’m sympathetic to Tak’s play here. He’s up in the race, so he’s running out of time. He has me outboarded, so I have to be careful about hitting him loose. If he were to play 14/7, I could seize the outfield by leaping out with my two back checkers. The desire to run and force me to deal with his straggler now is completely understandable.

But leaving the anchor is just too dangerous. 55, 44, 33, 54, 53, and 43 point on Brown’s head and usually lose the game immediately. Brown certainly would not like to see 11, and even pick-and-pass numbers can quickly become problematic. There is too much immediate death for Brown to leave the anchor now.


Hitting is clear. Since it is possible to lift the blot, White lifts it in this case. White must respect Brown’s 4-point board. Note that White would still hit loose with a 52 in this position, even though it is not possible to lift the blot in that case.

Brown rolls 4-1, bar/20.


I have to hit loose here. I continued with 5/3 to put Tak’s checker on a tougher point to escape from if he does hit. Also, if my blot survives, I can use an ace from the 4-point stack constructively.

Brown rolls 1-1.  Bar/24, 14/13(2), 4/3.


Now that the home boards are of equal strength, it becomes even more clear to hit loose with the 3. Note that there is no truly “safe” 3 anyway. 9/6 leaves two very hittable outfield blots.

Incidentally, if Brown fans here, I have a big redouble, and Tak has a big take.

Brown rolls 5-4, bar/20, 7/3.


This is a critical moment. There is no safe play here, so hitting with the 4 is clear. I played 8/3 to diversify covering numbers/return shots.

On Brown’s 16 fans, the correct cube action is redouble/pass. White is not always dead when Black hits. However…


It’s the finals, baby! Tak finds his very best roll (good for him). He is a favorite to win a gammon now.

White rolls 5-2, bar/23.


Remember what I said about fearing your opponent making an anchor? Tak correctly hits two. His play wins more games and more gammons than any other. It isn’t close.

White fans with 4-3.  Brown rolls 5-2, 13/10, 7/2.

White rolls 6-2, bar/24.  Brown rolls 3-2, 16/14, 10/7.

White fans,  Brown rolls 4-1, 13/8.

White rolls 6-5, bar/19.  Brown rolls 6-3, 14/5.

White fans.


XG slightly prefers risking an immediate hit with 61 from the bar to Tak’s play. I can’t say I would have found this. I suppose XG’s play leaves very few later blotting possibilities if Brown gets away with it, while there may be future problems clearing the bar or leaving an awkward bearoff distribution with Tak’s play.

But still, 2 immediate shots is a lot to leave. I don’t know if many humans would make the bot play in this instance.

White fans.  Brown rolls 2-2, 7/5(2), 4/off.

White fans.  Brown rolls 5-2, takes 2 off.

White fans.  Brown rolls 6-5, takes 2 off.

White fans.  Brown rolls 5-5 takes 4 off.

White rolls 4-3, bar/18.  Brown rolls 5-1, takes 2 off.Picture47

White rolls 6-2, 19/17, 19/13.  Brown rolls 2-1 takes 2 off.

Brown resigns a gammon – 4 points.

Game 2 of 13 point match

Score is Gerry Tansey (White): 0, Tak Morioka (Brown): 4

Brown rolls 5-3, 8/3, 6/3.  White rolls 6-2, 24/18, 13/11.


Coming down with the 3 both wins and loses more gammons than splitting. Since Tak has the lead, and splitting also wins slightly more plain games, he should split here.


I would definitely anchor here for money. My hitting play is very likely to lead to a blot hitting contest in which I am outboarded and outgunned. The upside to hitting is that I gain a lot of pips in the race. However, anchoring shuts down Tak’s offense and lets me concentrate on playing against Tak’s back checkers.


The punishment comes quickly. This 11 roll allows Tak to enter, hit, and make the 5-point.

White rolls 6-5 fanning.  Fanning is not what you want to do here.


Certainly Brown has the advantage in a gammonish position. Is it enough to double?

First, let’s convince ourselves that White has a super-easy take. Consider the following position: White opens with a 52, splitting with the 2 and coming down from the midpoint with the 5. Brown rolls 33, making the 5 and 3 points. White dances. This is a well known reference position. For money, Brown has a big double and White has a big take. It is a blunder for either player to deviate from these actions.

Now, how is this position different? Brown has an additional builder on the 10-point (plus) but a third man back on the 24-point (minus). The movement of the builder from the 6-point to the 7-point has little effect. Now, I would judge that the 3rd checker on the 24-point carries a bit more weight than the additional builder on the 10 point. Brown’s attack will run out of steam faster if he gets a fourth man sent back, so I think Brown stands slightly worse than in the reference position.

