Opening Rolls

Forum Archive : Opening Rolls

Nactation--Why use it?

From:   leobueno
Date:   16 January 2011
Subject:   Why use Nactation?
Forum: Forums

When I first began reading about backgammon, the conventional notation
seemed fairly intuitive. I see that in this forum several folk use
Nactation instead.

I started to try to figure out Nactation but that got me thinking: Given
the accepted and widespread use of conventional notation, why does the game
need a new notation system?

I realize Nactation is more economical, however, it does not feel very
intuitive (this of course may just be a case of an old dog learning a new
trick). Also, as the original subject of this thread indicates, Nactation
appers to engender some notational ambiguity. Since the old approach is
good as it is, why use a new one?

By the way, I am sure that I speak for everyone in the forum when I express
my gratitude to Nack for his ongoing contributions. I hope he accepts the
spirit of this post, which in no way is intended to antagonize or criticize
Nack for promulgating and advocating the use of Nactation.

Rich Munitz  writes:

I am not a fan of Nactation for describing all moves throughout a game as I
agree that the conventional notation is just generally clearer to all and
because there are so many choices of moves.

However, for the opening moves, Nactation is an excellent system.  Within
the first few rolls, the types of plays are rather standard: slot, split,
reverse split, builders down, hit and down, hit and split. Nactation (once
you've learned the few basic symbols) gives a nice way to describe the
numerous openings with the more intuitive, conceptual, and descriptive
"split" instead of the less intuitive, though no doubt more familiar "13/11

Tom Keith  writes:

Nactation is really designed for opening positions.  You can picture an
opening position by visualizing the moves that take you there.  Because
nactation is based on concepts (such as "slotting" or "splitting") it is a
good system for visualizing moves and the positions they produce.  Also,
nactation is terse, so it makes convenient "names" for discussing positions
and good filenames for containing rollouts.

Stick  writes:

The honest reason why your standard backgammon player should become at
least familiar with the basic components of Nactation are that they read
these forums ( and want to understand all
the free world-class advice that is being put out there by people like
Nack, David, Neil, etc.

The real question is why do these people, the Nacks, Neils, and Davids of
the world, use Nactation? As leobueno aptly noted in his question,
conventional notation is intuitive, understood by all, and easy to learn so
why do we need a new system?

A few of us love this new system for many reasons. Nack, probably in his
journey to write his Backgammon Openings series, created a clever system
that would allow one letter or symbol to stand for how a roll was played.
This affords us the possibility to:

* Keep file names short with meaning. For example, I have literally
  thousands of opening phase of the game rollouts, how would I know what is
  contained in each file without Nactation? Would I have names like "Second
  roll 6-3 after opening 5-4 splitting"?  What a mess of file names that
  would be. You know what isn't a mess ... 54S-63. Right there in those few
  keystrokes I've summed up how the first roll was played. If I tried to
  use old notation in file names you can imagine how rough that would be.
  54-24/20-13-8.63 or something of the sort? Sick.

* Since I also have a web site and exchange an endless amount of emails
  with players also discussing the opening or linking to my opening
  rollouts, it makes my links and the discussion much crisper. Again, we
  have a way to describe precisely what is going on and save a ton of
  keystrokes and confusion.

* I don't think Nack had this in mind when he was creating it but, tough
  break, can't go back now. I use Nactation when I'm hand recording matches
  on paper. This makes it sooooo much faster and saves sooooo much garbled
  writing. This takes a certain level of competence with Nactation but once
  achieved you'll never turn back to the way of the old. If I'm watching a
  match and I want to note down an opening sequence to check later or even
  if I want to record the entire damn game without the players involved
  knowing (mwhahaha) I can act like I'm texting on my cell phone and using
  your basic notepad put the game in as they play without missing a beat.
  You wouldn't be able to do that with standard notation.

* By combining Nactation with Nacbracs we're able to keep a lot of data in
  a short amount of space and avoid having to open files to extract it. For
  example, let's say I wanted to get across to you the results of an
  opening 54 played 24/20, 13/8 and the candidate plays of a 63 reply for

  There are 3 candidate plays, 13/7, 8/5*, 24/18, 8/5*, and 24/15. Now if I
  was typing out all of the that I could type that 13/7, 8/5* is better
  than 24/18 8/5* by .014 and better than 24/15 by .021. See how messy all
  that looks in comparison to:

  54S-63 [H X14 R21] /15

  In my line I was even able to include what bot it was rolled out with,
  identified by the forward slash, /, and how many trials denoted by '15'
  which represents 15552 trials. This may look oddly foreign to you in the
  beginning, and that's why Nack includes a key in all of his posts.  This
  is such a better system and really doesn't take that much work to become
  accustomed to understanding it.

There are secret uses of Nactation that few but the true junkie will know.
For example, about two weeks ago I went to my weekly trivia night and one
of the questions was 'Where is the '$' symbol found on a keyboard?' Nobody
in my group of people was sure and I can't say for certain if I would have
been even though I am on a computer 24/7/365 without Nactation. That slot
symbol is at the number 4 key and I could never forget it. Thanks Nack, I
think we took 13th place out of 30 or so teams with your help.

Nactation was originally developed to describe the opening phase of the
game. It has developed into a full system that can be used to nactate
entire games if you're familiar enough with it and sick enough to do it.
There is no ambiguity for 99.X% of the plays involved. It's all a matter of
how well you know it. It has to be learned but is also very intuitive once
you get the basic symbols under your belt. If you have any problems all the
experts are hanging around here to help answer your questions.

