How not to play a 5/2

Game position.


First to five , black holding a 2 cube, white to play with a roll of 5-2 . Scroll to the bottom of the page for the right answer.

The correct play here is to break the 8 point leaving a blot there!

This play was shown to many people at the Fort Lauderdale backgammon tournament and only M. Corbett got the right answer.(According to Snowie).
Here are some additional points from Mr J. Brown:

I got this play all wrong but I can now see why leaving blots can be useful . I only looked at moving the inside or the outside points.

The 8 point is better than the 9 if you consider the possibility of blotting once the opposing players 4 is covered. The risk of equity loss is quite small. Every number bar the 1 will bring 2 in from the 8 and you need to have a number bar 1 or 2 to bring 2 in from the 9. Timing looks like it will play a large role in most common variations.

If your blot is not hit then you have 2 ´s and 5´s to make the 8. There are only 8 numbers that hit and cover for White and blacks return hits are powerful. Even moving in without hitting will create a timing advantage when you are down in the race. There are various hitting numbers that will leave 2 or even 3 blots that may not be used as the return hits will do to much damage.

This is a very good position to test you on how well you see all possible plays.

Would you expose more blots when faced with a 4 ½ point backgammon board ?


The match score and factors to take into account : : 0-0 to 3, cube is in the middle. This is slightly different than in a real money backgammon game, but not by much.

The important features of this position are:

The position is nearly symmetrical, although the blot in White’s board is both a builder to make a 5-point board and subject to an immediate return shot.

Black has to make a decision whether to volunteer a shot now, or to collapse his board

What occured at the table: Black held the anchor, playing 6-5 6-3.

The results:


There are three possible options that are all sensible here.

1. 21-17 is taking the bull by the horns.

Black cannot sit on the position, and even his slight racing lead is going to force him to either leave the anchor or to give up his board.

2. 5-2 3-2 leaves a blot but does not bury any new checkers

Black will still have 13 checkers “in play” to block and hold his board.

3. 6-3 6-5 is safe for this roll, but gives up the 6-point, which Black will probably never make again.

First, let us take a look at the rollout results, then discuss each of the three possible plays.

21-17 certainly seems like a risk. . It gives White some very strong rolls.

The safe play will leave no killing shots. But let us look at the equities for White after each of his rolls following each of the 3 options we are analysing

After 21-17:


Roll Equity
55 1.306
21 1.125
53 1.056
33 0.762
66 0.718
54 0.586
44 0.505
52 0.493
65 0.452
51 0.389
11 0.367
32 0.326
41 0.305
22 0.236
62 0.210
43 0.152
63 0.151
31 0.038
42 -0.067
61 -0.130
64 -0.153

After 5-2 5-3


Roll Equity
31 1.002
21 0.597
11 0.582
51 0.571
61 0.569
66 0.543
55 0.537
44 0.517
64 0.512
41 0.493
33 0.446
22 0.442
53 0.424
62 0.411
32 0.385
63 0.375
43 0.353
52 0.223
42 0.127
65 0.104
54 -0.059

After 6-3 6-5


Roll Equity
55 0.688
33 0.668
44 0.641
32 0.640
21 0.640
66 0.601
22 0.596
63 0.584
43 0.557
53 0.553
64 0.542
62 0.535
52 0.426
61 0.407
65 0.402
41 0.383
42 0.378
51 0.371
31 0.356
54 0.266
11 0.039

What is the key? Clearing the 6-point simply does not leave White with any bad possible rolls.. Black’s lack of direct shots at the 6 and 14 points create relatively safe landing points.

Moreover, when White is hit, Black cannot contain him – now or in the futurer. Black has a 3-point board and will very likely not get a stronger position later.

It is my opinion that it would be hard to do this kind of analysis over the board. Setting up each of the 3 positions and then looking at White’s 21 possible shakes.

