Forum Archive : Books

Becker: Backgammon for Blood

From:   Daniel Murphy
Date:   29 July 1997
Subject:   Re: books and my 2 cents...

Bruce "Luck is for Losers!" Becker is the author of Backgammon for
Blood, published in 1974.  Backgammon for Blood was a very popular book
and good enough to turn many beginners into winners.

Becker's writing style is entertaining, and his comments on luck,
probability, doubling and attitude are worth absorbing.  His
recommendations on opening moves are not, and his recommended strategies
are no longer good enough to beat competent intermediate level players.

Here's how Becker plays these opening rolls:
62 13/5
53 13/5

41 13/9 6/5, 51 13/8 6/5, 21 13/11 6/5 (not necessarily wrong)

and most horribly,
65 13/7 13/8
64 13/7 13/9
63 13/7 13/10

Get the picture?  Slot, slot, slot.  Becker *hates* a running game and
has nothing to say about an advanced anchor holding game.  His
recommended strategy therefore has two parts:

First, go all out for a prime extending from the 5 point to the 10 point
(Becker doesn't like a more advanced prime for reasons not fully
developed in his book).  Slotting with checkers from the midpoint is
required to build this prime because -- although Becker doesn't develop
this idea -- there aren't enough builders available to make a prime this
high without slotting.  Becker's high-prime strategy gives insufficient
weight to the starting position's placement of more than half the
checkers on the 8 point and 6 point -- checkers which are naturally
available to make a prime extending downwards from the 8 point.

So much for slot, slot, slot.  Blots being blots, this aggressive
slotting strategy is going to fail often.  Enter the second part of
Becker's strategy: he doesn't really care if the slotted checkers get
hit, because he's eager to outplay his opponents in a back game.  That's
why Becker insists that the checkers on the ace point not be moved too
early: if the priming attempt fails, the ace point checkers must be
available to help establish a 13, 12, or 23 backgame.

Back games can be very strong, and Becker makes a good point: if you
never learn how to play a back game, you will win less often, and if
your opponents don't know how to play them, you will win a lot of extra
gammons, or a lot of free points with a scary cube.  However, against
competent opponents back games are money losers and should be a last
resort, not something to aim for.  If you play with Becker's style,
expect to play a lot of back games.  This is even more true today than
in 1974 because theory today generally favors splitting over slotting,
and splitting is the best way to beat a slotter.

Daniel Murphy   Klampenborg, Denmark
FIBS, the First Internet Backgammon Server:
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