Friday, 17 September 2010
When Safety Isn't Safe
The score is 0-0 in a three point match, Red to play 3-1.
Once your opponent has made her 6, 5 and 4 points, you can expect a powerful and gammonish cube pretty soon, particularly when, as here, she has put you on the bar in the process. This is particularly true at the start of a three point match, where the initial cube is more powerful than usual and you often have to pass cubes that you could take for money. So, I rolled 3-1. What would you do with this?
I played bar/24, 13/10, a gut instinct play that responds to blitz fear, i.e. I'm in trouble here, let's anchor and try to ride it out. Unhappily, this is a very weak play, a large blunder. Easily the best play here is bar/22, 24/23 and if you played that (and would have played it over the board) well done, great play! Can we see why this is best?
White has achieved this powerful little block using only checkers from the 8 and 6 points. This is of course very efficient, but it leaves her short of ammunition to continue the attack, so stepping up to the best available points is not as dangerous as usual. However, no need to come under the gun, even such a small gun as this, unless there is a point to it, so why should we make this aggressive and risky play, rather than just anchoring? It's because White has left herself with five checkers on the midpoint and one on the 8pt, a notoriously weak formation that is difficult to develop. If Red plays bar/24, 13/10, then White can either hit one of the outfield blots or bring checkers down from the midpoint to strengthen her forward position. Playing bar/22, 24/23 reduces her chances of hitting in Red's outfield and increases the coverage of White's outfield, forcing contact and action now rather than trying to postpone it until later.
Don't like this? Set up the pieces and play it a few times. The difference between the two plays is so large that you should see better results from the aggressive play very quickly. Note that White should double any play and Red should take, even if he has made the weaker move. Before computer programs arrived to take the strain out of rollouts, we used to do them by hand, ideally with a friend to ease the labour and provide idea input. Our rollouts were not very accurate in terms of results, but we did learn how to play the position, something that we lose when we use the bot to do the work. Give it a try and until the next time, enjoy the game!