I don't know if anyone has yet written a definite code of ethics, or code of conduct for backgammon play, but it is sorely needed. And it's needed not just because there are some jerks with very poor ethics and courtesy playing the game, but because many of us just don't realize how certain things can be perceived as unkind, or rude.
So, for what it's worth, here are things that bother me that I would like to suggest should be the do's and don'ts of backgammon play. Most of these apply to both live matches and electronic (internet) play.
Chouette play has even a more complex set of standards.
- Always greet your opponent in some friendly manner. You can just say hi, shake hands, wish them luck, wish them a good match, tell them where you are from, or whatever ... but don't just sit down and start rolling the dice.
- When a match is over, always say goodbye. Or thanks for playing, or whatever you are comfortable with. You don't have to say "good match" if you don't believe it was, but if you are the loser, congratulations and best wishes in the rest of the tournament or on line is a reasonable goodbye.
- When you double, place the cube gently in the center, and say double. If you take, put it on your side and say "take". If you drop, be sure to put the cube in it's proper place and say "drop" or "pass" clearly.
- Both parties should keep score, and you should announce the score or acknowledge your opponent's announcement of the score, after each game. If it is a Crawford game, announce that at the start and take the cube off the board.
- Always shake your dice at least three times and roll them out. Do not shake while your opponent is playing or thinking about a play.
- Be quiet and still while your opponent is thinking or playing.
- Do not point out your opponent's luck, or lucky rolls, either during or after a match. Whether you mean to or not, pointing out your opponent's luck suggests that he is winning or has won due to that luck and not due to his skill. Even if he was unbelievably lucky, it's poor form and bad sportsmanship. And most players fail to see their own good luck as well as the many bad rolls the opponent probably got too.
Most players also forget that the better you play, the luckier you seem to be, because you are set up for more good rolls and protected against more of the bad rolls. When a player tells me how lucky I am just after I've beaten him, I say "Yes, I was lucky to play someone who played so much worse than me."
- Do not call your opponent's bad rolls, or your own good ones. It's irritating and capricious.
- Do not handle the doubling cube unless you mean to double. In fact, this could even be, consciously or unconsciously, a form of cheating ... you reach for the cube and see if the opponent reaches for the score sheet or reached to take the cube ... or simply check out his reaction.
- Do not roll until your opponent has clearly picked up his dice. Rolling too soon, or just as he's picking up his dice, can only create conflict as to whether or not the roll counted, or whether or not the player had truly finished thinking about his play. And quick rolling unfairly rushes the opponent into playing.
- Do not laugh, chortle, or giggle when your opponent gets a really bad roll, and do not rejoice when you get a really good one. (Paul Franks and Dougie Roberts can often be heard exclaiming a resounding "yes" just about every time they come off the bar with doubles and hit their opponent.) It's irritating and not nice.
- Don't play like a turtle. It's fine to sit and think about a really tough play or cube decision. Even the top experts need time to consider all the variables. But if you have a simple choice between two plays early in the game, taking more than a few seconds to make the choice is really inconsiderate. We all agree that longer matches are fairer (the better player is more likely to win), but we are often discouraged from having longer matches because some people just take too long. It ruins the fun, as well as the fairness of the game.
If I had an hour to look at every move, I am sure I would make less mistakes. But it would be a horrible game to play or watch. (When playing on the internet, it is particularly unsportsmanlike to take a long time, as that time could be used to run the position through a computer program such as Snowie or Jellyfish. Even if that's not done, it's not fair to make your opponent have to worry about that. If you must take a break, choose a time when you are unlikely to be thinking of doubling, then take a break before rolling the dice, not after.)
- Do not engage in conversations with kibbitzers or people at the next table. Don't talk on your cellphone, listen to headphones, or anything else but give your full, polite attention to the match.
- If you wish to stop and copy a board position for later analysis, ask your opponent if they mind first. Do it quickly and don't do it too often.
- Do not say "nice roll" or "good game" after every good roll and after every game. Complimenting your opponent's rolls is just another way of telling him he's lucky. If you want to compliment him on a play, or cube decision, or well-played game, on exceptional occasions, or after the match is over, that's fine.
Have you experienced any of the above? Of course you have. Is it because your opponent is a bad sport? Not always. Often, people just don't realize that these things are offensive or bothersome. Maybe tournament directors can make this article available to participants as a reminder, and I hope to see a copy posted with some of the internet servers for reference.