Prepared by Mark Damish.This is the transcript of a question and answer session between Mike Fujita and Neil Kazaross. Neil Kazaross is currently the highest rated tournament player in the world on Kent Goulding's International Rating List. Neil just won the American Backgammon Tour and the Chicago Bar Point Club championship for 1994. The questions were solicited from local club members and readers of the internet newsgroup rec.games.backgammon. Although the original plan was to have Neil answer these questions in a seminar during the Grand Prix tournament in San Diego on December 4, 1994, this had to be cancelled due to time constraints. This transcript is from a more informal discussion held after the tourney, during lags, while Neil played on FIBS. (Juli Carter and Patti Beadles got to stick in their two cents' worth, too.)
Many thanks to Mike and Neil for their time and participation.
Fujita: Now, all these questions from the first section come from the responses to the question "If you could ask the #1 player in the world any question, what would you ask him?" Question 1: "What is the correct way to play after splitting to the opponent's bar point on an opening 6-2, 6-3, or 6-4? If I'm not hit, should I run the split checker, cover it, or leave it alone? For example, on the sequence 6-2, followed by 3-1, followed by 5-1. If I end up holding my opponent's bar point with no trailing checkers, how weak is my position, considering that my opponent can make a board with no opposition from me? Shall I aim for a priming game?" This comes from Marc Ringuette.
Kazaross: On the sequence he says, it's just an automatic play to make the bar point with the 5-1. You make his bar point, you've escaped your back checkers, you're ahead in the race, you've got a builder on your outer board, and you've got him back on your ace point. You've got a very slight advantage of a position if you do that. Your anchor on his bar point basically counteracts him having made the 5 point. He needs to split his back men, provoke contact, make his own anchor before you start building points. Do you play a priming game? Well, you basically try to make points in your board. If you can make a couple of improvements, you can double. So I think you have a slight advantage after that sequence. Not much. Maybe you're only even. But if you don't make the bar point, what else are you going to do with the 5-1? Run the man to the mid point?
Fujita: I think that's what he's trying to compare that with.
Kazaross: That probably is what he's trying to compare that with and that would leave him with a clear disadvantage in the game. Next question.
Fujita: I think he doesn't want to lose inner board coverage.
Kazaross: Inner board coverage is not very important there. I mean, by the time your opponent made his inner board, you'd be working on your own inner board. What I'm saying is that he doesn't have to worry about that there.
Fujita: Something else that was interesting when we talked about this before: what you said on the sequence I thought was very interesting. 6-3 and you split, followed by 3-1, followed by 5-1, it's clearly correct to make your own 5 point.
Kazaross: I think it's a little better to make your own 5 point in that sequence. I could be wrong, but I'd lean toward making my own 5 point and although I think I'd have a very slight edge in the position if I made the bar anchor, I think I'd have a little bit more edge if I made my own 5 point. You know, again, I'm provoking a lot. I get contact with the split out to his bar point, and his 8 point is stripped. So if he hits me with a 1 and I hit back, he has trouble because I own my 5 point. That's a play that maybe the neural networks can solve. I know Expert Backgammon roll-out would prefer making the 5 point after the sequence 6-3, 3-1, 5-1. I'm not totally convinced, but I've been trying that kind of stuff and I get good results with it.
Fujita: Question 2 comes from Albert Steg, who keeps vast records of every money game or any tournament game that he plays. He says, "I've been playing very frequently over the past four years, 3000 games a year not on FIBS, and consider myself above average for my field of players. One thing that fascinates and tortures me is the recurrences of slumps in my performance. These are stretches of money play when I can scarcely seem to win a session against anyone and in the process lose about 200 to 300 points net, lasting anywhere from 1 to 3 months. Eventually I come out of it and make it back, but what a nightmare time that can be. I'd like to ask the #1 player what his worst slump has been, how often he hits a dry spell, and what he does to recover."
