Backgammon

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I’ve loved backgammon since my girlfriend Martha taught it to me in 1974. I have lots of backgammon stories to tell: I don’t think any of them were previously told at the censored pk domains: all fresh material for pKnatz blog. Additional entries will come scrapbook style:

Backgammon rules: Optional Rule Recommendations

Backgammon divides a board into four quadrants of six points each. Immediately before you is your home board; opposite you is your opponent’s home board. The board is set up with fifteen stones, or pieces, or men per side: 6 on the home quadrant six point, 3 on the home side 8 point, two away from the middle “bar,” 2 on your opponent’s 1 point, and five on your own 12 point. BUT: your home quadrant can be played at either your right or your left hand!
What other game has such a positional ambiguity?

Pieces are to be moved toward your home board: if your home quadrant is to your right, your pieces move counterclockwise; if your home board is to your left, then your pieces more clockwise! and your opponent does the mirror image.
The object is to run your pieces while blocking your opponent’s run of his pieces. Two or more stones on a point occupy the point. There’s no limit to the number of stones on a point, though good play requires distribution: pattern, blocks of several points in a row …
A single stone on a point is unprotect and is called a blot. A hit blot goes to the bar and must reenter the board via your opponent’s home quadrant. …

Those rules aren’t quite complete, but if you’re not a player I hope you get the idea. These rules are universal, the best I understand.

Here’s a pk rule that’s arbitrary. I don’t know what a tourament would do, I’ve never played in a tournament, I’ve never been to a tournament:
Each player moves by rolling a pair of dice. The dice count separately: a 5 and a 3. 6 is the highest number on a die. There is no 8, thought there is a combination 8: several of them: 5&3, 6&2, double4. A piece cannot land on an occupied point, nor can it pause on an occupied point. You may be able to move a 3 & a 5; but not a 5 and a 3. Order of play counts.
OK: here’s my rule:
If you can more both dice then you must move both dice: even if doing so puts you in jeopardy.

There might be a position where you roll a 4 and a 2. You don’t have 4, then a 2, but you do have a 2, then a four. The former combo is good for you, the latter is a disaster. Still, playing pk both you and I have to take the bad move that employes both dice; and miss the good move that exploits a blocked point.

You can play many a game before an occasion arise where the rule applies. When it does arise I’m in favor of a clear guideline, always the same: impartial: you must take both dice, if you can.
Of course you have to be a good player, see all the possibilities, before you’ll even know when the rule might apply.
The important thing is to have anticipated the circumstance before it arises: or tournaments would be wars, where the side with the less developed sense of probability won’t even know what’s at issue!

My Rules 2016 01 14 That rule just came up! It’s been ever so long since I last saw it. White was safe if the players ignored the rule: following the rule white was about to become extremely vulnerable. As white I bit the bullet, converted points to blots: and by sheer luck weathered the storm. Black missed my blots and white finished bearing off in another move or two.

OK: that’s a rule I recommend for all.

Now here’s one that I indulge in myself and recommend only to myself:
I love to play backgammon. I seldom have a good partner. I’ve never had a partner equal to myself. I win most of the games. Yawn.
I play backgammon solitaire. Bobby Fischer was supposed to play chess solitaire. I don’t know how he could, at least not very well. Chess requires that opponents not know everything the other is thinking: or there could be no entrapment! Backgammon is just probability, everyone should see all the possibilities, indifferently.
In chess maybe my opponent will see the trap, maybe he won’t. If he doesn’t, I’m the better player anyway: I should win all the games. With backgammon in contrast the world’s best player still might lose an occasional game to a rank beginner.

OK, onward, here’s my special rule:
I play backgammon solitaire as even-handedly as possible. Whether white or black wins is random! Whether my men, say the gold pieces, moving counterclockwise toward my inner board, on my right, prevail or not, against the blue pieces moving the other way, is arbitrary. I play both sides equally well. I try to play perfectly: as gold and as blue.

