How to do the math and win the game
(An article for Advanced Players)
Sorry, my backgammon friends, but I have bad news for you. If you want to be a really good, competitive backgammon player, it takes a lot of work. No matter how smart your are, how much natural “feel” you have for the game, and no matter how much experience or so-called “backgammon skill” you have, you will never really excel at the game unless you learn and practice the math.
I’m talking here primarily about match equity. The math for money games is relatively simple. If you can win about 1/4th of the games, and the gammons and backgammons even out or aren’t too great a risk, you have a take. And you can apply similar mathematical calculations to consider when to double, tempered, of course, by your ability to read your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses relative to cube habits.
But when it comes to the use of the cube in match play, there is only one road that leads to success…understanding and applying match equities and proper estimation of the odds and risks of the position on the board at hand.
And, again, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but to do it right, you must study and you must practice. I have been playing competitive tournament backgammon for about 15 years (and I have played the game another 25 years before that!) and I still have a lot of problems calculating the odds properly.
I do not intend to provide a complete lesson on the math here—entire books have been written about it—but I will tell you what you need to know.
1. You must know the match equity tables. You need to know what your odds are of winning a 5 point match if you are losing 2-1 as apposed to losing 3-1 for example. If you do not know this, and you are getting the cube at the score of 1-1, how can you determine what your odds need to be in the game in order to take the cube?
2. You need to be able to calculate and know take points. Once you have looked at the match equities, you need to be able to calculate the take point. Again, in a money game, your take point is around 25%, but in matches, because of the score, take points can vary greatly.
3 You must know the “price of gammons.” When you look at the board, and you estimate that you will get gammoned 10 percent of the time, in a money game, that means you will lose double the cube, so the price of gammons in a money game is 2. But in a match, depending on the score, a gammon could cost you the entire match, or as some scores, it doesn’t hurt you a bit. This must be taken into account in your calculations.
4. You need to know how to estimate your percentage of wins and losses in any given situation. Except for the most simple bearoff positions, nobody estimates exactly right…but the top players come pretty close…and that’s one of the major reasons they are top players. Nobody can give you a simple formula or rule for estimating wins and losses…it takes years of study, experience, having a good base of memorized reference-points, and just pure skill.
5. Then you have to put it all together. Let’s say that you have determined that your take point is 35 percent, and then you have determined that your equity in the given position, after considering the price of gammons (and backgammons) is 42 percent, then you have to have the guts and conviction to go ahead and take the cube, even if you don’t “like” the position.
Have I made you feel bad that you are like a backgammon beginner? Don’t feel too bad. I would estimate that in the highest division (Open or Championship) of most tournaments, less than a handful of the players can truly do a good job of accurately coming up with the right take points and estimate the current game situations percentages. Most of us (including myself) do a fairly good job of estimating, and some of us, like myself, don’t even try to do all the math because we know it would take us far too much time over the board and we’re likely to be wrong anyway!
But I do hope I’ve helped some of you understand just what it takes if you want to get to the top of the field in backgammon. You cannot have a casual relationship with the math. You must be ready and willing to dedicate a lot of time and study and work if you truly want to become a top backgammon player.