Backgammon Articles

Online Chouettes
By Hank Youngerman

Introduction to Chouettes

A chouette is a fun, social, multiplayer form of backgammon. It can be a tremendous amount of fun, with lots of cube turns, players taking different points of view, getting to rotate and play as a teammate of another player one game and against him the next.

However, if they are not done right, especially online, chouettes can get boring quickly. This page will give you an outline of what a chouette is and how to play. I strongly suggest that you print this out and keep it to refer to while playing.

One player—the Box—plays against a team. One member of the team is the Captain. This all takes place on one board. The Captain has final say over all checker plays, although he can ask his teammates for help in some situations. However, each player has his own doubling cube. He can double regardless of what his teammates do, and he can take or drop if doubled on his own.

A chouette is played just like a money game. There is no match score. You play one game, win or lose points, then go on to the next game. Positions change every game. In general, if the Box wins, he stays as the Box; if the Captain wins he becomes the Box. Whether the Captain wins or loses, the next player in line becomes the Captain.

The scoring is just points won or lost. Each player has a running score, of plus or minus a certain number of points, or even. If you were playing for money, you would multiply this by the stakes, and that's how many dollars ahead or behind you would be. Naturally, the sum of all the scores is always zero.

Chouettes Online

Online chouettes can be somewhat awkward to run. There is no special software on the Zone for chouettes. What is required is someone to run the chouette who understands a chouette, whom I call a monitor. The monitor keeps track of the position of all cubes, and tallies the running score. When a chouette gets large, it gets to be a lot of work.

I have listed below everyone's responsibilities. I know from experience that if everyone doesn't follow these, it can really ruin things for everyone. Please print them out and read them, and then have them handy to refer to.

A chouette can be an awful lot of fun. For the team, there is the opportunity to gang up on one helpless victim (the Box), to consult on checker plays, to show how much smarter you are than the others by, say, dropping a double and losing one point when everyone else goes on to lose a doubled gammon—or by taking and winning two points when most of your teammates dropped and lost one. There is the excitement of being the Box and winning or losing 5 or 10 or 20 points at a time—I once saw, I think, the Box win 80 points in a single game in an online chouette (two cubes at 16, two at 8, and he won a gammon).

Please review very carefully your responsibilities:

When you are the Captain

Turn on Board Notation so that you can understand the comments your team is making. If you want advice on a move, type the move in the chat box at the bottom of the screen before moving. You do not have to ask for advice, or to follow it. But it will be very frustrating to your teammates if you don't ask their advice and then make foolish moves.

It is generally considered good practice that, if you are a relatively weak player, to ask advice from the strong players, and if you are the strongest player on the team to just move. The bottom line is that your teammates will forgive you anything if you win, but if you lose and they think you did so foolishly, you won't become very popular! Remember too that everyone else wants to be involved in the game. If you just keep moving without ever asking for advice, even on close plays, you're taking your teammates out of the game.

When you are in a position where anyone on the the team might even be thinking of doubling, wait just a couple seconds before rolling. Give them the chance to say "double." If anyone doubles, make sure to wait until the Box has decided on all the cubes. But also, don't wait forever to roll. If there has been any cube action, give the monitor a minute to record the results. Remember, he's got a lot of paperwork to keep track of!

Never use the double button on the board. If you want to double, say "double." It will be very frustrating if the Box reflexively drops and the game ends.

A special situation arises if you drop but someone else on the team takes. Now, you are no longer allowed to participate in the game. In a real-life chouette, you would leave your seat and the person next in line to be Captain would take your place. But of course we can't do that on the zone. So if that happens, stay in your seat but you must now ask for advice on every move, and let the new Captain (the monitor will tell you who that is) make the final decision. This is a bit cumbersome and annoying, but I have found it happens very rarely.

When you are the Box

If you are doubled by one or more players, wait until everyone has had a chance to double. You might ask "anyone else?" You do not have to decide to take or drop until everyone has doubled who wants to. If you're going to drop, then of course everyone will suddenly want to double!

If you double, wait for everyone to decide to take or drop before rolling, and give the monitor time to record the results.

When you are on the Team

Pay attention. It's easy to lose interest in the game if you're not an active participant, but you are very much a part of the game. One of the most frustrating things is when the Box says "Double all" and one or two players on the team don't respond and you're wating. When I am the monitor, I often will just decide for players based on the consensus decision.

Turn on Board Notation. That way, if you want to make a suggestion for a move, you can say "W12-B6" rather than "take one off that big stack on the left and move it 7." It will be a lot easier for everyone.