White’s only change is that the fourth man on the 8-point is now a blot on the 11-point. In these early blitz positions, this tends to be a wash. Sure, the blot is a target (though Brown will not hit if he rolls an immediate 64), but if White anchors, this checker becomes a valuable builder).

Thus, compared with the reference position, Brown stands a bit worse, and White is roughly the same. Thus we would expect that for money, this is a small double for Brown and a trivial take for White.

Leading 4-0 in a match to 13, Brown can still offer gammonish initial doubles correctly. He still needs to score points. He does have to be careful about taking and offering 4 cubes. However, marginal initial doubles for money turn into no doubles at the score. As a result, this is technically a bit shy of a correct initial double leading 4-0/13.

Practically, the cube is not quite as bad as that if Brown is playing an unknown quantity. People pass “scary” cubes all the time. But you should not expect to bluff out a good player with this double, since a good player will go through the same thought process I outlined and scoop up this cube.


I think this is a tough play. The 6 is easy. But I think we’ve all heard the adage, “Three on the ace point is death,” so even before the dice landed, most players would be mentally moving a spare off the ace point (if they didn’t roll something that made the 4-point).

But the bot likes making the broken 6-prime with the deuce. This recalls another adage: “Offense, offense. Defense, defense.” When it seems like you are on offense, make offensive plays.

White rolls 5-1, bar/24, 13/8.


I wonder how many players would have the guts to break the bar and make the 4-point here. If White doesn’t roll something great, he is toast after that play. Notice that the race is close, and making the 4-point gives Brown a 4-to-1 advantage in home board points. Even if White hits, the position is fraught with gammon danger for some time.

White rolls 4-2 making the 4-point.


I think most players would miss this play. The 10-point is 6 pips away from the open 4-point, the most crucial point for Brown to make in this position. Further, the cost of leaving a blot on the midpoint is lessened, since many of White’s hitting aces could also be used to make the bar or 5-points. In fact, I should not hit with 61 or 31, and I should make the 5-point instead.

White rolls 6-1 making the 5-point.  Suddenly, I’ve got a bit of structure.


A tough choice here. The impulse to split is understandable, particularly when not splitting forces a direct shot. However, this does lead to a poorly placed spare on the 3-point. XG seems to like trying to make the 4-point instead, either by bringing down builders or by slotting it directly.


A little fast for my taste, but putting a checker in the air against a 4.5-point board is pretty good.

Brown rolls 5-1, a great shot hitting and getting out.


Here I fell victim to what I’ve heard Mary Hickey refer to as “Fancy Play Syndrome.” Coming in with the 4 is clear. White would like to make that point and see daylight. But then I saw that if I played the natural deuce 8/6, then Brown’s numbers would be very diversified. I thought there would be very few bad rolls. If I played the “banana split” play, he would at least have 9 dancing numbers.

But really, the banana split play is most appropriate when certain death comes if drastic steps are not taken. Here, I’ve got quite a strong structure, and Brown can’t usually do everything. I was most afraid of Brown attacking me on the 4-point, but that is not a risk-free proposition for him if he doesn’t roll a perfecta. My play misplaces a checker on the ace point and opens me up to some nasty double hits. I should just trust my structure and let the position come to me.


I think Tak’s first impulse was to hit on the 22-point. In a position where your opponent has a lot of checkers back already, it is often right not to hit a blot on the ace-point, since that checker is already so poorly placed.

I think Tak believed he didn’t have a good ace after hitting on the 22-point. But he really did! Slotting the two with the dilly builder is the right play. That ugly checker is such a liability that he should put it to work right away. Brown would rather not be hit, but it really is no tragedy if that checker is recirculated. White is not in any position to go for a quick knockout, and having that additional checker hit might help Brown’s timing.

Admittedly, this best play is hard to find. However, if Brown is going to hit on the 24-point, the best 3 is to also hit loose on the 4-point. This play puts immense pressure on White to roll a 4 immediately. If he doesn’t, Brown is usually just crushed like a bug, pinned in a hopeless ace-point game. There is some obvious risk involved. White definitely is in danger of losing if Brown does hit with a 4, but understand that if White can roll a 4 and make the 21-point anchor, that is pretty good for White anyway.


