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Subject: Intellectually I know playing this game takes skill, but... rss

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Nathan James
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I have spent a little time pursuing a rudimentary appreciation of backgammon, so I can relate to your position. My stages of backgammon exploration:

1. What is this? It looks cool.
2. That's it? What a boring game.
... years pass ...
3. I must have missed something, since some people really enjoy it
4. ah, there is some strategy here
5. but it is "markedly limited"

whac3 wrote:

Also the responses I'm getting above seem to be saying that there rally just isn't much skill in a single game and that I'd have to play this *7*!! times in a row for the skill to show up. To use an analogy, this seems like saying if you don't see the attraction of poking yourself with a sharp stick, just do it over and over again.

Compare this with poker. "Why should play for three hours when fifteen minutes is mindless and dull?" The answer to that is simple: the game is only revealed in lengthier playing times. Now, backgammon is not as extreme a case as playing a single hand of poker, but the dynamic is the same.

whac3 wrote:

Can somebody who loves the game please explain to me the basic principles of skilled play, i.e., the key notions and what they mean, so that I'll want to play the game more than once?

No one loves single-game matches of backgammon, so don't look for that. But, people do enjoy single games, and mostly for the reasons Patrick Carroll has mentioned: The excitement of luck, the tension of a close race. Also, there are often a handful of reasonably interesting turning points in a game of backgammon.

Note that not every single game of backgammon will demonstrate these qualities. Most will, but it is a bell-curve. It is entirely coincidence whether you get a stick-in-the-eye game or a fantastic game. But usually a single game is only "decent" at best.

I would highly suggest dropping acey-deucy in favor of the more common form of backgammon. It's more widely popular, and for good reason. The board is setup in a fashion that leads to quickly to making a decision to play for one strategy or another. It also gives a shorter single game, which makes multi-game matches more readily procured. Acey-deucy might produce a mid-game situation that is equally as interesting, but not necessarily.

You might be interested to read this article which explains briefly the several ways in which a game of backgammon can develop.
http://www.bkgm.com/articles/Youngerman/BasicBackgammonStrat...

Oh! And you might enjoy playing online, I certainly did. Internet Backgammon is a decent proving ground for a rudimentary knowledge of backgammon strategies.
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Aside: If the dice are getting in the way of your appreciating this game, you might try Domino Backgammon. It's basically the same as the standard game, but dominoes are used in place of dice rolls, and they're distributed in a certain pattern, face-up, before the game. Hence, there's no randomness, and there's more opportunity for planning ahead.

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Kevin Gordon
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I second the suggestion of playing the more common version of backgammon. Acey-ducey sounds like it needlessly adds length and even more randomness to the game.
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Russ Williams
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Just to check the obvious, Moshe: are there other games with randomness which you greatly enjoy and/or respect?

If there are, then I am confused at what your peculiar problem with backgammon is. At some level, the same kind of reasoning is done in backgammon and in many/most other games with randomness.

In your original post, you even mention some basic tactical considerations and reasoning which one uses in backgammon, so it sort of sounds like at some level you "get" that there is strategy in backgammon and have some idea what it's about, but you simply don't particularly enjoy the game.

Sure, it's not as deep as Go or something, but (as you agree) some players are clearly stronger than others since they consistently win more often. What's not to understand about that? It's a pretty common phenomenon for many games with randomness.
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Moshe Callen
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russ wrote:
Just to check the obvious, Moshe: are there other games with randomness which you greatly enjoy and/or respect?

If there are, then I am confused at what your peculiar problem with backgammon is. At some level, the same kind of reasoning is done in backgammon and in many/most other games with randomness.

In your original post, you even mention some basic tactical considerations and reasoning which one uses in backgammon, so it sort of sounds like at some level you "get" that there is strategy in backgammon and have some idea what it's about, but you simply don't particularly enjoy the game.

Sure, it's not as deep as Go or something, but (as you agree) some players are clearly stronger than others since they consistently win more often. What's not to understand about that? It's a pretty common phenomenon for many games with randomness.

Russ;

Yes, but only when the randomness conforms to a useful pattern, typically a Gaussian distribution. It's possible that the fact that dice are treated individually rather than in combination so that the probability becomes essentially even in spite of rolling two dice is throwing off my perception of what one is trying to do strategically.
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Russ Williams
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whac3 wrote:
Yes, but only when the randomness conforms to a useful pattern, typically a Gaussian distribution.

I'm not sure what you mean by "useful", but a uniform distribution is about as common and elementary and able-to-be-reasoned-about as it comes.

(The fact that you get 2 random variables with uniform distribution instead of 1 each turn doesn't seem like it should be a stumbling block.)