Conventional backgammon strategy teaches us to not release the anchor until we absolutely have to, that the first player to release their anchor in a mutual holding game is at a disadvantage. And to be sure, Black is at a disadvantage here.

But we also know that outfield control and keeping the checkers connected are crucial elements if you want to play backgammon to win. . Here, with the game close, the edge goes to the side that can successfully make a break for their home.. Once Black buries those two checkers on the 6-point, White will have much better control of the outfield for the duration of the game..

This position reminds me of Kent Goulding’s maxim “If you play to avoid losing, you will inevitably fail.” On the whole , Black’s need for connectivity, flexibility, and outfield control, are much greater than the cost of an immediate shot – with a possible return if White cannot cover.

There is one more interesting point to note with the game in this position: If you look at the equities, most of the plays after clearing the 6-point and White’s return put him right into the window of an efficient double.

The number of rolls that give equity between .530 and .700 are:

21-17: 2 rolls! 5 shakes (hit and cover numbers) leave White playing for a gammon, 66 and 33 give him a double and a big pass, but the other 27 rolls don’t even give him a double. White will get limited value from the cube in this scenario.

5-2 3-2: 9 rolls. 31 lets White play on for a gammon, the other 25 rolls leave a marginal double if at all.

6-5 6-3: 19 rolls! Most of White’s rolls let him get great outfield coverage. The race may be even, but Black will have to leave the first meaningful shot, often a double shot.

I rolled the position out moving the cube to Black’s side – as though White had already doubled. Admittedly this will change the gammon values and White’s later doubling window, but we see that the gap between the plays narrows significantly. . Much of the edge to 21-17 comes from the relative cube inefficiency it gives later.


Admittedly, this analysis has one significant flaw. I looked at equities after White’s next roll. The cube decision will come after White’s roll and Black’s reply. 3 candidate plays times 441 replies was a bit much to analyze. But notice that the difference in the cubeful equity after the rollout between the best and worst of the 3 plays is over 0.300 with White having cube access, and only 0.130 when White has given up the cube.

The key lessons to be learned from this position are :

1) Outfield control means a whole lot in backgammon

2) Occasionally , cube efficiency can mean a lot too

To double or not ?

The Jacoby Rule which is named after the backgammon and bridge master Oswald Jacoby states that you cannot win a gammon unless the doubling cube has been offered and accepted during the course of a game. This rule was designed to speed up the pace of games by stopping players who gain an overwhelming early advantage from playing on for a gammon and forcing them to cash a point.

The Jacoby Rule is nearly always applied in money games It is never used in tournament matches. However, once the cube has been turned it is a different matter altogether. Then the holder of the cube may suddenly turn the game round and develop an advantage that will be big enough to be able to redouble his opponent out.

Can he get too good to redouble? By this we mean will he do better to play on for a gammon rather than cash his sure two points? The mathematics involved are straightforward.

  • By playing on for the gammon he is trying to gain an extra 2 points.
  • If he plays on and loses he will lose the two points he would have won by redoubling his opponent out and he loses a further two points because he loses the game. In other words he will lose 4 points.
  • Therefore he is risking 2 points to gain 4. Simply put if he wins at least twice as many gammons as he loses games then it is correct to play on for the gammon.

The difficult part of course is estimating how many gammons and losses might arrive from a particular position. This week’s position is a case in point. White is stuck on the bar against a four-point board and is a whopping 74 pips behind before the roll. When he loses he will lose a lot of gammons because of all those checkers located in black’s home board.

On the other hand if he does hit a shot his own home board is strong and may enable him to win quickly. The key is how often will hit that shot? It turns out that he will win the game about 20% of the time which is not nearly enough to take a redouble because of all his gammon losses.

When black wins he wins a gammon more than half the time and so it is correct to play on for the gammon at this stage. Remember every roll will make for a new doubling decision and you should re-evaluate the position again next turn.

Estimating these gammon/loss chances is difficult when playing and you can only succeed at this by playing a lot and developing your library of reference positions.


