by Jana Bohrer
Bruce Becker was a lawyer and sometime movie producer.
He is also the alter ego of the spine chilling super-villain known as the Nightstalker.
Okay. Not so much. But, it is a fact that in 1974 Bruce Becker did to backgammon books what Richard Ramirez did in 1980’s to the peaceful sleep of Los Angelinas. (And you have to admit, the resemblance is striking.)
There soooo many things one could say about this book. But I think the following charming anecdote told by Becker himself sums up quite a lot:
“My eleven year old daughter, who is a very good player, lost a gammon to me in a game she that she thought she had a good chance to pull off. She was furious at both of us (herself for losing and me for winning); she turned on me with venom and blurted out, “I hate you!” I knew then that she would be a great player someday.”
“Backgammon for Blood” continues in the same vein with more pithy advice on winning gracefully.
“This is one game where even the pretenses of ‘sportsmanship’ are eliminated. Outright hostility prevails, and in my opinion the world is better for it…”
The Emily Post of backgammon goes on to suggest the proper way of correcting an opponent’s illegal move:
“I like to add a slight leer when I do; the implication that my opponent may not be quite as smart (or as honest) as I am can sometimes rattle him.”
To be fair, Becker does seem to realize there may be consequences for following his advice, and tells the reader how to deal with any twinges of conscience one may feel after acting like a complete !@*$@*#!:
After thoroughly covering how to be a success in backgammon by channeling your inner Attila the Hun, Becker attempts to tackle strategy. He sums up his philosophy thus:
“Most modern day writers on backgammon recommend a running game as their basic strategy: get your men moving as fast as possible out of your opponent’s board; bring them around quickly; avoid a back game like the plague.
“I don’t agree.”
Um…memo to Bruce – 1. Move men 2. Bring men around 3. Bear men off………Can you say OBJECT OF THE GAME DUDE!?
As for this back game hypothesis, I have been testing this strategy for a number of years. Not willingly, not purposefully, not mindfully – but testing it nonetheless. A lot. And the only benefit I have derived from the experiment is perfecting methods of getting off the gammon without wasting any pips.
I do not have enough space to speak of Becker’s treatise on opening rolls. But the highlight reel includes:
5-3 making the 3 point is “a waste”
6-5 played with a lover’s leap to the 13 is “…a death jump. Play this roll in this fashion and you are virtually destined to doom.”
To be perfectly fair to Becker, I did ask my backgammon guru Jim Painter if anyone in the old days (before computers or slide rules were invented) ever played openings as this book depicts.
As we went through them he commented, “Yeah, 6-2 slotting the 5, everybody did that…4-1 slot the 5 and down was popular…3-2 two down, a lot of guys did that….etc.”
But when we got to the 6-2, 6-3 and 6-5 moves, and I explained that Becker played them all by bringing two down, he exclaimed, “NOBODY did that!” (Pause, followed by wistful sigh.) “At least nobody I ever played.”
The Chapter on conducting a proper bear off begins:
“In talking of bearing off, I like to think of my home board as pregnant and ready to bring forth, Unfortunately some pregnancies miscarry.”
Get that image out of your head. I dare you.
Any finally my favorite sentence from the book:
“First, seriously consider throwing the doubling cube at him.”
I could add context. But isn’t it perfect just the way it is?
There are a few other things you should know.
Becker tried to do to Hollywood what he did to books. United Artists in a fit of insanity gave him a deal to make three movies, the first of which was “Three”. (One cannot make this stuff up. Same Bruce Becker, I checked.)
Of this opus, the New York Times said:
“Three” strives for amateur status without ever quite achieving it.”
Mr. Becker’s contract was cancelled.
In parting, please do not take this review as suggesting that you not purchase “Backgammon for Blood”. Au contraire – buy as many copies as you can find. (Contact me for the best prices.) They are wonderful gifts, and are especially suited for presentation to obnoxious in-laws. Make sure the in-law in question has time to thoroughly read and digest the book. Then play them for money. Be careful of winning so much that they are forced to move in with you.
PS – “Backgammon for Blood” by Becker should in no way be confused with an excellent book of the same name by Chris Bray, available through Amazon.