Kazaross: I haven't had a dry spell in tournament play seriously this decade, in the 1990s. That's how hot I've been in tournament play. My worst dry spell I would say probably was in 1991 playing for money. I just couldn't seem to beat anybody and it's a very frustrating feeling. What you do is you basically, if you make critical decisions you must study them later to be sure they were correct. I was in a hundred dollar chouette, playing 4 people, I got gammoned, I was losing anyway, I felt tired, I said, I've had it, and I simply stopped. I stopped, paid out the cash, and went back to the hotel room and rolled out the position a bunch of times and found out that after they doubled and I took, they figured to win maybe a quarter-point. My assessment was right, I knew I had an easy take, they shouldn't have doubled. What you gotta do is, you gotta work on what's happening in the game, studying things, making sure you're playing right. Convince yourself you're playing right, and if you are, you know, try to leave your emotion out of it. Just keep playing, eventually your luck will turn. If you're sure you're not playing well, stop and totally avoid backgammon for a couple of weeks and then when your mind is clear study for a while before resuming serious play.
Fujita: Question 3: "Your first roll gives you 6-6 and you play it so you make your bar point and your opponent's bar point. Will you double in your next turn?" From Bart van den Berg.
Kazaross: No way, you need more of an advantage than that.
Fujita: Are there any situations where you might double that?
Kazaross: I might double it losing in a short match, especially under a situation where I'd hit him, let's say he opened with a 6-3 and split and I roll a 6-6 and point on him and he flunked, then I'd double in a money game, but I can't think of too many situations where I would double after 6-6. Certainly not in a long match or for money. Maybe a couple of short match situations, opening with a 6-6 might be a double, but in general, you've got to improve your game. You need one more improvement.
Fujita: Question 4: "What is the most commonly misplayed position by today's experts?" From Blake Sorem.
Kazaross: The most commonly misplayed position? In my opinion, it would be an opening 4-1. Anybody who slots makes a mistake, probably by a percent or two. There's more types of positions than that that are misplayed, but I'm not talking about types of positions. This one is common. I answer the question as I understand it.
Fujita: Slight detour. This happened in a match tonight, in the finals match. One of the players ran with a 6-5 and the other player responded with 4-1. What are the top 3 plays in order in your opinion?
Kazaross: Top 3 plays? 24-23 13-9, 24-20 24-23, 24-20 6-5.
Fujita: The point being that you need to split to challenge when your opponent has only one checker back?
Kazaross: Yes. I'm not clear which of the first two plays is better. I tend to make the first play, thinking I have enough action anyway. But I'm not convinced. The third play I think is a bit too risky, slotting both 5 points. It's great when it works, but when it doesn't work you're just getting hit all over the place and he has only 1 man back instead of the usual 2.
Fujita: Yeah, I think the play people might overlook in that position is the 24-20 24-23.
Kazaross: Could be best, I don't know. I think it's very close, but usually play 24-23 13-9.
Fujita: Question 5, from the internet: "If the #1 player in the world could ask the #2 player in the world any question he liked, what would he ask?"
Kazaross: I really wouldn't know. What would I ask? If I thought he could answer it, one of my most frustrating opening questions relates to when the opponent splits with a 6-2, 6-3, or 6-4. How do you play your missing numbers, your garbage numbers like 3-2, 4-3, 5-4. How do you play stuff like that? When do you hit loose on the ace, when don't you? That kind of stuff. When and how do you leave a blot on your outer board and split on his inner board to duplicate or semi-duplicate numbers. If I thought he knew the answer, I'd ask him that.
Fujita: Do you want me to give my best shot at it?
Fujita: One way to answer that, I think, might be the skill difference that you feel you have with your opponent. If you feel that you're an intermediate compared to an open player, then maybe you need to make the hitting type of play to keep him dancing. When they're dancing or when they only have half their roll, they don't necessarily have the chance to show the skill that they have. If you feel they're an equal level player, you may want to make a duplicating play.
Kazaross: One problem with that is, however, when you start dumping men on your ace point, your flexibility is reduced in terms of creative play and stuff like that. I'll say that when playing weaker players, they make less mistakes when you force them to play half or all of a roll from the bar, i.e., when they have their full roll to think about, they may show the misunderstandings they have.
Fujita: I feel, in answer to what you said about when to hit on the ace point, I feel it's almost never right, with a 3-2 in response to a split.
Kazaross: I would hit on the ace point with some 5s.
Fujita: I would not use a whole roll to do that.
Fujita: "How important is psychology in the game of backgammon?" From Stigeide (FIBS name).
Kazaross: In tournament backgammon, it's pretty darn important. It's pretty important. You can see your opponent, you can scare your opponent. I certainly have encountered some people that are just very intimidated when they sit down across from me, especially if I've won a couple of games with a steamroller-like style. They're intimidated when they have tough plays or tough rolls and all of a sudden two or three times their tough plays don't work and they just get beat by whatever I threw. I also can play many situations quickly and very assuredly since I've seen them so often over the last 20 years. That's intimidating.
