Celebrating 15 years in backgammon games

How To Roll Better

by Phil Simborg
28 September 2006

Phil Simborg

Phil Simborg, a tournament player from Chicago, has played live for over 40 years and on-line for nearly 20. He has taken lessons from many of the greatest players in the world and is a real student of the game. In 2005, Phil was the No. 2 player on the ABT Tour.

Do you find yourself consistently dancing on a 2 point board? Does your perfect back game usually crash when you roll double 4's or 3's? Do you never seem to hit your opponent's checker? Do you seem to roll nothing but 1's when you're bearing off?

I can help you. If you think you roll badly, or at least worse than your opponents, the truth is: YOU PROBABLY ARE!

The reason, however, might surprise you. You are not rolling worse because the Dice God has it in for you. You are not rolling worse because the dice are crooked or, if you play on line, because the server doesn't like your nickname. You are rolling worse because you are playing worse. Good players do roll better—because they put their checkers in positions that minimize the number and effect of bad rolls and maximize the number of good rolls.

Take a look at black in the position below. Poor Mr. Black! He had a great back game going and rolled his worst—double 4! Mr. Black is convinced he is the unluckiest man in the world.

Is he unlucky because he had bad dice? In this case, not at all. A roll earlier (below) Mr. Black rolled a 6-5 and could have brought a checker out from his opponent's two point, but instead decided to make his 5 point. His play was a HUGE BLUNDER, for just this reason. But Mr. Black insists he was just unlucky and probably will never realize that he did it to himself. AND THAT IS OFTEN THE CASE.

In the bearoff where you keep rolling 1's to lose, do you remember the play where 6 rolls earlier where you should have made the prime to keep your opponent from being able to race with you in the first place?

Am I saying that you only have bad rolls when you make bad plays? Of course not. Often you have bad rolls because your opponent made good plays! And sometimes, you just have some bad rolls. But you know what? EVERYONE ROLLS THE SAME. In the long run, I am convinced, and I have bet on it, that everyone is just as lucky or unlucky as anyone else, whether you play live or on line. If there is someone who truly does roll better than everyone else, I can promise you, it's not luck...there's something fishy going on, and if you keep playing him, YOU'RE THE FISH!

So, to answer my initial question: how to roll better? PLAY BETTER!

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Subject: Re: How To Roll Better
From: tobaksa   
Date: 03 Oct 2006 22:24 EST

Hi Robadams:

Many years ago two of the then best players in Chicago faced each other in a chouette. The Captain turned to Craig Chellstorp, his expert partner when the play above came up, and said: "You know how we have to play it!" The Captain was Gene Chait. I have seen many arguments over who owns the roll 62. I don't know who first staked a claim, but I know that Gene was famous for rolling 62 at least thirty-five years ago!

Craig knew that leaving 53 was correct, but he looked at The Box, Greg Defotis, and he also knew that by giving up one number (53 bears off 14 times in 36, 62 only 13) he was gaining on two! The two times Gene rolled the 62 Greg would be so steamed they had made the wrong play and been rewarded that it would more than pay for itself.

They left a 62, and Gene did roll it (and of course, if they left a 53 the 62 Gene rolled would not have worked). And Greg was steamed!

Just one more case of good players rolling better. ;-)


Jake Jacobs

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Celebrating 15 years in backgammon games