The raise is the most powerful weapon in poker. In layman’s terms, it says to the other guy “put up or shut up”. The opponent is forced to either concede the pot or throw in more money when he would rather not do so. Good players raise aggressively and often. It keeps their opponents off balance, and forces them to make losing decisions.
In backgammon, the doubling cube is a very important element of the game. It is a 6-sided object, with numbers from 2 to 64 on it. The mechanics are as follows: Initially the cube is placed between the players so the 64 is showing (the cube is really on 1). Let’s suppose that two players are playing for $100 per point. Whenever a player is on roll, he has the option of doubling (or turning the cube, as it is called). If he does so, his opponent may now either pass the double and pay the $100, or accept the double and continue the game for $200. If the opponent takes the double, he now owns the cube. The original doubler may not double again as long as his opponent owns the cube. However, if the game turns around the owner of the cube may, at his turn to roll, redouble to 4, giving the initial doubler the option of passing and paying $200 or accepting and continuing the game for $400. If the initial doubler accepts the redouble he now owns the cube and whenever he is on roll he has the option of redoubling to 8. And so on. Thus, what once was a relatively cheap game can suddenly become very expensive if both players are gamblers. While there is no theoretical limit to how high the cube may escalate, in practice cubes higher than 8 are very rare as limitations on bankroll start to play a part.
There is quite a lot of similarity between a raise in poker and a double in backgammon. Just as in poker, the double forces the opponent to either fold and concede the pot (the stake of the game) or put more money in the pot (increase the stakes) in order to see who will win. The best cube handlers are aggressive doublers, always putting pressure on their opponents to make a decision which might be costly.
There is a lot of carryover from poker to backgammon. Many of the talents one has developed from poker playing can be put to use at backgammon. This is particularly true when it comes to the cube. Back in the 1980’s, poker greats Stu Unger and Puggy Pearson tried their hand at backgammon. While their checker play and position evaluation may not have been first-rate, their cube handling was superb! They recognized that doubling in backgammon was equivalent to raising in poker, and acted accordingly. Consequently, their doubling was often better than that of the top backgammon players of that era.
In poker, the pot odds a potential caller is getting depends upon the size of the bet or raise relative to the money in the pot. In a limit game the bet size is fixed, and it may be relatively small compared to the pot size if there was a lot of early action. Consequently, the caller may be getting very good pot odds on his call. In a no-limit game the bet size might be anything, so the potential caller may be getting anywhere from very good odds to poor odds. In backgammon, the pot odds for a person considering whether or not to accept a double are always the same. He is getting 3 to 1 odds. It is as though the doubler has made a bet or raise which is half the size of the pot. When two players start a game for $100 a point, it is as though they have each anted $100 into the pot, so the pot starts out at $200. When a player turns the cube, he is raising
the stakes to $200, so he is raising by $100 — half the pot size. This will be true regardless of the level of the cube– the raise will always be half the size of the pot.
If a poker player is facing a bet on the end, he must decide whether or not to call solely on his hand and what he thinks his opponent is likely to have. He does not get to see more cards and bet next round if his hand improves. This is analagous in backgammon to a player doubling on what must be the deciding roll of the game — he either wins or loses right there. If there are more cards to come, the poker player has the opportunity to see whether or not his hand improves and act accordingly. Thus, his pot odds are potentially greater than they would be if the bet were on the end. In backgammon, when a player gets doubled in the middle of a game, if he accepts he will get to see the dice rolls for the rest of the game. If things go well, he will have the opportunity to redouble. Note that unlike in poker he doesn’t have to worry about his opponent betting more the next round, since he will own the cube. Thus, his real pot odds will be greater than 3 to 1 when taking the implied odds into account. It is somewhat similar to being on a straight or flush draw in poker with one card to come. If you miss you know you are beaten and can fold easily. If you hit, you have the potential to win even more money than what is in the pot now from future bets.
Is there bluffing in backgammon? It might not seem so since there are no hidden cards — everything is in the open. But there is an unknown factor — the actual strength of the position. A player may turn the cube with only a small advantage, but his opponent may mis-evaluate and pass the double when the 3 to 1 pot odds he was getting for taking were easily sufficient to justify taking the double. Just as a good poker player will sense weakness in his opponent and pounce on it with a bet or raise, a good backgammon player will sense that his opponent doesn’t like the way the game is going and turn the cube even if it isn’t a proper double — his opponent might fold. When that happens, it is just the same as when an opponent is bluffed out of a hand in poker.
There are many similarities between backgammon and poker when it comes to the doubling cube. A proficient poker player who takes up backgammon will find that his experience at the poker table will help make him a winning backgammon player.