Luck versus Skill

Forum Archive : Luck versus Skill

How much of backgammon is luck?

From:   Wai Mun Yoon
Date:   4 January 1998
Subject:   Re: How to measure luck in bg?

Richard Rasker wrote:
> Here are some rather basic ideas as how to `measure luck':
> - (Crude calculation) total number of pips rolled by a
>   player vs. the number of pips actually moved, so that
>   dancing and other situations where one can't move are
>   counted as bad luck.
> - Number of shots vs. number of actual hits - I found
>   that when it's possible to hit a checker, most of the
>   time a player will hit. Not hitting anything with a given
>   number of shots implies bad luck.
> - Number of possible ways to play a particular roll
>   (maybe I'm getting into skill-territory here), the
>   less ways a roll can be played, the less luck the
>   player has.
> - (any other suggestion)

I find the concept of luck, whatever it is, and varying personal
attitudes to it totally facinating. However, I don't think that
ratiocination, in the manner you suggest will resolve very much, since
most of the discussion on this subject is qualitative.

 - Read Danny Kleinmann's Vision Laughs at Counting where he discusses
the relative contribution of luck and skill in BG, and concludes that it
is impossible to determine the importance of each since BG is a game of
'luck-handling' skills.

 - The volatility of the dice essentially expands the stochastic
search-space for a player. However, the *concept* of 'luck' is different
for humans than for 'bots, since 'bots are 'emotionally' indifferent to
luck and do not steam. This means that a human with good 'luck-handling'
skills is one who not only prepares for nightmare 5-5's, but who avoids
steaming after fanning four times on a two-point board, while for a 'bot
only the former situation applies. All experienced BG players recognise
this and exploit it. Remember Robertie's problem in 'Advanced
Backgammon' when he says that a take is a good practical option [though
technically incorrect] since the opponent will be severely shaken after
a loss? (implying that the short-term loss of equity in taking is more
than outweighed by dividends from future steaming). Thus, a quantitative
approach to rationalising 'luck', even if it were possible, would not
address the real problem, which is that different people *react*
differently to the same dice rolls [same amount of 'luck']

 - Your mention of a 'personal luck rating' raises some interesting
questions. Are some players luckier than others? Are some versions of
JellyFish luckier than others? [judging by some of the recent posts, the
answer is yes :-) ] Joe Dwek in his intro to 'Backgammon for Profit'
admits that he believes that some players are fundamentally luckier than
others and so survive in schools stronger than their skills should merit
[note: he says he *believes* this, since this is unprovable], while
weaker, unlucky players give up the game quickly.

However, one should note that students of the game continue to study
(and rollout) only because they, in turn, *believe* in eventual
reversion to the mean or what is known as 'the long run'. Caveat: "Ars
longa, vita brevis." :-)

(who would prefer to be lucky, than skillful)
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Luck versus Skill

Are good players just luckier?  (Douglas Zare, Sept 2000) 
Are luck and skill related?  (Eskimo+, Feb 2003) 
Does backgammon need less luck?  (Raccoon, Jan 2008)  [GammOnLine forum]
How much of backgammon is luck?  (Wai Mun Yoon, Jan 1998) 
How much skill versus luck?  (Alexandre Sierra, Nov 2000) 
How much skill versus luck?  (JP White+, Aug 2000) 
How often to win with perfect play?  (Robert-Jan Veldhuizen, Nov 2000) 
Is backgammon gambling?  (Luc Palmans+, Oct 2010) 
Is backgammon gambling?  (Kevin D. McLeaster, Sept 1997) 
Is there really luck in backgammon?  (benf+, Jan 2012) 
Recognizing luck  (Walter Trice, Dec 2004) 
Strange result  (az-willie+, Mar 2003) 
The Bower Luck-O-Meter  (Gary Wong, Aug 1998) 
Why are stronger players luckier?  (Bob Sweeney+, Oct 2002) 

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