Backgammon Articles

31 Things You Need to Know
For Your First ABT Tournament

by Stick Rice
This article was originally posted in October 2008 at the bgonline forum.

This is a summary of another thread. I am doing this because I think they're good threads with lots of information that would be nice to have in condensed form. I also add my two cents when doing this and later on. So what follows is the combination of a lot of solid advice from various players about attending your first ABT event. They are listed only by numbers in case you want to refer to them in replying, not in order of importance (though I am trying to list them in order of occurring).

  1. Book your flight at least two weeks in advance. Within two weeks, the prices on flights go up. If you're driving a fairly long distance and your car hasn't had a checkup in a while I'd recommend doing so.

  2. I'd recommend staying in the same hotel where the tournament is being held for a few reasons. First of all, you'll be playing a lot of backgammon, and it's a lot easier to maximize your sleep and minimize your travel if you're in the same hotel. The same goes for breaks and while waiting on your matches, sometimes it's nice to go back to a nice, neutral, nobody talking about backgammon or shaking dice room when you get a chance, not quite so easy to do if you're staying at another hotel. Another reason to stay in the same hotel is typically you'll get a special rate for registering under the backgammon tournaments rate and this will help out the tournament director. They get some sort of return or discount the more rooms they book, helping them is helping the tournament and helping backgammon prosper.

  3. While you may know virtually nobody when attending your first tournament, if you're trying to save on expenses post on the available online forums if you'd like a roommate to cut the lodging stay in half. If you are particular, like I am, esp. for your first tourney, I say spend the money and have a room to yourself. I'd rather not have a roommate most of the time because I like to stay up late, listen to music or watch movies, etc. Another option is to let the tournament director know as soon as you decide to attend and that you're looking to share a room if possible. The TD will be best placed to know if others who are attending their tournament have similar requests.

  4. Pack a camera if you would like to take pictures of positions that occur during your matches for later study. This is commonly done and as long as you don't abuse it, nobody will care.

  5. Pack something with long sleeves even if it's an event in Florida where you know it'll be too warm for anything of the sort. Reason being, you'll be inside most of the weekend. Sometimes they freeze out the backgammon playing room and it doesn't warm up until the 100 odd bg players have been in it for a couple of hours. It's best to have swappable clothing.

  6. Bring a board if you have one, especially if you're driving, even if it's what you might consider an embarrassing board. Small boards that you may have played with while growing up may seem like they scream rookie! but, trust me, they're about a million times better than no board at all. I have played a few matches when I've flown and not wanted to carry on my large board and my opponent had his travel board. It doesn't make one bit of difference.

  7. Ideally you would like to have a set of precision dice and lipped cups to take with you. If you don't have them for your first tournament don't worry about it, but find out what they are and why they're necessary. And if you plan on attending more tournaments, invest.

  8. If you love your music, like I do, and it doesn't distract you from concentrating take an ipod to listen to during your matches.

  9. Prepare in advance if need be to play with the homeboard going both directions. Even I have a preference of which way I'd like to bear in so by default it's how I set up the checkers. Technically, you may roll for which direction you go for the entire match, but you should be comfortable going both ways in case you lose the rolloff.

  10. Pip counting is another thing you may want to practice if you aren't used to live tournaments. Playing online has spoiled you by giving you the pip count with the click of a button (if that). You don't need to be able to count quickly at first, accuracy is more important. As you play more events and are forced to count more and more you'll become quicker. At the heart of backgammon is a race; the pip count is paramount.

  11. Your bankroll depends on what you want to do while at the tournament. You'll of course know your tournament entry fees ahead of time. You also may want to enter a side event or several. In today's age most people have a debit card so it's not something most need to worry about but make sure you're prepared if you want to enter in side events, play in chouettes, participate in the calcutta, etc.

  12. Give the rules a read over or two. The ABT Rules aren't that long at all. If you have a laptop you can even visit the page and make it available offline so you can read them on the plane, a nice way to kill time.

  13. If you fly to the tournament, there is often a free shuttle that goes from the airport to the hotel, as most often tournaments try to book hotels that are close to airports for everyone's convenience. If you know others who going, and there is no shuttle, you can try to arrive around the same time and split a cab saving you some cash too.

  14. Once you're at the tournament I'd recommend playing in one of the pre-tournament tournaments (also called early birds). This will help you adapt to the new environment.

  15. Now you've signed up for a tournament and the pairings are posted. Someone approaches you and says, "Are you XXX?" You reply in some way that indicates you are and he says, "We play". Now you go play right? Wrong. Always check the draw sheet for yourself to see who you are playing and the length of the match. You wouldn't believe how many times I've heard people who have played matches to the wrong length or even played the wrong opponent and wasted an entire match!

  16. If you don't know who you're supposed to be playing, walk up to the front and ask one of the staff, "Who is XXX?" They'll often know and take a quick scan of the room and identify that person. Or if they don't know or see the person, they'll make an announcement.

  17. You'll be sitting for quite a while depending on the length of the match so get comfortable. A lot of people stack chairs to get a better view of the board. You may want a glass of water or a pepsi close by.