In the game from which this position was taken black redoubled (which was a small error) but white took (which was a major mistake !). But as we all know sometimes in backgammon you get rewarded for your mistakes.

Levels of Complexity in Backgammon

Take this backgammon position:


No one ever said that backgammon was an easy game. If it was then people would have lost interest in it long ago and moved on to other things. Luckily its complexity keeps us coming back for more and although it can be infuriating it is that very complexity which makes backgammon the game that it is.

Occasionally apparently simple positions such as the one illustrated above can contain hidden depths of complexity.

This position is taken from a high-stake chouette that I got wrong over the board. How should black play his 43? There are four possible options:

(a) 8/4*, 7/4
(b) 16/13, 8/4*
(c) 13/6
(d) 16/9

Before we take a look at the moves we have to consider what the salient factors in the position are. They are as follows:

• Black has three of white’s checkers trapped behind a four-point prime.
• Black has escaped all his checkers from white’s home board but cannot play this roll safely – he will be leaving a blot (or blots) whatever he plays.
• Black has a two-point home board whilst white has a four-point home board.
• The doubling cube is in the centre and therefore available to both players.

Given these factors what is black’s plan? Of course nothing is ever certain but it does look as if these should be the elements of the plan:

1. Given the strength of white’s home board black should only leave one blot.
2. Minimise shots if feasible.
3. When your opponent has two or more checkers back then priming them is an excellent game plan (with one checker back you should attack).
4. Look to give white a difficult doubling decision

Point 1 eliminates play (a). Play (b) leaves 15 shots, (c) leaves 15 shots and (d) leaves 13 shots. This indicates that play (d) is slightly the better play as far as shots are concerned. With regard to priming play (d) is also best as it slots the back of the prime. Play (b) does knock white away from the edge of the prime so that should also be a contender.

Analysing this and then proceeding to make a judgement over the board is very difficult and human nature tends to be aggressive and lead us to hit whenever possible. A lot of players would choose (a) or (b) on this principle but in fact the non-hitting plays are both better and the quiet 16/9 minimising shots is actually the best play by quite some distance as we can see from the rollout data.

Over the board I was seduced by the fact that after 8/4*, 7/4, and no return hit by white, I would have a powerful double. Sadly 15 hits (16, 26, 36, 25, 34, 14, 24, 22) is too high of a price to pay. My opponents threw 36 (bar/22, 24/18*) and after I fanned they correctly doubled. I accepted (also correctly) and was lucky not to lose a gammon.


The key lesson here is to always have a plan and then find the best move to play that fits the plan. Just moving checkers without a plan is a one way trip to poverty !

Chris Bray

The Backgammon Blitz – Part I

I believe the best way to understand how to do a proper blitz in backgammon is to start with the dictionary. The dictionary defines the word “blitz” as follows:

“an overwhelming all-out attack”

The idea of the blitz is to barrage your opponent by hitting him and making points and hopefully, if you are successful, closing him out completely so that he has one or more checkers on the bar while you proceed to win a gammon or backgammon.

Of course the word blitz is actually short for “blitzkrieg” which was the massive German offensive at the start of World War II. The German’s conquered whole nations in days and sometimes hours because of two things:

they had a large, strong army in place;

they attacked quickly and relentlessly until they achieved their goal.

The backgammon blitz works in exactly the same way. And when it is successful, the success is complete…ending in total rewards that often include gammons and sometimes even backgammons.

Many say the Germans lost the war because they eventually spread their resources too thin by fighting on two fronts. And that same error will cause the backgammon blitz to fail as well.

So what we have learned so far from the Germans is that if we want to have a successful blitz, we must have a lot of ammunition in place; we must be unrelenting; and we must focus our resources on one area of geography—our inner board.

Now, let’s put these principles to work over the board and discuss how and when you blitz and don’t blitz.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume on every position it is a money game and your opponent has the cube.

Let’s take a look at Position 1, black on roll, and black to play 5-3.


