Backgammon Books

  Backgammon, The Cruelest Game
The Art of Winning

  AUTHORS: Barclay Cooke
Jon Bradshaw

  YEAR: 1974
  PUBLISHER: Random House, Inc.
  CITY: New York
  ISBN: 0-394-48812-1
  BINDING: Hardcover
  PAGES: 210
  SIZE: 24 cm high, 21 cm wide


     "When I learned backgammon in 1975, Backgammon, The Cruelest Game was the best book on the game. (There weren't any advanced books back then.) Cooke played a style of backgammon which worked for him (and a lot of others) in the 70's, when many of his opponents hadn't a clue about concepts we now consider fundamental. He was very heavy on defensive tactics, was almost obcessed with building the 20-point, but had a serious distaste for splitting the back checkers (on the 24-point). His cube recommendations ("when in doubt, don't double; when in doubt, take") also tended to be on the conservative side by today's standards. He much preferred to double his opponent out rather than to see a take and risk the potential frustration if the game turned around."—Chuck Bower, August 1998


     "Probably 90% of the material in Cruelest Game, Cooke's first and most widely read book, still holds just fine. The book remains an excellent introduction to thinking seriously about backgammon. Also it is a pleasure to read: It looks good, is written with style and real personality—something I find lacking in post-70's backgammon books, especially introductory ones. The classic books of the 70's really help a newcomer recognize and enjoy the drama and beauty of the game."—Albert Steg, August 1998

1.  The Rules of the Game
2.  Basic Opening Moves and A Few Essential Replies
3.  The Tactics of the Game
4.  Basic Odds and Probabilities
5.  Bearing Off
6.  The Back Game
7.  The Doubler
8.  Chouette
9.  Settlements
10.  End-Game Tactics
11.  The Psychology of the Game
12.  Three Great Games
  COVER: It is called "the cruelest game" with good reason, for unlike virtually every other gambling game, it is a tantalizing and frustrating amalgam of luck and skill. But that is also its attraction, because with good dice even a novice can defeat a grandmaster in the short run.
      Backgammon is probably the oldest game in the world, even predating chess by almost a thousand years, and it has had its fads before. But its current popularity gives every eveidence of being permanent, and the increase in the number of players in the last decade is astronomical. Currently there are at least a dozen books on the game in print, many of them inaccurate in assessing even the simplest percentages and positions, and unsophisticated in the assessment of tactics, strategy and psychology.
      Though The Cruelest Game presupposes no prior knoledge on the part of the reader, and leads one gently through the fundamentals and basic rules, offering sound commonsensical advice along the way, it delves deeper into the extraordinary paradoxes, subtleties and nuances of this apparently simple game than any book heretofore published. In addition, it explores meticulously the delicate differences in maneuvering and doubling between tournament and money play. It is no exanggeration to say that anyone, even the most expert player (see back of jacket), who reads this book will learn and benefit from it.
      Barclar Cooke and his son Walter are the current holders of the World Duplicate Backgammon Cup, which they won in London in the fall of 1973.

  QUOTES: The people below are generally acknowledged to be among the greatest backgammon players in the world. Here is what they say about The Cruelest Game:

"A must. All backgammon players, from the complete beginner to the most accomplished grandmaster, will learn something from it. I certainly did."—Joe Dwek

"A splendid book. The advice he offers on match play in tournaments will make it a lot tougher for the expert to win. He gives away too many good tips!"—Chuck Papazian

"Head and shoulders over every other backgammon book. It's particularly good in explaining the odds to the beginner, but any player, no matter how expert, will learn something from it."—Hunter Goodrich

"The Cruelest Game is the best written and most helpful backgammon book I have ever read. A fascinating look into the logical and incisive mind of Barclay Cooke."—Lewis de Yong

"The best book on the subject in print. Cooke's insights into tournament psychology will be money in the bank for any player."—Porter Ijams

"Terrific! The chapter on the doubler alone will save any player far more than the cost of the book."—Gino Scalamandre

"My first memory in life is of a backgammon board. When other children were doing school homework, I was being taught the art of defense against the back game—and this at a time when virtually nobody had ever heard of a back game, much less a defense against it. I think my father has no peer as a player or instructor of backgammon. I've done no more than follow his teaching, and it has beaten the best."—Walter E. Cooke

Barclay Cooke was born in 1912, and graduated from Yale in 1934. For a year thereafter he worked as a roustabout in the oil fields in the South, then for a bank in New York City, but when he found that this job intefered with his attendance at Yankee Statium, the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field, he left with no regrets.
      Though Mr. Cooke is widely acknowledged to be one of the three or four best backgammon players extant, he fields that his true métier is as a big-league baseball manager, a post which will never be offered him.
      Mr. Cooke is married, has four children, lives in Englewood, New Jersey, and during the season can be found in the second row of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra every Friday night.

Jon Bradshaw was born in the United States in 1937 and has lived in England for most of his adult life. He is an amateur backgammon player, a professional writer, and the author of Fast Company, a comical study of the good works and bad habits of six American gamblers.

   Paradoxes and Probabilities
168 Backgammon Problems
Barclay Cooke
1978: Random House, New York
   Championship Backgammon
Learning Through Master Play
Barclay Cooke, René Orléan
1980: Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

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