Nactation Tutorial:

Collection of Nactation reference material:;read=61874
thanks to storm. Nack has also mentioned recently that he is working on an
update to the tutorial that many I'm sure are salivating over.

Jason Lee  writes:

Before I go on this mini-rant, I should say that, for the most part, I
really like nactation.  It's a clever idea that clearly has its place in
the game. There are some things I do not like about it.

* I really hate the fact that nactation isn't well-defined, and even worse,
  there are codes that only a select few seem to know. It seems like about
  once a week, there's a post from somebody about how to nactate something
  or other, and invariably, I find out that the correct symbol to use is
  "]" or some such nonsense. It isn't made up ... it's part of nactation,
  but nobody's bothered to tell me until now. I hate that crap. Maybe this
  update to the tutorial will help matters, but for now, nactation seems
  like something where I can't become a black belt because the big bosses
  are carefully guarding the inner sanctum.

* It's a barrier to entry. I can almost guarantee you that most
  beginner/intermediate types are going to see all the S, $, D, B, C, U,
  blah blah blah and wonder what that nonsense is, and will think that it's
  too hard to understand. It serves to stilt growth amongst the very group
  of people who need to understand more.

* Nactation for hand recording is only useful if you're just doing it for
  yourself. And I'm never going to do it that way.

* I don't like all of the brain power I need to use to try to remember the
  difference between E and O and N ... yeah, yeah, I know it's not rocket
  science, but I have a hard enough time with backgammon, now I have to
  learn a semi-cryptic notation? Ugh.

I do very much appreciate the shortening of file names, of shortening
discussions, and of encapsulating a lot of information with nacbracs, and I
appreciate the fact that it's now a part of the game, and if I want to keep
up with the big boys, I need to know at least the rudiments of nactation.

Keep in mind that this is just a criticism of specific things -- for the
most part, I'm on board.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     


Opening Rolls

At different match scores  (Louis Nardy Pillards, July 2002) 
Average advantage of winning opening roll  (Chuck Bower, Oct 1998) 
Choosing a strategy  (Daniel Murphy, June 2001) 
Early game rule of thumb  (Rich Munitz, Feb 2009) 
Factors to consider  (Kit Woolsey, July 1994) 
How computers play  (Kit Woolsey, Mar 1995)  [Recommended reading]
Magriel's Chapter 5  (Hayden Alfano+, May 2006)  [Long message]
Mloner vs Jellyfish  (Kit Woolsey, Dec 1995) 
Nactating a whole game  (Nack Ballard+, Jan 2011)  [Long message]
Nactation  (Jim Stutz+, June 2010) 
Nactation overview  (Nack Ballard, Oct 2009) 
Nactation--Why use it?  (leobueno+, Jan 2011) 
Opening 1's: Split or slot?  (Douglas Zare, Dec 2003) 
Opening 21: Rollout  (Stick, Mar 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 21: Split or slot?  (Dick Adams+, Dec 2003) 
Opening 32: Rollout  (Stick, Feb 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 43: In GOL online match  (Raccoon+, Feb 2004)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 43: Pros and cons  (Stick+, Jan 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 43: Which split is better?  (Peter Backgren+, Aug 2000) 
Opening 43: Which split is better?  (Michael J. Zehr+, Mar 1996) 
Opening 51: Rollout  (Stick, Feb 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 52: Merits of splitting  (Peter Bell, Apr 1995) 
Opening 53: Magriel's recommendation  (George Parker+, July 1997)  [Long message]
Opening 53: Split to 21?  (Alex Zamanian, Aug 2000) 
Opening 53: Why make the three point?  (Kit Woolsey+, Feb 1996) 
Opening 6's: Slot the bar point?  (Chuck Bower+, Feb 2000) 
Opening 6's: Slot the bar point?  (David Montgomery, June 1995) 
Opening 62: Could running be best?  (Gary Wong, Sept 1997) 
Opening 62: Split, run, or slot?  (Chuck Bower, May 1997) 
Opening 63: Middle Eastern split?  (Mark+, Apr 2002) 
Opening 63: Slot the four point?  (Dennis Cartwright+, Mar 2002) 
Opening 64: Make the two point?  (William Hill+, Jan 1998) 
Opening 64: Make the two point?  (Darse Billings, Feb 1995) 
Opening 64: Rollout  (Peter Grotrian, Jan 2006)  [GammOnLine forum]
Opening 64: Split to 20?  (Peter Bell, June 1995) 
Opening 64: Three choices  (Brian Sheppard, July 1997) 
Opening 65: Becker on lover's leap  (Jeffrey Spiegler+, Aug 1991) 
Opening 65: Computer rankings  (Chuck Bower, Jan 1997) 
Opening rolls ranked  (Arthur+, Apr 2005) 
Rollouts of opening 21 and replies  (Alexander Nitschke, Oct 1997) 
Rollouts of openings  (Tom Keith+, Jan 2006) 
Rollouts: Expert Backgammon  (Tom Fahland, Aug 1994) 
Rollouts: Jellyfish 3.0  (Midas+, Sept 1997) 
Rollouts: Jellyfish 3.0 level 6  (Chuck Bower, Feb 1999)  [Recommended reading]
Rollouts: Snowie 4.1  (Rene Cerutti, Apr 2004) 
Slotting the four point  (Joe Loria+, Oct 1999) 
Snowie's openers and replies  (rcerutti, Feb 1999)  [Long message]
Splitting versus building  (Dave Slayton+, Aug 2000) 
Splitting versus slotting  (Daniel Murphy, Apr 2001) 
Splitting versus slotting  (Daniel Murphy, Sept 1997) 
Trice's rankings  (Marty Storer, Feb 1992) 

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