Forum Archive : Learning

Beginners' mistakes

From:   Alan Webb
Address:   vsg-isg@t-online.de
Date:   3 November 1999
Subject:   Top 5 beginner blunders
Forum:   rec.games.backgammon
Google:   7vpmag$bu2$1@news00.btx.dtag.de

I, and no doubt, many of you have noticed that beginners and novices all
tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. My perception of the
top 5 errors are as follows...

1. Running from the rear when behind in a race.
2. Candlestick making (stacking checkers on few points and general inflexible
3. Relinquishing key points to early. (5 point)
4. Doubling decisions how to evaluate a position etc.
5. Understanding safe vs bold play.

Alan Webb
Webby's Backgammon Site

Art Grater  writes:

I would add duplication and diversification as a special case of #2.

Dan Hollis  writes:

"When ahead in the race, race.  When behind in the race, don't race".
This is an idea that a beginner can both understand and apply.

I find that novices don't fight hard enough to avoid an ace point game. It
seems unintuitive to split up to the 4 or 5 point and just leave the
checker there - especially if it leaves a blot in your own outfield. Much
more common is to run that split checker with the full roll.  They seem to
do this regardless of who's ahead.

So, my #1 is "Don't play a racing game when you're behind".  I'd make
your #1 a corollary to this - just point out that clearing the rear points
first is leading into a racing game.

I bet once a novice understands this, he'll naturally start splitting up
to the 4 or 5 point, and playing for contact.  I don't think that novices
are afraid of leaving a checker there; it's more of what to do with the
other half of the roll that confuses them.

Donald Kahn  writes:

Certainly no dispute about these, nor any of the amendments suggested
by other posters.  But remembering my own beginner days, the
overriding lack was *game plan*, in other words "how am I most likely
to win this game?"

Win the race?
Hit a shot?
Run a blitz?
Build a prime?

And then playing the rolls accordingly.

Another lack, and not just among beginners, is an understanding of the
weakness of the two back chackers, isolated by 11 pips from the rest
of your formation.  That is why the concensus is solid for mobilizing
them before opponent's home board improves.  I only began to
understand this when I got Woolsey's Matchqiz five years ago.  And I
was playing in Championship events!  (Never in the money of course,
and as a matter of fact very seldom in the money since.)

But at least now, in every game, I know what I am trying to do.  This
is comforting.

Julian Hayward  writes:

Forgetting to cash games that are way past the takepoint.

Blot terror - refusing to hit (especially twice) or make critical points
because doing so requires leaving several blots oneself.

Bill Hill  writes:

When I think about blunders it's really the most costly ones that I'm
concerned with, so here are a few that I think are quite important:

1) Filling holes instead of bearing-off men.
2) Hitting men just because you can.
3) Bearing-off incorrectly against opposition, either an anchor or on the
4) Playing ultra-safe, especially in the opening.
5) Not Minimizing shots when it would be dangerous to be hit.

Walt Swan  writes:

a) Trying to win game twice. In other words taking big risks for small
   gains when game has been won. (Your #5)

b) Switching home board point just to Keep hitting.

c) Not playing doubles 4 moves individually.

d) Real beginners, not noticing a shot hits ( in other words moving
   legally), I rolled 6,3. My (24 point) man perhaps can hit that man way
   out there (on 15 point) Lets see hop hop hop hop hop... darn it one hop

e) Giving up midpoint.

f) Hitting on wrong side of board.

g) Coming under the gun.

Vince Mounts  writes:

There a few tournaments at the MSN Zone that run everyday and I like to
enter now and again. I would guess the Zone consists of 80-90% very weak
players(at least thetourneys do) so I have had ample opportunity to play
(and yes, be beat by :( ) these types of players. The things I see them
doing which perhaps could be easily explained/improved are....

Checker Play

1) They tend to play way too safe in the opening few moves.
    Perhaps this could be extended to the entire game, however, the middle
game choices are perhaps not beginner type choices so lets stick with the
opening.  Seeing 13/8 for an opening 4-1 or 3-2 is very very common. To
correct this problem the beginner needs to understand a) The blot leaving
plays allow you to make points(either offensive or defensive) a lot easier
on the next roll. Perhaps a list of the new rolls that make a point
compared to the opps roll that point on them would make this clear. Also,
an understanding of which points are best as discussed below can help to
see that the split men aren't in any real danger. b)An undertanding that an
early hit when no board exists is not so bad. This gives plenty of rolls to
anchor up and being behind already gives the "freedom" to be aggressive in
the future.

