Backgammon is Beautiful-A Thought by Paul Magriel

by Jana Bohrer

I was trolling the internet today for images of backgammon and came across an article Sports Illustrated did on Paul Magriel in 1979.  It’s a wonderful read and you can see the whole article here.

A Gamesman’s War Against Luck, Disorder And Surface Chaos

But I wanted to share one quote of Magriel’s in particular:

“I’m always at war with luck and disorder.  I’m always trying to impose my will over the randomness of the dice, over what seemingly has no structure.  I may be sounding sort of melodramatic, but what I’m trying to do in backgammon is create order out of chaos.  I guess in a psychological sense, I’m trying to make sense out of the world.  People think there’s so much luck in backgammon.  But that’s very unfair.  They think there’s not that much to the game.  That’s totally false.  Backgammon is much, much more difficult, much more complex, much deeper than anybody can imagine.  The dice create the surface chaos, which is always riling things up, but there are patterns underneath the surface that involve advanced, beautiful, non-obvious, non-trivial ideas.  It’s my job to uncover these patterns.”


The Battered Butterfly – A New Novel by Backgammon’s Own Jake Jacobs!

Battered Butterfly1Battered Butterfly2

Backgammon’s own Jake Jacobs has penned his first novel!

There’s no BG in The Battered Butterfly, but the local Manila poker game and the characters in it have a prominent role in this film noir style novel.  (Blackjack also makes an cameo appearance.)

Jake really hit a home run with this book.  While it may remind the reader of a Raymond Chandler novel, Jake finds a voice all his own and creates a fascinating cast of characters.

I can’t say too much without giving the plot away, but I will say that you’re in for a wild time in a wild town – Manila in the 1980’s – a place and time that Jake captures perfectly.  The end will surprise you, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself hoping that Jake will keep us up to date on what happens next to Lefty Markowitz and Hyacinth Chin.

You can get your own copy here The Battered Butterfly.

Jake Jacobs is also the author of a couple of backgammon books (which are mostly non-fiction).:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Four-Point! 


Can a Fish Taste Twice as Good? (with Walter Trice)

They are available here Flint Backgammon Boutique

About the AuthorJake

Jake Jacobs Like his hero, Lefty Markowitz, Jake Jacobs has played blackjack professionally, could stand to lose a few pounds, and gain more than a few hairs. There the resemblance ends. Jake is from the Chicago area, where they know vastly more about pizza than do the New Yorkers, and he has never worn a uniform: police, military, or Streets and Sanitation. He has done a few other things to pass the time and make some money including: law clerking; computer operation and programming; pizza delivery; taxicab driving and dispatching; phone sales; video store management; casino management; acting; magazine editing; screenwriting and film production; and international consulting among them. Besides traveling the world playing blackjack he is also a top-ranked backgammon player, is the author of two books on the game, and continues to write a monthly column for the online site Gammon Village. Over the years he has lived in Japan, the Republic of Korea, the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Thailand, and has spent considerable time in other parts of Asia including the Philippines. These days he lives in Singapore with his wife Ta, daughter Sasithon, his dog Somtam – an Australian Chihuahua with a Thai name – assorted turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, and as many geckos as can sneak through the cracks.



by Gerry Tanseyttansey

I committed an act of thievery while playing backgammon in Peoria the other day.  I feel no remorse about it.  It was a crime of opportunity, and if I find myself in a similar situation in the future, I will surely steal again.  Even if you catch me red-handed, the dice gods may simply reward my wrongdoing.

It all started while I was trailing 3-2 in a 7-point match.  My opponent had to play a 61 in the following position as Black:

thief 1

Black cannot avoid leaving a direct shot with this roll.  The play 8/1 leaves White only 11 hitting numbers, but it has absolutely no positional upside.  Black is almost out of time, and even if she gets away with playing 8/1 for one roll, the stripped 13 and 15 points will likely disintegrate soon in a very unpleasant way.

My opponent played 15/8, giving White 16 hitting numbers (any 3, plus 21, 62 and 44).  If Black is not hit, she will have a decent chance to move the blot out of harm’s way.  Black will then have a few turns in which she will not be forced to leave a shot.  During this time, White will probably be forced to clear the midpoint, and Black could seal the game on her own with a set of clearing doubles.

However, even though 15/8 is a much better play than 8/1, it is still a blunder.  The best play, by far, is to leave two blots with 15/14 15/9.

thief 1

1. Rollout1 15/14 15/9 eq: -0.053
46.96% (G:3.27% B:0.11%)
53.04% (G:14.59% B:0.51%)
2. Rollout1 15/8 eq: -0.154 (-0.102)
41.62% (G:3.22% B:0.10%)
58.38% (G:11.07% B:0.34%)
3. Rollout1 8/1 eq: -0.526 (-0.473)
38.77% (G:4.67% B:0.22%)
61.23% (G:19.39% B:0.77%)

This play duplicates White’s hitting 2s, and the only additional hitting number is 43 (61 does not hit).  Thus, Black gains a lot of flexibility while leaving only 13 shots.  I think that players who see this play will make it.  The trouble is, a lot of us are overcome by “two-blot terror” and fail to even consider such a move.

And now we come to my crime.  My opponent showed clear (and understandable) signs of worry about leaving that blot on her 15-point.  A hit is usually a winner for me in this position.  So I started counting shots.  Out loud.  Slowly.  Then I doubled confidently, but without any excessive fanfare.


There are two important things I did not do.  First, I did not count the race.  I knew just by looking at the position that I was behind in the pip count by a wide margin, and I did not want to draw attention to this fact.  Second, I let my opponent tell her own story about the position.  Some players will try to oversell a pass here by describing the parade of horribles that will befall their opponent after a hit in excruciating detail.  Backgammon players tend to be intelligent, creative people, and my opponent was no exception.  I let my opponent imagine her lonely checker trapped behind a prime, the additional blots being exposed and swept up, the demoralizing closeout, the inevitable gammon loss, the Crawford game, and the post-match handshake.  And after my opponent realized she could avoid all of this by simply setting up the checkers for the next game, she passed.


Analyzed in Rollout No double Double/Take
 Player Winning Chances: 58.33% (G:11.06% B:0.35%) 58.82% (G:11.14% B:0.37%)
 Opponent Winning Chances: 41.67% (G:3.26% B:0.08%) 41.18% (G:3.41% B:0.08%)
 Cubeless Equities +0.235 +0.469
Cubeful Equities
No double: +0.152 (-0.011) ±0.004 (+0.148..+0.157)
Double/Take: +0.163 ±0.008 (+0.155..+0.171)
Double/Pass: +1.000 (+0.837)
Best Cube action: Double / Take

But Black’s fears could have been cured with a dose of cold mathematical reality.  Sure, White hits with 16 numbers, but on the 20 misses, Black is favored to win the game.  White is not even guaranteed to win after a hit, and a lot has to happen before White can lay claim to a gammon.  After a 5184-trial rollout, XG finally decided that White does have a proper, razor-thin double in this position.  In practice, I wouldn’t normally think of cubing this position unless I thought the double had some bluff value against my opponent.  Passing here is among the largest errors you will see in backgammon outside of flagrant oversights.  But rather than dwell on my opponent’s error, I prefer to believe I stole that point, fair and square.