Forum Archive : Miscellaneous

Backgammon versus poker

From:   Peter Hallberg
Address:   peter@hallberg.dk
Date:   27 June 2006
Subject:   Re: Luck/skill in backgammon
Forum:   rec.games.backgammon
Google:   1151396722.454176.85220@c74g2000cwc.googlegroups.com

To compare backgammon and poker you need to understand the basic
differences of the games. First let's take a look at the standard
tournament structure.


- Players are divided into flights primary based on their skill level.
- All matches are played heads up.
- The draw is random (no seedning).
- When a match is over one player has 100% ME and the other 0% ME.

Poker (No-Limit):

- Everyone plays in one flight
- You are playing against several players
- When a table is broken up you don't have to leave with 0 or all
  the chips (unless it's a shootout)

These differences make it impossible (or at least very difficult) to
compare the two games. On the other hand it seems quite obvious to us
heads up poker championships is the common ground for comparison.

At the world backgammon championship (WBC) there are between 250 and
300 participants. Every match is played to 17 points in the opening
rounds and 25 points in the final. By reasons beyond my understanding
the WBC is played without clocks which make a standard match last from
3 to 7 hours.

To have the same go for a heads up poker tournaments you would have to
play with very deep stacks, which the better player benefits from.

Now, the games.  To master any of the games you have to be extremely
skillful. The higher level any of the games are played at the more
facets of the games comes into play. At this level it could be an
endless discussion about details of each game. I think it's more
interesting to look at the general (and up) level of play. Let's compare
games again.


- The rules are quite easy but even the simplest strategies takes
  some practice and work to grasp.
- A good (might not be the best) strategy is to try to make the
  objectively best move.
- A sound mathematical understanding of the game won't get you far.
- Understanding game plans is the key to the game. Long time
- You have to make both easy and (really) hard decisions.

Poker (standard NL tournament, not heads up):

- The rules are extremely simple. Learning to play ultra tight and
  betting hard with good cards will get you surprisingly far in the game.
- A good (definitely not the best) strategy is to try to make the
  objectively best move.
- A sound mathematical understanding of the game will get you quite
- Understanding that poker is a game of information is the key to the
- Understanding the dynamics of "what has happened in recent
  hands" is crucial in reaching a fair playing level.
- You have the option to have a hand selection which will generally
  keep you out of harms way.
- You can chose not to get involved with the best players at the

I think the understanding of poker is undeveloped even among most poker
players. The idea of never having to face a computer telling you what
was right or wrong leeds a lot of players into believing they never or
seldom make mistakes. As a backgammon player you know exactly what you
did wrong and the magnitude of the error.

The fact that you can do reasonable in poker with little understanding
of the game adds to the misconception of how difficult it is to
learn/master the finer thinks of poker strategy. The most important
part of poker is to get information and not give any away. Yes, I know
-- nothing new here. I have been playing full time poker for two years
now and I tell you that most players don't use that concept much.
Information costs and most players are not willing to pay. They rather
play their hands in the dark. I can compare it with not wanting to
leave blots in backgammon. Leaving a blot is a kind of payment for
getting a chance to improve your position. Everybody does that in
backgammon except the novices.

My conclusion is that the luck/skill ratio is about evenly shared between
poker and backgammon. It takes more skill to play backgammon but you
have more ways to avoid troubles (read: bad luck) in poker.

Peter Hallberg
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