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one_pointer: On Playing One-point Matches

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Darse Billings

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Jul 14, 1995, 3:00:00 AM7/14/95
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Bernhard Kaiser (one_pointer on FIBS) has updated his article on
strategy for playing one-point matches. It is due to appear in an
English backgammon magazine next month, although I do not know which
one. He is temporarily without r.g.b. access, so I am posting it on
his behalf (after doing some minor editing).
Cheers, - Darse.
----

Playing One Point Matches

Bernhard Kaiser is a 26-year-old student of mathematics from Germany and
has been playing tournament backgammon for eight years and on the Internet
server FIBS for the last two years. Yerry Felix, consultant to Games &
Puzzles, asked him to write an article about one-point matches / double
matchpoint. The text was edited and typeset by Paul Lamford [PL].


To set the scene, let me say I am rather experienced at this special
score, because I played a great deal on FIBS under my alias one-pointer.
I was interested in how I would fare playing only double-matchpoint
situations, and I managed to climb to second place in the ratings.

First of all lets summarize the basic properties of a one-point match
(OPM). You might say, one-point-matches, I never play them, so why should
I learn about them?. But, of course, one point matches are basically the
same as double-matchpoint (DMP) situations, where both players only need
to win the last game. The special characteristic of DMP, as opposed to
money games or other match-situations, is that both players only want to
win the game, and do not care whether they win a gammon or lose a gammon.
This irrelevance of gammons leads to situations in DMP, where you have to
make different moves from those you are used to in money games.

I will now try to give some examples of such situations and to outline
some general rules. Later in the article I will try to give some tips how
to play OPM against very weak players. There may not be such weak players
in your tournaments that you have to adapt your moves [don't you believe
it PL], but on FIBS it is very important also to get maximum results
against players with a rating, of, say, 1400 or less. [Equivalent to a
BIBA rating of about 900 PL])

Opening Rolls. Lets first have a look at some opening rolls: There are
some opening rolls, where you have the decision between different,
normally equal good possibilities.

a) 5-4. In a money game you can choose between 13/9 13/8, and 13/8 24/20.
Mostly I pick the second choice. But at DMP the situation is different.
Here it would be a slight error to play 24/20, 13/8. Why? Because this
play tends to give you an advanced anchor. Although to have such an
anchor is nice, at DMP its not your highest priority. You don't need the
safety of an advanced anchor as an assurance against getting gammoned,
because a gammon doesn't cost you any extra. Lets have a look at 13/9,
13/8: This one tends to lead to slightly more gammonish situations, but
with you being a slight favourite to win one. So you are favourite to win
a gammon with both plays. But, paradoxically as it seems, you don't want
to be the favourite to win a gammon at DMP, because you cant use this
extra equity! So this play, although probably better than 13/8 24/20,
doesn't feel so great at DMP either. But is there anything else ? Yes
there is! A mostly underrated third play is 24/15, which, in a money
game, is nearly as, if not equally good as the two previously mentioned.
But lets have a look at it at DMP: If you don't get hit with a three, you
have the better game in most cases. If you do hit, your opponent has much
the better game, mainly because of his increased gammon chances. In fact,
after you play 24/15, your opponents chances of winning a gammon in a
money game are better than yours! But you are still the favourite,
because you are simply winning more games. These are just the plays you
want to make at DMP, giving your opponent extra gammon-chances, but
increasing your own winning chances a little. Computer roll-outs confirm
this theory; while all three plays are rather equal in overall equity,
the third play, 24/15 wins considerably more total games than both the
others (about 51.7% against 50.5 % and 50.0 %). I am rather sure it must
be the right play at DMP.

b) 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. A similar reasoning could be applied to these opening
moves. Since 24/18, 13/x is a bid for an advanced anchor, its not that
attractive at DMP. So I prefer running (24/14) with 6-4. Because playing
24/18, 13/x with 6-3 and 6-2 is considerably better than running in a
money game, and also gives some useless gammon chances to your opponent,
the right play is not so clear here. I tend to alternate between running
and bringing a man down with the 6-3 and play 24/18, 13/11 with the 6-2
(also agreeing with my computer roll-outs).

c) 2-1, 4-1, 5-1. Playing 24/23 13/x tends to result in an anchor, and
13/x, 6/5 tends to produce a gammonish position. Its not clear at all,
which is the better approach. Do we have a third play here? Yes! Just
playing 13/10. But although its much closer than in a money game, this
try is unfortunately just a little bit too weak. So my preference is to
play 6/5 with every ace, because I like to keep my position smooth; but I
could easily be talked into the split. [note: In the original thread,
Toni Wuersch commented "don't slot unless you are already way behind;
if way behind, slot more aggressively". This seems reasonable, given the
large setback in race position (pips) whenever the slot is hit. -drb]

d) 4-3, 3-2. With these rolls I think at DMP its better to bring two men
down instead of going for the anchor, for the same reasons given above.

