Forum Archive : Books

Cooke: Paradoxes and Probabilities

From:   Neil Kazaross
Date:   29 September 2004
Subject:   Re: Cooke's books
Forum:   GammOnLine

Since I'm not here to bite my tongue or pull any punches, and
with all due respect to the late Barclay Cooke, I'll state that
after some thought, I am convinced that of all the books I read
Cooke's did, by far, the most harm to my game when I was
developing as a strong player in the late 70's/early 80's.

How can I say such a thing and mean it, you may wonder?

Well, lets see:

1) Cooke's Paradoxes and Probabilities simply is full of so many
errors, overvaluing anchors, and, much worse, leaving far too
many shots and blots vs strongish home boards. Off course there
are timing misconceptions and errors of nearly every sort
(including the one match play cube problem).

2) Cooke's book analysing the match between him, Walter, Martin
and Dwek [Championship Backgammon] is chock-full of similar errors
supported by unjustifiably strong language.

3) I studied and studied these books and am 100% convinced that
they harmed my game for at least a decade since I clearly left
too many blots for not enough gain. Once I tightened up my play
and became more race oriented (thank you, Howard Ring) in the
early 90's I started winning more often. Cooke's books were
important in teaching players not to play ridiculously tight,
but they went way too far in the other direction. We had
Magriel's masterpiece along with others to teach us when to take
some chances and to teach us what was a justifiable chance.

To the student of BG I state, don't read Cooke's inaccuracies
unless accompanied by Bagai's masterpiece [Classic Backgammon
Revisited] which analyzes the many many errors and/or you are
prepared to run nearly every position thru GNU or Snowie for
rollouts. For players who want a good book to advance from
beginner to intermediate, I suggest 500 Essential BG problems by
Robertie and, off course, read Magriel (even though it has a few


Chuck Bower  writes:

I remember how I felt when we started to realize (with the release of the
NN bots) just how bad much of the advice in P&P was. It was like we had
been betrayed by Cooke. He was an icon in backgammon writing and without
bots to verify, we took his word as gospel. Still, how was he to know??
My only complaint is that he often seemed (in retrospect) dogmatic about
his style being correct. This is especially evident in the book with
Orleans (Championship BG) where he let his rivalry with the Brits (Martyn
and Dwek) boil over into his writing.

Ray Fogerlund  writes:

Hey!  Better late than never, I have found the BG Galore forum.  I'll
weigh in on P&P, which was sort of my bible of the game.  Cooke's writing
got me fascinated with this game, for he was clearly the best writer of
his time...  However, that time is prehistoric.  Until Bagai's EXcellent
book exposing Cooke's myths to computer analysis, I never knew why I lost
so many "unlucky" matches to obviously weaker players.  Of course it was
a sobering realization that I had been the one who was weak.  Anyway,
please read Cooke to develop a love of the game, but temper it with
Bagai's for deeper understanding.  RIP, Barclay!
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Bray: Backgammon to Win  (Chris Bray, June 2007) 
Bray: Backgammon to Win, second edition  (Chris Bray, Aug 2012) 
Bray: Backgammon--An Independent View  (Chris Bray, May 1998) 
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Robertie: Advanced Backgammon--Errata  (Matt Senecal+, Nov 2004) 
Robertie: Advanced Backgammon--JF rollouts  (Øystein Johansen, June 2001) 
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Robertie: Advanced Backgammon--JF rollouts  (Peter Fankhauser, Jan 1996) 
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