Fujita: When did you learn that it was important?
Kazaross: I always knew it was important.
Fujita: From the other point of view, did you feel it from the other side? Did you ever feel that you were giving anything away?
Kazaross: Oh, probably. Probably used to be too emotional. Sometimes it was an act, but sometimes you can't control it. You burn nervous energy, your opponent picks up on that--you might not want to be doubled or might be dropping the cube or whatever, or thinks that you might be intimidated and you don't double him or don't make the big play when you have to, you know. It's best to simply conserve your energy and be in a mental state where your opponent really can't take advantage of you. Maybe he thinks he can, but he really can't.
Fujita: Let's quantify that intimidation factor. People realize how hot you've been in the past four years, and especially last year, winning everything in sight. How many percentage points do you think it adds to your winning chances in an 11 point match, playing against somebody who's a bit intimidated versus if you had the same skills but they did not know that you were somebody to be reckoned with?
Kazaross: Against half the people, nothing. Against the average of the other half, maybe 2% or 3%.
Fujita: Question 7, the final one of the r.g.b. questions: "What importance does Neil Kazaross place on the different rating systems, including the one that places him #1 in the world? More generally, what importance does he think they have, especially compared to those used in international chess play, which are, some say, more clearly interpretable?"
Kazaross: Well, let's see, what ratings systems are there? You have Goulding's ratings system, you have a ratings systems on FIBS that is just simply casual play on the computer. Goulding's is serious tournament. Those are the only ratings systems, everything else is called master points, but they're not ratings.
Carter: What about the top twenty lists and stuff like that, surveys and peer ratings?
Kazaross: Surveys, in terms of voting, I place not much importance on that. That vote was done, number one, it was done as a combination of tournament and money play. Tournament and money play are very different. Tournament play is much more interesting since not all points won and lost have equal value. I'm not a good money player, I will probably never be a really good money player. I don't often play chouettes and sometimes I go out of my way not to play them. I usually don't want anyone else moving the checkers for me if I can avoid it. You'll see me in them sometimes, but I'm usually just killing time when there's nothing else to do. I don't really want to play chouettes, so I won't be much of a money player. My whole attitude about the game is geared toward tournament play, which means... if you're behind in a tournament, you're supposed to be playing aggressively to catch up. I do the same thing in money play and sometimes get buried. But that's the way you play in a tournament. Money and tournament play are very different and Yamin's idea is good, but I place little bearing on any survey that people vote on, since the vote should be separate for money and tournament play. A rating system, if it's done properly, which means that everything that is played seriously is rated, nothing that is not played seriously is rated... in other words, your weekly club match tournament, that's not serious backgammon. It really isn't. That's the time when you're going to see your friends, you might have been up 12 hours working, etc., you're going to have a couple of beers, you're going to play some backgammon, try some new things, try some new strategies. It shouldn't be rated.
Fujita: But there are certain clubs that do send those in.
Kazaross: They should not be allowed to send weeklies in, or biweeklies. There should be nothing sent in that doesn't have a decent entry fee paid, where people are playing serious backgammon. Like this Gran Prix, this is serious backgammon. You win a couple thousand dollars if you win.
Fujita: Pat Gibson won close to $5000. He hedged a bit, so he decreased it. He won enough that he's considering going to Turkey on it.
Kazaross: That's serious backgammon. That should be rated. This event should be rated and I know it is. But Pat Gibson's weeklies should not be rated. Unfortunately, in Goulding's rating system there've been a lot of omissions in tournaments that have been rated. Somehow the draw sheets from the recent Costa Rica tournament were lost.
Fujita: What do you think of FIBS ratings?
