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Playing Against a Five-Point Block
by Mary Hickey - February 2007
MARY HICKEY
Red has some problems because he has two men struggling to escape a five-point prime. Since White also has a man to extricate, he may have some time - but how can he use it most effectively?

Are you feeling claustrophobic back there behind your opponent’s block?  If not, why not?  With five points in front of you already and two White spare checkers ready to get started on the next one in line, the Wuggly Ump is too close for comfort.  You’d run a man if you could, but here the closest you can get to running is moving one of the back men to the front edge of the block.  Sometimes this is a good idea, and it would be reasonable here too if you only had one man back. 

 

The problem with this approach when you have two men back and he has builders in place, as he does here, is that you invite an attack that has excellent prospects for success.  Suppose he hits loose on the edge of his prime this turn, and you hit him back?  That would be a good sequence for you, but you’d still have two men to escape from his board, and only one would be at the edge.  In contrast, if you only had one men back, that same sequence would leave you one 6 away from complete escape.

 

Another plan is to try to counterblock his back checker.  We’ve already seen in earlier columns that in general, you want to attack a single checker rather than block it, and there’s nothing here to indicate that some other principle overrides this one.  For this reason, we can deep-six the passive 13/9, which improves your builder distribution, but accomplishes nothing immediate and does nothing at all to help poor Frick and Frack escape from prison.

 

What else is there?  How about making the deuce anchor with 24/23?  Then you can choose what has to be the best 3 available, 13/10.  This puts a builder in place as the play of 13/9 did, but it also gives you more freedom to use it however you want, since the back men are safe from attack. 

 

While the deuce isn’t anyone’s favorite anchor, it can produce game-winning shot opportunities later, if it comes down to that.  However, there are other ways you could win this game if you make the deuce anchor now.  You might succeed in counterpriming him by making your bar point, though as we already noted above, this isn’t first choice against a single checker.  But whether you prime him or not, if he rolls poor numbers and can’t get out, you may get some shots at other checkers if he rolls awkwardly while he’s trying.

 

What if you could move up to the edge, but distract him with an attack at the same time?  If your roll were 51, you’d have this option, but it’s just as well you don’t because you might find it tempting!  Messing around with the problem in Snowie shows that this approach would be a blunder.  In fact, it would remain a serious error (though no longer a blunder) even if you had an extra checker on the 6 point to use as a cover if he fanned, or entered but missed.  Though we’ve noted already that attacking a single checker is thematic, here it’s just too unlikely to work, as was the case in Problem 4 in this series.

 

Hit-and-split plays are often correct in earlier stages of the game, and would be right here also if you had a bigger board with a spare builder or two.  For one thing, your attack would be more likely to succeed.  For another, your need to attack would be greater, since the deuce point game you might have to play would be much more poorly timed if your other checkers were farther forward.

 

Short Snowie rollouts show that White should not double if you play 24/23, 13/10, but should do so after either of the other plays.  Though you can still take, you’re not happy to do so, especially after the weak and aimless 13/9.   A pure deuce point game is a pass for money, but the correct play here doesn’t commit you to a pure deuce point game.  Since it has some other ways it can win, perhaps we should call it a Deuce With Outs.


Problem 1 with rollout:

 

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