Forum Archive : Learning

Best way for a beginner to learn

From:   Koyunbaba
Address:   m.a.nolan@ntlworld.com
Date:   9 July 2007
Subject:   Best approach for beginners?
Forum:   rec.games.backgammon
Google:   Pjtki.19234$_l6.155@newsfe6-win.ntli.net

Hi.  I've been here a little while now and I've asked about books and
other resources, but I haven't asked what people think the best approach
is to learning the game.  Does anyone have advice for a keen yet green


Stick  writes:

First off I'd recommend you read a couple of books.  You mentioned
you'd asked about them but I don't know if you've read any or not.
The top two for me are:  Magriel's Backgammon, which is the bible of
backgammon.  Even though it was made in the 70s a lot of the principles
still hold up today.  And Walter Trice's Backgammon Boot Camp.  This
should get things rolling and from there you can add to your
collection of books.

I don't think you should split the game into cube & checker play,
especially initially.  I think while playing against a bot (GNU) you
should play money games, where the cube is always in play and gammons
won & lost have normal valued.  Playing against a bot is a great
learning tool as afterwards you can analyse your games and make
improvements, you also get to see how the bot plays.  It grinds the
correct concepts into you, like it or not.  Initially I'd recommend
playing GNU on its stronger settings, World Class, so that you see how
a world class player plays.  This will help you develop a feel for
the game.  Later on you will want to tweak your settings (to actually
have GNU play worse!) but that's a long way down the road.

The problem with playing 1 point matches, otherwise known as DMP or
Double Match Point matches, is that it's a completely different kind
of game.  Gammons won or lost no longer have any meaning and this
creates different checker play than in your more standard games/
matches.  You will eventually need to study DMP games but I strongly
suggest not starting with it.

Just play normal money games and if you don't know what to do with the cube
that's fine.  If GNU doubles just take the cube and see how the position
finishes out.  This will also help you develop a feel for why the bot
doubled when the bot doubled (volatility, lots of gammons won even though
not that high of a win %, etc) and eventually you will known when cubes are
actually cubes & when to drop or take a double.  You'll start remembering
reference positions from games you've played and think to yourself "I
remember when I was playing GNU the other day and a similar position came
up, I took and it told me it was a big blunder.  I had four blots around
and it scooped them up and gammoned me even though I had good chances of
winning the game I lose too many gammons"  You get the idea ...

There are my forums, http://www.bgonline.org/forums/ , where a good
collection of players post daily and there is an online match where the
readers (you) play against me.  Every day you vote on a position and give
your input and get to see other players input as well.  This can really
help your game.

http://www.bkgm.com is Tom Keith's site (who I had the pleasure of
meeting this past weekend at the Novi tournament), it's called
Backgammon Galore and has a wealth of free information.  For now I'd
bookmark the sites I'm listing, there's so much information you'll
want them for later.

http://www.gammonlife.com is Michael Strato's site and has constant
tournament updates from around the globe, some player interviews, and
some good columnists who write for it.

If you decide you want to spend more money on backgammon than just
books Kit Woolsey's site, http://www.gammonu.com , is definitely first
on my list.  It has a lot of the same players my forums do (as that's
where I hijacked them from :) but also a backlog of study material
from years & years of collection.  He also has an online match and
there are even more world class players on his site.  The cost is a
mere $36 for a LIFETIME membership.

Piranha  writes:

Whether it is moneygame or matchplay, the cube is by far the most
important factor in the game, and at same time the hardest to learn,
because it involves estimating the value of positions.  However, most
players begin with learning checker play, maybe because you see progress
faster, or maybe because its the easier part of the game, so IF you learn
the cube first, youīll have from start a huge edge over players with equal
or even better checker play

Besides that, I guess my own experience isnīt much different from others,
so I would suggest, do like I did.  Play matches online at servers which
provide matchlogs, not against robots, but against other players (because
with real opponents, especially with weak players you often get to very
unusual positions which rarely occur against a bot).

Save the logs, run an analysis and review every single move you played
Setup tricky positions on a real board besides the computer, replay
the situation, and try to figure out WHY the analysis says your move
was not the best.  Save all analysis results and build overall summaries
about your errorrate.

How fast you make progress depends only on how consequent you follow
this, I had times in between where I didnīt want to invest 2/3 of my
time with analysis and only 1/3 playing, but from today's point of view
I can tell, learning by doing doesnīt work in BG.  Due the luckfactor, you
will often learn something wrong, and something wrong once memorized is
very hard to get rid of.

