Forum Archive : Learning

Zen in the art of backgammon

From:   Robban
Address:   toppace@gmail.com
Date:   28 August 2009
Subject:   zen in the art of backgammon
Forum:   BGonline.org Forums

What are the factors essential to becoming really good at backgammon?
What does it take to gain comprehensive knowledge of the game?


adambulldog  writes:

I'll offer up a few thoughts for the prospective student, most of which are
not original.

1. Don't start playing with the goal of being as good as Neil or other top
players. To play any game or sport at the absolute pinnacle requires innate
talent as well as hard work. You likely don't have that talent, but you can
still get quite good and enjoy yourself a lot. Just try to be as good as
you can be.

2. Get a few good books. Backgammon Boot Camp by Trice is an obvious place
to start. There are various threads on this site that recommend other good
stuff. Magriel, Woolsey, Robertie are all good. Absorb this material. You
probably will need to read it more than once. Get a few more books after
you have played a while. Book learning should go hand in hand with actual

3a. Get used to losing. Even the best players lose 30% - 40% of their
matches, often to really inferior players. If you can't lose with
equanimity, or at least bounce back quickly, you'll never get anywhere.

3b. Play to win. The game often presents situations that require courage
and resolve, where winners play to win and middling players play to lose
slowly. Play without fear. This is really the zen of the game: playing to
win without (too much) regard for the outcome.

4. Play in a good low-stakes consulting chouette. I don't know how many of
these actually exist, but we have one in Madison. Backgammon is an
experiential game, you need to play in order to learn to play, and if you
get a chance to be involved in actual game discussions with expert players
for a price you can afford during the learning stages when you are not
expecting to win, you can't pass that up. The flip side is, if you play in
a money game you can't really afford, you will play scared, you almost
certainly will get burned, and you won't learn anything.

5. Load the latest version of gnubg (or another bot) and play a lot. Start
with one-point matches on tutor mode to learn about checker plays. After
you find yourself making fewer mistakes graduate to matches, and start
playing more and more of them with the tutor mode off. After the untutored
matches analyze them and see if you can correct patterns of thinking.

6. Play on an online server like gridgammon or fibs. Try to play against
higher-rated competition. Try hard to win these matches, but don't get
upset when you lose--it's a learning experience.

7. Play in local club tournaments. Ask for pointers after you lose a match.

8. If you can afford them, lessons can't hurt.

9. Learn the opening roll information on this site.

10. Play ABT tournaments. Don't bother entering the beginner flight; if you
have already practiced steps 1-9, you will be ready for the advanced
division and you will have more fun playing against more serious
competitors. Move up to the open division in short order--the best
competition will bring out the best in your game.

Phil Simborg  writes:

1. Desire, and time, and discipline, and using the right tools to learn are
all necessary.  The most important tools are books, articles, proper use of
bots, and having a good teacher or mentor.

2. Even with all of the above, unless you are blessed with a terrific
memory, high IQ, excellent math skills, and excellent gaming skills, you
cannot possibly rise to the top. (You can, however, like me, become
competitive at the Championship level, given enough time and effort even
without all of those traits.)

3. Even if you have everything in No. 1 and No. 2, unless you also have a
good temperament and can take defeat in stride, you will probably not get
to the top level and if you did, you would not remain there very long as
the dice will destroy you and either drive you out of the game or drive you

If you truly want to get to the top, it is helpful not to have too much
involvement with family, work, friends, sports, exercise, politics, or
humanity in general.

Chuck Bower  writes:

A lot of good suggestions so far. Here are a couple of my favorites:

1) There is not perfect answer to this question. The training+learning
method should be tailored to the individual student. It absolutely must be
a fun experience for her or it won't be worth a nickel.

2) The dice are neither her friend nor her enemy. They are merely a vehicle
which must be ridden no matter where they take her. Do not give human
characteristics to dice -- they neither deserve them nor want them.

3) Making the right play is what matters. Wins are a (dependent) result of
making the right play, not the other way around.
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) 

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Extreme Gammon
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Match Play
Match Play at 2-away/2-away
Opening Rolls
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Strategy--Bearing Off
Strategy--Checker play


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