Forum Archive : Miscellaneous

Handicapping--Pass or pick a roll

From:   Michael J. Zehr
Address:   tada@athena.mit.edu
Date:   12 December 1997
Subject:   Re: Handicap playing: "pass" and "pick".
Forum:   rec.games.backgammon
Google:   66scvb$nq7@senator-bedfellow.MIT.EDU

Leo Bueno wrote:
> Is anyone aware of a reasonable way to handicap a superior player when
> playing a weaker opponent?
> In Chess, for example, I recall in my early days playing vastly
> superior opponents who would give me a material advantage (from a
> queen at a the beginning to a pawn when I got better).
> It occured to me that in Backgammon something like a handicap can be
> accomplished by giving the weaker opponent the right to PICK a
> favorable roll or PASS on a bad roll.  Let me explain.
> A "PICK" would allow the weaker player the option at any time in a
> game (or match) to *select* a dice roll of his/her choice, i.e., pick
> any roll he/she deemed most favorable.
> For example, suppose both players were bearing off and your opponent
> has 2 checkers on the 1 point and you have 3 checkers on the 6 point.
> It's your roll and you have the right to a "pick"; you would of course
> then and there pick a double 6 and win the game.
> A "PASS" would allow the weaker player the right to *forego* playing a
> particularly bad roll and simply hand the dice over to the opponent to
> take his/her turn, i.e., the weaker player would pass on the bad roll
> and not be forced to make moves which would weaken his position.
> Say I were playing a 10 point match with someone of the caliber of Kit
> Woolsey or Bill Robertie; they would, for example, spot me 5 PASSES
> and 3 PICKS to make the match more competitive.
> Note that the inferior player would still have to excersise good
> judgment in deciding when during any given game to PASS or PICK, as
> needed.
> Does this sound like a reasonable way to even out players of
> significantly disparate skills?

Giving settlement odds is a more common way of evening out skill levels
in match play.  This is how most BG rating systems work.  (When two
players of unequal rating play on FIBS, GG, etc., if the lower-rated
player wins, the loser "pays" more rating points than the lower-rated
player would "pay" after a loss.)

This has the advantage that the settlement is in theory fair (if both
players have a rating near to their "true" rating, whatever that means)
and you're playing vanilla BG.

You could also spot the weaker player a point or two.

(In money play having odds for paying changes cube decisions, so it is
less frequently used.  In match play it doesn't change the cube

In your description above, keep in mind that PICKS are vastly more
powerful than PASSES.  Several times a game you're probably in a
situation in which there are one or two horrible rolls or root numbers,
other than a bad dancing number.  (A pass doesn't save you from dancing
on a one point board since your options are to make no play or to use
your pass and still make no play. <grin>) The pass is only useful for
those times when you roll the root number.  However several times a game
you have perfectas that have huge equity swings, and you get the chance
to use your PICK at every one of these.

The existence of picks completely throws off the cube action.  At a
score of -4:-4, what's the right cube action if you're soon to clear
your midpoint against a 2-point anchor with questionable timing?  If
your opponent has a pick left, that might make this no-double/take,
because the player with a pick left can double as soon as a shot
appears, even if it's a 1-17 shot.

Finally, what is the purpose of this?  Traditionally in BG (and in many
activities) an inexperienced person is willing to pay an experienced
person for the chance to learn.  But by having picks and passes, the
expert is no longer playing real BG, they're playing something else.  So
playing them doesn't help you learn BG.

So, to answer your first question, yes there are reasonable ways to
handicap the stronger player, by paying odds instead of a 1-1
settlement.  This evens out the expected gain/loss while keeping the
game the same.  The handicapping method you suggest radically alters the
nature of the game.

-Michael J. Zehr
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