An Explanation of Why I Do Not Explain Backgammon

by Jana Bohrer

It has been suggested by the co-Director of the St. Louis Backgammon Club, that this site should, at some point, contain useful information about backgammon.  Things such as positions, analyses, tables with numbers in them and things of that nature.


I was forced to remind him that I am not in any way qualified to give the neighbor’s dog useful information about backgammon, let alone a human.

madonnaAmusing perhaps – informative no.

You might wonder why the co-Director doesn’t contribute this useful information himself .  He has a really, really good reason.  For the moment, he has been confined, by yours truly, to Home Improvement Hell, not to be released for any leisure activity until he’s done with “The List”. Which is a topic for another time.  The good news is that someday – I hope – he will be free at last, and able to contribute.

There are two reasons I am unqualified to dispense useful backgammon information.  1.  Despite enthusiasm, love for the game, and years of expert tutelage, I am not a very good player.  2.  I am numerically illiterate.  I do not mean “bad at math”, I mean “cannot count”.  The rest of this discussion will be about math.  My travails with the game itself can be covered later.

A glance at this picture of my algebra homework from junior high should convince you.  I have not improved.

A glance at this picture of my algebra homework from junior high should illustrate the depths of my math problem.

This illiteracy means that whenever someone says, “pip count”, “percentage wins”, “gammon probability” or “negative equity” – I pass out.  That’s why the co-director and I have managed to remain in a relationship for 19 years.  I have spent most of them in a coma.

And if, God forbid, I am exposed to a match equity table I start convulsing.


This is not one of Jake’s tables. This is waaay more simple than Jake’s tables.

I was once given a copy of Jake Jacob’s wonderful book “Can a Fish Taste Twice as Good?”  I loved it.  It was well-written and contained a host of useful ideas.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.  And I was fine as long as I stuck to understanding the concepts without researching the mathematical underpinnings.  But one day I accidentally turned to the Appendices where the Tables were kept.  It took two rounds of shock treatment before I was able to speak again.

There have been attempts made over the years to correct this deficiency in me. Once, “Mr. I Can Do Quadratic Equations In My Head” (the co-director) suggested that he could succeed where all others had failed and teach me math.  He suggested that it would be “fun” and “interesting” and that it was “a great way for us to do something together”.  What could possibly go wrong?!plan

So, he started with something he thought was simple – the math SAT.  After all, I had taken it and had attended college, surely I would remember something.  Being the kind of people that have practice SAT books handy even though we have no children of the age to need them, he dug one up and we got started.  The idea was that I would do a practice test and grade it.  Following that, he would come in and explain the ones I got wrong and show me the correct way to do them.

It went fine until the explanation portion of the program.  It tended to go something like this:

“Okay, I see what you did wrong.  So you know that this = this, right?  And so then you do this…..(long explanation leading to answer).”


“What do you mean ‘Why?’.  I showed you why.  It’s obvious, don’t you know that…(more explanation with diagrams).”


“But I don’t know how to explain why.  It just is, it’s obvious, self-evident, it’s based on something you learned in third grade…”


save image

There were variations, sometimes I said, “How?”

In any case, to his everlasting credit, he just took some Xanax and soldiered on.  He really did try.  And mostly, in a mild and patient tone with illustrations!  But a human being has limits.  At some point, he raised his voice and I threw the book at him – literally.  Okay fine, maybe I threw the book and then he yelled, “Ow!”  It’s all sort of hazy.

However it happened, we decided that perhaps, as he gently put it, “Numbers are not your friends, dear.  And they never will be.  I think we should accept that now.”

That would have been all, but for one post-script.  My pseudo math teacher is close friends with a real college math professor in Dallas.  And I guess the experience was one he felt he needed to share.  Perhaps to ward off post-traumatic stress disorder.  So he called the

I was in the other room so I can only reproduce the part of the conversation that I heard.

“Hi Shane.  You will not believe what I did today.  I thought….Stupidest thing I ever did…My head hurts… first grader….”

“You’re right, I think I do have masochistic tendencies.  There’s no other way to explain it.”

“No, it’s not me.  Believe me, you couldn’t do it, no one could.  For example….Then she said….Yes, you heard right she said the answer was…No I’m not joking, seriously…Yes, she was serious….No head injury that I know of….But that wasn’t the best one….(giggling followed by uproarious laughter, then more laughter, then MORE laughter…).”

And the moral of the story is he found out that:

1.  It is not possible or wise to teach me math.

2. A trampoline is not a bad bed, and if it rains, is a decent umbrella.


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