Play Site Review

Real Backgammon Fun at Play65

by Tom Keith, September 2005

Play65 advertises on Backgammon Galore. They asked if I would try out their backgammon play site. I did, quite enjoyed it, and now I play there regularly. This article is an overview of my experiences at Play65 and some thoughts on what's good and not so good about the site.

Introduction

Play65 offers online backgammon where you can compete with other players from all over the world. You can play using "fun money" or you can play using real money. There is no charge when you play for fun money.

In order to play, you have to download client software from Play65's web site. Go to http://www.play65.com and select Click to Play to begin the installation process. Your computer must be running Windows.

During installation, you are prompted to select a player name and password. I used my real name, tomkeith; many people use a pseudonym. You might have to try a few times to find a name which is not already taken.

Playing for the First Time

If you don't know the rules of backgammon, you should review them here before you start to play.

I found the software a little daunting at first. A couple pop-up windows appear right after you log in. One window asks you to sign up to play for real money. Another window tells you about the current month's events. Just close these for now; you can come back to them later if you want.

When you finally get past the introductions, this is what the lobby screen looks like:

The main part of the screen shows who's playing:

I found it helpful to watch a game or two before playing myself. You can click on Watch to view a game somebody else is playing.

Playing a Game

When you click on Join, a window pops up to show you the rules that your opponent wants to play. The sorts of things that can be negotiated are:
  • The stakes per point; e.g., $3 a point.
  • The maximum amount you can win or lose; e.g., $12.
  • Whether you are using a doubling cube and, if so, whether you are playing beavers.
  • Whether it is a single game or a match.
  • If playing a match, the length of the match and whether the Crawford rule will be used.
If you agree to the terms set out by your opponent, click the check mark and wait for your opponent to agree also. Or maybe you want to change some of the conditions first. Suppose you want to play for lower stakes. Just type the new stakes you want to play for and then click the check mark. Hopefully the other player will agree.

Once you both agree on the conditions of play, the game begins and a window pops up showing the playing board.

The Playing Board

The playing board is nicely laid out and easy to use.

I found the user-interface very natural. When you want to roll the dice, just click your mouse on the dice. Moving the checkers is easy too. Drag and drop the checkers where you want to move them. The numbers on the dice dim as you move the checkers to remind you which numbers you've played.

A slightly faster method of moving the checkers is to simply click on the checker you want to move. Use the right mouse button to click on the checker you want to move using the larger number on the dice; use the left button to click on the checker you want to move using the lower number.

When you're finished your turn, click on the dice to pick them up.

Time Controls

Every game is timed to ensure that play proceeds at a reasonable pace. You can play either at Normal speed (45 sec/turn) or Fast speed (25 sec/turn). This the amount of time you have available to roll the dice and move your checkers. If you can't finish in the required time, a global timer with extra time on it begins to count down. The global timer starts each game at 150 seconds if you are playing Normal speed or 90 seconds if playing Fast speed. If you run out of time on your global timer, you lose the game.

I find even 25 seconds per turn plenty of time. In fact I'd prefer something faster; maybe 10 or 15 seconds per turn.

Playing for Fun Money

You can play for fun money or for real money. When you play for fun money you start with $100 in your account. You win and lose fun money the same as if you're playing for real money. The only difference is—and it's an important one—if you ever lose all your fun money, your $100 gets magically restored again. You never really run out of fun money.

Playing for fun is free. The overall quality of competition is not quite as high as on the money side of the site, but there are still some very good players there. It's a lot of fun to try to build up your money over time. Games are rated, so you are also trying to improve your rating. Ratings allow you to find opponents of approximately equal ability.

Playing for Real Money

Before you can play for real money, you must fill out a form giving personal information such as your name, address, e-mail address, and telephone number. You must also read and agree to the user agreement.

It doesn't cost anything to sign up to play for real money. You don't even have to make a deposit! Play65 will give you $2 free to get you started.

One benefit of playing for real money is that you can have your games recorded. This allows you to review them later to see what errors you made. Computer programs, such as Jellyfish, Snowie, and GNU Backgammon, can do this analysis for you automatically.

