Backgammon

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the things you realise after you have been playing backgammon for even a short time is that you can't win every game, no matter how good you are. Not only can you not win every game, but you cannot win even a high percentage of them. An expert pitted against a novice may well win 80-85 per cent of the games but as soon as the novice learns the basics that percentage will quickly shrink.

I have kept records for the last seven years of every game that I have played, either in matches or in money play. Over that period my game-winning percentage is 53 per cent. There are two points to be noted. First, that small 53-47 edge is really quite high over a long period and will generate quite a few tournament wins and pounds in the bank.

The main point, however, is not whether you won or lost the game but what the cube was on when it ended, and whether it was a plain game or a gammon or backgammon. As I have noted in this column before, the doubling cube is the most important and least understood aspect of the game. It's no good winning 53 per cent of games if all your wins are single-point games, while every game you lose is a gammon with the cube on 2. For this reason, it is worth recording (as I do) the final value of the cube and the result of the game - single, gammon or backgammon.

From these simple facts I can then work out whether I am doubling too late (this will show up as lots of single-point games won) or accepting too many bad doubles (this generates lots of lost gammons).Given this information I can then amend my doubling practice and look to see whether this is reflected in my statistics. It can be quite uncomfortable to amend tried and trusted practices, but only by tuning and refining your play can you hope to improve.

For example, I noticed one year that when I was in the box in chouettes I was losing a large number of gammons. This was caused by reluctance on my part to give up the box. I then changed my approach to playing in the box and took extra time to evaluate doubling decisions in gammonish positions. Lo and behold, the excess gammons disappeared from the statistics.

`Backgammon - An Independent View', an anthology of the best of Chris Bray's backgammon articles in `The Independent' and elsewhere, is now available direct from: Chris Bray, 18 Glendower Road, London SW14 8NY, price pounds 11.99 + pounds 1.25 p&p.

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