Forum Archive : Books

Clay: Backgammon Winning Strategies

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

> Backgammon : Winning Strategies
> Robin Clay / Paperback / Published 1996
> Price: $22.50

"Backgammon: Winning Strategies" in my opinion is by far the strongest of
[Robin Clay's books].  It is pretty much current (frequently referencing
Jellyfish 2.1 evaluations and rollouts and Scoyners database equities)
and generally presents reasonable alternatives modern players might
consider and gives a fair comparison of them.

It touches many concepts without going into a great deal of depth about
them which is probably reasonable for a book of this size (244 paperback
pages) -- for instance it presents a match equity table derived from
Janowski's formula and analyses how it should affect match play, without
justifying the background of the table or formula itself.

It makes a good effort to address the discrepencies between generally
accepted expert and computer preferences ("...Jellyfish 2.1 prefers this
move but many players dislike placing a chequer on the 1 point so early
in the game...", "surprisingly Jellyfish thought that hitting was the
best move, but when it rolled out the position 1,296 times it established
that move D was superior.")

It goes into reasonable detail about many tactical situations (inspecting
various possible back game positions and explaining why the 5 point is
weak bearing in against a 1,3 back game; walking a prime backwards to pick
up an extra chequer, etc.)

My main criticism (not that I'm claiming that my opinion is in any way
better than the book -- just as an example of how a text should be
critically considered rather than accepted at face value) is that his
treatment of cube handling is weak.  Clay claims that cube decisions
should be made on three criteria: race, position, and threat -- personally
I think that's horribly overgeneralised: you can't base decisions on just
3 factors, and even if you could, they would be threat, threat, and threat.
But never mind.  I don't think he mentions volatility at all,
oversimplifying to the point of being wrong: "the ideal lead at which to
double is 70 per cent..." (admittedly he qualifies the assertion as
dependent on the match score and the claim appears restricted to races, but
even so presenting a number like that without justification ought to raise
questions in the mind of the reader).

The quiz section of the book (100 questions) is well done -- again I think
it would be a shame if a reader was overly concerned about choosing the
"right" answer in the quiz, but thinking about a position, selecting a
move, and then reading the comments about the alternatives could be
valuable if Clay mentions factors you hadn't considered, or seen in the
same way.

Overall I think most intermediate players could learn a lot from it, though
advanced readers would be frustrated at the lack of detail in many areas.

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