  18. You've found your opponent, you sit down, exchange pleasantries, and most people say something along the lines of "good luck" as a courtesy. I don't personally prefer "good luck" because it'd be a lie. (I wish my opponent the worst luck in the world. :-) ) But I would like to have a good match, where we both play a good game. So instead, I suggest "good match."

  19. A couple notes on play.

    1. Shake your dice before each roll. Actually shake them, don't just wiggle them around.
    2. Have a controlled roll. It's really not that hard to hit half the board. Do not, however, shake your dice when your opponent is still making his play or thinking on his turn. This is nothing but a nuisance.
    3. Another thing in the rules that a lot of people don't abide by is moving the checkers with one hand. This is the only way I've ever played, even before I knew how to play. I think it helps me visualize. If you move checkers with both hands you're more likely to end up accidentally fudging the position and neither player may know the original position. This is why I also usually discourage my opponents from using two hands. Even though I keep track of most positions easily, I'd rather not have them tossing checkers around with both hands making me pay more attention than I have to.
    4. Lastly, don't roll until your opponent has completely removed his dice from the board. If you aren't shaking while it's still his turn this shouldn't be a problem. If you roll before he picks up his dice he has the option of making any legal play he wants, knowing your roll beforehand!

  20. If you have a question about anything, and I mean anything, ask the tournament director (TD). You should feel no guilt about this; it's what they're there for and it isn't considered pesting. They'll be more than happy to answer all your questions. Don't take your opponent's word for it; they may not have your best interests at heart.

  21. Do not feel pressured to play at your opponent's pace. Some people play fast, like myself. Others play super fast. If you play a moderately paced game and end up playing one of us and get caught up in the action of playing quickly you will only play worse than you normally do.

  22. Shit happens in real life, just as it does online. Online though you can curse, throw stuff, whatever you want because nobody is around to see you act like a child. In real life the bad beats hurt more but you have to keep your composure. Try to remember over time you'll have the same amount of good luck and bad luck. You shouldn't gloat when you get lucky nor cry when you get the short end of the stick.

  23. Always keep score with pen and paper even if you have a score chart. If a dispute over the score ever occurs and the TD is called, he's more apt to side with someone who has written down the score every game than the guy who points to the score chart and has nothing written down. You should also be verifying, verbally preferably, but I often just take a glance at my opponent's score sheet, the score after every game, before the start of the next.

  24. Win and lose graciously. Already mentioned, but when the match if over if you've lost it's common courtesy to shake hands to say something along the lines of "good luck with the rest of the tournament." If you win, try not to jump for joy. Shake hands, exchange any pleasant conversation the other person may express, and on to reporting.

  25. The winner reports the match. Do this as soon as possible after the match to keep the tournament moving. Sit around and talk with your opponent for a minute if you like but don't forget to report.

  26. If you think you'll have a while until your next match and want to go up to your room to take a break, step out to get some food, or simply take a walk make sure you sign out on the signout sheet that's located at the front desk. This way, if the match you're waiting on happens to end before you thought it would because someone got gammoned on an 8 cube and you're needed to play, the TD can look at the sheet, see what time you checked out, and give your room or your cell phone a call. If you don't sign out and nobody knows where you are for long enough you're likely to get penalty points or even forfeit the match.

  27. If you want not only to meet new people and other backgammon players but possibly ameloriate your game in the process, doubles is a fine way to go. You can do the same as you do for a room, post on forums or contact the tournament director and make it known you're looking for a doubles partner. This is an excellent way to discuss your decisions and understand other players' thought processes. And doubles is generally more about fun than blood when compared to the other major entries at an event.

  28. Dining out. One of the advantages to backgammon is everyone is pretty nice even to newcomers. If you end up going out to dinner with a group of people, even people you don't know, know ahead of time that a lot of groups simply split the bill equally at the end instead of getting separate checks. This usually isn't a big deal but can rub you the wrong way if you end up at a 'nice' restaurant (read pricey), you order something simple to eat like chicken and drink water, everyone else orders appetizers, salads, gets alcoholic drinks, then at then end reflexively split the bill and you're being charged for everyone else's indulgances.

  29. If you're still in an event, esp. a major event, don't stay up the night before playing in chouettes. You'll exhaust yourself, not get enough sleep, playing for relatively small stakes in comparison to what you can win in the tournament.

  30. This is a competition so get the rest and keep the diet you normally maintain. You'll be up and playing for long hours, something you're not used to. Some people get drained, others are fine, but if you're used to getting up and jogging in the morning and eating breakfast, then by all means, use the hotel's gym and hit up their breakfast before you head off to play. If you're like some other of the degenerate gamblers at these tourneys, you'll skip breakfast and get every last minute of sleep you can because you went to bed way too late.

  31. If you have the luxury of staying an extra night, usually Sunday night, do so. This way you don't have to worry about what time your flight is at and if you'll catch it. I hate feeling rushed playing and trying to catch flights so I almost always plan to stay the extra day, something my schedule allows. If you aren't as flexible try to make it as late as possible, assuming you'll be in the finals of something, and if not, watching the finals is fun anyway. This also affords you a night in some good cities as most tournaments are held in decent places such as Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, Vegas, etc.


Stick's web site is, where there is a very active backgammon forum.
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