I believe that I can play at my best for either myself on my side of the board or for myself on the other side of the board. True of not, it’s what I do when I play backgammon solitaire. I did that for years. I did that for decades. A decade or two ago I tried a variant: I’m still doing it:

I play either side as well as I can. If “my side,” the side with my home board on my side, right before my belly, is winning, fine, good, go ahead. But if the blue stones, opposite me, are winning, as happens roughly 50% of the time, victory being arbitrary, being random, if my play is good enough, then I invoke a special rule once blue begins removing his pieces from the board.
In that circumstance (roughly half the time), the rules change: now gold will cojntinue to play wisely; blue must proceed to take his pieces from the board, not wisely, but greedily! No caution is allowed!

Greedy play may win: twice as fast! But greedy play is often headed for a fall.

So gold, my side of the board, wins most of the games. But not necessarily all of the games. Sometimes, luck running blue’s way, blue’s luck can turn outrageous.
My gold wins most games; but when my gold loses, gld may lose big time. I’ll suffer far more backgammons with blue playing in greedy mode than win backgammons with gold playing is normal, perfect, mode.

Understand: in backgammon, whoever gets all fifteen men off the board first wins: 1 point.
If the winner completes removal of his pieces before his opponent gets a single man off. The value of the win doubles: 2 points. But if the winner wins while the opponent still have at least one man in the winners home quadrant (or still on the bar), then it’s a backgammon: 3 points!
If the doubling cube is in play and the play has been reset to 4, or 8, or 16 … then the reset value doubles, or triples …

I’ll tell some good backgammon stories, later.
I’ll tell of the one time I gambled, played for money!

2012 09 22 One thing I love about backgammon is how it combines skill with luck. One’s winning average is a function of skill, but it’s commonly understood that a rank beginner can on occasion beat an expert. I love chess, chess is almost pure skill, one never wins by luck, except among rank beginners, where there is almost no skill on anyone’s part.

Bobby Fisher played chess solitaire, he’d practice against himself. I’ve tried that: seldom. It’s hard. You have to pretend as black not to know what you were planning a moment ago as white: very hard. Or: you have to be so skillful that you can regard, mistakenly no doubt, each move you make, for both sides, as a “best move.” Then there’s nothing to conceal.

I however play backgammon solitaire all the time, daily. I used to read on the john, but for decades now I’ve played backgammon on the john. For years I played myself honestly even: I made the best move I saw for both sides. But then I came to modify that: these days I play the best move for white, always. But for black, I play the best move until black is bearing pieces off. If black seems to be ahead, and black is at the bearing off stage, a new rule applies: black has to play greedy; white in contrast can still play sensibly.

White that way wins far more than fifty percent. But: it can backfire! Black will win far more wacky wins, more backgammons for example.
Understand: which ever side gets his pieces off the board first, within the rules of course, wins. If white gets all pieces off before black has removed a single piece, white wins a “gammon.” A game is worth a point (or x points). A gammon is worth twice that: 2 points, or 2x. If white gets all pieces off the before while black is still back in white’s home board, or if black still has a man on the bar, that’s a “backgammon”: 3 points! 3x.

I clarify all this to report an extraordinary recent happenstance: last week, sitting on the john, my white won two backgammons in a row! Very very rare.
But that’s not all: yesterday one side or another scored another backgammon. Three backgammons in short order: very very rare.

Another thing I love about backgammon is how far back you can lay and still win. and how far back you can lay and, even if you still lose, still get a man off: avoid a gammon. But: conservative play can backfire, wild play can really backfire. But backgammons are rare no matter how unskilled the player: ordinarily.

2015 02 15 I just had a truly rare pattern: white was way ahead, had half the white pieces off the board before black had filled its quota in order to begin bearing off. Suddenly it looked not only like black would avoid a gammon, get at least one piece off the board, but white, half a dozen blots sent back to the bar, might not get any more men off. The final position was amazing: black cleared the last of his removals: while white still had two men in the opponent’s home board.

Need I point out that that was not a backgammon: white already had men off. Once you get a man off, there can be no gammon or backgammon. So: it was “just” a win: for black coming from way behind. But it looked like a back gammon: a bad backgammon!
Never had I seen anything like that before: playing lots of backgammon since 1974: playing many more games than most players since I play a lot of on-the-john solitaire..

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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