Expert’s Advice: Breaking Down Five Backgammon Myths

Backgammon expert Phil Seborg recently commented on the 5 myths about backgammon that I thought everyone out there who plays, whether amateur or pro, might find amusing. So here it goes. The myths:

No. 1: It’s All About Luck

Of course there is some luck, and at times, in the short run, a lot of luck. But backgammon is absolutely, positively, a game of odds, and in the long run, the better you play the odds, the more you will win. The BEST WAY to win a lot is to COMPLETELY FORGET ABOUT LUCK. Don’t think about your opponents’ good rolls, or your bad ones… it takes your focus and attention away from things you can control – your checker and doubling cube decisions. Yes, there is luck. And I feel the luckiest when I find myself playing against someone who thinks it’s all luck.

NO. 2: There is more than one right play.

True, at times, there are several plays that are close, but MOST OF THE TIME THERE IS ONE PLAY THAT IS SUPERIOR to all others. If you have the attitude that there are often several plays you can make, and they’re all pretty good or pretty bad, and it doesn’t matter much which play you make, then I promise you, you have not learned the game properly.

On every virtually every play, Seborg said, there is a “best” play, and often that play is several percentage points better than any other play. If you give up just 3 or 4 percent equity on a play (which is less than a “blunder”) it’s truly not that big a deal, but if you do it just three or four times in one game, you add it up and you’ve given up a lot of your winning chances.

Often what looks like two close plays can turn out to be hugely apart in terms of your odds of winning or losing.

No. 3: Backgammon computer programs are unreliable.

There is no question that Snowie, Jellyfish and GNUBG are not always right. In fact, there are certain types of positions they consistently get wrong, and there are even positions they will get wrong when you roll them out at length (because they play the moves wrong on the rollouts for these kinds of positions).

But overall, Seborg contends, the backgammon programs are extremely good, and generally far more accurate than all but a few of the best players in the world. If you are not one of those best players in the world, put your faith in these programs and you will improve your game tremendously.

NO. 4. The Dice online are rigged.

Many players, even very good players, believe the computer rolls too many doubles, or rolls just what you don’t need at the right time, or just what your opponent needs at the right time. They are wrong.

When you are playing online, Seborg explains, no program has ever been invented that can look at your position and decide, consciously, what roll would hurt you most. As for rolling too many doubles, hundreds of studies have been done, and not just by the owners of the servers, and they have all proven that the dice on line are just as fair and random as dice in real life.

Some people really do roll worse, Seborg said. But it’s because they play worse. The worse you play, the more bad rolls you are likely to get and the fewer good rolls. That is the definition of playing worse.

And finally, No. 5: If you play a lot and practice a lot, you can become a great player.

Seborg explained that it is true that playing experience is essential to improve your game, but you will NEVER be a great, or even “really good” player without study away from the board.

Great players must learn and know match equity tables and take points and must understand the theories of when to go for the gammon or when to cash, just to name a couple of things you will learn from books. You won’t “pick up” these things over the board or even by playing against computer programs like Snowie.

Seborg believes it is possible to become an “intermediate” level player if you are very smart, have excellent math and gaming skills and great instincts, but he said he never met an Open Level player (that is the top level tournaments) that didn’t also do quite a bit of reading and study to learn the finer points of the game.

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