The Luck Factor In Backgammon


After playing backgammon for forty years, I think I’ve heard just about all the arguments about the luck factor in the backgammon game. Nobody denies that luck is involved, but there is great disagreement about subjects concerning luck.

Many believe the backgammon game has far too much luck, and we should change the rules to make backgammon a game of skill. Others argue that it is the luck factor that makes the game so exciting and fun, and we should leave well enough alone…if you want a game of pure skill, take up chess.

I have heard top players consistently complain about their bad luck…they believe, and they are probably right, that just about any time they lose a game or match it is because of bad luck. My response to them, by the way, is that they should be thankful that their inferior opponents can get lucky and win once in a while…otherwise, they’d have no one to play except other experts.

I have heard many players lately argue that with the invention and wide-spread use of the backgammon bots (Snowie, GNUBG and Jellyfish) there is so little difference between the top players that the only thing that separates the winner from the loser is luck.

Well, I am here to put this issue to rest (yeah, right!). The truth is this: backgammon is full of luck, but the longer the match or session, and the greater the skill difference between the players, the less luck will matter.

Yes, we could do much to take the luck factor out of the Backgammon game. Some Backgammon tournaments already offer a prize to the player who has the lowest error rate as determined by analyzing all the matches by the bots. But it is the luck factor that, more than anything, makes Backgammon one of the most exciting games in the world.

It amazes me that players who know and love the game consistently complain about luck. As for me, I love it. Even when my opponent rolls three 6-6’s in a row to beat me….that’s what makes the game fun and exciting. I know I get my equal share of good and bad luck…we all do. If you don’t believe that, you are either a pessimist, a narcissist, or a fool.

Note: Phil Simborg is a playing and teaching professional living in Chicago and can be reached at

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