2) Beginners don't understand which points are the important ones!!!!
    This takes many forms and is the biggest error IMHO.
    Assume you have split with a 2-3 on the first roll. Now you roll
6-1.Beginners make the bar. They don't understand that the 5 point is
better. The 5 is the opps best anchor and making it takes it from them. It
is better because it covers the outfield better and best minimizes gammon
chances. So thats why you should make it(to take it from your opp). Also,
an inner point is better due to making you opponent dance more often. Plus
it i s hard to make the 5 point once the the bar is made due to stripped
points. Usually making the 5 point leaves more builders and therefore more
flexibility for making future points.
    Beginners love to hit on the ace point early. A hit is hit and a point
is a point right? Why leave more shots going for a different point. Plus
they think,,, "hey if he misses a blot on the one then he gets no second
chance even if I cant cover... Not true of a blot on the say 5 or 4 point".
They fail to see that the one point isn't helping anything. It can never
block the opponent in, thus giving him a better chance to escape(beginners
have no concept of priming aS i touch on later). With less checkers in play
it will be harder to get home yourself because you will have less places to
land and less pieces to make places to land.
    The same usually applies on the other side of the board. The beginners
make little if any effort to make an advanced anchor. They sit back on the
1 point and wait for the 6-X roll that allows them to run for home. They
don't understand that advancing lets them escape easier and covers the
outfield to hit the opp and stop the opp from easily building up a
blockade. Also, note that is a direct consequence of number 1 above and
their own belief that hitting on the low points is somehow good.
    If beginners followed a rule that the points 5, 7, 4 (in roughly this
order, with 4 and 7 being very close especially with other points in hand)
are the best I think they could hardly go wrong often.

3) Running when behind.
    This is one I don't see as much as some suggest in this thread but
important none-the-less. The reason for not seeing it is basically because
of number 1. They are too afraid to run. However, get a huge lead and leave
a bunch of blots in your home(behind them) and they run. You are leaving
the blots to be flexible and improve distib for your huge race lead. You
don't even care if you get a hit but can't use it. But the beginner sees
this as a good chance to get "out of dodge". Needless to say they are often
suprised once you let them "escape" and turn the cube on your 20+ pip lead.
This is due to their conception of the game as mostly luck. They don't
understand the odds of rolling the 6-6 they now need to win.

4) Breaking anchor way to early in holding game.
    They don't understand that since you are holding too and have a good
anchor that you don't mind attacking the remaining checker. In fact, at
times it seems they think of the coming attack as to their advantage (the
over-safe play rearing its head again). This again is because they don't
understand that with your loose hit they are the underdog to hit back(if a
single shot). They just see it as a chance to hit a checker regardless of
the actual odds. This can be a tough one to explain. Especially if they
have just finally understood that playing safe early is not always best.
They key here is that it isn't early anymore. The extra home board points
that can make them dance make their safe instincts correct now. Again this
is not as prevalent as some of the others due to over-safe play in general
but every now and again the beginner decides to play "craps" instead of
backgammon when the  game gets close.

5) Beginners have no concept of a priming game (I know I sure didn't when I
    This is in a way part of understanding the importance of each point.
After all, Priming/blocking is why those points are better. In fact,
perhaps this is not a new blunder but just part of the others.

5) Stacking too many on high points in preparation for bearoff.
    I see this often. We are racing. I am filling in holes for the future
bearoff. Perhaps with a  2 I play 6/4 instead of 8/6. I have even heard
comments on this a couple times. They don't understand. Surely they will
get in quicker and therefore win right? Obviously this is not correct. It
is ok to leave another outside and fill the hole. Yes they may start a roll
before I do taking men off.By my last man comes off a roll or so sooner.

Cube Play

This needs to be kept simple. Lots of cube concepts are advanced.