Kazaross: Last night was my first night on FIBS and I watched two assholes play one game with a 64 cube in a 64 point match. There should be no match allowed longer than maybe 15 points on FIBS, so that you can't have dump of ratings points like that, that would solve the problem to some extent. Many FIBS players play only for ratings, since money isn't involved. At least in real tournaments, people are not going to dump. In a club tournament, if the weeklies were rated, you could have a lot of players that are pretty strong that can just dump the weeklies, keep a low rating and get into events, limited jackpots with $1000 entry fees, not have to play world-class players. That's why you don't rate weekly tournaments ever ever ever! You rate only the people who are playing serious backgammon. Who's going to enter the San Diego Gran Prix to dump a match when you win $5000 if you win the tournament? Nobody. But on a $10 weekly entry fee? People dump. Do I think the chess rating is more accurate than the backgammon rating? Probably. Because of the nature of the game. Chess is more of a game of skill than backgammon, so the randomness is taken out. But as far as ratings attempting to determine tournament skill in backgammon, then I think it's a great method but it's got to be more widely applied, more fairly applied, but it's doing a pretty darn good job right now, in my opinion. Who's going to be at the top of the KG list? Probably 10 or 15 players with equivalent abilities to mine, and they're out there, that happen to get hot, could be at the top of the list. I happen to think I am certainly a very strong player, but I've been hot. That's why I'm at the top of the list. Next question.
Fujita: "Race. Position from each player's point of view, 1..24. X: 025121 Pip count=39 O: 001342 Pip count=47 X on roll. Cube action?"
For those who don't know, cube action means, should you double this position? If you double, is it a take, drop, beaver? "The answer to this question seems to defy Kleinman's count."
Kazaross: I don't know about whatever count it is ... if you look at the pip count, you pass, if you look at the position, you take. All those checkers stacked on the 3 point and the extra checker, that's a substantial penalty in terms of bear-off efficiency. There's an 8 pip difference in the pipcount, however, when you put it through a program like Strommen's BPA program -- I recommend everybody get that, from Larry Strommen -- you get that, you'll understand bearoffs much much better. You'll find out that really the adjusted count is only 4 pips difference and the position is a take. The taker wins slightly over 25% with no cube, and his cube equity gives him an easy, take, double take. Look at the wastage for the doubler. Don't be a slave to the pip count, it's only a guide. The other side has no wastage, it's a very efficient position with 47 pips.
Fujita: "Also race. X: 33 O: 1021 X on roll. Cube action?"
Kazaross: No double. It's an easy take. No double, no beaver, though.
Fujita: The person who posed this question felt that this was essentially a last roll situation, your last chance to use the cube, basically, and when you give it to him, either he has...when he redoubles you he doubles you out, so he only has maybe 2-1 as a missing number, 34 that work.
Kazaross: All this is true. However, by doubling him now, you kill the chance to double him later if he misses. So you're doubling him out when he only has four winning doubles that'll win the game. Still, that improves your winning chances. The whole problem is that this is a position in which you're only a very slight favorite. You're only 54.4% to win this game cubeless. What happens is if you give him the cube, you win the game about 53%. If you keep the cube in the middle, you win the game 58%. If you keep the cube and you own it, you win 59.5%. By keeping the cube, you do give him the chance to roll that missing 2-1 in some sequences. It's important to understand that when you're only a very slight favorite in the position overall in the bear-off and there's a couple rolls left, even though you're going to lose your market with all your good sequences, you may be better off losing that market. An example: You have 4 men on your 1 point, 2 men on your 3 point. He has 6 men on his 1 point. You're either losing your market or getting doubled out next roll. You bear 2 off, it's a drop. It's a drop for him unless he rolls a double. You miss, you have to drop. You still have no double there. Not only is there no redouble, there's no double. It was misrepresented in two different books on the game. Next question.
Fujita: X: 000022 221000 101000 002002 O: 000066 020000 000000 000100 X on roll. Cube action?
Kazaross: Let's use Woolsey's rule. Do you think this is a take? Don't know, do you? How can this position be evaluated, simply? It can't. From a practical standpoint, you have to double this position. It's plain to see that you've got 27 numbers that close the back of a 5 prime and then the opponent getting the cube has many numbers that just destroy his position and leave blots all over his inner board. How'd you like to have the game go you roll 4-2, he rolls 4-5, for example? Death, you know? With threats like that, you have to double, see if your opponent wants to take it or pass. It looks like double/take to me, Woolsey agrees.
Fujita: You showed this position also to Kit?
Kazaross: Yeah. I wouldn't be using Expert Backgammon to evaluate it either, it played it very badly after doubling. It just doesn't optimize picking up extra checkers and stuff.
Fujita: Ok. "To what do you attribute your tournament success?"
Kazaross: I was asked this when the Point interviewed me.
Fujita: I think at that time the answer was steroids?