I made the advanced anchor, and then had an awkward 6 to play. I think I should have played 13/7. Even though this breaks the midpoint and leaves a ton of shots, I think it is the play that fights more. Brown will not be able to escape without hitting me with this play, which allows me to keep my structure longer. The 1296-trial rollout says that these plays are too close to call, with my play losing fewer gammons, but the other play winning more games.


An inexperienced player might not realize it, but this was a tremendous roll for Tak. He escapes his back checker without hitting and leaves no blots. It will be nearly impossible for me to keep both my back structure and my front position unless Brown rolls some big doubles now.

White rolls 4-2, 8/2.


Which point should Tak break? I don’t know. A blot on the 13-point gets hit by aces and nines, for 15 shots (though those nines are decidedly double-edged, since they break the anchor). A blot on the 15-point gets hit by threes, elevens, and 21, for 14 shots. However, White is very likely to have to break the midpoint next turn, so holding on to the 15-point might provide more contact should White be forced to leave a blot in the outfield. It’s a tough call.


I decided that getting hit hurts me more than helps me, so I left with both checkers from the midpoint to minimize shots. Busting the board is not an option.



Even though 9/3 makes a neat 5-point board, it is mandatory to come out with the 6. I have a lot of numbers that don’t jump the 4-prime (which could become a 5-prime) next turn, and that would force my board to crack, which would be a disaster. The board must stay intact at all costs.


This is a very tough judgment to make. If Tak hits me, he clearly wins more gammons, but that hit might give me just enough additional timing to hold everything together, which leads to more wins for White.


I really don’t want to be hit now, but I decide to “make the board and be annoying.” Black leaves a potentially game-losing shot on 64, 65, and 66.


Now Tak really should hit, since I have some really bad entering numbers. Look at how 61 and 62 play for starters. Then note that several other numbers will force me to break my board.

White rolls 3-1, 15/11.  Brown rolls 4-2, 12/6.



Note that running from the anchor is not that bad here, and actually wins more games than 11/4. I will likely have to run next time, if I roll something that jumps. Otherwise I have to break.

Brown rolls 3-2, 12/7.


Basically, I have to give up most of my remaining winning chances here. I would like to stay back with somebody on the 24-point, but doing that would force me to destroy my board too much. Even if I were to get a shot, could I then win the game? Probably not. I would definitely lose a lot more gammons back on the 24-point.


It is normally right to clear from the rear like Tak did here, but keeping the 4-prime for one shake has more merit than usual here. If I can’t jump this roll, I have to break up my board more, leading to a more secure win for Tak.

White rolls 6-5, 21/16, 21/15.  Brown rolls 6-1, 7/1, 6/5.

White rolls 4-4, 16/4, 15/11.  Brown rolls 3/1, 5/1.

White rolls 5-1, 11/5.  Brown rolls 4-2, 7/5, 7/3.


Brown rolls 4-1, 6/2, 1/off.  White rolls 6-4, 15/5.

Brown rolls 4-2, 5/1, 2/off.  White rolls 4-3, 21/14.

Brown rolls 6-1 takes 2 off.  White rolls 5-4, 14/5.


Brown rolls 5-1, takes 2 off.  White rolls 6-1 takes 2 off.

Brown rolls 3-2, takes 2 off.  White rolls 5-3 takes 2 off.

Brown rolls 1-1, 3/2, 3/off.  Brown rolls 4-4, takes 3 off.


Brown rolls 3-3, takes 2 off.  White rolls 5-3, takes 2 off.

Brown rolls 6-2, takes 2 off.  White rolls 4-2, 5/3, 4/off.

Brown rolls 6-1, 5/off, 3/2.  White resigns a single game and 2 points.

Game 3 of 13 point match

Score is Gerry Tansey (White): 0, Tak Morioka (Brown): 6

White rolls 6-2, 24/18, 13/10.  Brown rolls 5-1, 13/7*.

White rolls 6-6 fanning.  Brown rolls 6/3, 24/15*.

White rolls 6-2, bar/23.


For money, Brown might consider giving a marginal double here. It probably isn’t right to double, but he certainly should pause.

At the score, Brown should not even pause (he didn’t, and neither should you). Just roll.


A good roll, which I severely botched. I was afraid of coming “under the gun” with 24/20, but I’m really putting Brown under some pressure with that play. Many of the rolls that point on my head in that case also leave return shots from the bar.

13/9(2) makes a new point rather than just swapping the 8-point for the 4-point. That’s a better play.


Tak’s play is the one most players would make. It does leave a big stack on the 6-point, however. The “run and hope you get away with it” play comes out very strongly here. The loss of the 8-point by my misplay of 44 has to be a major reason for this.


