Pip Counting

Forum Archive : Pip Counting

Live play versus online

From:   Rich
Address:   rich@NOTyahoo.com
Date:   8 March 2006
Subject:   Re: Hank Come Clean please for the sake of the game
Forum:   rec.games.backgammon
Google:   25tu021f2d4c52t47gp9a0emha6nkkus03@4ax.com

I prefer computer play to [live, face-to-face] play for a few reasons.
It is usually quicker since there is no need to set up the board.  Pip
counts are done automatically. I hate pip counting and don't do it very
quickly. I also often come up with the wrong pip count so my decision
is based upon faulty information. Maybe I need to work on doing quick
pip counts but I guess I am too lazy for this mechanical aspect of the


Paul Epstein  writes:

I agree that pip-counting is a dull and mechanical aspect of the game.
However, as you know, it is an _extremely_ important component of live
play.  There seems to have been a shift of opinion as to whether it is
desirable to display pip counts automatically and therefore eliminate a
skill that is essential but tedious and mundane.  In the early days of
FIBS, all money competitions had the stipulation that no pip counts be
displayed.  Now, I gather that it is extremely rare for an online
tournament to ban pip-count displays.

Raccoon  writes:

If you ever decide to play live, quick pip counting will be very
helpful. Fortunately it really does not take much practice to learn to
count pips quickly. If you can learn to do it quickly it becomes less

Some years ago I was watching two good players play a money game at a
fast pace. In one game after one player picked up his dice the other
immediately doubled. The first player quickly said "four?", the other
player said "five" and the first player took. Both of them, you see,
had been keeping a running pipcount from the beginning of the game.
It's surely not necessary to do that, but it's not impossible for mere
mortals, either.

Rich  writes:

Actually I can count quickly but my counts are often inaccurate and it
is often critical for the count to be accurate to a pip. An even
bigger problem, I say with some embarrassment, is that after counting
the second pip count I forget the first and then while recounting the
first, forget the second. Could this be early dementia:-)

Are there good sites that give tips on counting? I know that there is
a backgammon player who wrote a book Mathemagics. I forget his name
but wonder if that book might provide some tips.

Adam Tansley  writes:

Find a good system, and with a bit of practice you will be doing fast,
accurate counts over the board.  Personally, I like the methods
involving counting cross-overs, and then if necessary refining the count
with residual pips (Nack Ballard's term).  There are a few variations on
this theme, but real speed can be gained by introducing pattern-
recognition for groups of cross-overs/residuals.

At a tournament last week, I overheard a player saying that he
couldn't be bothered to do any pip-counts that day. I suspect that for
him, counts felt like hard work.  Once you've got a method, and
practiced, they are not hard work, and you will have a distinct
advantage over players like him.

In Nack Ballard's excellent article outlining his system ("Naccel",
based on crossovers and residuals) he gives an example from Jerry
Grandell's Important Matches (Ortega/Kleinman):

    GNU Backgammon  Position ID: yR3MAAeMt3NAAA
                    Match ID   : cAkAAAAAAAAA
    | O     O     O  O |   |    X        O    |  0 points
    |             O  O |   |             O    |
    |             O  O |   |                  |
    |                  |   |                  |
    |                  |   |                  |
    |                  |BAR|                  |v (Cube: 1)
    |                  |   |                  |
    |                X |   |                  |
    |          O     X |   |    X     X       |
    |       X  O     X |   | X  X     X     O |  On roll
    |       X  O     X |   | X  X     X     O |  0 points

Ballard says: "In the actual game, X did not even proffer an initial
double.  Perhaps he was operating on a certain general principle which
advises, when bearing in against a semi-primed holding game, to get the
straggler home and lose the market small.  I have to wonder, though, if
X counted the race."

In fact X leads the race by 33 pips, and not doubling is an error, with
the real question being whether it is a take or not.  I suspect that
most players at expert level and below (and maybe some above!) would not
bother counting this position, but if you have a method that is fast,
accurate and you are comfortable with, then why not count it?

As for forgetting the first count as you do the second, you are by no
means alone.  Develop a way of recording the first count on your
fingers.  For example, hundreds, tens, units: forget the hundreds (the
difference between 32 & 132 should be obvious), then use one hand for
tens, one for units. Extend fingers 1-5 for numbers 1-5, hide fingers
1-4 for numbers 6-9. Or come up with something you find easy.


Gregg Cattanach  writes:

I 'put' the first number on my fingers: left hand is the 10s digits and
right hand is the 1. Extend one finger for 1-5 and extend all fingers
except one for 6-0.

Mathemagics won't help with pip counting. It's more about doing stuff
like multiplying large numbers, or adding lots of large numbers
together.  An interesting book, and written by an excellent backgammon
player from the past, Art Benjamin.  Pip counting should just involve
adding up 3 or 4 small numbers.

The pip counting system I got from Jack Kissane gets you both numbers
and it seems to be easy to get it right each time.  Check it out at:
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     


Pip Counting

Casting out crossovers  (Mark Denihan, Oct 1996) 
Cluster counting  (camelx+, May 2005) 
Counting half rolls  (Bob Hoey, Apr 1998) 
Half-crossover method  (Douglas Zare, Mar 2002) 
Live play versus online  (Stanley E. Richards+, Apr 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Live play versus online  (Rich+, Mar 2006) 
Mental shift  (Stephen Turner, Oct 1996) 
Modified direct count  (Daithi, Mar 2011) 
Opposing sums and differences  (Donald Kahn, Apr 1998) 
Running pip count  (Rodrigo Andrade+, Apr 1998) 
Symmetry method, Grouping men  (Brian Sheppard, Jan 1997) 
The 51/21 count  (kruidenbuiltje, Mar 2011) 
Tips  (Patti Beadles, Dec 1994) 
Tips for counting pips  (neilkaz, Sept 2010) 

[GammOnLine forum]  From GammOnLine       [Long message]  Long message       [Recommended reading]  Recommended reading       [Recent addition]  Recent addition

  Book Suggestions
Computer Dice
Cube Handling
Cube Handling in Races
Extreme Gammon
Fun and frustration
GNU Backgammon
Luck versus Skill
Magazines & E-zines
Match Archives
Match Equities
Match Play
Match Play at 2-away/2-away
Opening Rolls
Pip Counting
Play Sites
Probability and Statistics
Source Code
Strategy--Bearing Off
Strategy--Checker play


Return to:  Backgammon Galore : Forum Archive Main Page