Recent postings regarding the moral dimension of dubious backgammon
practices such as "resigning" for a miserly point value draw our attention
to a grey area of backgammon rules & etiquette. We all have differing
sense of when "Gamesmanship" crosses the line into "Cheating."
"Gamesmanship" refers to practices in competitive activities that involve
distracting, confusing, or generally "duping" an opponent, to the detriment
of his or her game. These activities operate "outside" the rules of the
game. They are not directly in violation of stated rules, and yet they are
clearly were not intended as part of the game to begin with.
Here are a few pieces of backgammon gamesmanship which, in my circle, would
be regarded as thoroughly "honest" practices. They are playful in nature:
1) When doubling in a strong position which I think my opponent should
drop, I may ponder my cube action a bit before doubling even though it is
obvious to double. Weak opponents may be more likely to "take" as a
2) When hoping for a shot late in a game during my opponent's
bear-off, if my opponent rolls an awkward number, I may exclaim "Shot!"
even though there is one play that is "safe." Some opponents may resign
themselves to leaving the shot, not seeing the safe play.
I doubt that many would call (1) or (2) cheating. But how about:
3) My opponent hopes to enter from the bar, wishes aloud for a "3" and
rolls a "4" instead and picks up his dice --but actually it was the four
point that was open! He immediately realizes his mistake.
In this case I would be strict in a tournamnet situation: concentration
after all, is a part of the game, and tournament play is backgammon at its
most formal level. In "money" play, however, I "do unto others." I begin
with goodwill toward each opponent, and if that goodwill comes back when I
make a similar mistake, then it makes for a somewhat friendlier atmosphere.
Against stricter opponents who hold me to precise protocol, I withold any
I think it *is* fair to hold people to their silly errors.
Crossing into sleaze territory, consider:
4) My opponent considers a hitting play, moving his checkers and
putting me on the bar. After a brief consideration he shifts the checkers
back quickly and makes a different play, leaving my "hit" checker on the
bar. My dice hit the table just as I see what's happened.
*legally*, I'm at fault for not noticing the improper play and rectifying
it. But I would never, never hold anyone to it if the positions were
reversed (unless my opponent had been that miserly with me in the past).
Even in a tournament I would excuse my own mistake and allow my opponent to
Currently, there is no penalty for making an illegal play such as (4). I
think it hurts the game if people are allowed to "pull" this sort of ng
with impunity. There's no quicker way to drive away new players than to
alow them to fall prey to these kinds of dubious practices.
There are dozens of situations, practices, and scams that we could
consider. Speed rolling, checker sliding, sneaking an opponents checker
onto the bar, surreptitious turning of the cube on one's own side of the
board ("It's on 4! We had an auto, remember?"), fudging the score sheet,
disputing the stake ("We're playing for 20's -it's on the sheet!").
Basically, people define themselves and deserve the reputation they earn
through their playing practices.
It might be constructive (and fun!) to consider the ethical dimension of a
number of "dubious" practices in this group. I suggest that interested
conversants should begin separate "threads" for different practices. Maybe
we can move toward a shared set of standards for "Fair" play.