Although I’d like to hit, the 20-point anchor is crying out to be made here.

Brown rolls 6-2, 23/17, 13/11.


I missed, so I get to work on my board.

Brown rolls 3-1, 17/13.  White rolls 1-1, 6/5, 6/3.

Brown rolls 5-4, 11/7, 11/6.  White rolls 4-1, 13/9, 4/3.

Brown rolls 5/4, 7/2*, 6/2.


4-ply wanted to play 13/7 with the 6. I really didn’t understand this. 9/3 does put a checker deeper than we’d like, but I can’t stomach leaving a shot for Tak to hit.

Brown rolls 4-3, 13/6.


Now I can see why we might leave a blot on the midpoint. There are some immediate shot leaving numbers for Brown, namely 62, 63, 52, 54, 43, and 32. If Brown rolls one of these, I want a strong front position in case I hit his blot. 13/7 6/2 creates a five-prime with just one blot in the board. My play makes a four-prime with two blots in the board.

The right play does worse when Brown rolls an ace, but the upside on the remaining rolls outweighs this.

Brown rolls 3-1, 6/2.  White rolls 6-1, 13/7, 2/1.


Tak must have been afraid of creating more contact, so he failed to hit. But he shouldn’t be afraid of this. Putting me on the bar gives him a golden opportunity to clear the midpoint without much risk, as only 44 hits from the roof. I don’t have much time to keep my checkers in his board without busting up front anyway. The right play wins more games and more gammons.

White rolls 5-3, 13/5.  Brown rolls 6-6, 13/1(2)*.

White rolls 3-1, bar/22, 5/4.


These are the sorts of high-win percentage, low-gammon loss percentage positions that a player with a big lead (but still with some need to score points) should feel comfortable doubling. Brown will lose his market if he points on White’s head, makes the 4-point with 32 or 22, or picks and passes with White entering high (or not at all). White should not take this cube for money, so Brown should feel safe doubling here.

Having said that, it is easy to see how Brown might lose this game. He is likely to leave a shot at some point. Likely, but not guaranteed. And even if Brown leaves a shot, White only hits it about a third of the time. Brown is a large enough favorite with enough good things happening next roll that he has to cube now. Who knows? I might have passed. It is hard to take a cube like this. White is dead in the race and can only hope to win by hitting a shot that might not ever come.

White rolls 4-1, 7/2.


Brown rolled a good number. Brown’s winning and gammon percentages shot up. As advertised, White has an easy pass.

Game 4 of 13 point match

Score is Gerry Tansey (White): 0, Tak Morioka (Brown): 7

White rolls 4-2, 8/4, 6/4.  Brown rolls 6-1, 13/7, 8/7.

White rolls 6-1, 13/7, 8/7.  Brown rolls 6/1, 24/17*.

White rolls 5-1, bar/24, 13/8*.


Tak wants an advanced anchor, so after entering, he puts the other checker on the point he wants to make. Even the worst happens and I point on one of these checkers, he can still make an anchor with a decent number from the bar.


This is the sort of play where, when I make it, beginning players look at me like I have three heads. But an experienced player won’t even see another play here. I do not want Tak to make an anchor. I have him outboarded two to one. I’m already down in the race. And if I get away with this play, I have excellent chances to make a strong board quickly. In fact, if Tak doesn’t hit me here, I’m cubing at the score.

A passive play here has no upside at all. Especially in the early-going, we should make plays that give us something nice if they work.


Tak hits with one checker, fans with the other. Seems like a fair deal.


As much as I would have liked to have stayed on the 20-point, five blots seemed a little loose, even for me.


Tak anchored. I’ve got some scrambling to do.


Three on the ace point is death. So I moved the deuce from the 24-point and cleaned up a blot.


Tak can’t play this safely. I actually like his play of slotting the 9-point, but XG likes hitting. The hitting play makes it more difficult for me to make an advanced anchor. The hitting play duplicates 3s to hit and cover. It also gives me some truly awful sixes, namely 61, 62, and of course, 66.

Still, that checker looks to my eye like it belongs on the 9-point rather than the 3-point. This is one of the things that makes backgammon so difficult. How do we compare two plays when one play is better positionally, and the other is better tactically?



After anchoring with the 2, I chose to make the 8-point, trying to keep my checkers in front of his anchor.


It’s impossible to play this safely, so Tak plays 9/8, then hits on the ace point with the 5. This leaves only 11 shots, and if I miss, I will have to come in high. This will leave Tak with the ability to play behind my anchor if he can’t make the 5 and 4 points.

