• Baker Street Christmas

    Christmas Day at 221B is always a pleasurable experience. As ever, Mrs. Hudson had provided a superb turkey lunch. Holmes and I had eaten more than our fill but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a glass of port to complete matters.

    Outside Baker Street was very quiet as the snow deadened the sounds of the horses’ hooves and the wheels of the Hansom cabs, so that hardly a sound reached us as we chatted in front of the roaring fire. After briefly discussing Holmes’ current cases our conversation turned, as it often did, to the topic of backgammon.

    “Holmes, I still do not seem to be playing back games very well and I think that I am not maximising my chances in many of the back games that I play.”

    “Do you have a specific position in mind, my dear Watson?” enquired Holmes.

    “Several but let us look at this position from a game I played against Inspector Lestrade last week.” And, so saying I set up the board as you see it above. Black has to play double fours.

    “My thinking was that I couldn’t hold all three points in Lestrade’s home board, so I decided to give one of them up with this roll of 44 to guarantee my timing in 1-4 back game. I chose 20/16(2), 13/9(2) but the game did not go well. I took Lestrade’s double a couple of rolls later and went on to lose a gammon.”

    “Back games like this are relatively uncommon,” said Holmes. “They require careful handling to maximise the chances for the back game player. As the position stands Black does not know which back game will serve him best and although the 1-4 game is the most likely outcomes it could be that a 4-5 game will work better.

    “Note that in this initial position White has five checkers on his 6-pt that he would like to get into play. If you vacate his 5-pt prematurely those checkers have somewhere they can usefully go to. The key to back games like this one is to maintain flexibility and choice for as long as possible. There is even a chance that, if Black were to catch up in the race, the game will transpose to a holding game rather than a back game.

    “Your error, Watson, was to commit to a game plan before it was clear exactly what that plan should be. The best move in this position is 13/9, 11/3, 7/3. This allows Black to maintain all his options and because of the disjointed nature of White’s position he should have no trouble running off whichever anchor he chooses to give up. By strengthening his home board Black will create some variations where he hits White a couple of times, catches up in the race, and wins by going forward rather than relying on back game.”

    “Good heavens, Holmes’ I remarked, ‘you see so much more in a position than I ever could.”

    “Study and practice are vital, Watson. Even I could not ever have become a strong player without many hours of study and many more hours of practice. Next year you should spend more time on the game.”

    “An excellent suggestion, Holmes. I will certainly do that. And now, perhaps, just one more glass of port?”

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