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Some Radical Ideas for Change

Controversial Backgammon Topics

I have some real pet peeves, and some things I would really like to see changed in the world of backgammon.  My hope is that by pointing these things out, I will get support from more players to help affect these changes:

The Rules for Tournaments:  I pretty much like the intent of the rules, but many are ambiguous.  They need to be more carefully written and cover more of the common situations that arise, with examples, so that all participants and directors know exactly how to interpret the rules to ensure a fair and fun competition.  I have made specific recommendations in several published articles. 

Cheating on Line:  It is nearly impossible to detect cheaters on the internet, but both for fun and for money, it happens a lot.  I would love to see some major competitions between players and even countries on line, and this can be done with assurance that there is no cheating if the players are monitored.  That is about the only way to be sure players are not getting help from bots, other players, or notes.

Baffle Boxes:  I have already discussed this elsewhere on this web site.  They are a great help to make the game not only fairer, but also more enjoyable.  There is also a tube with spokes that houses the dice and you turn it upside down.  Again, you get a fair roll with virtually no chance of hanky-panky.  Baffle boxes also virtually eliminate dice being cocked or tossed on the floor.  Players can still shake the dice in a cup, but instead of dropping them directly on to the table, they go through the box.  Once you get used to it, you love it.

Giant of Backgammon voting:
  I love that we have this process...it stirs up interest in the game and it's wonderful to see who the players believe are the best.  I just think there should be a tighter definition of who is eligible for the voting each year.  We are torn between choosing players who we know to be great but rarely compete and those who are competing a lot and are currently winning.

Match length:  I happen to believe that really long matches are boring, both for the players and the spectators.  I would love to see more competitions that are 2 out of 3 or 3 out of 5 matches to 5 or 7 points.  I think it is not only more exciting, but a better test of skill, as the checker and cube decisions become much more complex at these lower away-scores.

Tournament Formats:  Almost all the players I know love the Swiss or modified Swiss format.  Why can't more tournaments offer this?

Electronic Age:  It's time we allowed players to play their live matches on the computer, provided both players agree and they take off the pip counter.  I often do this, and project the match on to a large screen or wall, and it's great for the spectators as well.  It's a learning experience for all when you review the match, and with extremeGammon you can instantly see how well the players played.  And it can easily be podcast or webexed around the world.  Many tournament directors do not allow this in the main competitions, and I think that's a shame.

Doubles:  Consulting doubles is often nothing more than watching one top player tell another how to move, or listening to two players argue.  I have played non-consulting doubles, and it is really a great competition and a lot more fun.  Each player moves every other move without any consulting from his partner.  They can consult on the cube.  It is a MUCH  BETTER GAME and keeps both players involved.  It is especially good if the teams are required to have one Open and one Intermediate player on the team.

Chouette Rules:  I am a believer in the God of Chouettes, the honorable Mr. Malcolm Davis.  No consulting; equal action on the cube; no settlements (unless the cube is 4 or higher).  These chouettes move faster, are fairer, and still leave plenty of room for intellectual discussion and betting on moves.

ABT Point system:  I believe players should be rewarded every time they win a match.  It is simply too hard to win points in ABT events if they are only awarded when you cash.  The more people who get points, the more people who leave feeling like they've accomplished something by coming.  And the more people will be rewarded for attendance.  That's how the ACBL and other competitions work, and that's what I'd like to see in the U.S.

Player Association:  As it stands now, the tournaments in the U.S. are controlled by a few individuals who are running the tournaments.  They are terrific people who have give a lot to the game, and we are thankful for their contribution to the game.  But we also need a player's association, just like every game and sport, to decide, for ourselves, what the rules should be, how players should be rewarded, and what standards should be required at tournaments we chose to attend.  This will help the tournament directors establish rules and guidelines they know will be approved and acceptable to the players.  We also need an association if we are ever to have a chance at olympic status.  I will join with anyone willing to form such a group.

Cheating at Live Events:  It is very hard to catch cheaters.  Even harder to accuse someone without proof.  It is naive to think that where there is money involved, there are no cheaters.  People have been caught with crooked dice and boards and there are other ways to cheat (artificial help, outside help and signals, cheat sheets on match equity, etc.).  There are several things that can be done to help safeguard the players, including baffle boxes, dice provided by the tournament (or players from adjoining tables trading dice for their matches), monitoring, and proper sanctions when cheaters are caught. 

Broadcasting and recording:  In this modern age of computers, there is no reason why major matches should not be broadcast, recorded, and either taped or entered into a computer and webexed so that people in the room and all over the world ca watch and enjoy important matches.

Rule Changes:  The rules of backgammon are excellent, but for major tournament play at the higher levels, where we are truly trying to find out and reward the best players, there are many things we can do to somewhat reduce the luck factor and make the game more skillful.  The Simborg Rule for opening rolls is one; counting doubles as a single roll when there is no contact is another; there are many more (Nackgammon is considered by most to be a higher test of skill as well).

Family-Oriented:  I really believe we need to make tournaments more family-oriented and more fun for all divisions below the Championship level.

Tournaments are far too much about the money and about gambling. There is virtually no money involved in Duplicate Bridge, and it is not uncommon to see 4,000 people at their national tournament.

I have no problem with big entry fees, side pools and Calcuttas for the Championship and Masters where we have world class players and professionals competing, but the rest of the divisions should be low entry, no Calcutta, and all about playing for the fun and excitement of the game.

Entry fees for children should be free, or at least very low and subsidized by the rest of our fees. Scheduling for all but the Championship division should be light to allow for plenty of family time and sightseeing so these trips can be more of a mini-vacation. Children and novices should be offered free lessons and seminars just for them so they will feel more comfortable about playing in tournaments.

Again, none of these recommendation would affect the Championship division except that these changes will encourage more people to bring their families and their kids and come to more events because their families will enjoy them more.

Bottom line: the "purpose" of tournaments should be to provide strong competition and rewards at the Championship level, and fun and enjoyment and less about competition and winning at the other levels, and more about encouraging more people to come so that the game, and tournaments, will grow.

I'm tired of seeing the same old faces. I'm tired of seeing very few children and families at tournaments. I'm tired of hearing people cry about why the game isn't growing as fast as it should be. Let's do something about it!

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