1) 2 away- 3+away cubes.
    Lots of beginners don't understand what to do after accepting a 2 away
cube. If they choose to take it they should re-whip to 4. Many times I have
offered a double and the beginner takes. I think to myself. Hmmm,,, well
with the re-whip maybe it is a take. Or even ,,, oh shoot,,,with the
re-whip I just screwed up. But the cube never comes back making my double a
clear drop (i.e. if they couldn't rewhip it would be a clear drop). I don't
think this is because they plan to hold it until winning (and it definitley
doesn't come back when they get a "shot" to win). In fact beginners very
rarely offer 4 cubes (too scared to play for that kind of stake). This is a
big big cube error of beginners.
    The corollary is also true. Because of the rewhip to 4 a 2away double is
often offered way too soon. I have won quite a few matches by taking a
boarderline money drop and turning the cube to 4 next turn. A rule of thumb
here is that, unlike the the situations discussed below, leading the match
and at 2 away dont cube until its a drop. This is not really true but is a
good beginner rule. This is what I did when starting out once I learned
about the 2away scores. Just play until the drop is clear.

2) 2away- 2away cubes
    Beginners almost always wait until this one is a drop. Now the 80%
winning chance they attained is reduced to 70% match chances. They don't
understand that at this score it is absolutly imperative to get a take.

3) Post-crawford cubes
    I saw one of these today. 1away pc - 4 away. A tough battle ensued but
no cube (note: the battle  was occuring mostly due to me knowing the cube
wasn't coming and if it did I had a free drop. Otherwise I wouldn't have
been playing quite as loose.) This one I don't get. Nothing to lose here so
they should go for it. What I'm not sure of is if they are trying to cube
me out later on or if they think losing 6-1/5 is worse than 5-1/5. Either
way the mandatory cube should be easy to explain on the "nothing to lose"

4) Doubling too late. (before anyone gets 2away)
    Just when you think the beginner has decided to play on for the gammon
here comes the cube for an easy drop. Not understanding the game enough the
beginner wants to make sure you don't take the cube. They should understand
that getting takes in the long run gives you more points (2 is more than 1
lol). I think the only way to learn this is to start doubling earlier than
you _think_ you should and see what happens. See how often you get cubed
out. This is the only way to learn this one. Also, perhaps point out that
when lots of rolls make you way ahead you should make your opp "pay" to see
if you get one of the few bad ones.
    Proper actions in matches they are losing goes along with this. It is
easy to demonstrate that when losing the cubes should come even earlier.
Reasoning similar to the "nothing to lose" line above should show this.

5) Accepting gammonish cubes.
    One on the bar. 3 point board for the opp. Double or triple shot at a
second blot. They take it every time. I think what is happening here is
they are looking at winning chances. Some gammonish cubes are maybe only in
the 50-60% win range. The beginner knows they have ok chances to win and
ignore the 4 point losses as a result. Again, this one is tough to teach
except by example and experience. And indeed I have found that experience
does teach this one quickly if they see it enough. They may play like a
complete beginner in the rest of the game but understand a drop due to
gammons. A good sequence to see this one is. 1)6-2: 24/18 13/11  -  5-5:
6/1*(2) 8/3(2) 2) 6-1 Dance - Double/drop.... lots of shots at the second
blot and brings builder into place.

6) Accepted cubes when primed
    This is perhaps a little like above, but above I mean more of a blitz
than a prime. They just don't see how hard it is to escape say a 5 prime. A
good rule here "might" be that if you have 2 men behind a 5 prime and dont
own 4 or 5 blocking points of your own it is probably a drop. (unless of
course the opps timing sucks but this is bit advanced,,, i'd guess this
rule wouldn't go wrong often). If you have one man behind a 5 prime,,,
again you probably need at least 4 blocks or that your opp has a lot of men
to bring home still. This one is tougher to make a rule for but still
dropping when behind a 5 prime cant be far from right very often. These
"rules" of course assume that you aren't already at the prime's edge.
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

  Book Suggestions
Computer Dice
Cube Handling
Cube Handling in Races
Extreme Gammon
Fun and frustration
GNU Backgammon
Luck versus Skill
Magazines & E-zines
Match Archives
Match Equities
Match Play
Match Play at 2-away/2-away
Opening Rolls
Pip Counting
Play Sites
Probability and Statistics
Source Code
Strategy--Bearing Off
Strategy--Checker play


Return to:  Backgammon Galore : Forum Archive Main Page