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## Action Doubles

Cash game, center cube.

Should White double? Should Black take if doubled?

This position is another example of our old friend, the “Action Double”. We’ve seen one of these before, in the blog post of September 1, 2023. Here’s a brief description of the conditions that create a good action double.

## Benchmark Doubling Positions

Cash game, center cube.

Should White double? If he doubles, should Black take or drop?

A key idea in understanding the proper use of the doubling cube on a practical level is that of the “benchmark” position. A benchmark cube situation is a position where one of the decisions (doubling or taking) is a toss-up, while the other is completely clear. Properly understanding a benchmark position is very useful since it unlocks the key to many related positions. Just compare your actual position to the benchmark, spot what the relevant differences, and you should be able to make a good cube decision over the board. Better players are aware of hundreds of good benchmarks, so they can make their over-the-board decisions quickly and accurately.

## Doubling Blitzes

Cash game, center cube.

Cash game, center cube.

Should White double? If he doubles, should Black take or drop?

We’re in the early stages of the game and White is contemplating a double. Some time ago Joe Sylvester developed a rule for evaluating early doubles. Sylvester advocated looking at three aspects of the position:

(1) Positional advantage (board strength, primes)

(2) The race

(3) Threats

A solid lead in two out of three areas usually translates into a good initial double. A lead in all three guarantees a good double and brings the take into question. Let’s look at all three features of the position in light of Sylvester’s Law and see what we get.

(1) Positional advantage. No one really has a priming structure yet. White has one more home board point and one more outfield point, but Black has his 5-point. Slight edge to White.

(2) Race. Huge edge for White, who leads in the pip count, 118 to 152.

(3) Threats. Another big edge for White, who has five crushing doubles (1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, and 6-6) plus another six rolls that make the 4-point (6-4, 6-2, 4-2). In addition, White can at least hit loose with most of his other numbers.

A big edge in two out of three categories certainly implies White can double. At the same time, Black has a pretty easy take. White only has three really crushing numbers (2-2, 4-4, and 6-6). Everything else gives Black a chance to anchor on his next turn, with a long game in progress. And of course, Black does have his 5-point, which is a big asset in his favor.

## Early Blitz Cube – Take or Drop?

Cash game, Center cube.

Should White double? If he does, should Black take, drop, or beaver?

In this position we have an opening blitz with a few little twists we don’t always see in such situations. Let’s quickly review the features of the position and look at which are important and which are not.

## Blitz or Consolidate?

Cash game. Black owns the cube. White on move.

White to play 3-3.

White’s off to a good start in this position. He’s already made a three-point board, whereas Black hasn’t yet made a new point, and White has hit a blot, leaving him 17 pips ahead in the race. Black, meanwhile, is still scrambling to make an anchor. Last turn White offered an aggressive double, and Black quite reasonably took.

Now White throws one of his best shots, 3-3, and has three game plans:

(a) The consolidation play with 14/8 13/10(2), leaving him firmly in control with a nice edge, or

(b) Consolidation plus a little attack with 24/21 14/8 6/3*, or

(c) All-out blitz with either 13/4*/1* or 13/4* 6/3*.

What’s the right idea?

Here’s the general approach for handling these sorts of positions. If your opponent has no structure, and the cube has already been turned (activating gammons), then the blitz dominates any safe game plan. If the blitz fails, White can just drop back into some sort of holding game where he holds a slight edge. If White makes one of the solid plays, he’ll reach those holding games anyway since almost all of Black’s rolls will anchor somewhere. White will be slightly better off if he goes for the holding game right away, because of his racing lead, but the difference is small. But if the blitz succeeds White wins a gammon, and with the cube already turned that’s a quick four points and a huge swing.

As Black acquires more structure, the blitz drops in value. If we alter Black’s position and give him his 5-point (as though he had rolled a 3-1 at some time), then the blitz plays are only slightly superior to the consolidating plays. If we give Black two extra points, say the 5-point and the 3-point, then the blitz plays become pretty big errors and the consolidating plays becomes correct. (There’s very little difference between Play (a) and Play (b) no matter what structure Black has.)

So we’re blitzing. Next question: what’s the right way to blitz?

What makes this problem especially interesting is that White has two distinct ways to blitz: the obvious 13/4*/1* and the obviously riskier 13/4* 6/3*. Problems with two plausible blitzing moves are rare, but we can choose between them by noticing that the double-hit with 13/4*/1* exposes only one blot in the board, and a hit may only allow Black to get an ace-point game later. If White hits on the 3-point and 4-point with two checkers and Black then throws a three or four, he may get a good anchor quickly. The two blitzing plays are close (and far superior to the non-blitzing plays) but the play that exposes only one inside blot is slightly better.

## Late Game Blitzes

Cash game, White owns the cube. White on roll.

(a) Should White double?

(b) If doubled, should Black take, drop, or beaver?

Among the many relatively unexplored position types in backgammon is one I call the “Late Game Blitz”. The general idea is pretty simple. One side has a blitz in progress. The other side, unlike the case in the basic opening blitz, has some sort of structure in place, which might range from a few scattered points to an imposing five-prime. The blitzer has some number of checkers to extricate from behind this structure before he can claim the game.

These Late Game Blitz positions are relatively common and often incredibly difficult. Many points are swung with errors in this type of game, and the errors are often very large. If you’re looking to work hard to improve your play and results, these are good positions to focus on. The ability to handle these positions well will make a big difference in your play.