Backgammon For Losers

Simon Hill has done his fair share of losing at backgammon before going on to play at international level, as a member of the seven strong 2015 UK team at the European Championships in Budapest and in the individual World Championships in Monaco. When not playing backgammon Simon runs a business, London Place and lives in London.

Learn the art of the ancient game in this brilliant, easy and charming beginner’s guide to backgammon.

International backgammon player Simon Hill explains in this easy to follow guide that no other game combines luck and skill so deliciously and that by following some simple guidelines and strategies – which are covered in this book – beginners will soon be able to win against most players most of the time.


Packed with examples, photos and anecdotes, this book combines professional experience with humour to offer the backgammon ‘loser’ an accessible guide to winning. The content has been technically edited by Phil Simborg, a world-renowned professional player and teacher.

Backgammon for Losers is the quintessential modern guide to an ages old game. Perfectly paced and engaging throughout, beginners with a desire to learn will readily get to grips with the history, the rules and the insider tips and tricks, quickly progressing from losers who don’t know the difference between an outer board and a blot to winning players.

Part One: WHY BACKGAMMON?

Chapter 1: Chimp, Chump or Champ?

© John Bryson© John Bryson/Sygma/Corbis
Legendary film director John Huston playing for high stakes – trying to win back his trousers

Backgammon – a game that is ridiculously easy to learn but ridiculously difficult to master.
Michael Konik

***

I could have been a contender…
Defeated, I sat in stunned silence for a moment. I had just played possibly the worst backgammon player of all time... and I’d lost. A short time earlier, my opponent — who was called Rupert (or maybe it was Rufus) — had lurched heavily into the room where a dozen other men had been playing backgammon quietly. Breaking the ambient atmosphere with his braying tone, Rupert/Rufus had introduced himself and apologised for keeping me waiting while he’d sneaked in a quick smoke outside. We had been matched against each other in an early round at the famous annual backgammon tournament at White’s Club in London. The year before, I’d made it from 64 players down to the last 2, losing in the final to Peter Osborne, a charming but ruthlessly good player. I’d walked away with second prize, a cheque for several thousand pounds, which had paid for plenty more backgammon adventures.

©The Meat and Livestock Commission Beaten by a buffoon

Rupe (or Rufe) had won the dice throw to begin and initially started to move his checkers the wrong way around the board. I'd cringed as I’d pointed this out to him. He was friendly, and so laid back he was almost horizontal (as the old saying goes). His demeanour had made me rather relaxed, too. And maybe this was my undoing because, to my horror, everything that could have gone wrong did. I went on to lose the match by 2 to 5. Ru made some glaring mistakes, obvious even to me, but time and again the dice rescued him. After he won I kept a fixed grin on my face, like a ventriloquist’s dummy, as I congratulated him. He was gracious, almost apologetic, and his kindness made the defeat even more painful; he was frustratingly likeable and I couldn’t bring myself to demonise him.

As I ventured out into the cold air, my ego deflating quicker than Ru could light another mini cigar, I questioned how I could have let this defeat happen? Who was I? The chump who had just lost to a loveable buffoon or the shrewd giant slayer who had climbed to the summit last year?

***

I’ve always enjoyed competing. As a kid, I’d been an enthusiastic but untalented games and sports player. It became the family joke. ‘I would have won the school junior table-tennis championship if I hadn’t been really unlucky in the second round/had a sore elbow/lost my lucky bat,’ I would say.

 

Like many others, as I got older I came to realise that I was never going to be truly excellent at anything. By the time I was in my early 40s, I had long since lost all hope and expectation of ever winning a sporting competition. Reality really kicked in the day I realised I was older than anyone who’d ever won the Wimbledon Men’s Singles title. I was, in fact, roughly the same age as the parents of some of the top-seeded players. Whenever I saw an athlete who was enjoying a freakishly long career (like when I watched Ryan Giggs play for Manchester United against Fulham sometime after he’d turned 40), I’d think, ‘It’s not too late, I could still be really good at something’, but these hopeful thoughts came to me less and less often, and I started to face the cold, logical fact that I wasn’t ever going to come top at anything.

