Backgammon does not benefit from the same magnificent bibliography as chess. One
of the reasons for this is that nobody thought of writing down the
moves of a backgammon match until 1973, about 300 years after the first
recorded chess game!
Backgammon does appear in books before the start of the twentieth century, but
rarely. The most obvious exception to this is Hoyles Games, where it
dutifully takes its position along with other games, but the detail is
In 1844 George Frederick Pardon commented in his book Backgammon: Its History and Practice:
Backgammon has always been a fire-side, a domestic, a conjugal game; it is not so abstruse as to banish conversation on general topics; it does not, like chess, or love, or art, or science, require the entire man, whilst the ever-recurring rattle of the dice keeps the ear alert and the attention alive; it has often been found an anodyne to the gout, the rheumatism, the azure devils, or the "yellow spleen".
Hopefully we have developed our understanding of the game just a little since then.
In 1925 or 1926 the doubling cube and chouettes entered the game and all
books published prior to those dates became obsolete overnight.
That's not to say that the doubling cube was immediately understood.
Witness this statement from Georges Mabardi's Backgammon to Winthe
premier book of the early 1930's:
If two absolutely perfect players engaged in a match, there would never be an accepted double.
Close, but no cigar!!
There was a flurry of backgammon books
in the 1930's but between 1939 and the early 1960's the dice cups went
silent and quills were downed as the world dealt with more serious
Then in the mid-1960's Prince Alexis Obolensky conceived the idea of
international backgammon tournaments and the second great backgammon
boom began. From 1970 onwards the presses started to roll again and
there was no shortage of material. The problem came in sorting the
wheat from the chaff.
In fact, one of the first books of that era, The Backgammon Book by
Jacoby and Crawford was one of the best. It clearly and concisely laid
out how to play as well as including a superb history of the game.
In 1976 Paul Magriel,
then the best player in the world (he's still in the top twenty),
published the definitive book on the game. Simply entitled Backgammon
its elucidation of the fundamental principles of the game has never
been bettered and it has recently been reissued (with a fascinating
profile of the author included). It is a book that should be in every
serious player's library.
Of course there was some dross as well. If you ever come across
Backgammon for Blood, by Bruce Becker, or Dynamic Cube Strategy, by Horowitz and Roman, then tread very carefully indeed.
From the mid-1970's onwards at least some games were recorded and Kent
Goulding broke new ground by publishing books of recorded matches
between top players. These were entitled Backgammon with the
Champions and were a huge hit. Other theoreticians were also getting
in on the act, the most notable being Danny Kleinman and Bill Robertie.
The theory of backgammon, despite being nearly 5000 years old, was really
in its infancy. Magriel, Goulding, Kleinman and Robertie developed that
theory in quantum leaps and the master of the 1980's was already way
ahead of his 1960's counterpart.
And then in the 1990's came computers and again the theory of the game
underwent fundamental changes. If the computers were to be believed,
and especially those computers based on neural nets, then much of what
was accepted theory was in fact bunkum!
This lead to a plethora of new books to accommodate these latest changes and
to interpret the computer rollouts. It was now possible, using advanced
rollout techniques, to determine the correct move in any given position
with a reasonable degree of certainty.
The advent of the computer era led to books such as New Ideas in Backgammon, by Kit Woolsey
and Hal Heinrich, and Modern Backgammon, by Robertie. Kit Woolsey also
demystified the complexities of match play with his brilliant
monograph: How to Play Tournament Backgammon.
It was also time to re-examine the classics of yesteryear using computer
programs such as Snowie and gnubg. Jeremy Bagai did this superbly in
his Classic Backgammon Revisited. Bagai's analyis proved that one of
the supposed classics of the past, Paradoxes and Probabilities by
Barclay Cooke, was only 50% correct! This is not to denigrate Cooke, he
was only working with the knowledge of his era, but it does show how
much the theory of the game has evolved in the last 30 years.
There have been relatively few backgammon books published in the last few
years but those that have appeared have been worth waiting for.
These include Chris Bray's (the backgammon correspondent for The Independent
newspaper in the UK) two anthologies of his articles,
What Colour is the Wind?
Backgammon Boot Camp
by Walter Trice, Marty Storer's superb two-volume set,
The Backgammon Encyclopaedia,
Volume 1, by Kit Woolsey, which is one of the very few books dedicated to the topic of the doubling cube.
The quality is rising and future books can only add to our store of knowledge on the world's most fascinating game.
There are many backgammon books available. What follows is a list of essential reading. Study these and you will truly become a much better player:
- Backgammon, by Paul Magriel
- Advanced Backgammon, Volumes 1 and 2, by Bill Robertie
- Modern Backgammon, by Bill Robertie
- Classic Backgammon Revisited, by Jeremy Bagai
- New Ideas in Backgammon, by Kit Woolsey & Hal Heinrich
- The Backgammon Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, by Kit Woolsey
- How to Play Tournament Backgammon, by Kit Woolsey
- Backgammon Boot Camp, by Walter Trice
- The Doubling Cube in Backgammon, Volume 1, by Dr. Jeff Ward
- Vision Laughs at Counting with Advice to the Dicelorn, by Danny Kleinman
- The Backgammon Book, (extended version) by Oswald Jacoby and John Crawford
- Backgammon Praxis, by Marty Storer
- What Colour is the Wind? by Chris Bray
- Second Wind, by Chris Bray