Forum Archive : Books

Becker: Backgammon for Blood

From:   Durf Freund
Date:   3 May 1994
Subject:   Re: Any of these books worth having?

Kit Woolsey wrote:
> Backgammon for Blood -- Total garbage for the most part.

  Kit here expresses a popular and largely correct view.  Becker goes way
overboard in his espousal of the backgame.  However, modern backgammon
theory has been skewed by blind reliance on computer programs -- one
promising, though still unperfected and quite over-rated, the other
entirely mediocre.  There is enough truth in "Backgammon for Blood" to
make any perceptive human a more dangerous player than TD-Gammon, IMO.


Albert Steg  writes:

I can't help speaking up for Bruce Becker's book 'BG for Blood'
because it was the first book on the game I ever read, back in the 70's
when it came out.  (I was in 7th grade).  Sure, we've all learned a lot
since then, and there are more accurate and high-powered books out there.
    Serious beginners who want to become advanced as quickly as possible
and are willing to study hard while playing frequently I would advise to
read Magriel and then go straight to Robertie's books.
    However, as far as books that provide a lively introduction to
fundamental strategic aspects of the game go, Becker's pretty good!  At
least he writes in a vigorous, conversational way that doesn't put you to
sleep.  Magriel's book is a great work, but I would never drop it on
newcomers to the game.  Those of us who play "seriously" often forget that
not everyone plays for money.  Becker's book may well motivate newplayers
to get hooked on the game, when Magriel might put them to sleep.

Darse Billings  writes:

There have been some opposing opinions on Bruce Becker's book
"Backgammon for Blood".

The observant reader will have noticed that the people saying the book
is terrible are generally very strong players, so their opinions hold
a lot of credibility.

I too feel it is a book full of false statements and dangerous ideas,
but as an intermediate player who is still learning the game, I can
also see the reason for the differing views...

"Backgammon for Blood" *will* help the novice player improve her game,
and that *will* result in winning more games against other novices...
More importantly, it does force the reader to *think*, since it poses
questions and challenges the more widely accepted views on strategy,
such as those found in Jacoby and Crawford's 1971 introductory book.

In this respect, Becker's book does some good, and we now know that the
staid ideas of the old school really were in need of being challenged
and refined.

In "Backgammon for Blood", there are perhaps two sound ideas for every
bad one, which might suggest that it has some value.  Unfortunately,
this high noise-to-signal ratio makes the book nearly useless to the
serious student, because she has no way of separating the grain from
the chaff.

But I think it is a useful exercise for the serious student to critique
Becker's book.  For example, you can examine his opening moves, deciding
which ones are reasonable alternatives (eg. slotting moves) and which
ones are complete and utter garbage (eg. 6/5, where he thinks 24-13 is

Luckily, the first time I read "Backgammon for Blood", I never took his
ideas very seriously, particularly after reading his totally bogus
chapter on the doubling cube.  (He teaches us that the cube has nothing
whatever to do with math or probabilities -- it's all about gusto, and
how intently you stare at your opponent!-)  Consequently, I didn't have
to waste a lot of time "unlearning" bad ideas.

By comparison, Magriel's "Backgammon" book deserves all of the lofty
praise it receives, and will particularly appeal to the student with a
precise, systematic, and logical mind.

I returned to Becker's book only after I had studied Magriel's treatise,
and thus had developed a more solid foundation of backgammon fundamentals.

I think re-reading Becker's book with a critical eye helped me learn some
of the pros and cons of dynamic play, as well as exposing some flawed
ideas and bad habits which could easily have crept into my own game.

Gerald Mortensen  writes:

I think that book is dangerous for a relatively inexperienced player.
He offers some really attrocious advice which now that i'm older and
wiser I realize was probably meant to be taken with a grain of salt.

Or maybe not. Whatever...

I would recommend Robertie's new little green book for someone who's
not ready or willing to tackle the big Roberties, Magriel, etc. You
can get it at the chain bookstores (barnes & noble).

Jay (wilfo on fibs)

SGokmen  writes:

Hey guys, put things in perspective!

When Becker wrote that infamous book in mid 70's (I think), the ideas
were very novel at the time and I think the game was played in a
fairly unsophisticated way by todays standards. Very few people
really understood timing or backgame. I used to make a great living
playing BG in South of France and Paris in late 70's (upto $500 a
point!), seen a lot of the so called experts of the time including
Dwek going bust more than once.

The *feel* of the game is the hardest part to get from a book there
is simply no alternative to playing against top players to master the
game, ideally in a chouette so you can limit your losses and ask dumb
questions. Also the mental aspect can only be gained through real
experience. You have to be capable of altering your game to your
opponents mental state, sometimes hitting those blots even when there
are better plays elsewhere, because some people just hate being hit
more than others and that 66 puts them straight to tilt heaven.

Jason Mellinger  writes:

I, too must come to the defense of Becker(BG for blood). This book is
not full of data charts, but it will sure show you the right attitude.
Even if you don't play, you should find this book amusing. It's one of
the best game books ever written. If you don't want it, buy it and send
it to me. My friends are always borrowing mine.

                  "Luck is for loosers." --Becker
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