This article originally appeared in the August 2002 issue of GammOnLine.
Thank you to Kit Woolsey for his kind permission to reproduce it here.

How to Use Snowie More Efficiently

By Oliver Heuler
Most of us use Snowie in the following manner: We play our online matches, save them, run the analysis and go through our errors and blunders afterwards. This is a huge improvement compared to the pre-bot-era in which we hardly got any feedback at all. But Snowie can be used even more efficiently:

Research has shown that there is an internal gratification system in our brain. Confronted with any kind of problem we try to understand the connections and find a solution. The brain compares old experiences with the new situation. When we find a solution that works, the brain triggers a sense of well-being through neurotransmitters. This motivates us to solve new problems as well as continuing to follow the successful strategy. But most important this strategy shifts into long-term memory. Several studies seem to prove that an experience which was connected with joy is remembered easier than experiences that didn't coincide with an emotion. Before I show how these findings can be used to improve our backgammon skills, I would like mention two problems:

1. With the proceedings described at the beginning we do not learn from our correct decisions. Let's say you had a difficult decision in your match and you could only guess what the right move was. Let's further assume that you guessed correctly. While playing the move you didn't learn anything since you just guessed and during the analysis this problem won't come up again, since you are only jumping from error to error. So next time a similar problem comes up you will have to guess again. To escape that problem we could go through our whole match move by move after Snowie has done the analysis. But that would waste our time during all the trivial decisions. A better solution would be to make a note during play at every move we weren't sure about. But that is not very practical.

2. But not only do we reduce our learning potential with our good plays, there is also a limitation at analyzing the bad plays: When you jump from error to error in the analyzed match, you try to find a good solution before you look at Snowie' s suggestion. Unfortunately very often there are only two possibilities and since you remember the play you decided on during the match you know what must be right without launching a new thought process. To escape these problems and to make use of our internal gratification system I recommend doing something else:

Play offline against Snowie more frequently and activate the evaluation after every move in the panel settings. You should also check the box at the bottom of the panel that hides the equity. Otherwise you would be influenced on your next cube decision. If you check this box you will only see the equity differences between the best play and the alternatives. The second radio button at the cube flap should also be activated. This gives you feedback on the cube decisions. Now you get feedback after every move and every cube decision. Whenever you make the right choice you will have a sense of well-being because Snowie approves your play. As a consequence this decision will be remembered more easily. When you tell Snowie to evaluate your play on 3-ply, huge search space and 100% this might take a few seconds each time, but this also slows down your own play, which is good. All of us have experienced how playing against GGraccoon on Gamesgrid or Snowie-Happy on Playmaker tends to speed up our own play and make it worse as a consequence. If that slowing down is not enough and you still overlook the best play occasionally, I recommend using Snowie's note panel. After every move but before seeing Snowie's suggestion you write a short sentence, explaining why your move is best and what would be the next best alternative. This forces you to look and think twice, which will improve your game immediately because you will turn off your autopilot which is so harmful to the quality of your game. The fact that Snowie is more patient than any online opponent is also helpful, because you may take as much time as you like. You will practice playing at a higher pace often enough in your online matches.

Another way to improve the learning experience is to use the saved online matches and to go through the opponents mistakes. Depending on the opponents strength you can jump from one interesting problem to the other. He will probably have played all the trivial moves correctly and so you just deal with the interesting problems with the advantage of not having dealt with them before. However be careful with that because it could be very frustrating: If you use the matches of two other players you should select a playing strength that allows you to solve 50-80 percent of their mistakes correctly. Research has shown that this success rate leads to the highest motivation. A rate of only 20 percent successful answers for example would be too frustrating, a rate of 90 percent too boring. To find players whose mistakes you can solve with the desired success rate, you will probably have to pick some with a lower rating than your own. You can also adapt the level of difficulty while selecting the games you play. When I was at the beginner/intermediate level I found the number of my mistakes frustrating so I temporarily selected to play mainly one-pointers to eliminate the difficult cube decisions. After you get familiar with the different checker play at DMP (just read Bill Robertie's excellent series on this subject) you will have a much better error rate compared to the one of longer matches. The next step would be playing a money game, since the cube is involved but the take point and the checker play is not altered by different match scores. After that I recommend playing 3-pointers, because you can easily memorize the altered cube and checker play strategies at the eleven possible match scores (-3/-3, -3/-2, -2/-3, -1/-3*, -3/-1*, -2/-2, -1/-2, -2/-1, -1/-2*, -2/-1*, DMP). Whenever you play through a match you should save the plays where you either don't understand Snowie' s play or you understand it but fear to make a similar mistake in the future. One directory is called "important" the other one "questions". Both directories have subdirectories containing certain themes (opening, prime vs. prime, blitz, backgame, bear-in, bearoff, anchors, splitting, slotting etc.) After a while you get a nice collection of positions tailor-made for your game. The questions directory can be used for taking lessons. I had lessons from several good players and found that just playing a game and discussion every move is not half as efficient as going through your collected problems with the teacher.

When you save the positions as rtf-files they are very small and can be used in any word processing program (i.e. MS-Word). These lessons do not need to take place live: You can send your teacher all the positions with your thoughts per e-mail and he can spend an hour or two writing his comments. Especially when your teacher is not available live this method is superior to playing a match and discussing it in a chat which is extremely time consuming.

The positions in the "important" directory should be viewed regularly and whenever you found the correct move in a certain position you mark that in the rtf-file. After three marks you can delete the file. Whenever you browse through a match and get to a type of position you feel uncomfortable in you should use the option "Play from here" (Shortcut: Ctrl-H). Now you can play several moves from that position over and over again with immediate feedback. This will increase your understanding of that position more than anything else. A similar thing can be done to improve your understanding of the opening play. Start with a certain move of your opponent (i.e. 63:24/18, 13/10) and play a few moves from there several times using the immediate feedback of Snowie.

I hope my thoughts will help you to become a better player more quickly. I know that this kind of work is a little more strenuous than just playing, analyzing and jumping from error to error but it will pay of. A last note: Make use of the account manager. After analyzing a match and watching the play statistics (Ctrl-T) just press the "add-stats-to-player-account-button". The account manager (Ctrl-U) will make it easy to show your development if you use the "set-range-button". I like to keep record of 50-matches segments that usually take a month in my case. There is nothing that motivates more than seeing that the error rate steadily decreases every month. And it helps you to get through the unlucky periods too where you might play well but continue to lose.

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