Matt Cohn-Geier writes:
The short answer: Play bots and other strong players. Read books. Read
forums, obsess about backgammon. Bot recommendation is GNU (or Snowie, if
that suits you better). Book recommendations are Magriel's Backgammon,
Trice's Backgammon Boot Camp, Robertie's Advanced Backgammon and Modern
Backgammon, Woolsey's Cube Encyclopedia, Storer's Backgammon Praxis, and
Woolsey's New Ideas in Backgammon, in roughly that order.
My story: in a little more than a year's time, I've gone from Completely
Inept to Fairly Decent Player. I played backgammon with my friends and
family once upon a time, and I knew that you were supposed to make your 5
point with 31 and bar point with 61, but nothing beyond that. Actually
counting up pips (or worse, rolls) was a completely foreign concept to me.
I played a few games against the computer program MaxGammon, and started
becoming interested in backgammon. After just playing it for awhile I began
to develop some skills, simply through repetition. It had huge problems
with its RNG, though. It was decidedly non-random. I searched around for
various websites. Backgammon Galore was the best of these, and after
reading for awhile, I felt like I could actually understand what was going
on, the ideas involved in a backgammon game, and so on.
Eventually I found the Jellyfish 3.0 Demo. Jellyfish was a whole lot better
than MaxGammon. I played against 0-ply a lot. I read a couple books which
weren't very good (the only one I can remember was Robertie's Backgammon
for Serious Players, but maybe I also looked at Jacoby's Backgammon Book).
I read Magriel's Backgammon, which was excellent. Now I really felt that I
could recognize most concepts of a backgammon game, although I still had
problems applying them. I had big problems with more complex games when
there were several conflicting goals and prioritizing among them, and often
made huge blunders in these situations. But I understood the strategic
concepts involved and that it was all part of a game plan. This appealed to
my chessic nature. Chess was a good game, full of intricacies and beauty,
but it was also frustrating and demanding as hell.
Somewhere around this time, the local club showed up to play a chouette
while I was playing chess. I have no idea why they decided to change venues
for a day, but I watched them for awhile, although I didn't want to play--
the way they played, they looked like they would eat me alive. They
explained the concept of a chouette to me, although I didn't understand it.
It took until I had played in a couple of chouettes to really understand
what was going on. I read Advanced Backgammon (vols 1. & 2), which is to
date the best book on backgammon that I've read. Now I was absolutely
possessed. I had to know more about the game. I hungered for backgammon
I found the Snowie Demo, which was even better than Jellyfish, and started
playing against that constantly, even though it beat me mercilessly. I
started playing on online sites, Yahoo, GE, PG, etc. Eventually I found
gnubg, which remains my bot of choice. I read a few articles by Kit
Woolsey, which were very clear and well-written, and joined GammonVillage.
I read 501 Essential Backgammon Problems, Backgammon Boot Camp, Classic
Backgammon Revisited, and the Cube Encyclopedia by Woolsey, which were all
pretty great resources. I joined the local club, and found that I could
actually play an okay game of backgammon (time from first playing MaxGammon
to date: about 5 months). I was pretty nervous when I first started playing
IRL, but I calmed down eventually. I joined GammOnLine and read the forums
and articles there. I read Backgammon Praxis (excellent), Modern Backgammon
(excellent), Backgammon with the Giants: Neil Kazaross (good), Boards,
Blots, and Double Shots by Wiggins (good), Understanding Backgammon
(decent), Tournament Backgammon by Woolsey (mediocre), Can a Fish Taste
Twice as Good? (too math-theoretical for my taste), the MatchQiz series by
Woolsey (decent), Vision Laughs at Counting vol. 1 by Kleinman (okay, but
disappointing), and New Ideas in Backgammon (excellent).
Since then, I haven't read any more books, just more forums and articles.
The largest factor in my development has been playing bots and simply
getting maximum backgammon exposure. Repetition and recognition are big
parts of the way I approach things. That can work against me in unfamiliar
positions, e.g., I find it difficult to estimate winning chances in crunch
positions. But it seems to have worked out well so far, for the most part.
My results have been decent.
I'm not really sure where to go now. When I was training for chess, I
constantly did 1) tactical problems, and 2) game analyses, either those of
GMs or those that occurred in my own games. There were FAR more than enough
chess games to do those until I died of old age (on the order of, let's
say, 5 million tournament games). That's not the case in backgammon,
because players generally don't record their games. I'd like to analyze my
own games, but collecting them is hard, since most of what I have is
playing bots. I cashed out after the legislation, and have started trying
to play on GG, but I'm not really into it yet. It's difficult to
psychologically create tournament conditions when you're playing on a
computer. I'm open to suggestions, though.
I had originally intended to have a longer answer to learning methods (how
people learn in general, what conditions one ought to create in order to
learn), but this post is running long enough as it is.