This is an “ideal” blitz position. Like the Germans, Black has a tremendous army (many checkers and builders) in place to attack the inner board. White has few defenses with a checker on the bar and two blots. Here is a classic opportunity for Black to execute a blitz. A perfect blizt is one that keeps the opponent from anchoring (making a point) until you end up closing your board with the opponent’s checker(s) on the bar. The best way to keep White from making a point here is to put all his checkers on the bar…so the only way he can make a point is by rolling doubles. In this case, only double 1, 2, 3, and 4 work. So clearly the play here is to move 9/4*/1*.

Yes, you could make your 3 point and not hit anything and not leave a direct shot, but if you do that and White rolls a 1 or a 4, or a double 2, or a 2-3, he not only has an anchor that will probably prevent him from getting gammoned, he win a fair share of games with that anchor. If you count the rolls, that 23 out of 36 rolls that really work well for him.

The “down side” to the double hit is that you might get hit back with a 1, but even if you do, White’s board allows for easy re-entry, and you still have plenty of soldiers to attack with.

Now, take a look at Position 2, and how would you play 5-3?


In this position, it is still right to attack, but it is much better not to hit two. In this situation, your goals is to make the better point…the four point. When you are blitzing, you don’t care about what order you makes the points in…you just want to keep him from anchoring. This is NOT a blitz position simply because you don’t have enough checkers in position to close the board before White is likely to anchor.

Bearing off in backgammon – Part 1

In this 1st article of the series , we are going to be looking at the so called end game in backgammon. Remember in backgammon you cannot bear off any men until all 15 of them are in your home board. If at any stage during bearing off one or more of your men is hit, these men will have to make the return trip from the bar all the way back to the home board before you can continue bearing off.

We will be looking at the types of bear off that can take place and some of the basics of bearing off.

Basically there are 4 types 

  1. Bearing off with no opposition (a race)
  2. Bearing off with an opponents anchor
  3. Bearing off with an opponents checker on the bar (or more than one)
  4. Bearing off with a backgame (ie your opponent is holding one or more points in your home board)

Bearing off with no opposition.

As in any backgammon game, correct use of the doubling cube is essential and we will be analysing this extensively in other articles.

We will look at a game with no opposition , making the priority to get your men into your home board as quickly as possible.

We are assuming that you have created some points in your home board during the course of the game. The question then is where to place your men as you bear them in.

It may seem the obvious choice to arrange your men as shown in the diagram below.


In this case however reds checkers are distributed much better than blacks. It is very important to place more men on the 3 highest points in your home board.

The concept known as wastage comes into play here. (we will be looking at this more indepth in later articles). If your checkers are placed on the one point and you roll a sixes or fives or anything higher than 1 you will be wasting pips everytime you bear off. In order to bear off in the most efficient manner we aim to keep wastage down to a minumum.

There is a very old saying in backgammon that you can never have too many men on your 4 point. Take a look at the following situation which will show you why:


In this situation blacks position is very inefficient. There are too many checkers on the two and three point. If black rolls a four he will have no choice but to play 6-2 or 5-1. Afterwards he can bear them off by rolling threes , fours , fives or sixes. It is clear to see that this will lead to massive amounts of wastage.

The least wastage will be created by a position as illustrated below:


In theory this is the best possible position to be in. You are very unlikely to achieve though due to the nature of the game, but it does illustrate our point.

When all your men are in the home board, bearing them off is usually a straight forward matter.

There are some situations where a more subtle approach is called for when bearing off. below is an example:


Black has rolled six, three and has to play. He could play 6 and off, and 4/1. The problem playing this is that when he rolls his next three he will not be able to use the number to take a man off. As black has an even number of men left this may cost him a whole roll, i.e. he will take an extra turn to remove all his men.

Since the rules of backgammon do allow you to play your dice in either order, black can play the much better option of , 6/3, 4 and off. The checker that he puts on his three point with this play may save him the extra roll.

