Learning Backgammon - from beginning


Backgammon is not only one of the oldest games in existence, it is also one of the hardest to master. While you can learn the basic rules in just a few minutes, it takes many years of practice and study to become a real expert. The combination of skill and luck in addition with human psychology makes it very hard to realize how good or bad you actually are in any given stage. Good luck is often misinterpreted as skill; losses due to weak play are usually explained as bad luck. The human brain cannot handle the thought of being weak, it can deal much better with the thought of having bad luck; at least there is something to blame a loss on, other than our own incompetence.

In between the stages, you will often experience long streaks of losses, which partially are the result of normal streaks of bad luck, but also are the consequence of experimenting around with different strategies to improve your skill. Without extensive efforts to analyse and review your own games, you won’t be able to tell the real reason for wins or losses.

The following is a list of my own progress through the stages, obviously this may be different for others, depending on how much time you spend practicing and how intensive you study or review your analysed games, but maybe you can find yourself somewhere in these.

Stage 1: Novice

Someone explains to me the rules and we play a few test games. I bomb him with questions and I feel, no matter how much I ask, I didn’t even understand all the rules yet, but after a while I win a few games and I feel confident.

I signup at a free online backgammon server and I play 8500 games within one month, I’m already totally addicted, the game caught me and I can’t stop playing. But I keep losing, everyone rails me and I don’t understand it, I feel very unlucky. I’m convinced I have mastered the game already, after all it takes just a bit of logic, keep your checkers safe and hope to roll something good. How can all my opponents always roll the right number to hit me? Why can’t I roll something good once in a while? Shouldn’t I have the luck on my side every other game?

I withdraw from that server, there must be something wrong, the amount of bad luck I’m having there can’t be normal and my rating there has dropped so low, I imagine everyone else there laughs at me, they must think I’m a complete idiot.

I find a freeware backgammon program to download and I start playing against the computer, but there is something wrong with this program as well. The computer beats me even worse than the players online did, but of course, it is freeware, so no wonder the programmer hasn’t invested much in the playing skill of his program, he must have simply programmed the computer to get the better dice. I start to terminate every game as soon as I get to a bad position and play out only the games I’m winning; at least my ego is satisfied this way.

I find another online backgammon server, where they have very nice people, lots of chat going on all the time and I meet a few real nice players, who play some games with me and give me some hints. At first I feel offended, are these guys trying to lecture me? I’m an experienced player; I have played thousands of games already, they can’t tell me anything I don’t know! But then I suddenly realize, these guys are right, what they say makes sense, the strategies they show me are far superior to my basic idea of keeping checkers together and pray for good rolls. I’m not unlucky at all; I’m just a bad player!

Learning Backgammon articles series was written by Thomas Griffi (in online backgammon better known as Piranha)