A good place to play, for free and fun is always the European
Community Backgammoners (http://www.eurogammon.eu).  You will find national
and international events with players from all skill levels, in a VERY
friendly athmosphere.  Unlike free gameservers where you just signup and
start playing without to know anyone, the EU community is built on
friendship where almost anyone you meet will be glad to introduce you to
all his/her other friends.  (Believe me, I know what Iīm talking about, not
only because Iīm the webmaster there, I actually met my wife there)

Walt  writes:

While I think it's appropriate for newbies to focus on checker play,
playing one pointers is not the best way to do that.

The problem with one point matches is that since gammons don't count,
the checker moves can be very different than what you see in match play
or money play.  I wouldn't recommend playing one pointers at this point
in your career - you'll learn "bad" habits (or more precisely, learn to
play too cautiously)

Since the cube is such an important part of the modern incarnation of
the game, you really shouldn't ignore it completely.  Probably the best
approach is to play a money session of N games every day, and not worry
too much about the cube at first.  Take the cube whenever gnu offers it,
and maybe think about cubing yourself when you're certain you're ahead.
  Otherwise concentrate on checker play, and try to win gammons.  Once
you get your checker play above "awful", start thinking cube.

Get in plenty of playing time but be sure to allow time to analyze the
match, and look closely at any move that gnu flags as "very bad" -
you'll make a lot of these at first.  Try to figure out why it's bad and
why gnu's move is better.

I'll disagree with the other posters suggestions about gnu's level - set
it low enough that you have a chance (Intermediate or below).  If you
have it as World Class you'll just get clobbered game after game after
game and that's disheartening.  Better to set it low enough that you can
win some of the time - but if you start winning more than half the time
(and it's not luck) kick the play level up a notch.

BTW, it's not cheating to use the analysis functionality during the game
(this is practice, after all) - when you face a particularly tough
decision, slow down and take some time to figure it out (gnu doesn't
mind waiting).  Make your move and then run the analysis so you can look
at the answer while your thought process is still fresh in your mind.

Bottom line: play alot, and use the analysis functionality to see where
you're making mistakes.

Grunty  writes:

IMO, attempting to absorb both checker and cube technique at once
would be a bit too much for a beginner. This kind of advice is common
coming from good experienced players who long since have lost the
beginner perspective.

Sure the cube is an essential part of the game, but as sure is that
the cube is a completely independent tool whith its own independent
set of skills.

I agree with you that you'd start just focusing on checker play, that
is cubeless games. Checker play is the true foundation of the game,
not cube play. The cube is a relatively recent innovation ingrafted
into the game by some clever gambler.

Like some said, playing 1-pointers may not be the best approach
because of letting away gammons and backgammons. It's good enough for
a beginner though. 1-pointers are "agile," in the sense that you're
forced to draw conclusions faster than when playing longer matches.

I'd recommend for a very first stage, play 1-pointers against GNU and
let it mark your errors. At this stage, I find Walt's suggestion of
setting GNU at an "intermediate" (rather than a world-class) playing
level very interesting. When you feel like winning around half the
games, time to adjust upwards.

Then it's second stage. You adjust GNU to the "advanced" level and
play cubeless 3-pointers, in order to throw in gammons and bgammons.
When you feel like winning half the matches, you'd be somewhere in the
"intermediate-advanced" range, and have a (just) acceptable idea of checker

Here you'd be ready to start dealing with cube-play.  Here you'd adjust GNU
to "expert" level - a cube instructor should be no less than expert.  Here
you'd switch to "single and cubeful games" mode, usually known as
"moneygames" or "unlimited" as opposed to "matches."

Your stage against GNU's "expert" level will be longer than the
previous ones, due to the dual cube-learning goal:

*  Gain expertise in pure cube handling (moneygames, scoreless play)

*  Start playing and gain expertise in cubeful matches (scoreful
   play). This is the most complete mode of playing. It's where both
   checkers and cube interplay, commanded by the top feature - the

Winning half your cubeful matches against "expert" GNU, set it at
"world-class."  At this point you will no longer need any learning advice,
and hopefully will have started to make some profit in online moneyplay.

The whole process described above would simulate the learning process
achieved by means of taking live lessons from a progressive rank of

Good luck.

Raccoon  writes:

Concentrating on checker play is fine (especially for a real
beginner), but I don't think you need to do it exclusively, or avoid
cubeful games until you get your checker play error rate down to some
preset goal. Most games you play against human opponents, either money
game sessions or matches, will be cubeful, and optimal checker play at
DMP is not necessarily optimal play in cubeful games.

So, three suggestions:

(1) Against GNUBG play, either in combination or alternately, DMP
games, 3-point matches, 7-point matches, and short money game
sessions. Concentrate on every move!