Hmm, perhaps you mean that you don't care about the magnitude of the result (e.g. "I hit on a 4 or more") but rather each individual result can give quite different possible results. I.e. in some loose sense it's more like a set of discrete discontinuous qualitatively different possibilities instead of a continuous spectrum where "everything above X is good, everything about X+Y is really good" (e.g. as in a wargame where you need at least some number to hit, and at least some higher number gives a critical hit)? Whereas in backgammon you often have situations where e.g. "1 & 4 would be great, 2 & 5 are meh, 3 is lousy, and 6 would be terrible" etc?
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Moshe Callen
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Russ;

The latter I suppose.
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Nathan James
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The distribution of good rolls vs. bad rolls on subsequent turns is exactly what you are affecting with your play.
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Basar Cenik
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Tompy wrote:
Whole books have been written about the doubling cube. Is it even backgammon without it?


Perhaps not in the States...
Doubling cube is unheard of in my country of origin, Turkey where backgammon is extremely popular. I am not sure about other Middle Eastern/European countries.
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solanacea wrote:
Tompy wrote:
Whole books have been written about the doubling cube. Is it even backgammon without it?


Perhaps not in the States...
Doubling cube is unheard of in my country of origin, Turkey where backgammon is extremely popular. I am not sure about other Middle Eastern/European countries.

In Greece everyone plays backgammon as well,and a lot of it,but it's the first time I hear about a doubling cube.I had to google it and see what that is.
We don't use something like that either.
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Jon
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mercy1959 wrote:
solanacea wrote:
Tompy wrote:
Whole books have been written about the doubling cube. Is it even backgammon without it?


Perhaps not in the States...
Doubling cube is unheard of in my country of origin, Turkey where backgammon is extremely popular. I am not sure about other Middle Eastern/European countries.

In Greece everyone plays backgammon as well,and a lot of it,but it's the first time I hear about a doubling cube.I had to google it and see what that is.
We don't use something like that either.


My understanding is that the cube was popularized in New York City in the '20s. It has spread to northern Europe, but not much further.
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Jon
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mercy1959 wrote:
In Greece everyone plays backgammon as well,and a lot of it,but it's the first time I hear about a doubling cube.I had to google it and see what that is.
We don't use something like that either.


Is backgammon primarily a gambling game in Eastern Europe & the Middle East?

If so, the description of a single game as not the primary experience is still valid, even if the details of the wagers are different.
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Moshe Callen
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solanacea wrote:
Tompy wrote:
Whole books have been written about the doubling cube. Is it even backgammon without it?


Perhaps not in the States...
Doubling cube is unheard of in my country of origin, Turkey where backgammon is extremely popular. I am not sure about other Middle Eastern/European countries.

I own one from an American set but have never seen one here. The game is hugely popular here though.
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JonPrud wrote:
mercy1959 wrote:
In Greece everyone plays backgammon as well,and a lot of it,but it's the first time I hear about a doubling cube.I had to google it and see what that is.
We don't use something like that either.


Is backgammon primarily a gambling game in Eastern Europe & the Middle East?

If so, the description of a single game as not the primary experience is still valid, even if the details of the wagers are different.

We mainly use it as a clash of skills between the players.
In the beginning there is ''some kind'' of a bet (nothing really important or of value),mostly as an excuse for the game to start.
From records of the past,we know that it was usual for placing bets with it(mostly the ancient times). Now, worse case scenario is to buy the drinks
We play three variations of it,one after the other,and the player that reaches 7 games first,is the winner.
There is a lot of teasing through out the course of the game,in a good manner,having to do with decisions each player makes.
That pushes everyone to become even better.



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Benedikt Rosenau
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whac3 wrote:
Surely there has to be something about individual games that would make me want to play it over and over? Can somebody who loves the game please explain to me the basic principles of skilled play, i.e., the key notions and what they mean, so that I'll want to play the game more than once?

I will try. Bear in mind that I am not much of a player. Backgammon is on my too long list.

The most important guideline I think is that only a won game is won, meaning that everything else can backfire. It is important to remember that. Backgammon is risk management.

Corollary: many people assume that not being captured is at the heart of Backgammon. This is not so.

The next most important idea is the prime, i.e. a continuous section of the board covered by two or men or more, providing you with a region into which your opponent cannot move. Ideally, a prime is six fields long. The goal of a prime is to trap stones of your opponent. While these stones are trapped, your opponent cannot win. A prime that does not trap any stones is useless. Note that both players can have primes at the same time.