But then I started playing backgammon quite seriously and to my surprise had done really well in a top tournament, playing against good players. That old thought crept back into my head. ‘Could I actually get really good at something vaguely sporty?’ An old friend of mine, Jamie Lee (who has excelled at shooting and even holds world records) swears that a chimpanzee could, thanks to the luck of the dice in backgammon, win one game in three against a human. If the chimp was playing against Jamie, I have no doubt this would be the case. So had I just been unlucky in my game against Ru or had I been lucky the year before and was I, in reality, not much better than my novice opponent?

As I swayed towards believing that the answer was likely to be more on the chump/chimp end of the scale, I resolved to look into this game more closely. Maybe I wasn’t any good, but time was still on my side, and if there was any real skill to be learnt I was determined to give it my best shot.

 

As I conducted my research into backgammon, I began to believe that no other sport combines luck and skill so deliciously. The extreme reversals of luck and the consequent adrenaline rushes in a match can be thrilling. And yes, I deduced that it was possible to get better and better at it, because although anyone can learn how to play the game in minutes and happily play for years as a beginner without really improving, by following some simple strategies and rules a beginner can become a much stronger player and leave the novice behind. Maybe I’d never be good enough to earn a living at it (like some of the people I met along the way, who regularly win tournaments), but I believed I could learn how to beat most people.

©Alps Games

Jamie Lee’s next opponent?

 

I worked my way through a range of books and played with a few professionals. I played in the London Open and some other tournaments. I even won a few local tournaments. Eventually I played, with a bit of luck, in the World Championships in Monaco (though not that much luck... I didn’t win it!) After wading through all the books and online forums, however, I never came across a really good, clear book that would give the basic player a better understanding of the game and teach them how to become consistently good at backgammon.

So I decided to write it myself…
Win or lose, what I've learnt is that by following some simple guidelines and strategies, you can beat almost everyone — not top professionals on a sustained basis (this would be too much to ask from a book for novices), but if you apply the rules and strategies in the following chapters, they will enable you to beat most of the players most of the time. You won’t win all the time, as I painfully discovered when I faced Ru at that White’s tournament, and you won’t beat every basic player in a short match, but this book can definitely help you win the majority of the time.

An adrenaline rush from a backgammon match can be almost overwhelming; it’s similar to the kind of buzz that many people chase by motor racing, swimming with sharks or skydiving. Trust me, I’ve tried all of these things in the past and can vouch for the fact that backgammon produces exactly the same kind of chemical reactions and can easily give you a thrill-filled ride on the adrenaline roller-coaster.

Picture courtesy of http://mygopengresort.com
Almost as good as winning a gammon…

Chess (which is all skill with no luck involved) or roulette (which is 100% luck), backgammon is a tantalizing mixture of skill and luck... in the short term, at least; in the long term, the good and bad luck cancels itself out and it all comes down to skill. No other game combines luck and skill in quite the same way as backgammon does. That’s why it’s so easy to learn to be better than almost everyone you know.

 

In the following chapters, first we’re going to look back at the history of the game and some of its great players, and then we will go through the basics of play, some tactics and how to think about the numbers.

We will also talk about the importance of having a game plan, how to play openings and reply to them, how to approach the middle of a game, and how to play the end stages.We will then look at doubling, run through some great backgammon tips and laws, think about different types of tournament and talk a little about computer play. Finally, we will reflect on some parallels between life and backgammon, and discuss the next steps you can take to improve your game.

I was going to call this book Backgammon for Life, then one day my son, Teddy, asked me how I was getting on with writing Backgammon for Losers. I felt his twist on my original title really nailed the point of the book. Only my goal is to equip you with all the knowledge you need to move from being a loser to being a winner.

Who wants to be a chump when even a chimp could learn to be a champ?


If you'd like to read the whole book you can purchase it from Amazon; and for further

information click here to go to the official Backgammon For Losers web site.