If I haven’t piped up with much backgammon news lately, it’s not because I haven’t been playing — just not playing very often. But the relative decline in mindshare taken by the game of kings increased again with my Christmas present from Suanna: “Backgammon”:http://www.gammoned.com/books/magriel.html by Paul Magriel. This book is rightly referred to as the Backgammon Bible, and while certain later texts (like Robertie’s) are generally understood to improve on Magriel in certain aspects of advanced play, _Backgammon_ is unmatched as a comprehensive and well-written survey of the game’s strategy.
Getting the opportunity to read the book had started to become an obsession for me. It’s out of print, so you have to get it used or direct from the author. French, a good friend and frequent backgammon opponent whom I’ve “mentioned before”:http://www.polytropos.org/archives/000075.html, got a copy of Magriel a while back but has been judiciously keeping it to himself. After losing badly at “the club”:http://www.polytropos.org/web/backgammon.html on occasional Mondays, I would often say to myself “Man. I have _got_ to read Magriel.”
In Michigan I only read the first half, which is a survey of basic strategy that for me was pretty much review. Even so, having read it a part of me felt somehow enlightened — empowered, even. This feeling lasted only until I actually got to play the game again back at “The Grounds”:http://www.commongroundsarlington.com/ against Steve, who decimated me ruthlessly. Turns out — surprise! — that as with any game, playing a lot and staying in practice is far more important than anything you can learn from a book.
My New Year slump ended Sunday afternoon — sort of. French, Steve, and I headed up to Bethesda to compete in the bi-monthly tournament of the “Beltway Backgammon Club”:http://www.beltwaybg.org/. The matches were longer and the play more intense than at the Virginia Club, our usual haunt, so I was very pleased to go two and two. Steve even won the loser’s bracket and took home a bit of money. Far more satisfying than that, though, were the money games I played on the side, where I netted a total of twenty, ah, “points” against French. Both experiences reinforced what I’ve known for a while: my checker play is pretty solid, but I’m still a rank novice when it comes to understanding the subtleties of the cube. The big mistakes I made in the tournament — at least, the ones I was aware of — all involved mishandling of the doubling cube.
I still have that second half of Magriel to plow through — that must be where all the truly powerful backgammon lore is hid. If I can just finish the book, _then_ I’ll be unstoppable. Yeah. That’s it.