This is the second in our strategy series. If you are a seasoned player, check back because the next blog will pick up with news about world class tournaments.
Meanwhile, this posting concerns your opponent. Sizing him (or her) up.
Unless you are playing against a computer, every player has some flaws or personal traits that affect their game. The better the player, the more he plays like a computer program (Snowie, Jellyfish and GNUBG are the three good programs out there), so the better your opponent, the less flaws there will be, and of course, the more you play like a computer, or the more you make the “best” plays, the better off you are.
Fortunately, we all are lucky enough to play people from time to time who have serious flaws in their game. And whether you are playing in a major tournament, just for fun on line, or for money, once you determine that your opponent has some flaws, you should change your game to take advantage of them.
There is, however, a double-edged sword when you change your game. Any time you make a decision that you would not make against a great player, you are, in effect, choosing to make a play that is “less” than what you believe to be the “best” play. And statistically, any time you make an inferior play, you are costing yourself equity in the match.
Having said that, however, once you are fairly certain of your opponents flaws, you can vary your game to take advantage. The most common way to take advantage of an opponent is when you know he has problems with the doubling cube. If you know the opponent is timid about giving the cube, you can gamble a little more with your checker play. If you know your opponent drops cubes much more than he should, you can be more aggressive giving the cube, because when you give a cube that should be taken and he drops, you have gained significantly. And conversely, if you have an opponent who takes just about every cube, you can afford to cube later in the game. By cubing later, you take less risk than if you cubed earlier and the game turned around on you.
If you know your opponent is a weaker checker player, you should generally avoid getting into straight racing situations and look for more complex situations—back games and holding games.
I don’t have a lot more backgammon instructions for playing the opponent’s weaknesses, and that’s for a very good reason. The reason is, EVEN AGAINST A WEAKER PLAYER, or a player with serious flaws in his game, much of the time you are better off making the best play or the best cube decision—the one you would make if you were playing the best player in the world, than trying to change your game to the other player’s level.