Forum Archive : Books

Cooke & Bradshaw: Backgammon--The Cruelest Game

From:   Chuck Bower
Date:   19 August 1998
Subject:   Re: The Cruelest Book Question
Google:   6rd97f$596$

> I have read many slams of Cooke and Bradshaw's Cruelest Game book. I
> checked it out from the library today because 1) Magriel is nowhere in my
> immediate area (I searched libraries, bookstores new/used, empty car
> lots, etc.) and 2) other than an advanced Robertie book, this was the
> only backgammon book published after the '60's.
> Is it a bad book because it is bad for beginners or because it is bad for
> experts? Am I better off not reading anything at all or reading this book
> (it's better than nothing)?

     Neither.  It's not a bad book at all.

     When I learned BG in 1975, Cooke/Bradshaw was not only considered the
best beginning book, but simply the BEST BOOK on the game.  (Of course
there weren't any advanced books back then...).  About a year or two later
Magriel came out.  Then in the early 80's Kleinman and Robertie started to
make a college course out of the game.

     Cooke played a style of BG which worked for him (and a lot of others)
in the 70's, when many of his opponents hadn't a clue about concepts we now
consider fundamental.  (Here I also refer to his other two books--
"Paradoxes and Probabilities" and "Championship BG", the latter co-authored
by Rene Orlean.)  He was very heavy on defensive tactics, was almost
obcessed with building the 20-point, but had a serious distaste for
splitting the back checkers (on the 24-point).  His cube recommendations
("when in doubt, don't double; when in doubt, take") also tended to be on
the conservative side by today's standards.  He much preferred to double
his opponent out rather than to see a take (and risk the potential
frustration if the game turned around).

     Having said all that, Cooke was definitely (IMO) a proponent of using
one's head while playing backgammon.  That advice will never go out of
style! Every backgammon book should be read with a skeptical eye.  Listen
to what the author says, but don't take it as gospel.  Try to understand
the "why" of his/her thinking rather than memorizing plays or "rules".
Every BG book I've read (except maybe "Underhanded BG"!) has some sound
advice.  You could do a lot worse than reading Barclay Cooke.

   c_ray on FIBS

Albert Steg  writes:

Yes -- good overview of some of Cooke's tendencies that we find outdated
now.  It's worth noting, for the interest of the original poster, that
probably 90% of the material in Cooke's first & most widely read book
(_Cruelest Game_) still hold just fine.  Okay, he brings down two checkers
on an opening 5-3 (doesn't he?), big deal.  It's in the latter 2 titles
that Chuck mentions that he really goes out onto a more dangerous limb
with his analysis.  _Cruelest Game_ remains an excellent introduction to
thinking seriously about bg.  I wouldn't slam a copy of Magriel on a
newcomer until he or she was already devoted to the game.

Also -- the book is a pleasure to read.  It looks good, is written with
style and real personality -- something I find lacking in post-70's bg
books, especially introductory ones.  The classic books of the 70's really
help a newcomer to recognize and enjoy the drama and beauty of the game,
rather than treating bg as some sort of math problem.  _Cruelest Game_ ,
Deyong's _Playboy_ book, Jacoby/Crawford, -- I don't think they have
modern equivalents in print.

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