Book Suggestions

Forum Archive : Book Suggestions

John Bazigos's suggestions

From:   Mika Johnsson
Date:   1 July 1993
Subject:   BG BOOKS INFO

Many people (last Snoopy) have asked about good BG books, well here is and
answer that i got from John Bazigos (Doc), when I asked him about books



The two best introductory books are Paul Magriel's "Backgammon" (New
York Times Quadrangle Press; New York, NY; USA; 1976) and Enno Heyken's and
Martin B. Fischer's "The Backgammon Handbook" (The Crowood Press;
Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 2HE; Great Britain; 1990).

The advantages of Magriel's "Backgammon" are, first, Magriel was
a clear-minded, distinguished mathematician at the top of the
backgammon world when he wrote it; second, it was the only truly
analytic book on backgammon since Oswald Jacoby's and John R.
Crawford's "The Backgammon Book"; third, it rendered all backgammon
texts preceding it (including "The Backgammon Book"), and even
some subsequent backgammon texts, obsolete as introductory texts;
fourth, it systematically elucidates backgammon strategy, from
fundamental to intermediate to advanced; fifth, it does great justice
to its topics in its well-diagrammed over-400 pages; and sixth, it has
passed the test of time as an introductory text, having been commonly
referred to as "The Bible" of backgammon.  Its disadvantages are,
first, some important details of some advanced topics (e.g., desirable
back-game points), and even some major points of some
beginning/intermediate topics (e.g., tradeoffs between positional and
racing equity) are obsolete; second, the prose, though very readable,
is structurally and stylistically weak; third, the text has been
out-of-print since some time last year, though is well worth a search
of *all* your local used/out-of-print bookstores; and fourth, though
the publication price was $24.95, the only mail-order list on which I
have found it prices it at $80, which makes a used/out-of-print
bookstore an even better source -- since it is typically discounted to
about $15 there, in my experience (here in the San Francisco Bay

The advantages of "The Backgammon Handbook" are, first, like
"Backgammon", it systematically elucidates backgammon strategy;
second, it contains the complete score, with some annotations, of the
very illuminating, 26-game match between two-time World Backgammon
Champion and leading bg theorist Bill Robertie and now-inactive
international master Nack Ballard (Reno, 1987) that the former
described as "...perhaps the most interesting one I've ever played in
my life!"; and third, it is still in print with a publication price of
about $35.  Its disadvantages are, first, Heyken --though an
International Master in chess-- does not have an international
backgammon rating, and Fischer does not have a master rating in
backgammon; second, it contains only about 60% as much text as
"Backgammon", while not being significantly terser; and third, the
authors' lack of qualifications is evidenced in some of their
misleading and/or naive analyses.

I think that you should search your local, or even not quite local,
used/out-of-print bookstores for "Backgammon", and pay up to about $50
for it -- though if you find it in such a store, it is likely to be
discounted to about $15; and then, if you cannot find it at a
reasonable price, buy and read "The Backgammon Handbook" -- after
which your time won't be best spent reading Magriel soon thereafter.

> are you familiar with Kleinmans books,

I have read most of his "magnum opus" "Vision Laughs at Counting",
which contains much sound advice on the practical aspects of
bg play (e.g., sections on bg hustlers, bg cheaters, chouette money
management), seminal advice on handling the doubler, and even a few
unprecedented mathematical characterizations of certain aspects of
certain positions (e.g., how many pips to penalize a player for having
one or more checkers on the bar).

> are they good ?

"Vision Laughs at Counting" is  generally insightful and often very
amusingly written, but not suitable as an introductory text, sometimes
obsolete, and sometimes simply wrong; and though it is the only text
by Kleinman that I have read, I have good reason to believe that that
judgment applies to Kleinman's other texts, as well.

Ok; then after finishing "Backgammon" or "The Backgammon Handbook",
study Jeff Ward's "The Doubling Cube in Backgammon" -- which has long
been offered through Carol Cole.