General rules. What style of game do you want to reach?

a) Blitz: Of course a blitz is not the type of game you want to play,
because if you win, you mostly win a worthless gammon, but if things do
not go well, you become an underdog quickly. There are many plays in
blitz situations which you have to handle different. Lets have a look at
an example: Your opponent opens with 5-4 and moves 13/8, 24/20. Then you
roll a 5-5. In a money game making both inner points is routine and the
best play by a wide margin, because you are winning a lot of gammons. At
DMP I would rather play 13/3(2)! I think this gives you just slightly
more winning chances. Generally its important to keep your position
smooth and flexible at DMP. You should not be stuck in a single game plan
too early, especially not a blitz. So you shouldn't hit loose on the ace
or make your ace-point, if you don't have to, because hitting on the ace
favours a blitz, which isn't attractive at DMP, and it reduces the chances
of other game types, such as a backgame, which is quite a good plan at
DMP (see below). Of course you should not overdo this rule. Sometimes
hitting on the ace-point or going for the blitz is just plainly the best
approach.

As stated, a backgame is a plan you would of course prefer to play at DMP
than in a money game. With the right timing you are often the favourite
to win, as gammons don't count. The problem is to get the right timing. So
you should not become committed to a back game from move one. This could
backfire quickly. You only should tend to like a backgame more than
usual. And if playing a backgame, you should go for a full-blooded one,
meaning that you have to do all you can to preserve your timing. Believe
me, I have won a fair number of games just by making hara kiri plays such
as leaving blots on every point in my home board, because my timing was
about to deteriorate. Remember, you don't have to fear a gammon or, not
unimportantly, even a backgammon! With 15 men on two of your opponents
deep home points, the backgammon chances are high, but your winning
chances are better than you might think!

In some ways similar to backgames are ace-point or deuce-point games.
With proper timing, you have winning chances in both games of about 20%,
making these types of game considerably stronger than in money game
because there is no gammon danger. So, if things are going badly, and you
have a low anchor, you are still not out of the game, no matter how many
men you have on the anchor or even on the bar. So you should tend not to
give up the opponents ace-point too early, because its an assurance of
some winning chances until the end, no matter what happens. This is a
further reason for my leaving the back men unmoved on some opening rolls
(such as 4-1).

Lets make a short summary of all these points:

a) In the opening, going for an advanced anchor is less important than in
money games.

b) Play positionally and smoothly; be reluctant to hit on or make the
ace-point. A blitz is not the type of game you should aim for.

c) A backgame is quite an attractive game plan, but don't go for it from
the outset. If playing a backgame, do all you can to preserve your
timing.

d) Ace-point and two-point games are still not desirable, but considerably
better than in money games. So you should think carefully about breaking a
low anchor prematurely.

e) Don't overdo these rules! In most positions (say about 95%) the best
play in a money game is also the best play at DMP!

Playing against a much weaker opponent. If you are playing against a
much weaker opponent (this could happen if you play on FIBS, or if you
want to prove to a beginner that backgammon has nothing to do with luck,
or if you are playing one single game for $500 against a pimp, who has
not the faintest idea about the game, as I did recently), you should at
least consider the following thoughts of mine:

a) In the opinion of many people, you should try from the beginning to
complicate the game, to force the beginner to make errors. This surely
isn't wrong at all, but I have a slightly different suggestion: Firstly, I
think, you should try to get a solid racing advantage! If you are 30 pips
or more ahead, your win is almost guaranteed, because most beginners don't
know the concept of building up their board while waiting for a shot. I
really get the feeling that if I am way ahead in the race, I cant lose
against a very weak opponent. Only if you cant manage this, say if the
race is still rather even or worse, should you complicate the game,
meaning that you start playing very positionally, slotting points, and
falling back on a backgame or other type of holding game.

b) I think a rather important point against a beginner, more so than
against an average player, is to hold the ace point as long as possible!
Then you'll be in the game till the end, no matter what happens. Also a
beginner will make terrible errors at the end of the game, so with proper
timing you could easily become even the favourite by just playing an
ordinary ace-point game! If you make an advanced anchor, your opponent
could easily out-roll you with some lucky numbers and there may then be
little scope for him to make major errors. For example, with the opening
rolls of 6-2, 6-3 and even 6-4, I usually play 13/7, 13/x against a known
weak player! Why is this? Well, lets assume you subsequently make the
18-point after opening with 24/18. Then a very weak opponent may roll
some big doubles, get behind you, and you'll have virtually no chance in
the race. By holding your ace-point as long as possible, you give your
opponent the possibility to make errors until the end, and most of the
time he or she will make them! Also, making your own bar point is rather
strong against a weak opponent, because it avoids some jokers such as
6-6.

c) This brings us to a minor third point -- avoid Jokers. You should try
not to give your weaker opponent any game-winning jokers, even if its
mathematically correct to do so. So you should, if possible, avoid
positions, where he has, for example, a few chances to roll boxes and win
the race easily. If you don't give him many jokers, he will be doing hard
to win, because of his weaker play. [This is why you should also try
hard to stop a weak player making an advanced anchor when he or she has a
race lead, the opponent is then often one roll away from winning PL]

d) You shouldn't overdo any of these points, either. Often opponents are
not as weak as they first appear and sometimes much stronger than their
rating! By the way, I lost against the pimp!

Any comments are welcome!!

Loner, how about an article from you ?? :)

Bernd, alias one_pointer


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