Book Suggestions

Forum Archive : Book Suggestions

How to read backgammon books

From:   Gary Wong
Date:   20 January 1998
Subject:   Re: Backgammon books: comments please.

I don't know if I'm in the minority here, but in my opinion there's no book
so bad I'd advise everybody _not_ to read it.  There is no book so bad that
it can't provoke thought in a careful reader -- and I would claim that the
thoughts a book leads you to think about are at least as important as the
"facts" you might learn, which are really only a sort of bottom line.  No
serious mathematics student should scan through a textbook memorising the
results and throwing away the proofs -- similarly, with a backgammon book
you shouldn't be trying to take a small sample of the "best" books and copy
the style of play their authors advocate, but reading about the concepts
behind what they're writing; emulating their thought processes perhaps; and
most importantly, thinking about the same concepts yourself and forming
your own opinions.  I see criticisms of (for instance) Becker's "Backgammon
For Blood" to the point of "if your opponent mentions having read this
book, double immediately" -- I think it would be a terrible shame if any
serious reader were to be put off the book by reading something like this
about it, because they could probably learn a lot by considering what it
has to say beyond face value.

The aim of reading a good book should not be to learn to play like the
author, but to open your eyes to concepts that they express that you had
not experienced yourself.  For instance, timing is a concept that a
beginner might find extremely difficult to deduce by themselves; through
trial and error they might notice that in some types of games, their own
position tends to deteriorate faster than their opponents.  However it's
something that a book can provide a great deal of insight into, just by
giving the reader another point of view to the same properties they had
already noticed informally in their own games, or perhaps previously been
unaware of but now able to look for.  Even if the conclusion the author
makes is blatantly wrong ("when you find yourself short of timing, dump
extra chequers onto your 1 point to avoid leaving blots"), the background
is valuable.

I guess my opinion then is to steal as many ideas as you possibly can about
the game from books; read them critically whether they're Magriel or
Becker; form your own opinions, and never stop thinking.  Feel free to
disagree with the author -- whether you just learnt to play this morning,
or have beaten Jellyfish in a 21 point match every day before breakfast for
the past year. Try playing the way the author suggests; try any reasonable
alternative you can think of -- see which you prefer.

Perhaps most importantly, don't be afraid of being "wrong".  There are so
many ideas in backgammon that it's impossible to be "right" about all of
them anyway.  But I guarantee that if you thought about something as a
beginner, make an elementary mistake and then eventually learn you were
wrong all along and then start conforming to generally accepted expert
opinion, then you'll have learnt a lot more than somebody who just accepted
the expert opinion in the first place without challenging it.  Don't ever
be embarrassed or afraid to change your mind.  I'm no expert and have only
been posting here for a few months, but I bet I could already find a hell
of a lot to argue with against what I've written before.  That doesn't
worry me one bit (nor will it make me shut up I'm afraid, you have to
killfile me for that :-)  And I'm not the first to change my mind, even the
experts have been changing their minds about backgammon for thousands of
years.  Since the dawn of history, players have preferred to split with an
opening 21 for instance -- until the modern play of the 1970s started
favouring slotting the 5 point for a stronger offence.  And then after
seeing neural nets play differently and beat them, experts have changed
their minds again and decided that gee, maybe splitting was right after
all, these damn computers have made us look a bit silly.  But what matters
isn't what play is currently fashionable (or even "right", since nobody can
say for sure) -- the fact is that we now know more about the strengths and
weaknesses of splitting and slotting than anybody ever has before.

Gary (GaryW on FIBS).
Gary Wong, Computer Science Department, University of Auckland, New Zealand
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Book Suggestions

After Magriel  (Robert-Jan Veldhuizen+, Aug 2000) 
Annotated matches  (Walter Trice, Jan 2000) 
Best books from the bot era  (Chuck Bower+, Nov 2007) 
Best next step  (Gregg Cattanach+, July 2002) 
Bibliography  (Carl Tait, Apr 2000)  [Long message]
Books for advanced players  (Edward D. Collins, June 2003) 
Books for serious players  (Douglas Zare, Feb 2003) 
Books on match play  (Keene Marin+, Sept 2005)  [GammOnLine forum]
Buyer's guide  (Chuck Bower, Feb 1998) 
How to read backgammon books  (Gary Wong, Jan 1998) 
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) 

[GammOnLine forum]  From GammOnLine       [Long message]  Long message       [Recommended reading]  Recommended reading       [Recent addition]  Recent addition

  Book Suggestions
Computer Dice
Cube Handling
Cube Handling in Races
Extreme Gammon
Fun and frustration
GNU Backgammon
Luck versus Skill
Magazines & E-zines
Match Archives
Match Equities
Match Play
Match Play at 2-away/2-away
Opening Rolls
Pip Counting
Play Sites
Probability and Statistics
Source Code
Strategy--Bearing Off
Strategy--Checker play


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