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55 How does one become a better player? (Backgammon)

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This article is from the Backgammon FAQ, by Mark Damish damish@ll.mit.edu with numerous contributions by others.

55 How does one become a better player? (Backgammon)

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[Edited from a message about proper cube handling. ...Mark]

Always play backgammon for affordable but meaningful stakes. This is
surprisingly important. If you play "just for fun" you'll take doubles
"to see how they'll turn out" and win some of those games anyway,
giving yourself incorrect reinforcement. Likewise you'll drop doubles
you should take because "you dont' feel like playing it out." If
something is riding on the game, you're much less likely to do that.
In short, it hones the senses and makes you think about the cube all
the time. There is also definite penalties and rewards for correct
cube action.

Practice practice practice.

-- michael j zehr


I think the first step in becoming a good player is to realize what a
game backgammon is. Many people think they're unlucky when they lose,
and don't realize that it is actually also a game of skill.

The first thing I learned from backgammon was to lose, even from the
most incredible positions. You shouldn't spend your energy whining
about your bad rolls, spend it on making good moves (and cube
decitions!) instead.

Other than that, it's simple to describe how to become a good
backgammonplayer: Study, and read all books you can get your hand on.
If you go to a club or a tournament, watch the good players. One of my
friends did that a lot when he started. Also, don't be afraid to ask
strong players questions about a move you made, a move HE made or
something like that. Most of the strong players are very friendly when
people ask them about their opinion.

You can also record matches. This can be matches between two good
players, or you can have ask a friend to record one of your matches.
There's a big difference in what you can learn from the former
compared to the latter.

I played a tournament in Chicago in '92 and recorded a couple of
matches, one between Rick Barabino and Dean Muench. Afterwards I went
through the match myself, and noted the plays I would certairnly not
have made myself. I asked Dean Muench about why he did this and that,
and he explained it in a very logical way to me. He asked me which
flight i played in, I answeared 'Intermediate', and he said 'You won't
be that for much longer if you keep studying like that!' I was also
lucky to get an extremely interesting game in that match.

If you get one of your friends to record your match, you get a chance
to analyse your own play. This can particularly helpfull if you do it
a while after the match has played, to see how (if) your game has

-- Asger Kring


But a must if you want to reach a high level of backgammon skill is to
build a positions database. Study positions, and remember as many
benchmark positions as you can. The most costly mistakes are bad
middlegame cube actions, and the more benchmarks you have available,
the better your equity estimates can be, and the more accurate will be
your related match-equity calculations. Also, the less time you have
to spend grunting and sweating over equities, the more time you'll
have for figuring out your opponent--and you'll just have more energy,
which is at a premium in long tournaments or money sessions.

--Marty Storer


Just study and play. What else is there?

-- Roy Friedman

One last thing: someone remarked that the best way to learn bg was to
play and observe on FIBS. I might argue. Get a hold of the matches
Heinrich sells. Go through them. Many times. Roll out positions. Try
and see the line of thought behind a play. Second only to playing
countless hours, those matches were some of the most useful studying
I've done.

-- Kim Scheinberg

Exerpts from `A Talk with Paul Weaver' by Walter Trice from `Anchors'
(The New England BACKGAMMON CLUB Newsletter) Oct 1994

[Paul Weaver was rated number 1 on Kent Goulding's International
rating list in June 1992, and June 1993.]

WT: What do you have to say to the up-and-coming intermediate who has
decided that he is absolutely determined to win the 1996 World Cup?
What would he have to do?

PW: Well there's no way that he can ENSURE winning it without
cheating. Even if you're the best player in the world the chances that
you're going to win this tournament are actually quite small.

WT: Okay, let's just say that he wants to give himself a damn good
shot at it.

PW: Well, first of all he needs to be in excellent shape physically.
You need to have a lot of stamina. If you're in good enough shape to
go out and run 5 miles a day, then you're probably in good enough
shape to play. Stamina is a very important ingredient of success in
this kind of tournament, and if you look at Sylvester and Horan, both
of them have a lot of stamina.

In addition to stamina, technical knowledge is important, so how do
you get to be a good player technically? Read the newsletters, read
the books including Kit Woolsey's MATCHQIZ material, and start doing
all you can to analyze positions and roll out positions. When I say
roll out positions, I don't just mean feed them to your computer, I
mean sit down and move the checkers yourself. When you roll something
out yourself you learn an awful lot more than just the raw numbers.
You get an insight into the variations that develop in the position,
and you start figuring out for yourself what checker strategies work
and what strategies don't. You see fluky ways that you can lose the
game, and when you start seeing them over and over again, you realize
that maybe they aren't so fluky and that you should find ways to
prevent them. So my advice to any intermediate who wants to improve
his game would be to get your hands dirty and do some work and roll
out positions. When I did this my game began to improve immensely.