Kazaross: No, on my dice only. Basically, most of my tournament success comes from the fact that I understand how to use match equities concepts to win matches certainly as well as anybody in the world. Combine that with the fact that I don't have any serious holes in my game. Some people might understand certain positions and cubes better than I do, but my understanding of these doesn't give up much equity. However, some of the same players' understandings of applying equities gives up a lot and combine that with the fact that many of them have other holes in other parts of their game, they will give up equity too. What I'm saying is, I got several areas of the game where I'm as good as anybody, or maybe better than anybody, to brag a little bit, and I got only a few areas in the game where I'm giving up much, if any, equity. So I'm giving up a little and I'm gaining a lot against most players. And that makes me tough to beat in matches. My style of play really hurts weaker players. I mean, I beat a lot of weaker players very easily and that's what you've got to do in tournaments to win tournaments. You've got to be able to beat players that aren't as good as you.
Fujita: So who do you have the most trouble beating?
Kazaross: Lately, it's been Peter Kalba, in Chicago. He beat me 7 times in a row, I finally got him last Tuesday night. However, if you look at all the players in the world, who I would have the most trouble beating is Kit Woolsey, I would say. That's the last guy I would want to play under any circumstance. If I have to make a vote for the best tournament player in the world and I'm not allowed to vote for myself, I vote for him, now based upon tremendous improvements in his play over the last 2 years.
Fujita: "I've gone over matches in Kit Woolsey's Matchqiz series. Even the top experts seem to make many mistakes. What does it take to be a top player?"
Kazaross: What does it take to be a top player? I just said why I win matches, that's most of it right there. You just gotta not have many holes in your game, you gotta be tough, you gotta be able to win 1 point matches when you have to, you just gotta hold up under the pressure. Most importantly, you must be able to evaluate risk vs. reward for decisions based upon match score.
Fujita: And again, steroids have nothing to do with it?
Kazaross: Steroids have nothing to do with it and although I was built pretty well in my younger days, I never took one!
Fujita: "What will the neural net programs do to the game of backgammon?"
Kazaross: They're already making us play much better than we ever imagined.
Fujita: You once played in tournaments where your goal was not to be gammoned. Is this a sound tournament strategy? You said this in 1988.
Kazaross: That was in Flint 1988. I said my goal was not to be gammoned because prior to that I thought I'd been playing a little too loose, you know, leaving a few too many blots when my opponent had a good board, taking tough cubes. I was getting gammoned too much, I said, I'm going to tighten up a little bit. It seemed to have worked. If you play with that strategy, that you're not going to get gammoned in tournament matches, you'll find that you're giving up far too much equity. In Flint I was fortunate not to have to face many tough gammonish cubes in 1988. You've simply got to understand on an equity basis what the gammon price is, what it means to get gammoned at this score. Obviously you don't want to get gammoned on a 2 cube when your opponent is 4 away from victory. He needs 4, you need 3, you get gammoned, that's a monstrous equity swing. Far more than it is to get gammoned for money or to get gammoned early in the match. You've got to understand what your equity is against the opponent, based on his skill level and what it means to get gammoned and play based upon that. You just can't play wimpily to avoid getting gammoned. I set that as a goal for Flint because I knew I was playing too loose. Next?
Fujita: "What three books would you recommend for the beginner?"
Kazaross: Ok, let me list some good books here, period. For the beginner? Magriel's Backgammon, for sure. Best book at that level, absolute best book. You got to have Robertie's Advanced Backgammon, too.
Fujita: Even given the number of mistakes that it has?
Kazaross: Doesn't have that many bad mistakes. It's not that bad, really. It's a textbook, a lot of positions, it teaches you a lot. Ortega & Kleinman's Fascinating Backgammon, that's for a better player than a beginner. For a true beginner, I found that Jacoby and Crawford's Backgammon Book was helpful. All level players, you want to see matches between good players played.
Fujita: And for intermediates, or maybe we should just skip to the open or expert?