Games are saved in .GAM or .MAT format, depending on whether you're playing single games or matches. (For information on how to load .GAM files into Gnu Backgammon, see this post.)

The Rake

When you play for money, the house charges a rake. This is a service fee to pay for running the site and handling the money. The size of the rake depends on the amount you are playing for, the players' ratings, and whether you are playing a match or a single game. The following chart outlines the rakes in effect at the time of writing this review. The winner pays the rake for both players.

Single Game Match to n Points
$.50 to $20 4.9% 3.9% + .25% × n   (max 7.9%)
$20 to $100 3.9% 3.4% + .25% × n   (max 6.9%)
Over $100 2.9% 2.9% + .25% × n   (max 5.9%)

Example 1: You play a single game and win $10. The commission is 49 cents for you and 49 cents for your opponent. As winner, you pay both players' commission, so you receive $9.02.
Example 2: You play a five-point match and win $10. The commission is 51.5 cents for you and 51.5 cents for your opponent, so you receive $8.97.

The rake may be further increased or decreased according to the players' ratings. For example:

  • The rake is decreased by 50% when both players are over 1700.
  • The rake is increased by 50% (or more) when there is more than a 100-point difference between the players' ratings.
I like the reduction by 50% for players who are rated over 1700. It gives you an incentive to do well so you can enjoy the reduced commission. It also attracts good players to the site. For full details and Play65's current commission schedule, click here.

Automatic Game Resolution

Occasionally connection problems mean a game has to be abandoned. If either player loses their connection for more than five minutes, Play65 will resolve the game automatically.

It does this using a special version of BG Blitz. The program analyzes the game, determines each player's chances of winning, and splits the pot accordingly. Both players receive an e-mail message explaining what happened.

Withdrawing Money

You can withdraw money by a variety of methods. The minimum withdrawal is $20. To withdraw money, click on "Cashier" at the lower left of the lobby screen. The withdrawal screen shows buttons for Neteller, PayPal, Moneybookers, wire transfer, and bank draft. I selected PayPal and withdrew $20. The money showed up in my PayPal account two and a half days later.

Tournaments

Play65 offers a variety of sit-and-go or event tournaments (including play-for-fun tournaments). Check the current month's calendar to see what tournaments are scheduled. I haven't tried any of the tournaments yet. I'll update this section when I do.

Play65 versus GammonEmpire

Are Play65 and GammonEmpire the same thing? Yes and no. Both sites licence their technology from LogicEmpire, which developed the software that runs the site. And both sites have the same pool of players. The only difference from a player's perspective is that they are marketed by different organizations.

Which site should you play at? It doesn't matter, except that if you choose Play65 you'll be indirectly supporting Backgammon Galore.
 

Terminology
Event Tournament. A tournament which begins at a specified date and time.

Freeroll Tournament. A tournament with no entry fee. On Play65, you can use your stars to enter freeroll tournaments.

Rake. A fee charged by the house and collected from the winner's proceeds.

Satellite Tournament. A tournament in which the winner receives free entry to another tournament.

Sit-and-go Tournament. A tournament which begins when a specified number of players register.

Series (Match). A series of games between two players that ends when one player wins by accumulating the required number of points.

Single Game. The normal style of competition in which games are played independently.

Table Stakes. The betting limit on a single game. This is the maximum amount you can win or lose.

Conclusion—Pros

  • The user interface is easy and natural to use. The controls are simple and straightforward. It's obvious a lot of thought has gone into creating the client software.
  • The graphics and sound effects are great. (You can turn off the sound.) The country flags and color-coded skill levels are a nice touch.
  • There is a large pool of players to compete against; you can find competition at every level.
  • Play is free if you stay on the fun-money side.

Conclusion—Cons

  • The client software crashes occasionally. Fortunately when this happens you can just restart, log in, and your game is resumed automatically.
  • There are a couple features missing some people might want: (1) There is no Jacoby rule. (2) There is no way to flip the orientation of the board so that checkers bear off on the left instead of the right.

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