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Frequently Asked Questions

Are the Dice Rolls in Motif Fair?

This is the most common question I receive. Some people suggest the program actively cheats by manufacturing the rolls it needs at critical times. Others just wonder if the program's roll generator is defective causing it to produce more good rolls for itself than for its opponents.

The answer is yes, the dice in Motif are random and fair. I have been very careful to use a good random number generator and have tested it thoroughly. The Motif player has no special access to the dice generator and no knowledge about what any future roll might be.

In 1996, I recorded every roll of every game it played by Motif. Statistics summarizing these rolls is available in the Motif Backgammon Statistics.

If the dice in Motif really are random and fair, why do so many people question their legitimacy? Here are some possible reasons:

  1. Out of the tens of thousands of people who play Motif, there are sure to be a few who have extremely bad luck. These people have every right to be suspicious. All I can say to them is: keep playing—your luck is bound to change.

  2. It common to see runs of both good and bad luck even with random rolls. Given the selective nature of human memory, people tend to remember their bad luck more vividly than their good luck. The only way to be sure that your mind isn't playing tricks is to take a scientific approach to analyzing the rolls you get: Form an hypothesis about how you think the rolls may be biased and write down every roll the program generates over a number of games to see if you are right. (The number of games required depends on how severely you believe the dice are skewed.)

  3. Computer programs have a different playing style than human players. Motif generally handles itself very well in positions where a lot can happen in the next roll. It does a good job of assessing and weighing immediate risks and will position its checkers to take the best advantage.

    It is true that in many positional plays, Motif will not do as well as good human players, and sometimes makes plays that are quite bad. Don't be deceived. Motif is still a pretty strong player. And the areas where it is strongest are types of positions that are hard for human players to analyse. That means that when things go badly for the human player, or go well for Motif, it appears that Motif is having better luck than it really is.

    If Motif could think, it would no doubt feel it is having bad luck when it is being outclassed by a good positional player. It just wouldn't see that it is being set up to have bad luck.

All that being said, if you still think you've been the victim of bad dice, feel free to write and tell me about it. After all, complaining about the dice is part of backgammon. :-)

How does Motif work?

A number of people have written to ask about the internals of Motif—How does it choose the plays it makes? How does it learn?

I have compiled a few notes on the program. They are available here.

Is there a way to move checkers other than by dragging them?

Yes. You can move a checker by doing a single mouse click on the checker's destination. When you do this, it is generally better to move the smaller number first. Occasionally, the position may require that you use dragging to get the proper checker to move.

The board is too big for my screen!

Some users have found that the board is too large for their display and they can't play without scrolling around. I am working on a version of Motif that has a smaller board. In the meantime, here is a suggestion somebody sent:

I saw some of the comments about the motif board being too large. You may want to put a suggestion above the "Click here to play" prompt that users of Netscape can get a display of the entire board by going to their Netscape Options and clearing the Show Toolbar and Show Location options. This works for me anyway.

Tom Keith
Last updated: September 2004.

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