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Backgammon, back to basics

Last updated on July 19, 2022

In this Deluxe Backgammon post we take a look at why, sometimes, it is worthwhile going back to basics. If you have played backgammon long enough to become an intermediate player, you will know that it is a game of skill. Luck can certainly come into play in the short term, but in the long run, luck evens out for both sides and skill will determine the winner. All backgammon players have experienced long spells of bad luck and this is when it is time to get back to basics.

Luck

Luck is part of what makes backgammon so addictive, the game can change with a single roll of the dice. Sometimes luck can be obvious. I recently played a game where I had 2 checkers remaining on both my 5 & 6 points. My opponent had 1 checker on his 1 point. It was my roll and the only way I could win was to roll double 6 (1 in 36 chance). I rolled double 6 and won. It was obviously a lucky roll. Sometimes luck is about timing. For example, your opponent rolls three consecutive doubles when bearing off, you tend to forget the three doubles you rolled earlier in the game. A lot of luck is perception, the dice are neutral and bear no malice.

A great way of checking your ‘luck’, good or bad, is to use one of the available backgammon apps or programs, such as Backgammon Free by AI Factory. The programs keep a wide range of statistics on a game by game basis and overall. Statistics such as opening rolls one, the number of hits and overall dice totals, will show that the dice rolls are genuinely random over long periods of time. Of course, in any single game, the numbers can be widely different, but over hundreds of games, the statistics will even out. This should be enough evidence to prove that luck is not causing your losing streak.

Backgammon Free by AI Factory.
Backgammon Free.

Another option is to use XG Mobile Backgammon, which includes in-game analytical tools which lets you know of any mistakes during play. There is also a hint option, which will indicate via a red arrow the computer’s suggested move. You can ask the computer for a hint at any time.

Perception

The perception of luck comes down to psychology. Generally, when we win, we put it down to good play, when we lose it’s bad luck. String a series of losses together and it starts to look like the dice are conspiring against you, particularly when the losing streak stretches over weeks and then months. Given that luck will even out over time, if you find yourself on a long losing streak against players you are competitive with, it is time to look at your play. It is not the dice, it is you and your gameplay choices. It is time to return to basics.

XG Gammon.
XG Gammon.

Typically, what happens when players experience a short-term period of bad luck is they lose confidence and begin to play defensively. This often results in an extreme reluctance to leave any blots and you begin to see towers or candlesticks forming. It is a common beginner’s mistake because they are playing with fear. The net result of these stacks is fewer options on each roll. There is an inherent lack of flexibility and choice. Fewer options mean that you have less chance of hitting blots, securing points or leaving safe builders. Often you may be forced to leave blots within direct range because of the lack of options. This results in another hit, which of course is put down to bad luck.

Back to basics

How do you overcome these losing streaks? It is simple, return to basics. First, remember that the dice are neutral and that luck is fleeting. It will even out over time. The second is to be patient and take your time on every move. A good rule of thumb is to consider every move available, even if there seems to be an obvious play. I see good players every week, who miss, the best move because they are focusing on one quadrant of the board. The third action is to take some time to go over the basic tactics and strategies of backgammon. Read a good book, such as Backgammon by Paul Magriel or Backgammon for Dummies by Chris Bray.

Alternatively, read through the Deluxe Backgammon Playing Guides. Start with the basics, move through the beginner’s guides and then on to the Intermediate section. It is a simple case of refreshing your knowledge of the game mechanics and remembering how to play freely without assuming that the dice are against you on every move.

Related content

Backgammon at Wikipedia.

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