Kazaross: Open to expert player? Danny Kleinman's Vision Laughs at Counting and all his other books. Older books: You want to see annotated matches again. Reno '86 is very good. Reno '86 is a good book for most levels of players. It's a quiz book. The style of play has changed a little bit since then, we play a little safer now than they did at that time. Ditto with Friedman's book. But still, there's a lot of basic plays in there. If you don't score that highly on that, you know your game needs work. For the average level tournament player, Fascinating Backgammon is certainly worth a look. And once again, you want to look at Kit Woolsey's Matchqiz. They're not books yet, but they're coming out in books. But everybody should be studying those, especially his latest annotations. As far as a book, I'd say the best book for open players and expert players is coming out very soon. It's called Costa Rica 1993, annotating a Mike Senkewitz/Wilcox Snellings match from down there. They played in the finals of the big money jackpot. The annotations are done by myself, Antonio Ortega, and a couple of other Costa Ricans.
Fujita: Those being Mario Madrigal and
Kazaross: Max Esquivel. It's coming out very soon and we have massive massive amounts, over 10,000 games rolled out by hand. And a lot of assists from Expert Backgammon roll-outs where we felt they were appropriate.
Fujita: Very controlled roll-outs, I understand.
Kazaross: Well, my roll-outs I contributed, which are not that many, are very controlled. Most of the roll-outs were done by the Costa Ricans and they controlled the first 36 rolls. They sometimes controlled other things, but mainly they just rolled and rolled and rolled. Also you have Wilcox Snellings' opinion with his roll-outs in that book, too, for a lot of the positions, and you have Senkewitz' opinion. That book could be a must-buy for anybody and I would say that even if I didn't help write most of it.
Fujita: Wilcox felt that there should be some kind of disclaimer placed on that. His opinion was that you don't want an intermediate helping you to write a book and he felt that the play of Expert Backgammon was intermediate in level.
Kazaross: Well, that's true.
Fujita: He felt that even though Antonio was very very careful about controlling his roll-outs and watching the branching, he still felt that in his foreword Antonio should say that ...
Kazaross: Don't worry, wait until you read the book. Why do you think so many roll-outs were done by hand?
Fujita: Ok, just give me one sentence on each of the following books. Joe Dwek's Backgammon for Profit.
Kazaross: I forgot to mention that one. Very good if you can get it.
Fujita: I think you can get it in paperback for about ten bucks.
Kazaross: Yeah, you want that, that's a good book.
Fujita: Boris Becker's Backgammon for Blood.
Kazaross: Burn it.
Carter: It's not Boris Becker, it's Bruce.
Fujita: Bruce Becker, yes.
Kazaross: Boris could have written an equally good book about backgammon and Bruce could have written an equally good book about tennis. Burn it.
Fujita: How about Bruce Roman's and Gaby Horowitz's Alpha ...
Kazaross: Burn it. Burn anything by Gaby Horowitz. Do you more harm than good.
Fujita: Kent Goulding's Backgammon for Champions?
Kazaross: Still mentally stimulating, very old-fashioned style of play, they're over ten years old. Superb for their time. Taught me a lot.
Fujita: Lots of good pictures of great players in their youth. [smiling]
Kazaross: I wish he was still doing it, by the way, those annotations. I'm surprised he stopped. Probably too much work.
Fujita: Robin Clay's Backgammon in a Week.
Kazaross: Never seen it.
Fujita: Walter Richard's Complete Backgammon?
Kazaross: Never seen it.
Fujita: 1931. If you look at lots of the opening moves, it's what the players felt in the 1970s were the best plays.
Kazaross: Interesting. Surprised they played that wide open back then, but some circles of play slotted, while others stacked.
Fujita: Ok. Playboy's Book of Backgammon.
Kazaross: Very interesting reading, and not that bad, actually. That's worth a good look. It's very interesting reading. The anecdotes are worth the price of the book. The backgammon advice is not so bad either.
Fujita: Bill Robertie's Lee Genud vs. Joe Dwek.
Kazaross: Good annotation, a good match too. Again, I just recommend that especially at the intermediate level and the beginner level, you've got to see matches played. You've got to see what people do with positions that aren't in the books. I know when I was learning the game, I could digest everything in the books, but I wanted to watch good players play because there were so many positions that aren't in the books. The transitioning from one position to another ... what do you do in between? When do you jump out into the outfield and volunteer to get hit by double shots, you know? It's tough to learn that stuff.
Fujita: That was one of the biggest criticisms of Robertie's Advanced Backgammon Books, his explanations on the positions are very terse, very concise, and he doesn't go into explaining that you're playing maybe a double anchor holding game with the 4 and 5 points being your anchors, you need to break your non-anchor. "You're an emotional and passionate player. How does this characteristic help you to win? How does it hurt you?"
