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Playing Guide: Backgammon: Luck or Skill?

Last updated on July 27, 2020

Beginners guide. How to play backgammon.

The Deluxe Backgammon team finished our normal Monday night session witnessing the final game being won with a ridiculous run of high doubles. The losing finalist never stood a chance, the few opportunities they had to hit were missed and the high rolls just kept coming. All backgammon enthusiasts know that the element of luck is what makes the game so thrilling. The nuances of the dice mean the lead can change every move and there is always the opportunity for an outrageous piece of fortune. Anyway, the final brought up the often-asked question, backgammon is it luck or skill?

Backgammon, luck or skill?

Skill

Backgammon is a game of skill. It involves strategy, tactics and probability. This was even once confirmed in a court of law. In the 1982 court case, State of Oregon v Barr, the State argued that backgammon is a game of chance and that it was therefore subject to Oregon’s tough gambling laws. After the closing arguments, Judge Stephen S. Walker concluded that backgammon is a game of skill, not a game of chance, and found the defendant, backgammon tournament director Ted Barr, not guilty of promoting gambling. It is important to note that because of the randomness of the dice, the skill factor, is really only applicable over the long run.

Luck

In the short run, even a rank beginner, can beat a world class player given luck and the volatility of the dice. That luck may last a game or two or perhaps three, but it would be all but impossible for the luck to hold out for a longer streak. The backgammon master is unlikely to lose an 11-point match. A lot of the fun in backgammon comes down the unpredictability of the dice. Part of what makes the gaming so exciting is the uncertainty and the chance for someone to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat through a series of unlikely rolls. Take away that excitement and a lot of players will turn their backs on the game.

Frans Francken, Monkeys Playing Backgammon.

If there was no luck, the better player is all but certain to win. A lot of players would simply rather not play if they knew they were going to lose every single time. If you really want to enjoy Backgammon you need to accept the vagaries of the dice and understand in the short term you will lose matches to inferior players. This is all part of the charm of backgammon and you need to trust in your skills and take a long-term perspective.

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