Improving Your Game
Improving Your Backgammon Game
by Phil Simborg, 2007
Phil Simborg
I had an interesting conversation recently with a very good player and friend, David Rockwell, and we shared what I believe to be some interesting thoughts about improving our backgammon game. Both David and I have put a lot of time and effort into improving our backgammon games, and we've both made a lot of progress over the years. At the same time, we would both like to make a lot more progress.

After discussing various ways we were studying our games and tactics we were using to improve, I became quite impressed with the amount of time and study David was putting into the game. David will spend as much as an hour studying his errors in a single match, not only to see what the right play is, but to be sure he understands why it is the right play.

At that point I told David my major problem with putting in that kind of time and effort: I know that the more time and effort I put in, the better I will be, but just how much time and effort am I willing to devote to the game of backgammon?

Don't we all have that problem with everything? Setting priorities? Yes, I would like to be a much better backgammon player, but I'd also like to be a better golfer, racquetball player, and Scrabble player. And I'd like to be a better husband, father, and friend. And I'd like to read more, travel more, take classes, and spend more time just lying in the sun! Just how much time is it going to take for me to raise my game, and is it worth it!?

And that's when David said something that really hit home. He said, "Maybe it's not just about how much time you put in, but how smart you are in using that time." What a concept! It really hit me. Maybe if I spend 10 hours a week "learning smart," I can learn a lot more than studying 20 hours a week.

Dave game me a good example. He was currently using a strategy suggested to him by Sly (Joe Sylvester). Joe suggested that David catalogue his errors into types of errors, and that way he could identify what areas of his game were really causing him problems and needed the most work.

So I tried the same idea, starting with cube action, because there are far fewer variables of types of errors than checker play errors. I went through a bunch of my recent matches that I had recorded in Snowie and found that my decisions on whether or not to give the cube was pretty good, but I was making a lot of errors on the take/drop decision.

Then I looked at the errors themselves, and I found another pattern ... I was dropping more cubes than I should. And then I looked at the drops, and I realized that the main reason for my errors is that I was not taking into account the variances in take points as much as I should have. Then I realized that there were many times I didn't really know, or didn't even bother to estimate the actual take point before making the decision.

So now I am spending more time studying the match equity table and calculating take points. I am sure this will improve my performance in this area. If I spend, say, 2 hours a week studying take points, I bet I will improve my game far better than spending 10 hours a week just looking at the doubles I missed and trying to figure out why.

Many people who want to improve their game think they can do it by just playing more ... I know some that play against Snowie several hours a week and look at their errors and try to figure out why their play was wrong. A more targeted approach, like the one described above, I am sure will provide much better results in much less time.

I know many people who have been playing this game for many years, and they don't seem to have improved at all. There's a saying I like: "Does he have 20 years of experience, or 1 year of experience 20 times?"

We all have limited time. And we all have limited patience. No matter how much we love backgammon, or golf, or any pastime, there is only so much time and effort we are willing to put in to practicing and studying to improve. The point is, why not put that time and effort to the best use?

Finding a specific area to improve is just one approach and strategy—there are many more you can employ to achieve better results. My suggestion to you is, find the strategies that work best for you, and go for it. Take a few minutes to figure out the best way to use your time, and it will save you hours and hours of wasted time.

Phil Simborg is a fulltime backgammon player and teacher.
You can contact Phil at: or visit his
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