Kazaross: It gives me intensity, it gives me the adrenaline to keep playing.
Fujita: "How passionate should a player be when playing a series of matches in a tournament?"
Kazaross: Enough that he keeps winning and keeps playing his best. Your goal is to play your best. You've got to do what it takes to play your best and after a while, you learn it. I've learned to relax a little bit. I burn less energy than I used to. I'm horribly sick right now at this tournament, I still managed to go 3 and 2. That, by the way, is why I have the highest rating in the world. When I have a bad tournament, maybe I break even. When I have good tournaments, I win them. But you've got to be consistent. If you're consistent, you'll find that you're winning more matches and more tournaments. So as far as using your emotions or your passion, do what you've got to do to try to keep yourself playing your best or nearly your best.
Fujita: "What does it take to win Monte Carlo?"
Kazaross: Luck. Skill. Stamina. More luck. Next question?
Fujita: "What tournament do you feel is the strongest test of backgammon skill?"
Kazaross: World Cup. But a much better measure of backgammon skill... World Cup is a lot of stamina as much as skill. A better measure is simply the club championships where you're playing every week, or, again, it's easy for me to say since I just won the American Backgammon Tour with a record total, something like that, where you've got to play a lot of tournaments, measuring someone's results over a year or longer. That's a much better measure of backgammon skill than a single event. But obviously, if you could have many many events, you reduce the variance.
Fujita: You once told me you could prove that a round robin format is best.
Kazaross: I meant that Modified Swiss is how I would have at least half the tournaments in the country run. Modified Swiss, that's not round robin, it's Modified Swiss, like in chess tournaments. However, backgammon players don't want to be playing when they can't win a prize, in general. Chess players, with lower entry fees typically, they'll keep playing if they can't win a prize, just to play chess. Backgammon players aren't like that. Also, why have backgammon players playing when they can dump matches so that someone else can win a prize? Bad idea. Swiss tournaments should be, let's say, come here for the weekend. You know, we got two full days for the tournament. Play 10 matches. If you lose 3, you're out. How would I run the World Cup next time? Simple. You're going to play 7 or 9 point matches, maybe 5 or 6 a day, for about 5 days. If you lose, let's say 8 to 10 matches, you're out. Last guy left wins. Simple. What happens at the end, there may be two of us left, Neil Kazaross and Mike Fujita, I've lost 5 matches, Mike has lost 6. Mike beats me 3 times, I beat him only once, I'm out, Mike wins. Under that format, the better tournament player's going to win a lot more. You either play, and if you lose too many matches you can't win a prize and you're out, or you just continue to play until the last guy left who's only lost let's say 2 matches or 3 matches over a long weekend or whatever, he wins the tournament. Computer simulations could be easily done to determine how long it should take.
Fujita: "I do not want to memorize tables and tables of numbers. Can I still be a top backgammon player?"
Kazaross: You cannot be a top tournament backgammon player if you do not know what the match equity is. Believe me. You have to know what the match equity is. I've taught players that have been good tournament players, but they're only good tournament players because, again, not because they had mathematical ability, but because I went over every score in short matches with them and told them what was going on. That's based on the match equity. But then again, if you can't figure it out for yourself, you really don't understand it. Do I remember any tables, I know the match equity table I use, but I also know methods of generating them. I have my method I wrote up in Inside Backgammon, called Neil's Numbers, or I use Janowski's formula. Use Janowski's formula or Neil's Numbers, you don't really have to remember many tables of numbers as far as take points, gammon prices, doubling points. Calculate them if you need them at the table if you don't remember them. I remember some, I calculate some. What other non-match equity tables of numbers are there? I don't see any to be used. Do you, Mike?
Fujita: [shakes head] Would you go back to a question, a book we should have mentioned, Kit Woolsey's How to Play Tournament Backgammon. One sentence opinion on that book.
Kazaross: Good, not great. I rate it a B. It should be more in-depth. It could have been a longer book. Kit knows much more than that, in my opinion, about tournament backgammon. Kit's Matchqiz analysis is much better.
Fujita: Can it help the intermediate person who doesn't know much about ...
Kazaross: It would help most open players, actually. I'd hope to see something more in-depth from him on that category.
Fujita: How good is Juli Carter and what do I need to beat her?
Kazaross: You need to beat her like I beat her. You hit her 15th man with a one, close her out, and win the race breezing. It works. Next question.
