Ever since learning backgammon, Ive been fascinated with the theory of
early game moves. Many years ago, I started working on a system of notation
that would convey early game plays with a single letter/character.
Nactation (short for Nack-action-notation) was founded on the principle
that characters (letters, symbols) should be
To satisfy (1) user-friendliness, I wanted the letters to be as associable,
and therefore memorable, as possible. Most characters are the first letter
of the word that describes its action: Some examples are S, R, P, H, D and
U, which stand for Split, Run, Point, Hit, Down and Up, respectively.
Additional letters were created to serve the basic ones. For example, S is
the first letter of Split, and splitting plays (which are fully defined as
splitting with one number on the die and coming down with the other number)
are designated by S as much as possible. The letter Z (which looks like a
backwards S) stands for reverse split, was created to serve S, and is not
intended to get equal time. It is only when there would otherwise be an
ambiguity that it is necessary to resort to Z. (In the case of modern
opening plays, this includes only 43- played 24/21, 13/9 instead of 24/20,
13/10, and perhaps 32 played 24/22, 13/10 instead of 24/21, 13/11.)
It is easier to remember that S relates to a Split than that Z relates to a
Split; its that simple. At the outset, I did contemplate many other S/Z
schemes, including the one discussed at length in the recent S/Z thread,
but I put a premium on user-friendliness (or at least my perception of it).
When I first learned the game of go, my teacher urged me to picture a big
go stone with straps around its shoulders, digging its feet into the dirt,
leaning forward and strained to its limit to drag an enormous weight, and
that each stone I play on the go board should do that kind of work. I feel
the same way about Nactation letters pulling their weight, which brings us
to their being: (2) efficient.
A common misconception is that Nactations for plays with a given roll
consistently translate to a fixed traditional notation. Not so. To
accomplish that, it would be necessary to have thousands of characters;
even with full integration of lower case, italics, numerals and other
keyboard symbols, there would not be nearly enough to go around.
Consider 21S-65R-54. (This is Nactations way of saying that Black rolled
opening 21 and split with 24/23 13/11, in reply White rolled 65 and ran
24/13, and now Black has 54 to play.) There are two things to notice here.
The first is that the concept of "splitting" is not necessarily confined to
a play that breaks an anchor. It applies more generally to a play that
moves a back checker with one number (and comes down with the other).
Otherwise, new letters would have to be added to express variations on the
same splitting theme and Nactation would be that much harder to learn.
24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13
| X X O | | O X |
| O | | O X |
| O | | O X |
| O | | X |
| O | | |
| | | | X rolls 5-4
| | | O |
| X | | O |
| X | | O |
| X | | X O |
| X | | X O |
| O X | | X X O |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
The second thing to notice is that with his 5-4, Black has a choice of two
splitting plays: 23/18, 13/9, and 24/20, 13/8. The first choice moves a
back checker with the larger number (5) and is therefore "S." The second
choice moves a back checker with the smaller number (4) and is therefore
"Z." This means that 24/20, 13/8 (the smaller split) is necessarily
nactated 54Z here, whereas the standard Nactation for 24/20, 13/8 played on
the very first roll of the game is 54S.
Keep in mind that this is as complicated as it gets, and a scenario as
tricky as the one above arises with relative infrequency. When it does, is
it confusing? Perhaps for some, until they let go of their notion that
nactated plays somehow "should" always translate to the same traditional
notations. The system is not designed that way, and if it were it would be
profoundly inefficient. Just remember: S splits with the large number (or
is the only split); if a choice exists, Z splits with the small number.
(If Z is used when there is only one legal splitting play, there is also no
ambiguity -- nothing "wrong" in that sense, but I still recommend S in
these cases. S = Split is easier to remember and I believe it will better
serve those still learning Nactation.)
I am grateful to Stick Rice, who has helped popularize Nactation on a grand
scale, to David Rockwell for his patient explanations to people on this
forum, and to Tim Chow for organizing Sticks opening reply rollout data
into a semi-nactated chart. (My fully nactated, single-letter version of
his chart, freshly updated, can be found at a separate link on Tim's page,
Finally, if you would like to understand Nactation (growing in its use on
this forum), go here: http://www.nackbg.com/nactation.pdf.
The explanation is in layers, and Section 1 (only one page) is by far the
most useful: reading that will enable you to interpret most of the
Nactation youll see in bgonline postings. If you get as far as digesting
Section 3 (the BEACON letters for doublets), consider yourself an expert!