White rolls 4-3, bar/21, 6/3.


Once you’ve put one checker on the ace point, it is usually best to make it when you can. Old school players have conniptions when you make the ace point, but old school players thought you could only win a game of backgammon by building a prime or playing a backgame. Yes, the ace point is bad in those types of games. But in mutual holding games? Not so much.



I tried to improve my anchor because I read somewhere that the 22-point anchor is terrible. It’s actually not that bad if your opponent has made his ace point (Cue old school guy: “See, I told you whippersnappers not to make the ace!”). I was concerned about Tak making the 5 or 4 points, after which I felt I would regret not making a higher anchor.

Brown rolls 6-2, 13/11, 13/7.  White rolls 4-4, 13/9(2), 8/4, 6/2.

Brown rolls 4-1, 11/6.


Getting that spare checker out was big for me. I was able to keep my blocking points and gain a little bit of outfield coverage.


It can be scary to break your anchor and hit, but Tak simply must take advantage of this opportunity and do it now. Perhaps we should look at this as a pay-now-or-pay-later problem. Tak is up in this race by 17 pips after this roll (more if he hits). His front position rates to deteriorate, while I have some rolls that might seize control of the outfield. He needs to find a way to convert this position into a race, where he holds a sizable advantage. Now Brown can wait to roll doubles, but it is better to try to make a run for it now while he can put me on the bar. Even if I hit him back, he will have at least one blot to shoot at from the roof (rest assured, I will hit him loose on the five point and leave two blots if I have to).

We’re going to see an example of me screwing up a similar play later in the match. That’ll be fun.

White rolls 5-3, 16/8.  Brown rolls 2-1, 7/5, 6/5.

Brown rolls 6-1, 8/2, 4/3.


As much as I’d like to keep the outfield block, I couldn’t stomach wrecking my board to do it.


This is a great play by Tak. He can play safely for one roll, but then I might roll something that leaps into the outfield and seizes control. This is a great chance for Brown to seize outfield control at relatively low risk. He only really regrets this play if I roll an ace (33 and 66 also hit, but these were good rolls for me anyway).


That’s backgammon. Sometimes we are punished for our good plays.

Brown rolls 3-3, fanning.


Although it is possible for me to roll a dud, get hit from the roof, and lose, I really need to take a shake here. 21, 31, 32 and 11 make the best five point board. 51, 61, 42, 62, 22, 66, 63, 64, and 65 hit. 33 is awesome. 52 makes a 5-point board. There are so many good numbers, and not many bad ones, and the bad ones aren’t always followed by a good number from Tak. Psychologically, I wanted to get on the scoreboard, but I should have gone for more. That additional point might become very important.

Game 5 of 13 point match

Score is Gerry Tansey (White): 1, Tak Morioka (Brown): 7

White rolls 5-1, 24/23, 13/8.  Brown rolls 3-2, 24/21, 13/11.

White rolls 6-1, 13/7, 8/7.  Brown rolls 6-521/10.


I never considered the tempo hit in this spot. I thought Brown’s back checker was right where I wanted it. Brown does have quite a few numbers that do something constructive up front, so I guess I should do something about that. But I don’t really understand myself why slotting the 5-point is so bad here.

Brown rolls 6-2, 10/4, 6/4.  White rolls 6-6, 8/2(2), 7/1*(2).


After hitting, Tak picks up the outfield blot. This might be the right play at the score, but 13/10 is a serious contender. Only 55 and 65 hit one of the outfield blots. White will hit loose if he can otherwise, but if Black plays 13/10 and is not on the bar next turn, he has a lot of numbers that make the 5-point, which might be enough to lock up the game, given how stripped White’s outfield points are.


I opted to deny Tak good sixes, but I also stayed on the point he most wants to make. It is a close choice.


Oof. I had better not fan here. Tak should play on for a gammon if I do.


A great shot for me. This game is far from over.


Tak stays back. I have stripped outfield points and a blot in my board. He’d like to keep contact for this turn to see if I cough up a target for him to hit.

White rolls 4-2, 8/6, 8/4.



This is a tough choice between staying back and coming out. If Tak stays back, most of my sixes will leave a blot. But Tak won’t like it if I hit loose and he fans (or if I roll 11 or 44). Staying back is the more gammonish play for both sides, but gammons work a little better for me at the score, since I will cube after any hit/fan sequence.


Hitting is big. If Tak rolls poorly, he will get the cube.

