The European Split: With A Direct Escape Route

24th April 2016 Posted in Backgammon Strategy, Checker Play by

When you have just one checker back, the decision between keeping the checker back on the 24 or 23 point and advancing it to a higher point in your opponent’s home board depends on several factors.

For the purposes of this article, I will use the term “European Split” to refer to moving a single back checker forward to a higher point in your opponent’s home board.

Several backgammon writers have suggested that when your opponent has a forward anchor, you should consider the European Split.  It is, however, difficult to find hard and fast rules for when to split and when not to split.  Frequently, there are arguments for and against advancing the back checker.

By using analysed reference positions, I will discuss some other factors that can influence this decision.

So, let’s get started on the European Split!

 

Positions Where You Have A Direct Escape Route

In Position 1a, it is correct to move the back checker to the 21 point.  However, in Positions 1b and 1c, you should leave the back checker alone.  What are the differences between these positions?

 

Position 1a Black has a 5 point anchor and can’t be primed

eu1

The extra checker on black’s 8 point in Position 1a is not that important as a rollout without this checker (that I haven’t presented) indicates the same play. 

Let’s first look at the pros and cons of moving the back checker from the 24 point to the 21 point.   

THE MAIN ADVANTAGE OF STAYING BACK IS THAT IT’S SAFE (FOR NOW).

Moving the back checker up to the 21 point means that white will get pointed on when black rolls 54, 52, 43, 22 and 11.  However, staying back is only safe for now. 

 

THE ADVANTAGE OF MOVING FORWARD IS THAT WHITE MAY HAVE A CHANCE TO ESCAPE BEFORE BLACK MAKES ANY MORE BOARD POINTS OR THE BAR POINT.

On the next roll, black can make the bar point with 62, 61 and 21.  In addition, Black can make the 3 point with 63 and 53.  If white stays back, he will need 2 numbers to escape once black has made the bar.  If white advances the back checker to the 21 point, black will probably hit loose, instead of making a point.  This will provide white with a chance to hit and/or escape to the outer board, while black still has a 2 point board. 

 

CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR BLOCKING POSITION?

In Position 1a, white cannot improve his blocking position against black’s 20 point anchor.   

In contrast, white can improve his block against the anchor in Positions 1b and 1c.   

In Position 1b, black has a 21 point anchor.  White can work on his forward position by creating a prime in front of black’s anchor.  He can make board points in all of these positions.  This suggests that the possibility of making points in front of the anchor is the differentiating factor between staying back and advancing the back checker.  The idea is that white can attack if black leaves the anchor with 1 checker.  Points in front of an anchor also block doubles and provide spots to place spares.   

Although white can improve his blocking position in position 1b, it isn’t a huge advantage against a 21 point anchor.  Nevertheless, it is correct for white to work on his forward position rather than moving his back checker forward.   

 

THIS SUGGESTS THAT THE EUROPEAN SPLIT IS NOT A HIGH PRIORITY PLAY WHEN YOU HAVE A DIRECT ESCAPE ROUTE AND THERE ARE OTHER USEFUL ALTERNATIVE PLAYS.  

 

Position 1B  Black has a 21 point anchor which can be blocked to some extent.

eu2

In Position 1c, black’s back checkers are on his 24 point.  It is now very clear that the European split is wrong.  White should just focus on his forward position.

 

Position 1C  Black is on the 24 point and white has priming potential.

eu3

Comment

When you have a direct escape route and there is scope to work on your forward position, you should generally focus on your forward position.

The European Split is not a high priority play when you have a direct escape route and there are other useful alternative plays.  

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