Piphit - Changing Backgammon

The beauty of Piphit is that a tiny rule change to backgammon, which can be grasped in a second, powerfully affects the dynamics of luck and skill, and yet the resulting  play is almost identical to the existing game.
Rule change:   Zero all/part of each roll
The key innovation is the tempting prospect of sabotaging your opponent. The way this is done is to cancel or “zero” part or all, of a player’s roll, meaning no checker move for one or both cancelled dice.

This article is written by David Markwick

In Piphit a player rolls two standard dice as normal. His opponent then rolls his two dice to try to cancel out the play. Whichever numbers the opponent matches are cancelled.


Use of the doubling cube is permitted before attempting the cancelling roll.
This small rule change has far-reaching consequences.
Consequence A: Compatible with traditional Backgammon
This is a crucial point. Piphit’s innocuous rule change is simple enough to not feel threatening. The penny drops immediately. Being able to cancel your opponent’s roll sounds like great fun and has instant appeal. Yet despite the rule change, the game feels thoroughly familiar, and plays are natural.
Consequence B: Optimum skill differential
Although Piphit feels like backgammon, the extra permutations generated by single die rolls give Piphit a much larger “state space”. The probability of any given number coming up is therefore very different. This alone will totally neutralize existing bots – their ability to analyze static positions and to look ahead is completely compromised. The same applies to expert players – their current understanding of backgammon theory is rendered obsolete.

The playing field is effectively levelled for all players.
Consequence C: Single die plays
Cancelling dice introduces this brand new category of plays. Single die plays occur around half of the time and give rise to more slowly developing games with more moves.  There is less to think about with single die plays, so moves are simpler and faster. The simpler chequer plays make the game easier and more accessible to novice players, and the longer games give good value for money.
Single die plays reduce volatility in the opening and middle games. A joker roll – a perfect number - which might be decisive in traditional backgammon, is often cancelled in Piphit. Vindictive pleasures features strongly. Adding the retaliatory zero roll adds hugely to the suspense and excitement. Cancelling your opponent’s joker roll is enormously satisfying.
This cancelling of decisive rolls makes it harder to reach an unassailable winning position early in the game. Both players make it to the exciting end game.

Consequence D: Climactic end games
Paradoxically, single die plays - which reduce volatility early in the game – lead to massive volatility in the end game.
“Boring” no contact races are a thing of the past. Double sixes in backgammon are usually devastating in a race – not any more. Piphit gives you a fighting chance to kill one of those sixes, leaving your opponent just one six to play. If a trailing player pulls off a few cancelling rolls in quick succession, outrageous swings of fortune are possible.
Closeout positions in Piphit are also transformed. In traditional backgammon, being closed out means having a very slim chance of winning. In Piphit single die plays expose lots of blots in supposedly “safe” closed board positions, giving a player on the bar many more opportunities to get back in the game.
Gammons and backgammons – double and triple games - will be much more frequent in Piphit because trapped chequers can be held back for longer with cancelling rolls. Such extreme volatility can lead to wild high stakes cube action.
A Piphit end game is a real rush. A succession of heart in the mouth rolls with often huge swings of fortune. Both players have a real hope of winning right to the last.
Piphit, in some style, takes every one back to the ideal playing conditions of the nineteen seventies when the theory of backgammon was not so well understood.  To put it another way - when no one really knew what they were doing. As a hip nineteen seventies dude you know you have to be there or be square, so you will want to check out this groovy game.
You will need to follow simple dice procedures:-
There are two pairs of dice. One are designated play dice the other Piphit. The player on play always picks up the Piphit dice to signal his move is finished. The other  player then picks up the play dice and rolls.
Bob Koca has said he finds the claim of less skill and more luck for Piphit dubious. He believes backgammon players will carry over their skills. On the other hand, there is too much luck in the game for David Dunkley. He would prefer a more skilful variant.  

I think that Piphit is a chameleon. Right now it will have backgammon players going back to basics; coming up with probability tables and working out strategies on how to play the game from there. It must be taking away a lot of the expert player’s skill if they are doing that. But as it develops it will become more skilful than backgammon. How can it be otherwise for a game that has over twelve hundred dice rolls compared with backgammons thirty six? May be it is time for the big bellies at Biba to get in on the action and come up with some conclusions on Piphit.

I would love to be a big belly but unfortunately find that I am firmly in the dazed facial expressions camp when it comes to advanced backgammon theory. It would be “I think I have something” and then fainting if I tried. If a few of the big bellies at Biba would kindly volunteer to spend some time on Piphit; Play it a bit and come up with some findings in time for the next Bibafax then we would be some way down the road to discovering whether Piphit is a passing curiosity or is as high wide and handsome as I think it is.


Visit www.piphit.com for the full story on the newest backgammon variant


The July, Keren Di Bona Memorial Trophy, will feature a Piphit knockout on the Saturday evening offering a 1st prize of £25. Details in Forthcoming Events.