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Best Bear-Off

Can you find the best move here? There’s only one option. Don’t forget about gammons.


XG skin design by Rain


This is somewhat of a ‘puzzle’ position - it’s a lot harder to find the right move than you might think - especially if you’re focussing too much on the usual rules about safe bear-offs against an anchor. We’re taught to avoid gaps, to keep an even number of checkers on the top two points, and to clear from the back. If you’re focussing on the gammon you might also be tempted to get another checker off to help you out.

But look again. You’re already a huge favourite to get a gammon. All you need to do is find the safest structure. And in this case that hopefully eventually leads you to the very odd-looking 6/4(2) 5/3(2). A gap? And an odd number of checkers on the 6-point? Surely not. And yet you’ll find that every single roll plays safely next time. It turns out the rules for bearing in against an anchor are slightly different.

The broader principle at work here is about killing your awkward numbers. Moving so that you can no longer play a particular number can often be a useful tactic when you’re trying to preserve timing, or trying to navigate safely. Here that principle, combined with this roll, means you can kill all your 5’s by vacating the 5-point, without harming your winning chances or gammon potential. You’ll always be able to safely bring the third checker on the 6-point home, and the only risks you might face after that would be a 51 or 61 in a few rolls’ time, both of which would leave just one blot.

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