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Book review: Backgammon by Paul Magriel, published 1976.

Last updated on April 27, 2024

About the author

Paul David Magriel Jr (July 1, 1946 – March 5, 2018), was a professional backgammon player, poker player, and author based in Las Vegas, Nevada. His 1976 book, Backgammon, is often referred to as the bible of backgammon. He was known as X-22 on the backgammon circuit. The nickname X-22 originates from Magriel’s simulation of a real backgammon tournament.  He had used 64 boards, numbered X-1 through X-64, in which the player designated “X-22” eventually won. Magriel arguably won more major backgammon tournaments than any other player in the world. He was also widely considered the world’s best backgammon teacher.

Backgammon by Paul Magriel, 1976, book cover.
Backgammon by Paul Magriel, 1976.


Recently at Deluxe Backgammon, we had the good fortune to come across a copy of Paul Magriel’s masterpiece, Backgammon. It is considered the definitive work on the game of backgammon for both novices and experts. In fact, many experienced players consider it to be the only backgammon book a player at any level will ever need. The author, Paul Magriel, was the 1978 Backgammon World Champion and New York Times backgammon columnist. The book was written by Magriel and his then-wife, Renee, between 1973 and 1976. Renee Magriel was not listed as a co-author.  The book ingeniously deconstructs every aspect of backgammon into its component parts. Each component is then explained in a unique, easy to understand, step-by-step, building-block approach.

Magriel writes in a concise non-technical manner. The man was clearly a mathematical genius and could certainly have confused his readers by bombarding them with complex mathematical terminology. However, this isn’t the case. Every component of the game is described in such a clear manner that an absolute beginner will be able to understand every concept. This is why it is considered the bible of backgammon, for its clarity.  It is also is enhanced by 600 gameboard diagrams, a glossary, and tables. This book is an indispensable guide and reference tool for any player who wants to take the game seriously and improve their play.


The book is divided into 5 sections, Basics, Using Men Effectively, Middle Game Strategy, Endgame and Advanced Positional Play. Each of the sections is subsequently broken down into individual chapters (see below). Obviously, it starts with the basics and gradually introduces more complex concepts as it progresses through each section. The first section is for beginners, the next three for intermediate players and the last covers advanced concepts. Even though it becomes more complex as it progresses through the sections, Magriel manages to write in a simplified and clear manner that makes every concept understandable.


Just to be clear, the following comments are observations, not criticisms. The graphics are quite dated, but were probably state-of-the-art at the time. The setup was the reverse of what I am used to, so it took a couple of chapters before I was comfortable with the board. Also, it is important to remember that the book is nearly 50 years old and pre-dates accessible computer processing. This means that some of Magriel’s recommendations did not survive computer analysis and are not correct from today’s point of view. An example is the 5-3 opening. Magriel advises a 13/8, 13/10 play, bringing two builders down from your mid-point. Modern computer rollouts have proven that 8/3, 6-3 is the better play.

An updated version was reprinted in 2004. The text is identical to the original except for the addition of a 10-page foreword by Renée Magriel Roberts, who is also listed as a co-author. I don’t know who owns the rights to the book, but it would certainly be worth republishing today. Modern graphics and some amendments based on computer rollouts would make this a must-have book for all backgammon enthusiasts.


The book is out of print and hard to come by. Unfortunately, we had to return our review copy. It is definitely the backgammon book I would want in my home library. It is the sort of book that you could return to regularly to refresh your knowledge and sharpen your game. If you ever have the opportunity, please read this book. Deluxe Backgammon highly recommends Backgammon by Paul Magriel for all students of the game.

Chapter list

Pages, 404 for the 1976 version of Backgammon, by Paul Magriel.

Section I.  Basics
1. Rules
2. Notation
3. Basic Checker Play
4. Game I: Running game
5. Opening Rolls
6. Game II: Holding Game
7. Basic Doubling Strategy
8. Game III: Priming Game
9. Game IV: Attacking Game
10. Pip Count
11. Basic Odds

Section II.  Using Men Effectively
12. Builders and Flexibility
13. Duplication and Diversification
14. When You Are Forced to Leave Shots

Section III.  Middle Game Strategy
15. Modern Opening Theory
16. Safe Play vs. Bold Play
17. Slotting
18. Action Play
19. One Man Back
20. Golden Point
21. Splitting
22. Doubling Theory

Section IV.  Endgame
23. No Possible Contact
24. Avoiding Contact
25. After Contact

Section V.  Advanced Positional Play
26. Priming and Blocking
27. Control of the Outside
28. Timing
29. Holding Game and Backgame


You can read other reviews of backgammon books here.

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  1. Anna Anna

    I have a copy of this book that I bought in the early 1980s, it totally changed backgammon for me. It improved my game considerably. Some of the new computerised roll outs have proven some of the moves are incorrect, but mostly the underlying strategy and tactics are consistent today. Well worth a read.

    • Jason Jason

      Hi Anna, Backgammon by Paul Magriel is considered one of the classic backgammon books. As you say, even after the introduction of backgammon software, it is still relevant today. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jason

  2. Ruben Ruben

    Paul Magriel’s Backgammon is widely regarded as the ultimate reference for backgammon enthusiasts, a foundational work that any aspiring player should read if they aim to improve beyond the level of a beginner.

    This reputation is well-deserved and for good reason. Magriel’s writing style is clear and straightforward, offering economic explanations that get to the core of the matter without unnecessary verbosity. While he prioritises informativeness over entertainment value, his writing remains engaging and far from dry. Non-fiction authors across a variety of subjects could learn valuable lessons from the way Magriel conveys information effectively.

    The book’s logical breakdown of chapters is another commendable aspect. It naturally progresses from simpler concepts to more complex ones, covering everything from opening strategies to endgame techniques. The comprehensive nature of this work leaves no aspect of backgammon untouched, except for one minor flaw, the treatment of the doubling cube.

    The book features a brief chapter dedicated to doubling cube strategy, but it fails to dive deeply into the subject. Magriel himself acknowledges the cube’s complexity and suggests it could warrant its own book. Consequently, for a title like “the bible of backgammon,” the insufficient coverage of this crucial area slightly reduces its overall value.

    Several other topics also merit more detailed explanations and illustrative examples, like the back game. Furthermore, considering that the book was written in the 1970s, well before the introduction of sophisticated backgammon software, some content might require updates and corrections, particularly concerning the opening moves and subsequent responses based on insights gained from computer analysis.

    Despite these minor imperfections, Magriel’s Backgammon remains essential reading for any ambitious backgammon player. Its concise yet informative approach, comprehensive coverage of the game’s fundamentals, and valuable insights into advanced strategies make it a timeless classic for backgammon enthusiasts.

    • Jason Jason

      Hi Ruben, great review of Backgammon by Paul Magriel. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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