Forum Archive : Learning

Practice and preparation

From:   Ian Shaw
Address:   ian.shaw@iee.org
Date:   18 March 2004
Subject:   How do you practice?
Forum:   GammOnLine

I would like to canvass some opinions on the best way to practice. I want
to use my backgammon time to improve my game in the most effective manner,
and was hoping some folks would share their experience.

I do the basics; I analyse my recorded matches on FIBS and vs the bots, I
read books and articles, and I take part in the discussions here. However,
I can't help feeling I'm missing out somwhere. The problem I see with this
approach is that it's a bit haphazard. In any match, lots of diferent
problems come up, and whilst I might be able to work out where and even
why I've erred (e.g. leaving an anchor too early), I'm not convinced the
information is sticking in my brain and becoming knowledge.

Recently I've tried focussing on a particular area for a designated
period, e.g, two weeks. I spent some time on race cubes, and on playing at
a particular match score, trailing 4-awy 3-away. I've learnt quite a bit
(I was doubling way too late, despite knowing I needed to be agressive in
gammonish positions), but the risk is getting ring-rusty in other areas.

If there's a tournament coming up, should I spend some time beforehand
playing at the tournament match length, or would I be better of just
playing some of the shorter match scores, where the cube action is more

Douglas Zare  writes:

I think there is a lot of room for improvement over the typical routines
of playing backgammon. Musicians don't just play pieces. They practice
scales and other boring technical exercises. When troubled by a small part
of a piece of music, they play it over and over. The result can be

In backgammon, exercises can feel more like work than play, but they can
still be fun. It's not for everyone, but if you want to improve, it is
most efficient to include some work analogous to musical exercises. Take a
position and modify it many times, seeing how the modifications matter.
Play a position out many times. Take the same position, and ask what the
right cube action is at many match scores, and why. Don't just guess the
best move, but also the second best move, and the difference between the
two. Combine these, e.g., practice estimating how right or wrong it is to
pay now versus pay later as you modify a position.

If you have a tough decision, and you think about it for a while, and come
up with the right decision, don't be satisfied. Ask whether there is a
guiding principle that should have made the probable right play obvious.
Improve your own static evaluations, not just your deeper analysis.

I discussed tournament preparation with Walter Trice. We didn't reach a
solid agreement. I think he recommended reviewing things you already know,
making sure that you are comfortable with your basic game (as opposed to
reading, e.g., Modern Backgammon or New Ideas In Backgammon just before a
tournament). I think that may be right for someone who has studied a lot
in the past, but most tournament players don't have as much to review as
Walter does, and tournament preparation might be a time to learn something
new if it is a substantial portion of your total study time.

If a tournament has longer match lengths than I normally play, I review a
few entries of the MET for the longer match, as well as some gammon prices
and take points on redoubles. This makes sense only because I have already
studied the 5-point match so much.

I've found that I more often play poorly in the first match of the day. I
try to play that match by warming up against a bot rather than in the

Douglas Zare
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