I have frequently in this column extolled the virtues of "Backgammon" by Paul Magriel, advising readers to procure a second-hand copy whenever possible. The great news for all those aspiring to improve their play is that the book has now become available once more. After much wrangling over publishing rights, Magriel has formed his own company, X-22 Publishing, and re-issued the book in its original form. X-22 is Magriel's nickname, coined after his propensity for splitting to his opponent's 3-point early in the game.

As the book was first printed in 1976 it is a testament to the quality of the work that it can be re-issued 21 years later without having to change the original text. When Magriel wrote the book he was undoubtedly the best player in the world and was the first to try to explain the fundamental principles of the game. Until this book was written none went further than explaining the opening moves.

In essence, it clearly explains how to play good backgammon in a way that no book before or since has quite matched. Having defined the rules and the basic game types it explains with excellent examples the principles of duplication and diversification, the strength of the 5-point (named by Magriel the Golden Point). It lays out rules for when to play boldly and when to play safe, when to split your back men and when not to split them. Many other basic (and some not so basic) backgammon concepts are explained. In 400 pages the author leads the reader on the journey from complete novice to competent player.

The one area of the game which the book covers only lightly is doubling, but even here there are some gems. I will close with some very sound advice from the book on the topic of doubling:

"Each game must be considered on its own merits; you must try to avoid letting what happened in the last game cloud your judgement. There is no surer way to lose many points than to double prematurely and accept bad doubles to try to recoup past losses. From a theoretical viewpoint, the question of accepting doubles (and offering them also) should be considered independently of the cube. In other words it is never theoretically correct to accept a double at the 8 level which you would pass at the 2 level or vice versa."

Excellent practical advice, which if followed will save you many points. "Backgammon" can be obtained from Carol Joy Cole, 3003 Ridgecliffe Drive, Flint, Michigan 48532-3730, USA. The price is $45 plus air mail postage.