One of my favorite expressions is: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” For example, you could play backgammon for many years and keep making the same backgammon mistake over and over and not know it. It’s true…I know people who do it. I’ve done it myself!
Playing backgammon is fun, but most of the time most people are playing, they are not LEARNING. I know this, because so often I have seen players make terrible plays, lose the game, and then say something about how unlucky they were or how lucky their opponent was. Virtually every game you lose you can point to some bad rolls you had, and some good ones your opponent had…but what about your bad plays and his good plays that got you into the position to allow him to win the game?
Again, you don’t know what you did wrong, or what he did right, because you simply don’t know what you don’t know. The question is, how do you find out?
You can play against or watch good players and see where your play differs from theirs, and if you are astute, you might remember the play and be able to figure out why their play was better. I said “might” because usually it happens pretty fast; you’re not completely aware of why his play was better; and you’re not likely to remember all of the variables of the position of all the checkers and the position of the cube to commit the lesson to memory.
You can read books…there are a lot of great backgammon books out there. But a lot of people simply don’t learn well that way. And even if you do, there’s a lot to remember, and backgammon truly is a very complex game. Also, reading a book will not necessarily alert you to some specific areas of weakness in your own game.
To me, one of the best ways to identify your shortcomings is to take lessons. Now, I do practice what I preach. Over my 40 year career I have taken lessons and coaching from no less than 20 players including many of the best players in the world. Each one had their own styles of play, and each of them helped me in specific areas of the game, but all of them raised my entire level of play.
Let me give you one good illustration. After playing this game for close to 40 years, a doubling cube position came up that I simply didn’t understand. I showed the position to one of my coaches—Perry Gartner—and he pointed out something I had learned years ago but forgot to apply over the board. I thought the I should accept the double, but Perry pointed out that at the particular score the “cost of gammons” was just too high, and the gammon risk was just too great. You see, I had completely forgotten that the value of gammons changes drastically at different match scores, and forgot to apply that thinking in this particular position. I wondered how many times I had made that same error before without even knowing I was making the mistake.
My advice is, NO MATTER WHAT your level of play, everyone can use some coaching and some teaching. Find a teacher and take some lessons, and you’ll be amazed to find out how much you don’t know.
(Phil Simborg is a recognized professional and has been teaching backgammon on line and live for over 20 years. You can contact Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org.)