Forum Archive : Books

Magriel: Backgammon

From:   Baldo
Address:   none
Date:   18 March 2004
Subject:   Re: How do you practice?
Forum:   GammOnLine

Problem with Magriel is that he gives the old ideas which doesnt seem to
be actual anymore. Sure, basics are mustread for any beginner, but this
book is not really for anyone above intermediate level.

Magriel himself told in his live finals commentary: "Don't hit, even
though my book says so!"

Daniel Murphy  writes:

Do be careful not to confuse the ideas presented in Backgammon, which are
not at all out of date, with the positions used as illustrations, a
handful of which are wrong.

Sam Pottle  writes:

I think it's fair to say that the chapter on opening rolls contains
conceptual inaccuracies.

    5-3 could also be used to make the three point. However, despite the
    importance of making points in your home board, deep points -- namely
    the three, two, and especially the one -- are not effective in
    blocking opposing checkers unless the intervening four and five points
    have already been made. Closing these deep points takes checkers out
    of play that may be used more constructively elsewhere.

That said, of course it's a mistake to dismiss Magriel. The book contains
a lot of important ideas and (mostly) illustrates them with great clarity.
The material has aged well. Everyone should reread Magriel every year or

Baldo wrties  writes:

Chapter 18 Action play:

    "Assume that O has escaped both his back runners and you still have two
    or more men back in his inner board. Because you have more men back
    and are probably behind in the race, your main chance to win (your
    ONLY chance, in fact) is to hit him. You are willing to take extra
    chances to get a shot at O and you welcome an exchange of hits.

    "Position 1: X to play 4/1

         24  23  22  21  20  19      18  17  16  15  14  13
        | X                   O |   |     O               X |
        | X                   O |   |     O               X |
        |                     O |   |     O               X |
        |                     O |   |                       |
        |                     O |   |                       |
        |                       |   |                     O |
        |                       |   |                     O |
        |                     X |   |                     O |
        |                     X |   |     X               O |
        |                     X |   |     X               O |
        |                     X |   |     X               O |
        |                     X |   |     X   X           O |
          1   2   3   4   5   6       7   8   9  10  11  12

    "Most players make the 5-point 9/5 6/5, hoping to be able to hit later.
    This is a SERIOUS mistake. It is CRITICAL to restrain O now, before he
    becomes stronger and consolidates his advantage. The correct move is
    24/20 6/5."

Daniel Murphy  writes:

Well, here I'd think it fair to say that Magriel's "action play" concept
is sound and several of the positions in Chapter 18 illustrate it well. In
some others, wrote Thomas Zimmer in Backgammon Today issue 3, Magriel
"tends to exaggerate grossly, and thus mainly provides some 'action'
favoring the enemy."

Magriel's solution to position 18-1 is an error; to position 18-5, even

Douglas Zare  writes:

I like only 18-6, where Magriel reluctantly recommends making the 5 point
instead of trying to make an action play.

  18-1: Make the 5 point, of course.
  18-2: I think the minor split is better than the major split, but I
        prefer 9/3 5/3.
  18-3: I'd safety the outer board blot with 11/6 rather than make a new
  18-4: After your opponent makes the deuce point, there is no rush to
        split. 8/4 6/5.
  18-5: Make the 5 point, of course.
  18-6: Make the 5 point, of course.

While I agree that there are incorrect concepts in Magriel's Backgammon,
not all incorrect recommendations come from bad concepts. Some come from
improperly weighing one idea against another. I don't like any of
Magriel's action play recommendations, but the concept is ok.

Distracting your opponent in the outer board when your opponent is
prepared to make an inner board point is fine.

Provoking an exchange of hits likely to go against you is fine,
particularly if you are an underdog. It may be that when things go well,
you gain a lot more than you lose when things go badly.

Magriel underestimated the contact provided by a minor split or deep
anchor in an unmade board. He underestimated the importance of the
strength of the defender's home board, which adds a lot of value to any

When is it right to make an action play? The principles often work after
you make an inner board point on the opening roll, your opponent splits
and builds, and you roll 6-5. It is often right to play 24/18 13/8,
stepping into a triple shot. Reinforcing the 8 point is good, but not
worth the triple shot alone. It is often right because of the concepts in
Magriel's Action Play chapter, and 24/18 13/8 is an action play.

Douglas Zare
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