Summary of the unopposed bear off

The strategy for bearing off in this situation is pretty straight forward . Get your men in your home board and remove them pretty much sums it up. it is however important that when possible position your men on the higher points, ie 4, 5 & points.

Don’t forget the saying about the four point and finally remember that the rules of backgammon allow you to play the numbers on your dice in either order.

The Backgammon Race – Part 1

An introduction

Whilst we all struggle to understand the complexity of the middle game in backgammon, we continue to make very good progress in areas of the game where computers can assist us.. The obvious area for analysis is the non-contact endgame where the race becomes of the utmost importance. If we can produce and learn formulae to cover the majority of positions then those who can remember and apply those formulae will have an edge over those who have not studied this area of the game.

In this first article on backgammon races I am going to look at the easiest of the racing formulae that are available to us.

The Beginning

Until the 1970’s there really weren’t any formulae in common use and the vast majority of backgammon players would not have known a pip count if they’d run into one! With the surge of interest that took place in the 1970’s some order was finally imposed and the first rudimentary formula based on the pip count was developed.

Just in case you don’t know what a pip count is, it is the number of pips you must roll with the dice to bear off all your remaining men. The pip count in the starting position is 167 for each player.


The pip count is calculated by multiplying the number of checkers on each point by the value of the point and summing the total. In the diagram above black’s count is:
(2×24) + (5×13) + (3×8) + (5×6) = 48 + 65 + 24 + 30 = 167

To help understand the racing formulae a simple diagram is required:



  • Leader’s Pip Count: The number of pips required by the leader to bear off all his checkers.
  • Trailer’s Pip Count: The number of pips required by the trailer to bear off all his checkers.
  • Doubling Point: The leader’s lead in the pip count is sufficient for him to be able to offer an initial double
  • Redoubling Point: The leader’s lead in the pip count is sufficient for him to offer a redouble
  • Point of Last Take: The point at which the difference in the pip counts is such that the trailer has a take but only just.Any increase in the difference would mean that the trailer must drop a double/redouble.
  • Doubling Window: The pip count range within which double/take is the correct doubling decision.

The basic formula is very simple but for all that it is reasonably effective and certainly a huge step forward from the visual inspection techniques that preceded it:

Let the leader’s pip count be L.
Let the trailer’s pip count be T.

If T is 8% greater than L then the Leader should double.
If T is 9% greater than L then the Leader should redouble.
If T is 12% greater than L then the Trailer should pass the double or redouble.

This 8-9-12 formula, whilst very basic, still works well for long races and it is a good guide for the majority of races where the pip counts are greater than 50 (below that figure positional considerations normally, but not always, begin to exert a greater influence). For many years it was the only formula around and was used by all serious backgammon players.

Kit Woolsey restated a variant of this formula in his latest book “The Backgammon Encyclopaedia Volume 1”. Quoting directly: “The main measure for a race is the pip count. Other things such as smoothness, crossovers, and gaps also play a part, but the pip count is usually the first thing to be looked at. The general theory is that for medium to long races, the doubling window centres around a 10% lead. Two pips more advantage for the leader and the trailer has a borderline take/pass.Two pips less for the leader and the leader has a borderline double (for an initial double he generally needs one fewer pip). This formula is pretty accurate for most of the races until the final bear-off stages are reached, assuming neither player has checkers buried on the lower points.”

Let us take a look at a couple of examples:


In this first position black’s pip count is 100 (2×11 + 2×8 + 3×7 + 3×6 + 3×5 + 2×4) and red’s is 110 (1×11 +2×10 +3×9 +1×8 + 1×7 + 3×6 +3×5 + 1×4).

Black calculates 8% of 100 which is 8. Therefore he knows that if red’s pip count is greater than 108 (100+8) he should double and does so. Red calculates 12% of 100 which is 12. He can take if his pip count is less than 100 + 12 = 112 which it is, so he can confidently accept the double.

