Last updated on May 19, 2022
Here at Deluxe Backgammon, we recently had the good fortune to come across a copy of Backgammon by Paul Magriel. It was a very interesting read and we can well understand why it is referred to as the bible of backgammon. This month, we came across another backgammon, Backgammon of Today by John Longacre. Published in 1930 it is a very interesting read as it was written soon after the introduction of the doubling cube to the game. It is not a very long book at 132 pages (21 illustrations) and I read it in a single session lasting a few hours.
About the author
The opening page lists the author as “John Longacre, 1930 Member Rules Committee”. It doesn’t state which rules committee he belonged to. However, the are several clubs also listed on the opening page that are named as approvers of the official rules. These included, The Racquet and Tennis Club, New York and The University Club, New York. I am assuming that John Longacre was a member of one of these clubs. Wikipedia lists The Racquet and Tennis Club as playing a prominent part in the formation of official rules for backgammon. There was little else I could find about Longacre and I must admit I had never heard of or seen the book until now.
Backgammon has a very long history dating back thousands of years. However, there was a significant change in the game in the 1920s when the doubling cube was introduced. The doubling cube introduced a new element to the game which allowed the stakes to be increased during play. It had an enormous effect on the game, increasing its popularity, particularly amongst gamblers. No one knows who actually invented the doubling cube. However, it certainly first appeared in the 1920s in New York. This means that John Longacre was right there at the beginning and is one of the first authors to write about how to use the doubling cube.
The book is written using the terminology of the day. For example, checkers are known as draughtsmen or men, a six-prime is called a side prime and instead of bearing off, it is throwing off. This is not a problem for any experienced backgammon player. The book is well written and simple to read and it would be a good starting point for any beginner. The foreword covers the global history of the game and the introduction of the doubling cube. It also hints that the cube added a new element of mathematics and probability to the game.
The next couple of chapters cover the setup of the board and the basics of play. It is all very clear and easy to understand. It then moves on to discuss the odds of the dice, which covers the odds of hitting and re-entering. The ideas are covered in a clear and concise manner. However, there is no in-depth analysis such as you might find in a modern book.
The next section covers the opening moves and introduced an alternative rule that I was not aware of. When determining the first move: “Each player throws two dice: the higher number wins, and may play his throw, but, if this is not a desirable combination, he may throw again. In this case, the second throw must be played, he has not the option of either throw”. This is interesting as it allows for the inclusion of doubles during the opening move. I have never heard of the rule, but it is listed in the official rules at the end of the book, so it must have been in use at the time.
The opening moves chapter contains the accepted moves of the time, including those for opening doubles. Some of these still hold true, but others have been proven wrong by modern computer rollouts. An example is the 6-4 opening. The author states that making the 2-point is: “This is the only completely safe way to play the shot, but it has the great disadvantage of putting two men out of play immediately and permanently”. Modern rollouts have shown this to be the strongest move for the 6-4 roll. For a beginner, the chapter mostly holds true, but they would be advised to consult a more modern list of plays.
The book doesn’t include a chapter on counting pips, although it does make reference to the rule of 8, which implies that some counting has been done for specific cases. I suspect that as the doubling cube made for higher stakes that players were looking for an edge, counting pips became something that followed. Also, the doubling strategy described in the book had no math-based assumptions, rather it was based on board structure. Again, a sign of the times and something that was developed later.
It is an old book dating back to the time the doubling cube was first introduced to the game of backgammon, but a lot of its content is still current. The book is out of print, but it still remains a good introduction to beginners to the game. To buy the book now would potentially cost hundreds of pounds, so there are a lot of more cost-effective options available to the backgammon beginner, but it is still a good read. Deluxe Backgammon recommends Backgammon of Today by John Longacre as a good starting point for learning the game.
Backgammon of Today
A — Combination Shots
B — Doublets
The Game of Position
The Doubling Game
When should a double be offered?
When should a double be accepted?
Running for Home
Notes on Play
Foreword to the Rules