Forum Archive : Miscellaneous

Calculation versus instinct

From:   Kit Woolsey
Address:   kwoolsey@netcom.com
Date:   19 January 1998
Subject:   Re: Backgammon Then and Now...
Forum:   rec.games.backgammon
Google:   kwoolseyEn0sDC.LG4@netcom.com

Dave Hart wrote:
> The most popular BG books today, "How To Play Tournament Backgammon",
> "New Ideas in Backgammon" and "Can A Fish Taste Twice as Good?"
> are based on serious mathematical analysis, "Tournament" incorporating
> Hal Henrich's database to create Kit Woolsey's popular equity table,
> "New Ideas" based on Jellyfish rollouts and "Fish" based on equity
> tables.  All leading me to the conclusion that "the mathematical way
> is the right way".

Thanks for the plug.  However, I disagree with your conclusion.  I
believe that for the most part backgammon cannot be attacked
"mathematically", and those players who attempt to quantify everything in
some way or other tend to lose the forest through the trees and make more
bad plays than those players who play by their gut instinct.

It is true that there is some math in match equity analysis.  However the
most important figure, namely your game-winning (or gammon winning or
losing) chances cannot be mathematically calculated except for a few
simple end-game positions.  There are simply too many variables.  All we
can do is look at the position, take into account all the factors, weight
them as best we can, and come up with our best guess.  Note that this is
exactly what the neural nets do -- only their weightings are often better
than ours.

For play decisions, what good would it do to memorize a bunch of rolled
out positions?  You probably aren't going to see that exact position in
your lifetime.  What is important from these positions is the priorities
which are involved.  The rollouts, if they are accurate, can tell us
where our estimates of the priorities for a type of position may be in
error, so if see a similar sort of position in the future we can adjust
our personal weights and priorities and come up with a better
conclusion.  This is what Hal and I tried to emphasize in our book -- not
the positions themselves, but the reasons which made the best move the

In actual play, I do very little calculating.  Most of my plays are made
on my feel for the position, based on priorities and weights which I have
developed from analyzing similar positions.  I believe this is true for
most of the top players.

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