WT: You've certainly rolled out a lot of positions. How many is it at
this point?

PW: Well, the number has got to be over a thousand.

WT: Do you think it's important to actually play?

PW: Oh sure. Rolling out positions by itself is not going to make you
a good player. It's important to play, and also to play the strongest
competition available. To play in the toughest tournaments that you
can, and to play heads-up sessions with the strongest players that are
available. Play for enough to make it meaningful.

WT: So it's read, roll out, play. Plus jog.

PW: More than jog -- I would say run. Get yourself in good shape. Diet
and rest are also important.

WT: How much time do you devote to backgammon during the average week?
Is it like a full-time job?

PW: Well, I suppose it is. It varies -- sometimes very little,
sometimes as much as 40 or 50 hours. But lately my life has changed
and with all the travelling I'm doing and being in Brazil, I don't
spend nearly as much time rolling out positions. And I've decided that
my time has come to stop rolling things out and start playing the game
for real. But I constantly review my material. I have close to 1000
reference positions.

WT: So you don't see yourself having any more major improvements in
your game? You've just about "got it?"

PW: No! Not by a long shot. For one thing, the computer software... I
believe that within a few years someone is going to come up with a
piece of software that will nail down the equity of any backgammon
position to within 1/100 of a point. It's conceivable that it has
already happened.

WT: You think maybe there's a perfect backgammon machine out there?

PW: Not just one. Enough different people are working on it that
there's a good chance that this thing will be solved by more than one
person. And since a lot of people are working on it it won't be kept a
secret for long. And when this tool becomes available I'll learn a
lot, for example about backgames. I'll learn whether it's true that
different match scores will affect your opening plays and responses.
We'll get all the openings and responses nailed down, and pretty much
all the 3rd roll things will be committed to memory.


What is it that makes the better player better? It is his ability to
play through a full game making fewer mistakes than the weaker player.


From a posting to rec.games.backgammon by Kit Woolsey


IMHO, FIBS is the single best learning took for backgammon right now.
Hang around, play, watch better players... you can't help but improve
your game.

Patti Beadles pattib@gammon.com


I have personally developed my skills in backgammon partly by reading
the available literature, but also by playing fairly high stakes money

One of the single most developing activities has been my money game
session with another Danish player. We have invoked our own very
special rule that sharpens your game considerably and hence improves
your performance.

The rule is:
In case of any cube action -
Any player has the option of demanding the other player to
accept a proposition to be played five times.

For instance:
Peter doubles me. I drop. Peter thinks that I should have
accepted. Now he can demand to be paid one point five times,
each time setting up the same position with him accepting i.e.
he owns the cube on 2.

With this rule in effect you have to consider any cube action much
more in depth, because you also have to consider the other side. And
also there will be no "cheap" drops where you might want to "play it
safe" on the score sheet. A drop that really is a take can prove very
costly indeed.

For my friend and myself it has been a very efficient learning tool as
well as a great gambling add-on to normal backgammon.

--- Erik Gravgaard


While I'd agree that watching good players is a useful part of
learning, I doubt that there is any substitute for playing many many
many games. Most really strong players are people who spend many hours
at a (real) backgammon table, playing for $ both head up & in
chouettes. Reading good books can help a great deal, but the knowledge
in them doesn't really become "your own" until you have put it into
uses over the course of hundreds/thousands of games. Because there are
many different criteria (racing chances, shot equity, timing, prime
architecture, etc.) to bring to bear on any given play, it is
difficult to learn how to the *weight* of the various considerations
from reading alone. Experience develops your feel for what is most
important in a given situation. After reading the fundamental books,
and perhaps taking notes on the bits you find "new & useful," I'd
spend 5-10 hours playing to one hour studying. Write down interesting
positions that arise when you play and study them, perhaps rolling
them out by hand later. Play in chouettes as often as possible, in
which you are neither the strongest nor weakest player. Learn from
your betters, and earn from your lessers. Wonderful as it may be in
many ways, I still think FIBS is a "second best" playing option -- you
just don't get as many games per hour played. -- Albert Steg


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