Fujita: What about Patti Beadles? What can you do to beat her?
Kazaross: Never played her, I wouldn't know. I'm sure the same technique would apply, though.
Beadles: I roll better.
Fujita: Which is your favorite tournament in the world, of course not including the San Diego Grand Prix?
Kazaross: I have no idea.
Fujita: "Is Kit Woolsey's doubling rule mathematically sound? Does it take into account whether I should wait until the next roll to double and maybe in so doing increase my equity?"
Kazaross: Well, let's add the Kazaross Corollary to the Woolsey Doubling Rule.
Fujita: Has this appeared before in the real world?
Kazaross: Yeah, in a couple of my lectures. The Woolsey rule applies in general, but you must make sure that you do have threats to lose your market in the next sequence. The next sequence, that means your roll followed by his roll. Now Woolsey seems to think if you can't tell if it's a double or a take, or a pass, you probably do have threats to lose your market. I would think that is true in most conditions, but don't double without a threat to lose your market in the next sequence unless you suspect your opponent may pass.
Fujita: "What is the most significant advance in backgammon in the last 25 years?"
Kazaross: The development of neural networks.
Fujita: "What steps are you taking to improve your backgammon game in the next three years?"
Kazaross: Getting hold of a neural network to study with. With that, I want to categorize positions, specifically those from opening to early middle game that arise a lot with my style of play and go over them. For example, I'll give you an example. I split my back men all the time now as responses to openings and stuff like that. And it doesn't work. I'm getting my back checkers smashed all around. I've really got to know what the drop/take threshold there is. For example, you roll 4-2, I roll 4-3, I split. You roll a 6-2 and hit me loose and I flunk. I've got to know what's going on with the cube there and I've also got to know perfectly what's going on with the cube there in similar situations.
Fujita: What you mean is in every tournament situation, match score situation.
Kazaross: Yeah. Let's say how do I play with stuff like that. I would say that I would have to know, in general what is happening for money, then I adjust it for tournament. That's how I play. I try to categorize everything for either cubeless play or money, then adjust based upon gammon price, take points, etc.
Fujita: TD-Gammon's a neural network program and you made that comment that its data show that the game probably should not be played as loosely as most experts presently play.
Kazaross: True. That's 100% true. And now I've seen Jellyfish, which is a neural network, and it seems to play a little looser. But they all say that, and you can substantiate that with Expert Backgammon or the neural net roll-outs and using the same dice for both players and positions, where I feel that they really mean a lot, and you'll find out that we probably have been leaving too many blots, too many spare shots. Criticize Expert Backgammon as you wish, but Kit Woolsey did a whole series of articles annotating, going over and annotating a match and games between Bill Robertie and TD-Gammon based upon using Expert Backgammon as the referee, so what can I say?
Fujita: Doesn't that seem to fly in the face of the Goulding rule, the man with the most blots wins? He means literally, crawling around the board, being used as assets.
Kazaross: KG's rule was meant to get players to think every time they make some ugly, stiff candlestick play, I can also "spread-em out" when necessary. But, let me say, the man with the most blots loses. Neil's rule. In general, unless he enters every time he's hit and he's good at hitting shots when his opponents bear in and bear off, the man with the most blots loses. The man with the most blots loses. The man with the most blots loses. Maybe some will think my tighter style is boring, but it works. You have to know how to quantify risk vs. reward to play the checkers optimally.
Fujita: The first time I've seen it in print was Jeremy Bagai who had a corollary that said that Goulding's rule is good and applies to the early game when there's no real recourse, a good qualification to the Goulding rule.
Kazaross: I win so many games because I'm ahead in the race, it's shocking. People just think I'm lucky, I roll doubles and my men run around the board. I want to be ahead in the race almost no matter what.
Fujita: What does that have to say about Howard Ring's, about four years back, placing such a huge importance on the race and making many plays that were very race dependent?
Kazaross: Howard was correct. Howard taught me to tighten up my game when leading in the race or when the race was close from watching what he did.
Fujita: That means if you're ahead in the race, you should try not to squander that race lead?
Kazaross: Unless you're basically making plays that win if they work. Fine if you don't have a choice, but find a way to win because of you being ahead in the race if you can. And don't be ashamed about it.
Fujita: Any questions you guys want to add?
Carter: What's your FIBS login name?
Carter: And how do you feel about lag?