Magriel's "Backgammon" routinely used to be, and sometimes still is,
referred to as "the Bible (of backgammon)"; but since the publication
of Robertie's three books on backgammon --i.e., "Lee Genud vs. Joe
Dwek" (1982), "Advanced Backgammon" (1984 and 1991, the latter edition
in two volumes), and "Reno, 1986" (1987)-- I think that it's more
appropriate to refer to "Backgammon" and collectively those three as
the Old and New Testaments of backgammon, respectively.  Given that
you have already  finished studying "The  Backgammon Handbook" and
"The Doubling Cube in Backgammon", I think that you should read one or
more books of Robertie's "New Testament" fairly soon after finishing
Roy Friedman's "World Class Backgammon, Move-By-Move" -- which I,
also, recently received a copy of from Carol Cole, and is the
backgammon book that I intend to read next.

Well, from the quality perspective, I was significantly more impressed
with it when perhaps the only bg literature I had read was typical
junk from the 1970s (i.e., Bruce Becker's monumentally horrible
"Backgammon for Blood", and Barclay Cooke's often-misleading "The
Cruelest Game" and slightly-better "Championship Backgammon"), "The
Backgammon Book", and Magriel's "Backgammon"; and from the price
perspective, the decision is strictly yours, though I hereby make the
following three interrelated claims:

 1.  If you read enough backgammon books, there will quite possibly
    come a time when "Vision Laughs at Counting" will be the best book
    for to read next to improve your technique maximally.
 2.  You are probably at least seven books from that point: "World Class
    Backgammon, Move-By-Move", the four volumes of backgammon's New
    Testament, and both volumes of Kent Goulding's "Backgammon With
    The Champions" are presently better for that purpose (and you can
    perhaps most profitably read them in that order).
 3.  "Vision Laughs at Counting" is the most entertaining
    instructional backgammon book that has been published to date.

> BTW are there other good bg newspapers or magazines ?

Last year was an unprecedentedly good one for backgammon periodicals,
in that it saw the first issues of what I strongly believe were and
still are the two best periodicals for backgammon theory ever --i.e.,
Bill Robertie' and Kent Goulding's bi-monthly "Inside Backgammon",
and Roy Friedman's almost bi-monthly "Leading Edge Backgammon".  The
former is still being published (I recently received my copy of the
fourth issue of its second volume), and publication of the latter was
suspended at the end of last year (due to some personal problems that
Roy was having); but it was possible to order either or both of
them from Carol the last time I checked (Please inform me if you need
ordering information on either or both of them).

Those are the only three backgammon periodicals to which I (have ever)
subscribe(d), though that may change soon; more on that in a
forthcoming e-mail message from me.

> Do you know any technical papers about BG,

One of the best features of both "Inside Backgammon" and "Leading Edge
Backgammon" is they consist mostly of (what I would consider) technical
papers on backgammon.

> I have read Keelers and Spencers "optimal doubling in BG"

So have I, but I have also read a paper co-authored by Zadeh, titled
"On Optimal Doubling in Backgammon", that explicitly rendered that
paper obsolete.  I'll provide you with more information on both that
and other technical papers from the 1970s in a forthcoming e-mail

> and in one AI-magazine was an article about Tesauros TD-gammon
> (about 20 p)

The second volume of "Inside Backgammon" contains about one article
per issue on TD-Gammon, two of which document (recent) sessions that
Robertie, Magriel, and at least one other bg master had against it;
more on that, also, in an forthcoming e-mail message from me.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

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


Book Suggestions

After Magriel  (Robert-Jan Veldhuizen+, Aug 2000) 
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Books on match play  (Keene Marin+, Sept 2005)  [GammOnLine forum]
Buyer's guide  (Chuck Bower, Feb 1998) 
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Ideal book on backgammon  (Laury Chizlett, Apr 2000) 
Informal book survey  (Chuck Bower+, Dec 2005)  [GammOnLine forum]
John Bazigos's suggestions  (Mika Johnsson, July 1993) 
Magriel, Robertie, and Kleinman  (Gregg Cattanach, May 2000) 
Marty Storer's reading list  (Larry Hunter, May 1992) 
Recommended Backgammon Books  (Butch Meese, Jan 1984) 
Survey of some available books  (William Hill, Jan 1998) 
Three underrated books  (Mary Hickey, July 2003)  [GammOnLine forum]
What's a good second book?  (Tommy+, Dec 2000) 
Which book by Chris Bray should I buy?  (Timothy Chow+, July 2012) 

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