Know the position of your cube. If you have doubled and the Box has taken, don't say "double." You can't double, and it will only slow the game down if the monitor has to tell you that you have already given your cube. (Of course, if you doubled to 2 and the Box has redoubled to 4, you can now double to 8!) Likewise, if you doubled and the Box dropped, you've already won this game. You're out, you can't win the same game twice!

For Everyone

Take the game seriously. I know one player who always doubles at the first opportunity, takes every double, and immediately redoubles. That kind of takes away from the game, because this is supposed to be fun, but it's supposed to be a test of skill. Pretend you're playing for $10 a point! If that were the case, you'd play your best, you'd certainly pay attention even when you're on the team. And if you were Captain and had money on the line, you'd try to get the better players to help you win. If you pretend you're playing for real money, you'll find you have more fun!

Be patient. A real-life chouette goes almost as fast as a regular game, and when it slows down it's because people are discussing (or arguing!) over checker plays, which is part of the fun. Online, because the software doesn't support chouettes, it can slow down a little. Try to be a little patient and keep focused on the game.

If you have to leave, leave. There's no requirement that you stay in a chouette for any particular period of time. If you're losing interest, then just say that you're leaving and leave. It's best if you stay to the end of the current game, though.

Chouette Rules

There is no universal set of rules for a chouette. I have adopted the following rules for chouettes that I run. I've done this because I think they work best, and because while there are some rules used in every real-life chouette, some of them are not familiar to most players on the zone and I don't want to complicate things.
  1. Jacoby Rule, beavers but no raccoons. If you don't know what these are, don't worry about them.

  2. Players on the team can consult only after their cube has been turned. This means that the Captain is free to play the opening in peace, while getting help once the game has advanced.

  3. If any player drops, the Captain may buy his cube. What that means is that the player who drops pays the Captain the undoubled value of the cube, rather than the Box. The Captain is now playing with two (or three or four or five) cubes against the Box.

  4. If all players but one drop, that player must either drop or buy all the other cubes. This prevents one player from holding up the game. However, in this case it works a little differently. The Box still gets the point from all the cubes. However, each player on the team pays the remaining player one additional point, and they now join the Box.

    So for example, suppose there are four players on the team, A, B, C, and D, and all but B drop. A, C, and D each pay the Box one point and pay B one point. B is now playing with a 2-cube against the Box and against A, C, and D. If the Box wins the game, he will win 5 points (the three he got from A, C, and D, and two from B), B will lose 5 points (he lost four 2-cubes, but was paid 3 points) and A, C, and D break even (they paid the Box 1 point and paid B 1 point, but they won 2 points against B). If B wins, he will win 11 points (the four 2-cubes plus the 3 points he was paid), the Captain will win 1 point (he loses 2 points to B and won 1 point from each of A, C, and D) and A, C, and D will each lose 4 points (the point they lose to the Box, the point they paid B, plus the 2-cube they lost in the game).

    I know this sounds complicated, but it makes sense. If you are doubled and drop, you are saying that you would rather pay one point to get out of the game than play on with a 2-cube. So if someone said "I think it's better to play on with a 2-cube than drop," you should be willing to say "Ok, I will pay you one point to take that inferior side of the board and play it with a 2-cube." This way, if one player wants to play on, everyone is still involved in the game.

  5. Settlements are allowed. Let me give a very simple example. Suppose you are in a last-roll position. The cube is at 4, and you have one checker on your five-point and one on your one-point; your opponent has one checker on his one-point. You have 23 rolls that win the game and 13 that lose. On average in 36 games you will win 92 points and lose 52, for a net average of (92-52) / 36, or about 1.1 points. You might say "I'll take one point." Anyone who wants can now pay you one point and the game ends for them.

    Settlements can be proposed by either side at any time. But please don't be ridiculous. Let's say you are closed out with three checkers on the bar and no checkers off. The expert rule of thumb is that you have about a 75% chance of being gammoned in this situation, and while you will win a few games, you will also lose a few backgammons. If the cube is at 2, don't keep saying "I'll offer two." And don't argue over a proposed settlement. If someone offered me 2 points in that situation, I might say "I'll take three" (even though I know the position is worth more like 3). Just don't hold up the game haggling. If you're going to offer a settlement, make it a fair one. Don't insult your opponent by offering a ridiculous one.

OK, now that you're an expert, join a chouette, pay attention, and, most of all, have fun!

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