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A Free Backgammon Lesson For Everyone!
By Phil Simborg
Editor's note: Backgammon.Org is proud to have Phil Simborg as our On-Line Professional. His articles and positions appear on this site and in our forum, and Phil is available to all our readers to answer specific questions about the game. Phil has distinguished himself as a player, teacher, and writer and is highly respected in all areas throughout the world backgammon community.
I have been giving backgammon lessons, live and on line, for about 15 years. My guess is that I have had about 400 students…many were in group lessons on line at the old MSN Zone, where I used to give lessons weekly, and I am currently giving lessons on line to several students on Gammon Empire (or Play65).
For the record, I think I am pretty good at giving backgammon lessons, and it’s not just because I’m a decent player, but more because I have taken so many lessons from so many of the greatest players and teachers in the game (Kit Woolsey, Howard Ring, Dean Meunch, Jake Jacobs, Joe Sylvester, Perry Gartner, Nack Ballard, just to name a few).
I think, backgammon lessons are an excellent way for a player to find out about his particular shortcomings. Remember the expression: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” A teacher or coach can point out holes in your game that you might not realize you have. For example, it wasn’t very long ago that I was told about a flaw in my thinking relative to cube decisions where I was not properly computing the cost of gammons in the equation. And that was after 40 years of playing this game! Even Tiger Woods gets coaching.
Top tournament players generally have the Backgammon basic skills down pretty well, but beginner and intermediate players generally have the same basic faults, or lack of knowledge in their game, and I thought I would summarize the major ones for you here.
Race: Most players do not realize the importance of the race. Every game is essentially a race to see who will get his checkers off first. Everything that happens along the way is just the dicegod’s way of trying to confuse us. The race, or the pip count, is almost always a factor which should be considered in virtually all your move and cube decisions.
Structure: Great players try to get into “pretty” positions. They try to make 6-primes, and if they can’t do that, they try to make 5-primes, and if they can’t do that, they try to make 4-primes. And so on. Making points in a row, and keeping them together, is what makes a game “pretty”, and pretty games are usually winning games. If they are forced into back games or holding games, they maneuver to “time” them so that they can maintain a decent inner board that will get them the victory if they ever do hit a shot. There is nothing prettier than a very well-timed back game. I have even had even dreams of these at night!
Cube: The position of the cube, the number the cube is on, whether or not to cube, and whether or not a given play would cause the opponent to cube, are things the top players think about ON EVERY ROLL. Lesser players often forget to cube when they should, or they turn the cube when they shouldn’t, or they make a play that will get them a cube they don’t want when they could have made a different (better) play.
Match Equity and Take Points: If you are playing a match, or in tournaments, you simply cannot play at a high level without knowing and considering Match Equity and Take Points. These factors affect every play and cube decision. Even opening some of the opening rolls change because of the score of the match.
The ONLY way to learn these numbers is to look them up in a book or article and memorize them. And once learned, it takes most of us years to know how to properly apply the knowledge over the board. In fact, this is an area that I believe separates the really good players from the great players more than any other.
But even at the lower levels of play, a basic understanding of Match Equity is a requirement if you want to play the game properly. A play or cube decision when you are ahead in the match may be very wrong if you are behind in the match. Depending on the score, it might be very wrong to take a risk for a gammon, and at other scores you should take great risks to win a gammon.
Sizing Up Your Opponent: Books and computers teach you how to play against “perfect” opponents. Fortunately, except for about 10 people who have not yet given up backgammon for the Professional Poker circuit, most of us don’t have to face players like that very often. ESPECIALLY in the lower divisions, you will come across opponents who have consistent, predictable flaws in their game, and you should alter your game to take advantage of these flaws. I have even seen top Open Division players make the “error” of making the “technically-correct” decision when they would have gained equity by making a different decision that takes advantage of either an opponent’s flaws or overall lower skill level.
Would you like to know more about your particular game? I give backgammon lessons for $50 an hour and group lessons of 3-5 people for $100 an hour. And if you don’t feel you got your money’s worth, there is no charge. You can contact me at email@example.com.