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FOR THE last few years, the neural net program, Jellyfish, has dominated the backgammon software market to the point where the older Expert Backgammon has fallen into disuse. Now, with the arrival of Snowie, there is a serious rival to the silicon coelenterate.

Snowie (originally it was called Snow White, but the name was changed to avoid problems with Disney) is another neural net program, developed by Olivier Egger and his colleagues in Switzerland. It has been playing on FIBS (First International Backgammon Server), the Internet area for playing online backgammon, for a couple of years. It is now the number- one-ranked player on that system. It has a very sophisticated user interface enabling the player to access a wealth of information about each move of the game; it also allows the player to track performance against the program over time.

Another advantage over Jellyfish is depth of analysis. Snowie can perform three-ply analysis whilst playing, ie it can look three moves ahead; Jellyfish currently uses two-ply analysis. Beginners and intermediates can elect to use one-ply or two-ply, to look ahead to give themselves a better chance of beating the program. Snowie also has a sophisticated bear-off database so that it is unlikely to make any significant errors in the bear-off, an area where Jellyfish still needs some improvement.

Snowie comes with a comprehensive online user manual and tutorial. All in all, it is an excellent product, and one that I will be using to assist me when doing analysis for this column.

The one snag is the price. Currently Snowie retails at $299. For the serious student of the game the price is not unreasonable. For the casual player the cost is high when compared with, for example, the cost of commercial chess programs. For the casual player, Snowie's facilities may be an overkill. It is to be hoped that Snowie will follow the same route as Jellyfish and produce a "Player" version that will provide the playing, but not all the analytical, capabilities of the main product.

Those wanting more details should access Snowie's website at or write to Oasya SA, Route d'Yverdon 4, 1028 Preverenges, Switzerland