Want to Win More? Play Less!
By Phil Simborg
How does a golfer improve his putting? He practices on the putting green.
How does a tennis player improve his serve? He practices serving--over and over until he grooves it.
Backgammon is no different. You won’t really learn bearing off by playing. You will learn by setting up bear off positions and studying them. Just them. Consider every roll and every play and get help from the bots or a coach and see what plays win you the most games and get you the most gammons. Hone your skills, develop some rules of thumb, reference positions, basic principles to apply. Do it over and over and you will become a better player when you get to bearing off in a game.
You can learn how to play holding games, back games, prime vs. prime, blitzes, and every other type and part of the game the same way. Trying to learn by playing is fun, but it is not a particularly efficient or effective way to learn. In fact, trying to learn by playing may even be counter-productive, as you often conclude that your play was right or wrong depending on the results. Of course, you know the results at any given time are changed by the luck of the dice and the good or bad plays of your opponent, and may not reflect the correctness of your play at all.
I apply this same approach to my teaching and coaching. Many of my students want to play me games and have me point out their mistakes. Though this is fun and provides some insights, it is not a great way to learn. Let’s say she makes a mistake in the middle game and hits instead of making a point. How often will that exact same position come up again, with the cube in the same place, with the score the same and take points and value of gammons the same? And when it does come up again, what are the odds that she will remember the right play?
Instead, if we set up a series of similar positions and look at different rolls, change the score and the position of the cube, discuss each decision and look at the numbers in EG (extremeGammon), we will then have an understanding of the variables and the conditions that need to be in place to make one move over another. Once we understand the principles involved and the reasoning behind the play, then we are more likely to make the right play over the board when that play, or something similar, comes up.
I know people who have played this game for 30 years and have never put a position into a bot to see if the play was right. There are people who have never read a book or article, have never taken a lesson or got any coaching, yet they play backgammon a good deal of the time and they play in tournaments and for money and they very much want to win.
Most of them have learned quite a bit over the years. They almost all make the 5 point with an opening 3-1 and they usually wait until they are ahead to double. But how much more could they have learned with a little study and practice? Many of them have been making the same wrong moves and same cube errors for 30 years or more! (Recently I played a man who has been playing for more than 50 years who wasn’t sure when he had a free drop at post-Crawford, and it cost him the match.)
I like to quote my old friend, Abe Lincoln: “If I had 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 4 sharpening my axe.”