I know that many of you have been playing internet backgammon for years, and have never played in a live backgammon tournament. For many of you, it is simply because you live in a place where there are very few, or no tournaments. But many of you can easily get to a live event from time to time. I STRONGLY RECOMMEND you do it.
Many people who have played backgammon online are "afraid" that they won't be able to play over a real board. Yes, there are some differences, and there are some rules that apply to live play that are different from playing on line, but I can assure you that these differences are not complicated and you will quickly understand everything you need to know to play live. Also, at every tournament, the director, or one of the experienced players is more than willing to help a New player understand the rules and differences and give you a short tutorial before your first match.
Even if you are a really good player, you probably should enter the Novice or lowest division in any live event, just to get the experience before moving up. You will find, as I have, that backgammon players are very friendly, nice people, and always happy to see new faces.
There are two major differences that really come into play when playing in live events. First, there is no automatic pip counter. So you have to learn to keep track of the race yourself. Most of us simply keep an "estimate" of the race in our head as we go along, and we only really stop to get an accurate pip count when there is a critical play or cube decision where the pip count really matters. At first, you will find counting pips to be laborious, but after learning some shortcuts and some practice, it is not so difficult at all.
The second major difference is illegal moves. On a computer, all the moves are legal, but over the board, you or your opponent may accidentally make plays that are not legal. You might move a checker too many or too few pips, or you might take too many or too few checkers off on a bear off, or you might think you did not come in from the bar when in fact you did. You have to simply be very careful and watchful of all moves when you play live.
Now that we've talked about the differences, why bother to play live at all? First, and most important, it is really fun. Live play offers great competition and you get to see, first hand, how different people play. At most backgammon tournaments you will see some really top players, and for no charge, you get to watch and learn from them. You will find that the top players are almost all happy to offer advice and discuss specific plays if you have a question (but not in the middle of their match, of course).
There is nothing like the excitement of playing in a live tournament and winning a match or tournament. There are friends around to share the joy, and there are usually prizes and trophies to make it more than worth your time.
It's a great experience and a fun way to advance your game. I strongly recommend you take the time to get out to your local club or tournament and play.