Today, we are fortunate to have computers to help us learn and analyze backgammon. I know many of the best players in the world very well, and ALL OF THEM use backgammon computers to help them study the game and improve their skills. The two most respected programs in use today are Snowie and GNUBG.
Snowie has been around longer, is easier to use, and is excellent in every way. GNUBG is somewhat more complicated to use and understand, but it has a very major advantage over Snowie…it’s free. You can download it off the internet at www.gnubg.org. Snowie runs about $400.00. I have used Snowie for years, and in the past year, I have also begun using GNUBG.
The interesting thing about the computer programs is that they not only tell you what the best play or cube decision is, they give you exact numbers. For example, let’s look at a simple opening roll decision. You roll a 3-1. Everyone knows that it’s best to make the 5 point, but how much better is that than other plays, and why?
If you look at the analysis below in the figure, Snowie tells us that when Black makes the best play with 3-1 he will, in the long run, win the game 55.4 percent of the time and he will win gammons 17.4 percent of the time.
If Black makes the second-best play (13/10 6/5) he will win the game only 49.8 percent of the time and win gammons only 14.4 percent of the time. The numbers also tell me that overall, the second-best play is worse than the best play by 22.9 percent.
So not only does the computer tell me what the best play is, it tells me how much better it is than other plays.
Now, it is true that the backgammon bots are not always right, and sometimes in order to be confident of the answer we have to do what is called a “rollout” of the position. A rollout takes the position and plays the game out to the end to see what the actual result would be. You can set your program to roll out a position as many times as you like, but most of us do it about 100 or more times to be safe. For MOST positions, however, this is not necessary, and you can usually rely on the program to give you the right answer. In fact, most people agree that they would be on Snowie or GNUBG to beat all but the very best players in the world, and some believe even they are not quite as good as the programs.
I STRONGLY recommend that anyone who wants to be good at backgammon should learn to use one or both of these programs. Even if you have no desire to become one of the best backgammon players in the world, these programs will improve your game; they are fun to use; and they are a wonderful, intellectual pastime in and of themselves.
The biggest problem with both programs is that they are not real easy to figure out and they do not have very user-friendly guides to tell you how to use them. It is best to have a friend or coach who is experienced who can guide you through the basics.
If you can’t find such a friend or coach, contact me while I do charge for lessons on line, I am happy to give a short, half-priced introductory lesson on how to use Snowie or GNUBG to anyone, and I will be happy to answer questions via email for no charge.