If we change this position slightly :


Here black’s position is the same but red is two pips better off so his pip count is now 108. Also notice that black owns the doubling cube.

Here is the math :

8% of 100 is 8 so black would have a borderline double if the cube was in the centre However, black is redoubling so needs to calculate 9% of 100 which is 9. As 100 + 9 is greater than 108 then black should not redouble but wait until he has improved his position.

In our two examples the percentages have been very easy to calculate. This is not always the case but after some practice the vast majority of backgammon players should be able to do the necessary arithmetic.


The 8-9-12 formula is relatively easy to apply and it will enable you to make the correct doubling decisions in literally thousands of race situations.

There are more sophisticated formulae that take positional factors into consideration and we will be taking a look at these in subsequent articles.

How to play Backgammon Tournaments

In this series of articles we are going to be looking at how to play tournament backgammon. Playing a backgammon tournament is much more difficult than playing a single game of backgammon largely due to the match score.

Backgammon tournaments are normally decided by single elimination matches in much the same way as tennis tournaments. Competitors are grouped into pairs and each pair plays a series of games to decide which player will advance to the next round. Players that are eliminated in the first round normally go into a consolation match and, if it is a big enough tournament like a World Championships, then there will be a second consolation match and ultimately a Last Chance.
Matches are played to a clearly defined number of points. Consolation and Last Chance events are always played to a smaller number of points than is the case with the main event. The first player to reach the required number of points wins the match. Points are awarded in the standard manner: 1 for a single game, 2 for a gammon and 3 for a backgammon. The doubling cube is used, so the winner receives the value of the game multiplied by the final value of the doubling cube. Thus if a player wins a gammon with the cube on 4, he wins eight points. If the players were playing a seven point match, the match would be concluded after one game.

Matches are normally played to an odd number of points and the Crawford Rule is always used. The Crawford rule states that if one player reaches a score one point short of the match (i.e. he is at match point), neither player may offer a double in the following game. This one game without doubling is called the Crawford game. After the Crawford game, if the match has not been decided, the doubling cube is available for use again and the player who is trailing in the match should double at the first possible opportunity. Automatic doubles, beavers, raccoons and the Jacoby Rule are never utilised in match play.

There is no bonus for winning more than the number of points needed to win the match. When playing a match to a certain number of points, the winner is the first person who reaches that number of points. It does not matter if he wins more than that number, or how many points his opponent has scored. The sole goal is to win the match, and the winning margin is irrelevantl.

Backgammon tournament match length.

The longer the match lasts the more likely the stronger player is to win as he/she has time to recover from a setback. For example losing a doubled gammon (4 points) in a match to 17 points is unfortunate but not nearly so unfortunate as losing 4 points in a match to 5 points! The early rounds of the World Championships (held at Monte Carlo each July) are played to 13 points. With each round the matches get longer and the final is played to 25 points.

Usually the better player will come out on top over such a long match but that is not always the case and backgammon tournaments are littered with examples of heavy favourites losing to rank outsiders. That is both the beauty and the frustration of backgammon. As long as dice are involved there will always be outrageous swings of fortune – and correctly so. Without such swings the game would rapidly lose its appeal to players.

A different format which was used in the (now defunct) World Cup was to play best-of-five 9 point matches. This enabled those players with highly developed match play skills to beat lesser players and thus the format is a much better test of player ability.

Time Clocks

To allow tournaments to run on schedule we are seeing the use of clocks more and more. We will look at the whole topic of time and clocks in a future article. For now suffice it to say that each player has a number of minutes for his match (determined by the length of the match). For each move he is allowed so many seconds (normally about 15) to make his move and only after those 15 seconds is the time used deducted from his allowed time.

As with playing chess if you run out of time you lose the match. This can lead to some interesting tactics towards the end of matches. As an example, a player whose opponent is very short on time will try to play a complicated games with a large number of moves in order to use up all of his opponent’s remaining time.


