In Position #1, Black has a 6-2 to play. What’s the right idea here?
Black has a few reasonable choices in Position #1. If he wants an anchor at all cost, he can button up with 24/22, after which he has to choose between 13/7 and 8/2 for his six. If he wants to stay flexible and run a checker out, he can try either 22/14 or 22/16 13/11. All the plays have some merit, and there’s no obvious standout. What’s the right idea?
Here’s a key principle that will guide you through a lot of early positions: Points are good, and points that are anchors are especially good.
Now it’s true that the 22-point is not the best anchor to have. Given a choice, you’d rather be on the 20-point or the 18-point. But right now it’s the only anchor available. As we discussed in Lesson 1, the 20-point and bar-point anchors are hard to get, so when you’re under pressure you should be happy to take what’s available.
After playing 24/22, the best six is obviously 13/7. The bar-point is much stronger than the 2-point, so you slot the bar even though you give White a few more shots. Now that you have an anchor, being hit isn’t a potential disaster.
Of the running plays, the best is 22/16 13/11, simply because it moves a checker into the outfield and tries to stay out of trouble, a very good idea when your opponent has a better home board and you don’t have an anchor. Black has a few too many blots after this play, but White has to throw a four to really hurt him.
Several plays here are outright blunders: 13/5, 24/18 22/20, and 24/18 13/11.
The first play (13/5) violates a good general rule: Don’t slot while your back checkers are split. When you slot a point, you’re hoping for your opponent to miss so you can cover next turn. If your back checkers are split, your opponent will attack you there if he doesn’t hit your slot, and you’ll have to get in from the bar before you can try to cover.
The other two plays (24/18 24/22 and 24/18 13/11) violate a different rule: Don’t leave your back checkers sitting on points your opponent really wants to make. Violate this rule and your opponent will just start hitting everything in sight, while you scramble to survive. The exception (sort of) to this rule is the split on the opening roll with a play like 24/20 or 24/18. If your opponent is in the starting position, he doesn’t have quite enough ammunition in place to really hurt you. But once he starts making points, you’re in danger.
Either keep your blots safely tucked away back on the 24, 23, or 22-points, or run for safety in the outfield, but don’t dawdle on the target range.