ONE FOR ROBIN - A LOOK AT THE GOLDEN POINT

By Michael Crane © 2007

 

My good friend, Michael Shelton was the originator of the statement, "One for Robin", which was always exclaimed aloud whenever he (or his opponents) made the Golden Point. A lot of players 'misplace' the Golden Point thinking it is their own 5-point when in fact it is their opponent's 5-point (the 20-point). Of course, your own 5-point is your opponent's Golden Point. OK, it's the 5-point, that's the quick answer!  

Ever since books on backgammon have been written the 5-point has always been the point to make. Here's what some top (and perhaps, not so top) authors have to say on the subject:  

Backgammon by Paul Magriel: You can gain a large measure of security throughout the game, however, by making a single point. This is your opponent's 5 -point, called the Golden Point. It is the most important point for you to establish in the game.  

Winning Is More Fun by Jeff Ward: The choice of making the bar-point or the five-point is a common one in backgammon, particularly during the opening stages of the game. In almost all cases the correct play is to make the five-point.  

Backgammon - The Action Game by Prince Alexis Obolensky & Ted James: This is a good roll. The player has made a point on his five-point, considered the most important on his home board, and has created an additional block against his opponent.  

Paradoxes & Probabilities by Barclay Cooke: The one basic early tactic which should supersede all others is to do everything in your power to make both 5-points, especially your opponent's as soon as possible - as long as you hold this point you can afford daring manoeuvres.  

On Backgammon by Phillip Martyn: The most important points on the board on the two 5-points, your own and your opponents.  

and finally;  

Teach Yourself Backgammon by Robin Clay: This group, unlike the safe point-making throws, involves you in taking a risk by leaving a blot on your 5-point, thus giving you a chance to cover it on your next turn, to gain control of your vital 5-point.  

Twenty years after Robin's book (published by Hodder) the same title was to reappear, this time I was the author! Here's what I have to say on the Golden Point:  

Teach Yourself Backgammon by Michael Crane: An early anchor to aim for is the Golden Point (the 5-point in either table). In its purest sense the Golden Point refers to the 20-point but your own 5-point (your opponent’s 20-point is of equal value; if you possess it, they can’t). It was named the Golden Point by former world champion and author, Paul Magriel, and is recognised as the strongest point on the board. It offers great outer board cover and ensures at least one point to re-enter onto off the bar. A spare checker on here is desirable so that when a blot presents itself in the outer table you are able to hit it without abandoning this valuable, advanced, anchor.

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When should you make your 20-point? As soon as your opponent has opportunities to make their 5- or bar-point you should consider making the Golden Point. Look at this example in Diagram 1.

 

Black started with 32 and played off his mid-point, 13/10 13/11. White responded with 21 and played 13/11 6/5 slotting the 5-point. How is black to play 31? There are three choices:

  • Make the 5-point, 8/5 6/5
  • Make the bar-point, 10/7 8/7 
  • Hit on the 20-point with 24/20* 

Diagram 1

   
Black has to hit. They have to stop white making it, even at the expense of not making their own 5-point or bar-point. Many battles are fought over the ownership of this strategic point and, in the early stages of the game being hit back isn’t so harmful so ‘blot hitting’ contests often erupt on both sides of the board in their attempts to make it.
 

Take a look at this example in Diagram 2. (This is a ‘multi-roll’ position hence no dice are shown in the illustration)

Black rolls 31

This roll does two good things, played 10/7 8/7 it makes the valuable bar-point; or played 8/5 6/5 it makes the also valuable 5-point. The correct play is to make the 5-point. More often than not it takes precedence over the bar-point.

Diagram 2

Black rolls 61
Again, which point to make? The bar-point, 13/7 8/7; or the 5-point, 11/5 6/5? Of course, it’s the 5-point. Once you’ve made your own 5-point it’s going to remain yours until the bear-off. Although the bar-point is very important for forming a prime and stopping your opponent’s runners from escaping, when given the choice of which of the two points to make the 5-point is nearly always the first one you go for.

Black rolls 44
Two moves, make your own 5-point, 13/5(2); or your opponent’s 5-point, 24/20(2) 8/4(2)?  This time it’s the latter, your Golden Point. Playing off the mid-point isn’t worth it because it vacates an already strong anchor and leaves a vulnerable blot. Moving off the mid-point in this position would therefore be an error if you did. However, if one of the white runners was moved to the 20-point then 13/5*(2) is correct by a large margin. The reason is that white now poses a threat to the 5-point and they must be dealt with.

Black rolls 22
As a beginner the correct play would be to make the Golden Point, 24/20(2). If your opponent is threatening to make their bar- or 5-point and you have the opportunity to make their 5-point, then it is generally the correct move to make.

Black rolls 63
Given the choice here of making the bar-point, the 5-point, or hitting 24/15*, the correct play is to hit. Making your own bar-point or 5-point are good (and acceptable moves) but stopping your opponent from making theirs is better.

As you have seen, it isn't always the correct play to attack or make the Golden Point, but until you have gained more experience in the game make/attack the Golden Point when given the chance; you won't go too wrong too often. Give it top priority when given the choice to make it or to prevent an opponent from making it.

   

So, you decide to make it... when do you decide to vacate it? Too many players leave it too soon - often tempted into doing so by a more experienced opponent setting up blots just for that purpose. If you do leave it you have to get something very good in return.  

In Diagram 3, would you leave the Golden Point to hit white in this position with 20/15*?    

Diagram 3

   
White has played from his mid-point and left you a great shot with any five, so what are you waiting for, hit him! Well if you did hit him you've just made a big mistake. You only hold the 6-point in your inner board and unless he rolls double six he's going to re-enter easily, perhaps with a return shot and that'll leave you on the bar facing three closed points. In fact if he rolls 33 you'll have two men on the bar and will be facing four consecutive closed points! The play here is to ignore the blatant attempt to lure you off and to play 9/5 6/5, even though it gives white direct 6s and 53. The fact that you still occupy your Golden Point allows you to take this calculated risk.
 

So, you didn't hit him then but what about now in  Diagram 4?

This time it is correct to run out and hit both blots 20/16* 16/15*. Although white has three inner board points the risk to you is minimal and the gain is two in the air! Making the 5-point with this roll would be a blunder.

Vacating the Golden Point is all about risk and gain. Before you do it ask yourself. "What is the risk to me? What do I gain?" If you think you have more to lose than you have to gain, don't leave it.

Diagram 4

   

Remember, whilst you hold this very valuable point you have a host of good things in your favour:

  • you are unlikely to be gammoned
  • you are covering the outer board
  • you can take more risks elsewhere on the board because you will always have a safe haven of re-entry off the bar
  • you will make it impossible for your opponent to form a continuous home-prime
  • you will make it difficult for your opponent to clear his mid-point should he be ahead in the race.  

All these benefits from holding just one point - not bad eh? Mind you, these benefits can also count for your opponent if holds his Golden Point. So, in the early stages of the game it is essential you make every effort to make either or both 5-points or to thwart your opponent's attempts to occupy them. No other point on the board is worth more.

I would like to acknowledge the authors mentioned above, Paul Magriel, Jeff Ward, Prince Alexis Obolensky & Ted James, Barclay Cook, Philip Martyn and Robin Clay. Should you wish to purchase any of the books mentioned (or any other book) then take a look at The Backgammon Shop.