Tournament play is the ultimate in backgammon. Good money players don’t always make good tournament players. The opposite is also true because some players who excel in tournaments can’t cope with the financial pressures of high stakes money play (particularly chouettes).

To once again state the key point – the score dominates all other aspects of tournament play and as we progress we will see just what an influence that can have on play and doubling decisions.

How to Win playing Chouettes

Note from the editor : : Phil Simborg is not only a very good tournament player (Nr. 2 on the ABT 2005), but he probably plays money, or Chouette backgammon as much as anyone in the United States does. He has studied money game play for many years and is willing to share his views with our readers here.

Chouette backgammon, is played by 3 or more players competing for points or money over the same board and is one of the most fun and challenging forms of gambling and competition I have ever experienced. Personally I think it is far more interesting and fun than any card game or table game you can find anywhere, including Vegas!

Over the years I have learned much about how to increase my odds in Chouette play from some of the best players in the world, but I have probably learned just as much from the old fashioned school of hard knocks.

These strategies will either make or save you money when you play in chouettes.

Be the best player at the table.

The number one way to win in chouettes is to be the best player in the game. This is my “trick” to winning any competition. If you are about to sit down at the table, and most of the players there are better than you, then do NOT sit down. If you aren’t the best, you still have a reasonable chance if you are better than most playersin the game. If you do get into a game where there are clearly much better players, be sure you are playing for very low or social stakes that you don’t mind losing in return for the fun and lesson(s) that you are about to receive.

Play for comfortable stakes.

If you cannot afford to take a 32 or 64 cube when it’s a take, you should not be playing. You cannot play good backgammon if you are playing scared. It is tough to take a cube if losing means you cannot pay the rent or afford to eat. Do not get in over your head, no matter how good a player you think you are.

Know the rules of the game.

Every chouette has it’s own rules about rotation, keeping the box, partners, extras, consulting, settlements, etc. Not knowing the rules can cost you money, so find out what they are before you start to play.

Read your opponents.

Almost everyone has their own tells or patterns at the table, and reading these will make you money. Some players are extremely cautious with the cube . Some players love to gamble, and the higher the cube is, the more likely they are going to take it (double these players later on high cubes—they will l take anyway). Some players will take almost any cube if it is for the box, while others might drop almost any cube if it isn’t for the box. Some players are reluctant to hit twice and will take a chance on leaving a direct shot (you can worry less about leaving more blots against this player). Some players will take or drop with the crowd (double these people separately if you can). Some players let you know, with their comments or body language, when they will drop or take a cube. Some players make very poor settlements (settle often with these players, particularly the bigger cubes). Many players will be more or less aggressive depending on whether they are up or down for the day (watch the score sheet and act in accordance). Since you can take advantage of a player’s tells, it would make sense that they can do the same to you. Think about what you say or do that could give an edge to your opponents, and work on hiding or eliminating these tells or signals in your game.

The Box means nothing.

Players who take cubes because they want to keep the box are giving away money. I don’t care what you think your edge is in the game, when you take cubes that should be dropped, you are throwing money away. At the end of the day I know many players who ended up losers instead of winners simply because they “took for the box.”

Watch, learn and listen.

One of the reasons I often play in chouettes with players who are as good or better than I (apart from the fact that it is a lot of fun) is that it is a real learning experience. I get a chance to see what plays these better players prefer, and what cubes they take or drop. You not only learn from the better players, they can help you make money by listening to their plays and following their cube action. (If I am on the same side as Dave, and he’s not doubling, I know I probably would be wrong to turn the cube, and if Luke tells me to run instead of make the 5 point, I run.)

Money Management.