Brown rolls 5-1, bar/20, 13/12.


This is the type of cube you have to give when you are trailing big in a match. I’m down a little in the race, but my threats are enough to make me a small favorite to win the game, with significant gammon chances if things go well. 65, 61, 51, and 11 make the 5-point on Brown’s head. These 7 numbers are huge market losers if Brown doesn’t enter right away. 43 and 52 are 4 more numbers which lose the market if Brown fans. I have several more numbers that hit loose. These are double-edged, but certainly I’ll be glad I cubed if Brown dances.

For money, this is probably a little thin for a double, since I will very much hate sequences where my attack fizzles and Brown has the cube to use against me. But at the score, I can really use a doubled gammon, and Brown will not be so eager to redouble to 4, so I have more incentive to cube. Brown has an easy take, as I still have a lot of work to do before I can claim victory.


Not a bad shake. A lot depends on this next roll…


Tak anchors and becomes an immediate favorite to win the game.

White rolls 5-1, 13/8, 11/10.


Tak is up in the race, so he is going to move 20/16(2) to disengage. It is tough for me to tell whether 20/12(2) or 13/9(2) is better for the remainder of the play.

White rolls 3-2, 10/5.  Brown rolls 4-2, 12/6.


I’m down one pip after the play. I thought I wanted to maximize contact with Tak’s midpoint and his 12-point blot, but this may be a situation where I’m not down in the race enough to be able to afford having 36 pips sunk in two checkers on the 18-point. The race may be close enough that disengaging a tad more than I’d like is my best chance.


Again with the immediate punishment. What a swing!


This is a dilemma. If I stay, I have to bury a checker on the 2-point, which is bad for the race. But there is not a ton of shot equity here anyway. There are, in fact, no numbers that leave a shot next turn for Brown. I decided it was best to take my chances in the race, dismal as those chances are.

It’s time to talk a little bit about the leader’s recube. For money, a racing lead of this size gives Brown a redouble, and White has a take. With a big lead, the leader usually should not offer any 4-cubes that the trailer can take for money. In fact, it is nearly a double whopper for the leader to redouble here.

Brown rolls 6-5, 9/4, 8/2.  White rolls 5-1, 12/6.


One sequence can change a lot in terms of racing cubes. First, the race got shorter. This favors the player leading the race. Second, Tak rolled more pips than I did. This is an enormous pass for money, so Tak should think hard about cubing here.

First, what is my take point on a 4-cube? If I pass, I will win the match about 12 percent of the time from 12-away/4-away. If I take and lose, I will win the match only 4.75 percent of the time from 12-away/2-away. So I’m risking 7.25 percent match winning chances. If I take and win 4 points, I will win the match about 38 percent of the time from 8-away/6-away. Thus I could gain 26 percent match winning chances. So my “dead cube take point” is (risk)/(risk + gain), or 7.25/(7.25 + 26) = 21.8 percent.

However, this is not the full story. My ownership of a 4-cube has some value. I might be able to cash a game with the cube that I would otherwise lose. More likely, I will “double in” Tak, so many of my wins will be worth 8 points. How do we take into account the value of cube ownership?

Here is where I get lazy, partly because there are too many terms to define, and partly because I don’t fully understand it myself. Just know that in a medium to long race, your true take point will be somewhat lower than your dead cube take point as long as you can give a decent recube when things go your way.

In this particular position, Tak has a big redouble, and I have a close pass. This is a situation that backgammon players don’t face too frequently these days when we play shorter matches. Normally, when one player has a big lead, he is also very close to winning, and thus shouldn’t ever think about recubing since he doesn’t need the extra points. But here Tak can use the 4 points from a recube (and has only 2 points of overage on any 8-cube that comes back), so there is a nontrivial window for that recube to 4.

Brown rolls 1-1, 8/5, 6/5.  White rolls 3-2, 8/6, 8/5.


Notice that I rolled one more pip than Tak did in that exchange, but Tak became a bigger favorite to win. The clock is ticking as the race gets shorter, and I have fewer and fewer opportunities to roll the big doubles I need to win.

Brown rolls 2-2, 9/5, 4/off.  White rolls 4-2, 15/9.

Brown rolls 4-1, takes 2 off.  White rolls 3-1, 9/6, 1/off.

Brown rolls 5-4, takes 2 off.  White rolls 4-3, 6/3, 4/off.


White rolls 5-2, takes 2 off.  Brown rolls 2-2, takes 2 off.

White rolls 5-1, takes 2 off.

Brown redoubles, White passes.


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