Corollary: a prime has to evaporate sooner or later - if only for the reason that the stones in the prime are leaving the board. Unless it was a very lucky prime, this allows the stones of your opponent to leave the trap, maybe even capturing your stones. The point of a prime is to bring you ahead in the race.

Then move on to the several kinds of game there are. Being caught in a prime does not spell loss automatically. The little opening theory there is in backgammon can give you a basic idea of not all primes being similarly good or easily built. And there are games without any primes at all.


Doubling cubes are used in matches or when you play for money - hardly anything you will do at this stage. Nonetheless, I think they are a clever invention.

Other than that, Backgammon boards are beautiful. I happen to like the tactile experience of rolling and moving. If age is an asset for you, the Backgammon family competes with the best of them. Games are played quickly, but not without thinking. Backgammon is not Chess or Go, it has a lighter feel, but there is a challenge. And if you want to see how skill looks like, find a strong player. Do not bet any money, you have been warned.
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Moshe Callen
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Benedikt;

Thanks. Are there online articles about the opening theory you mention?
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whac3 wrote:
Benedikt;
Thanks. Are there online articles about the opening theory you mention?

What Benedikt mentions is not really opening theory. But I'm glad he mentioned the prime, because it's especially important in Acey-Deucey (where it's easier to make primes, so they're more common).
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Benedikt Rosenau
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whac3 wrote:
Are there online articles about the opening theory you mention?

This may help.
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Kim Meints
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Benedikt

Thank You very much for that link
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Moshe Callen
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jackiesavon wrote:
Benedikt

Thank You very much for that link

Yes, I don't know well I'll have a chance to go over all the info people have offered in this thread but such as that link but I o want to say it's appreciated.
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Nick Bentley
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This brings up a more general issue I think about in relation to board games.

What matters for the experience of play isn't just how much control you actually have, but how much control it feels like you have, and these can be two different things.

I run into this I think with Qwirkle. Intellectually, I have the sense that there is probably some deep probabilistic thinking I could do to limit the role of chance in the outcome of the game, and tip the game in my favor.

But I don't know how to do it, and when I get hosed in that game, some part of me is screaming that it's all the luck of the draw's fault and there was nothing I could do.

When I play other games that likely have similar amounts of luck in the absolute sense, there's no screaming; instead I'm just like, "hmmm, I wonder why that happened and how can avoid it next time?"

So how "lucky" a game feels can be very different from how lucky it is in fact. I wonder what factors make a game feel more or less lucky independent of the actual amount of luck?
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milomilo122 wrote:
So how "lucky" a game feels can be very different from how lucky it is in fact. I wonder what factors make a game feel more or less lucky independent of the actual amount of luck?

It's a common joke/cliche, but I think there's some truth to the adage that many people will react "It's all just dumb luck!" to a game of chance which they often lose and will react "There's clearly some skill involved as well" to a game of chance which they often win...
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Moshe Callen
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russ wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
So how "lucky" a game feels can be very different from how lucky it is in fact. I wonder what factors make a game feel more or less lucky independent of the actual amount of luck?

It's a common joke/cliche, but I think there's some truth to the adage that many people will react "It's all just dumb luck!" to a game of chance which they often lose and will react "There's clearly some skill involved as well" to a game of chance which they often win...

That's true to a point but I'm one of those people for whom dice always seem to roll my way. Typically I will win the luck based games. Yet some are more satisfying than others.
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russ wrote:
It's a common joke/cliche, but I think there's some truth to the adage that many people will react "It's all just dumb luck!" to a game of chance which they often lose and will react "There's clearly some skill involved as well" to a game of chance which they often win...

Heck, I do that sometimes even with games where there's no randomness. "Oh, you were just lucky to have noticed that winning move!"
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milomilo122 wrote:
So how "lucky" a game feels can be very different from how lucky it is in fact. I wonder what factors make a game feel more or less lucky independent of the actual amount of luck?

A more serious answer:
Another factor I've noticed is that (loosely speaking: I'm not sure if the following is rigorously definable) there are 2 types of randomness which often appear:

* randomness to determine a game state, from which the player then makes a decision. (E.g. rolling dice in backgammon to see what your movement numbers are.)

* randomness to resolve the result of a player's decision. (E.g. rolling dice in a wargame to resolve an attack which a player has decided to make.)

I've sometimes seen threads where people express preference for one kind over the other kind. Loosely speaking, some people consider the first kind ("here is a random situation, now decide what you're doing") to be more strategic and less chaotic/lucky than the second kind ("make your decision and now let's randomly find out what happens").


(But I don't think this factor is why backgammon doesn't grab Moshe in particular. (I think that's the discrete vs continuous thing I mentioned earlier.) I just intend this as an answer to Nick's question.)
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