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Backgammon For Serious Players

Bill Robertie’s latest book, BACKGAMMON FOR SERIOUS PLAYERS, has something in common with the latest offerings of two other backgammon writers. As with my A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FOUR-POINT, and Kit’s and Hal’s NEW IDEAS IN BACKGAMMON, a picture of the author is included. Boys, I’ve looked at us, and this is not a good idea. Only Hal has had the decency to conceal himself. That said, I will point out that only I have included a picture of myself riding an elephant. How can a reader trust an author to really grip a complex position, if he can’t trust that same author to wrestle a sweaty elephant?

Bill, as many know, is the only two-time World Champion, and the book further informs us that he travels the backgammon circuit, from Istanbul to Gstaad (Hannibal rode an elephant through the Alps, Bill, no excuse for not getting that picture taken!) “in comfort and style.” Much like myself. I have often spent as much as $30.00 on a room, and avoid restaurants with roaches and rats, unless they are on the menu, and not on the floor. Where we diverge, however, is that Bill’s new book, unlike my own obscure tomes, is actually going out to the public. I mean the real public. BACKGAMMON FOR SERIOUS PLAYERS is published by Cardoza Publishing (as is Bill’s earlier BACKGAMMON FOR WINNERS), which means that when cousin Minnie decides she is ready to learn backgammon, you can send her to Crown Books for a copy.

In reviewing BACKGAMMON FOR SERIOUS PLAYERS, I asked parallel questions: how good is this book for cousin Minnie, a neophyte, and, how good is it for a truly serious player? Here is Diagram 89, from page 150.
This comes from the round of 16 in the 1987 World Championships (which Bill won). Michael Harris made a fine play with 6-3, 12/15*, 14/20 hitting, and slotting his own five-point. Bill recapitulates Magriel’s criteria for safe vs. bold play, then explains how nicely this particular play meets those criteria and the needs of this position.

Here is Diagram 65.
From the Reno Master’s in ’92. Joe makes the good play of covering his five, and hitting on his two. Bill makes perhaps the most important point about this position, that it is imperative for Joe to press the attack on the two-point. This is good stuff for cousin Minnie. However, there is no discussion of which three Joe should play. A beginner may glean something from Joe’s covering the five, and Bill’s tacit acceptance of his choice. Implicitly, this move is so obviously correct that good players do not even discuss it. Still, I suspect most players see that they COULD cover the deuce, leaving no blots, and might wish to hear at least a few words on why they shouldn’t.

Diagram 28.
Actually, this is move 29, just preceding the diagram. X-22 is trailing Wil in this match from a Vegas Open, and has a 6-4 to play. His choice was to make his deuce, putting a second checker on the bar. This may be the right play, but I hate it. Bill calls it a strong roll, and describes Paul’s play without commenting on its merits. This surprises me. Bill and I have somewhat different styles, but I think he plays this sort of position brilliantly. (Which means he generally selects the same plays I would!) Every fiber of my being cries out to play 1/11, and I would expect Bill to want the same. This is probably the wrong play. I would tell the point makers they “lacked concept” while they would sneer that “purity is another way to say: gammoned a lot!” Meanwhile, JellyFish thinks both plays are too close to get so worked up about, and would, itself, play 1/7, 15/19. Its rollouts seem to prefer making the point, but in this sort of position its results are suspect. Making the pure play is not so good if the follow through is foul.

This position results in the biggest error in the book. After Paul pointed, Wil fanned.
Bill calls this a “reasonable money double” by Magriel. I am sorry. One could make the argument that at the score Paul is “in the window,” but for money he is not only out of the window, he is outright defenestrated. Wil has a better board, a better prime, and a better anchor. Paul has four men back. This is a clear beaver.

So, should the serious player grab a copy? Well…maybe. The game selection is first rate, and if you are willing to play, seriously, through each one, covering the player’s moves before choosing your own, and spending time rethinking your play whenever it differs with the expert’s, this book is for you. Especially if you have been relying heavily on computer results by way of analysis. These are just the sorts of problems the computer is least nimble with, and Bill is the perfect stylist to give you the right spin on the expert’s choice. However, don’t expect the same depth of analysis you found in ADVANCED BACKGAMMON or RENO ’86 or LEE GENUD VS. JOE DWEK. You won’t find it here. If you don’t want “Robertie Lite”, better pass your copy on to cousin Minnie.
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