In most games with reasonable stakes, almost all the cubes are at the 2 and 4 levels. The one or two times that you see an 8 or 16 cube could mean the success or failure of the entire day. You should be more inclined to make settlements on these cubes, even if you are giving away a little on the settlement. Of course you are giving away money if you drop a 16 cube that is a take, I’m not saying you should just drop it, but if it’s really close, or there are lots of gammon risks, maybe you should be more inclined to drop it. The key is to try to avoid getting yourself in the position of having to decide on large cubes. When you give a 4 or 8 cube, you might be a little slower giving that cube so you are more likely to get a drop and less likely to see a recube. Conversely, keep in mind that your opponent has the same concerns that you have, and he might be more likely to drop a 16 cube that he should take, this is where knowing your opponent becomes a key factor..

The Score Sheet does not matter.

While I do believe in money management, I do not believe the score sheet should matter at all. If you are plus 8 on the sheet, that is no more a factor to taking or dropping a cube than if you won 8 points yesterday, or last week, or last year. If it’s on the sheet, it is “booked” and it is yours, and it should not affect your play in any way. If you let it affect your play, all you do is give your opponents a way to exploit you. (Of course I am referring here to standard money play…if you are playing “table stakes” or in a competition where the winner is the one with the most points, the sheet becomes critical in all decisions.)

Watch out for foul play.

Any time there is money involved, there is the potential for cheaters. I will not go in to all the ways people can cheat, but I can assure you that I have seen virtually all of them over the years, and I even have a list of people I will not play because I believe they are not trustworthy. Even “honest” people can make “mistakes” that can cost you money if you are not sharp and alert. People do make mistakes on the score sheet; people do make illegal moves (accidentally or otherwise) that improve their position; people do have “friends” that they might not play their best against when their friend (or secret partner) is in the box. Some of the more extreme methods of cheating included loaded dice, magnets, dice manipulation, being slow to pick up dice to force an opponent to roll over if he has a good roll, late doubling after you know how the opponent is going to act, and many others. As my granddad once told me, “Trust everyone, but cut the cards.”

Mathematics and Backgammon

So you like backgammon but never liked mathematics ?

Then i’m afraid that you will not like what I am about to say. In order to become a great backgammon player it is very important to have a good understanding and be able to apply the mathematics that are involved in the game. No matter how talented you are, or how many matches you have played, believe me you will not raise your game beyond a certain level if you do not.

Were talking primarily about the concept of match equity. Mathematcs in money games is pretty straight forward. If you can win about a quarter of your games and the backgammons and gammons even out or are not too much of a risk then you can take a double. You can use similar calculations to consider whether you should double, but take into account your ability to perceive the opponents strength and weaknesses in relation to the doubling cube.

However when it comes to the use of the doubling cube in match play there is only one way that will help you achieve success. You have to understand and be able to apply match equities and be able to estimate the odds and risks of different positions on the backgammon board.

Achieving this is the work of a lifetime. Players that have played for 25 years including myself are still having difficulty calculating the odds on different positions.

Here are some of the basic things that you need to know.

You have to know the match equity tables. You need to know what the odds are of winning a 5 point match if you are behind 2-1 as opposed to being behind 3-1 to give a simple example. How will you be able to decide if you should take the double at say 1-1 if you cannot calculate the odds?.

You have to know how to calculate take points. Once you taken a look at the match equities, you will to be able to calculate the take point. In a money game, your take point lies around 25%, but in a match take points can vary a lot.

You must know what the price of a gammon is. If you look at the board and estimate that you will be gammoned about 10% of the time then this will mean that you will lose double the cube making the price of a gammon in a money game 2. In a match however and this depends on the the score, a gammon could possibly cost you the entire match or in other cases not hurt you at all. You have to take this into account when you are making your calculations.

You have to be able to estimate your percentage of wins and losses in any situation. This figure is never calculated exactly except for in simple bearoff positions but the world best backgammon players are able to get pretty close and this is what makes them the worlds best players. There is no simple formulae to use , its a combination of study , skill , experience and good memory.

Finally you have to be able to put this all together. For example, you have determined that your take point is thirtyfive percent, and that your equity in the position, after considering the price of gammons and backgammons is fourtytwo percent. Then its up o you to make the decision and take the double even if you dont “like” the actual position that you are in.