Cooke and Orléan's
Championship Backgammon
George Brandt, 1980
From Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine, October 1980
Championship Backgammon Championship Backgammon,
by Barclay Cooke and René Orléan, © 1980, is published by Prentice-Hall of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. The list price is $19.95.

An addendum to the title says "Learning through Master Play" and the cover piece adds the words "an expert analysis of backgammon strategy and tactics as played on the World Class Level." The authors have taken a duplicate tournament played in 1973 between two well-known players from England, Phillip Martyn and Joe Dwek as one team, and Barclay and Walter Cooke, father and son, from the U.S. whose individual credentials had been firmly established in world-class backgammon tournaments.

In brief, eight games in the duplicate format are reviewed play by play with analytical comments of each play provided by Barclay Cooke. In the format of duplicate backgammon, this means sixteen games are described. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the duplicate-dice system is without redeeming value. Almost without fail, within three plays, the games diverge so there is no similarity of patterns on the pair of adjacent boards. Consequently, the attempt to equalize dice for opposing partners fails completely. What is a game saving pair of 4's at one table is the horror throw of the recipient of the same number at the other table. Duplicate backgammon should have died at the conclusion of this tournament.

The illustrations in this book do not require the setting up of your own board to follow the moves of the players. The illustrations are many and of good clarity. The positions before and after the physical move are well illustrated in a single diagram. The extensive comments of the authors help us follow the logic and reasoning for the plays "in situ" both in terms of the flow of this particular game and the match as a whole. The value and intent of the book is this accompanying analysis, primarily by Barclay Cooke.

This is not a book that professionals are going to praise, for as Barclay points out, there is an unbelievable number of errors made throughout by all four champions. Let us recall, however, that this was 1973 and very few people were consistently beating the players involved. Many of the young lions of today would pounce hard on the errors of movement and cube. They probably will do so without asking how well they were playing the game eight years ago. The Barclay Cooke of today, as well as the young lions, would probably defeat the Barclay Cooke of 1973. So the book provides a learning experience both in terms of errors made, the well executed plays and, more importantly, the thought pocess that lead both to the erroneous and to the clever plays.

Barclay is very critical of Phillip Martyn, his opponent — in the business world it would be close to slander — but Barclay is also equally critical of his own errors and gaffs. He treats Joe Dwek with some professional indifference.

Walter Cooke, Barclay's son, died tragically in 1974. The book serves, in a very appropriate way, as a memorial and tribute from a loving father to a prodigal son. Knowing this, Barclay's critiques of Walter are somewhat more meaningful. Barclay is a little more tolerant of Walter's youthful exhuberance and vacillation between aggressive and conservative checker and cube usage.

This reviewer, as a 30 year participant in the game, first played against Barclay Cooke in tournament play in 1971. We have had some experience in observing those who collect trophies, ego props, and money at every opportunity. By contrast, Barclay Cooke has put far more into the game than he has asked or expected to take out, for he deals with the game as an art form. This book is another example of Barclay at his best.

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