Friday, 5 September 2014

Off-Topic: Backgammon

In Backgammon and in life you make your own luck.

Backgammon is the oldest board game that still exists today. It already existed in 2000 B.C. It was a popular game in Ancient Rome. Variations have existed from country to country for centuries, but the current standard rules were laid down in America in the 1920's, when the doubling cube was introduced. In recent years the game has achieved even greater popularity by being offered on the Internet.

Backgammon, like all games that involve dice, is a game of chance. That might cause people to say it's all about luck, but those are people who don't understand the game. The strategy of Backgammon is to make moves that put luck on your side. A good player always seems to be lucky.

Despite the game's apparent simplicity, the opening moves are more complex than those of chess. This is because of the wide branching effect. In chess there are 20 possible first moves, and 20 possible responses, leading to 400 theoretical positions before the second move. In Backgammon there are 15 possible dice rolls for the first move and 21 possible dice rolls for the reply. However, for each roll there are multiple possibilities. For instance, an opening roll of 2 and 1 can be played in 15 different ways. I'm not aware of any computer calculations, but I estimate that there are about 50,000 theoretical positions after the first two moves. If anyone knows the exact number, please let me know.

I'll add a complete description of the rules of Backgammon later today, but for now read these links.

There is a balance between luck and skill, but the longer a match lasts, the more important skill becomes. In longer matches the doubling cube plays a more important role. The difference between an intermediate and a good player is in his mastering of the cube, knowing when to double, when to accept a double and when to refuse a double.

I have been playing Backgammon for many years and consider myself an expert. I can beat almost any player online in a 7-game match. The problem is that most Internet players have only ever played Backgammon online, they've never been members of clubs where they could learn strategy from experts. They've learnt to play ad hoc by watching other players, and they copy one another's bad habits. When they lose games they don't even know why and blame bad luck.

I'll close by stating one thing I hate about Internet Backgammon. In the official rules of Backgammon there is no way to resign, apart from refusing a double. If a game's result is 100% certain and the winner is unable to double, the game's etiquette requires that the two players swiftly play out the remaining moves. All online Backgammon sites offer a Resign option. I can understand this for cases where a player has to leave a game to have his dinner, but in normal play there should be no resigning. It's bad style. When I'm playing I accept resignations, grudgingly, but I personally never resign.

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