The Bright Side of Being Doubled

The Bright Side of Getting Doubled

By Phil Simborg


One of the toughest things for most people to accept intellectually about backgammon is the concept of accepting a double when your odds of winning a game is only 1 out of 4 or 5 times.  You certainly wouldn’t call a raise in poker if that was your odds!  You wouldn’t double your bet in a chess game, or any game, for that matter, if you were only going to win 1 out of 4 or 5 times.  So why do it in backgammon?


For years I have been taught that you simply have to realize that you are better off taking than dropping.  I have been told that while you certainly don’t like the idea of losing 2 points instead of 1, it’s better to take the chance and go ahead and lose that 2 points most of the time.  So, we believe the experts, the books, the articles, and the software that tell us we should take, and we get in the habit of doing it because we know they must be right.


But it still feels bad.  It feels lousy to watch 2 and sometimes 4 points disappear when you know you could have just dropped and given away 1 point.  Every time you take the cube and lose you are a least a little angry with yourself and all those damn experts that told you that you have to take those cubes.  You wish you had been in a better position.  You wish he didn’t roll that double or hit that shot or make that point.  You wish you had been able to roll something that allowed you to escape from his inner board.  You wish you had dropped, even though you know it was a take.  And most of all, you wish he didn’t have that huge grin on his stupid face when you handed you the cube.


Getting doubled does not feel “good.”  It is not pleasant.  You would rather be on a beach in Hawaii with a cool drink in your hand than sitting in this stuffy room looking at a cube and facing probable defeat.  Don’t they know that the reason you came here was to win?  To have fun?  It wasn’t to have someone put you into a lousy position and then, just when you think things can’t get worse, there’s that obnoxious cube!


Getting doubled is, in short, depressing.  You are probably going to lose.  How can we get over these defeatist attitudes and depressing feelings and still wring some enjoyment out of this situation?  After all, nobody has forced us to play backgammon  (unless, of course, you’re married)…we are here to have fun; to enjoy the experience. 


The truth is, if you feel this way, when you find yourself in a losing position and someone gives you the cube, you should just kill yourself.  On the spot, right then and there.  No more pain.  No more suffering.  Pfffft!  Over.


If that approach doesn’t appeal to you, however, there is another approach which you might just prefer—an approach which is likely to give you more equity going forward (death has very low Match Winning Chances).  Instead of getting all down and depressed when someone gives you the cube, you can do what Anthony Robbins and Dr. Wayne Dyer would probably do:  you look at the bright side and turn it into a positive!


Let’s look at the cube as Deepak Chopra would:  think of the cube as a beautiful, square little gift, full of lovely numbers.  Numbers that now you have available to play with.  You have been given a “gift.”  A gift that no one else in the world, especially your opponent, can use for the rest of the game.  It is a present that someone gives you, but even better than a typical present, it is one you do not have to feel obligated to accept! 


Years ago a good friend brought me a birthday present.  It was an oil painting he made…it was a portrait of me, and he told me he spent three weeks working on this painting to get it just right.  He bought a beautiful, expensive frame and he was absolutely beaming as he “presented’ me with this gift.  This gift of love.  This gift of himself. 


The painting was hideous.  Does anyone here think I look like Homer Simpson?  My wife and I had never seen anything so ugly in our life.  And there I was, holding this obnoxious piece of trash and across from me was my dear friend, face beaming, waiting for my reaction to his masterpiece.  And my wife said, “Where do you think we should hang this dear?”


Now, if you know me, you know I am not always the most tactful person in the world.  My mind was racing; my blood pressure was boiling; my heart was pounding; I was fighting with every single bit of self-control in my body not to blurt out that I wouldn’t hang this piece of junk in my closet!  But I was saved.  My friend started laughing hysterically.  The whole thing was a joke.  And the joke was on me.


Now, talk about getting something you don’t want.  A doubling cube is nothing compared to how I was feeling when I got that painting.  So the first thing to do when someone gives you the cube is this:  put it in perspective.  It’s only a game.  It doesn’t have to be painful at all.   If it feels too painful, just say “No thank you,” and be happy you no longer have to look as such an ugly arrangement of checkers on the board.


But if it looks reasonably good, and if the position surpasses the minimum criteria for accepting the cube as you have studied and been working on all these years, then say, with as big a smile as you can muster, “Why, thank you so much for this beautiful gift.”  Then snatch up that cube with confidence and proudly place it on your side of the board.


Oh, by the way, don’t forget to watch your opponent’s face when you do this.  See if that smarmy smirk fades away very quickly as he wonders if he just handed you the match on a silver platter. 


Now for some reality.  Yes, most of the time you get the cube you are losing.  But often people give the cube too soon, and that truly is a wonderful gift.  Your opponent might be ahead by 10 or 15 percent, but the second he hands you the cube and you take it, his big advantage becomes a very small advantage because of the power you have holding that cube.  


Sometimes your opponent gives you the cube too late, and you are thrilled to drop the cube, knowing that if had had cube you one or two rolls before he would probably winning two or four times as many points. 


And of course, some times you get the cube when it truly is a good double.  But if you can push aside your feelings of fear, depression, anger, and annoyance, you can better focus on the things that matter, like the odds of winning, the take points, the value of gammons, the match equity if you take or drop, the recube potential.


Bottom line, think of getting the cube as an inevitable part of every match.  Approach it as an intellectual exercise.  THERE IS NO CRYING IN BACKGAMMON!  Take the emotions out of it, except for one:  enjoyment.  Keep enjoying the exercise and you will not only have more fun, you will make better cube decisions.