Analyze every game (settings 2-ply supremo play/2-ply cube, which are
the settings I would use for play, too).

Replay every game, deciding for each move what you would do _this_
time, then see what you (or the bot) did and what the recommended move
is, and try to figure out why the recommended move is better
(sometimes it's not!). Concentrate on the blunders costing 0.100 or
more equity, and then the biggest errors, the ones costing 0.050 or
more equity, and then on smaller errors -- as your play improves, I
think you'll find that really focussed, move-by-move replay of your
own matches can be extremely helpful, but it can get tedious and
frustrating. When you play cubeful games, remember that every roll
brings a new cube decision. Train yourself to ask before each roll
whether you have a double. But don't agonize over it, and don't worry
if you don't know. If the bot doubles you and you aren't 110% sure you
should pass, take! and see what happens, as Stick suggested.

Don't waste your time when you're playing a bot; always try to play
your best, and go over your games carefully. It doesn't matter how
often you win. I'd figure, perhaps, on 5 minutes per game for play, a
minute per game for the bot to analyze, and another 5 minutes
reviewing the very same game. Your goal is to identify your mistakes,
learn from them, and stop making them. You decide how much time you
can keep the focus. But I think that if you are spending _most_ of
your time simply playing, you aren't spending enough time analyzing,
reading and thinking.

If you have a printer, print out your biggest errors. Put them in a
folder. Review them from time to time. See how much you are improving!

(2) Play online, perhaps on FIBS (free), or Gamesgrid (guests can play
up to 3-point match lengths, or the freerolls on various servers
(don't play for money). Don't be afraid, on FIBS, for instance, to
invite higher ranked players. The worst that can happen is that they
say no. And be nice to nice low-ranked newbies, too.

(3) Read! Books: Magriel and Trice. Discussion groups: www.gammonu.com
($36 for lifetime membership) and www.bgonline.org/forums/ (free).
Websites: www.bkgm.com, including 800+ articles from this newgroup at
www.bkgm.com/archive.html, and see  www.chicagopoint.com/links.html
for a comprehensive list of links to everywhere.

Sooner or later you'll want to dive into match play, too, so I wanted
to mention that I can think of three really fine players, now experts,
who didn't always have a lot of time to study. For them, just two 7-
point matches daily against Snowie or Gnubg, with careful analysis
afterwards, was very helpful.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

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



Advancing beyond intermediate  (James Eibisch, July 1998) 
Beginners' mistakes  (Alan Webb+, Nov 1999)  [Long message] [Recommended reading]
Best way for a beginner to learn  (Koyunbaba+, July 2007)  [Long message]
Committing to memory  (RobertFontaine+, Feb 2011) 
Getting better than "awful"  (Morph+, May 2004) 
How to excel in backgammon  (Max Levenstein+, Aug 2011) 
How to improve  (N Merrigan, Jan 2007) 
How to improve  (Albert Steg, Feb 1996) 
How to improve cube handling  (RealNick+, Jan 2011) 
How to learn and improve  (Hristov, Aug 2005) 
Lowering your error rate  (Stick Rice+, Apr 2009) 
Maintaining your game  (Robert-Jan Veldhuizen, Apr 2005)  [GammOnLine forum]
Matchqiz and Jellyfish  (Gilles Baudrillard, May 1997) 
Missing candidate plays  (Klaus Evers+, Apr 2009) 
Most efficient way to learn  (Stick+, May 2007)  [Long message]
Practice and preparation  (Ian Shaw+, Mar 2004)  [GammOnLine forum]
Practice/study plan  (Marcus Brooks+, Nov 1995) 
Reference positions  (Chuck Bower, July 1999) 
Study Methodology  (Phil Simborg, Dec 2012) 
Study method  (Jason Lee+, Jan 2012) 
Study plan  (Tenland+, Nov 2012) 
Taking your game up a level  (CW+, Aug 2002) 
Taking your game up a level  (Ron Karr, Aug 1996) 
The backgammon cake  (Daniel Murphy, Nov 1997) 
The best way to learn  (Chuck Bower+, Oct 2003)  [GammOnLine forum] [Long message]
Three steps to better play  (David Montgomery, July 1998) 
Using Jellyfish tutor  (Stephen Hubbard, Sept 1997) 
What more can I do?  (Alison Wylie+, Apr 2000) 
Zen in the art of backgammon  (Robban+, Aug 2009) 

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

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Extreme Gammon
Fun and frustration
GNU Backgammon
Luck versus Skill
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Match Play
Match Play at 2-away/2-away
Opening Rolls
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