Jokers by Phil Simborg


By Phil Simborg


“God does not play dice with the universe, but he does play games with the dice.”—Phil Simborg


As I was getting on the airplane, I noticed a familiar looking face that I couldn’t quite place.  Then it hit me.  It was Tom!  An old friend who used to play in our chouettes over 10 years ago.  I really missed Tom, almost as much as I missed his regular contributions to my children’s college fund.


After the usual hellos and catching up, I asked Tom if he still played any backgammon.  He said never.  He said that he just got completely disgusted with all the jokers his opponents always seemed to roll against him as well as how terrible his own dice were.  He went on to say that the guys in our game were either the luckiest bunch guys in the world or there was something really “funny” about the dice we used.


Since we almost always used my board and my dice, I was not about to let this jab at my  integrity slide.  So in my usual, tactful manner, I replied, “It wasn’t the dice or jokers you idiot…only a moron could lose to you the way you played.”


I know, perhaps I should not have been so subtle, but there is a touchy-feely side of me most people don’t see.  And since Tom was no longer contributing to my retirement fund, I saw no reason to hold back when being accused of cheating.  For some reason, Tom and I went our separate ways and that was the end of our encounter.


But it got me thinking about Tom’s attitude…it’s really typical of a lot of players.  I have heard even good, experienced players swear that the dice on line are rigged, or complaining that they know they roll worse than anyone else.  Do you know what I say about people who think they consistently roll worse than anyone else?  I say, they are probably right!


The truth is, some people do roll worse.  And they roll worse consistently.  But it’s not because of luck.  It’s because they play worse.  The worse a person plays, the more bad rolls there are to roll on his next play, and the more good rolls AND JOKERS he gives his opponent to roll.  By definition, a better play gives his opponent fewer good rolls and gives himself more good rolls.  (By the way, I define a Joker as any roll that raises your opponent’s blood pressure more than 5 percent.)


I’ll give you a very simple example to prove my point.  Let’s say you are playing a beginner and he gets an opening roll of 6-1.  And let’s say he doesn’t make his bar point…something we all know is the best play by far.  And then let’s say you roll 6-6  and make both bar points.  You win the game, and after words, your opponent tells you that you were very lucky--just look at those double sixes you rolled! 


Of course he’s right…you were lucky to roll 6-6, but it would not have been such a big joker if he had played right.  In fact, if he had played right, there was no roll we could have had that would have been as good…about our best roll after he makes his bar is double 4 or double 3, and neither of them would be anywhere near as good as the 6-6 Joker.  And if he had made the bar and we then rolled 6-6, it wouldn’t even be that good a roll for us. 


I have spent years biting my tongue when I hear players make similar statements and complaints after losing a match or game.  Of course there are times when we are extremely unlucky; and of course there are times we lost games or matches because our opponent rolls a 35 to 1 shot.  But we get the good rolls just as much as anyone else…I believe in my heart and mind, after playing this game for 50 years, that EVERYONE rolls the same.  (Except for a guy in Las Vegas named Paul Franks who truly does roll better than anyone else and he has led a charmed life in every other area as well, and I’m sure that almost every time he’s ever beaten me it’s because he rolls out of his mind and if you see him coming….run!)