by Mary Hickey
13 August 2012
Lewis Deyong, a legendary backgammon player, tournament director, adventurer and raconteur, wrote a book back in the 1970s titled Playboy's Book of Backgammon. There are no centerfolds, but that's no problem, is it? The reason you'd read this book is for the articles.
One of the "articles" it contains is Deyong's chapter about what he calls "The Seven Pillars of Backgammon". He starts with an executive summary of each of these seven pillars, then gives more details and examples of each. For this article, I have chosen just one problem from each section to review using XG, the best backgammon computer program we have today.
For clarity, I have paraphrased the ones where he uses obsolete or idiosyncratic terminology.
Here are Deyong's "Seven Pillars of Backgammon":
1. "Make the move your opponent does not want you to make--'pressure' playing."
2. Understand the odds involved in taking a cube, and act accordingly.
3. "It is better to kill than to be assassinated."
4. Duplication [and Diversification].
5. "Timing Advantage...Dictator of the Game Plan."
6. The ability to count pips, shots, or anything else that is needed, and then to know what to do with the numbers.
Now here are examples of each of these principles, taken from his book. The diagram references and page numbers refer to the paperbound edition published by Playboy Press in October 1978.
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I won this book as a door prize at some tournament. I glanced through it but never read it. I suppose I should do what I do with every book I get now, just go through all the problems and see if there is anything good.
I rolled out diagram #3 w/XG2 and 4ply/4ply settings just for kicks and giggles. It ranks the plays in the same order but has Play B and Play C both back by ~.010 more than your rollout does. In other words, 13/4* is performing better on higher settings. Since both rollouts are only 2592 trials it could still just be the variance at work though.
I think though it may be obvious to someone like Mary it is worth mentioning that if the cube was turned 13/4* would be clearly correct.
I suppose I take a lot of things for granted because I grew up with the bots so that some of these things were actually interesting back in the day. The last problem problem I think it is over stating that he is putting the game on the line by paying now. Sure, if he is missed he's probably a 95% favorite but I think it was direct towards the if he is hit part. I imagined when hit after paying now we still had between 20-25% on average. I checked with XG and that is right with us being ~25% after lame hitting 4s and less after 64 or 44. We still have significant life after death when hit since it's dmp.
Stick brings up a couple of interesting points.
1. The backgammon saying is often true, not merely truthy, that you should "play more boldly after turning the cube." What this really means is playing more decisively, making plays that tend to win by a lot when they work, and lose by a lot when they fail, as opposed to making plays with similar cubeless equity, but ones that allow the opponent to ease his way back into the game and get off an efficient recube if he gets into that range before you can turn the tide back in your direction. Problem 3 in this group is no exception; if you have already doubled, making the 18 point is the kind of play that allows for recubes your opponent would like to make, and that you do not want to see, even though they will tend to be takeable. Better to shoot it out now with the much more decisive 13/4*.
2. I am quite sure Deyong was speaking figuratively when he said that Benson's pay-now play put the match on the line, and that if someone had asked him what Benson's chances would have been had he been hit, he would have at least produced a number in double digits. Similarly, he would have recognized that after a miss by Cooke, Benson could roll an immediate 44 or 22, or a later 61, leaving another shot when it presumably would be worse to get hit. He didn't bring up these details because he wanted to showcase the "courage" issue.
Regarding pay-now, pay-later decisions: "Back in the day" it was well known that when your were badly out-timed, it could be correct to get your danger over with to a very large extent by means of a "pay-now" play. What was less well known was the huge difference between paying now with 11 or maybe 12 shots, and paying with 13, 14 or 15 shots. For it to be right to pay with a large number of shots, you almost have to have serious "life after death", and it needs to be an afterlife that you will get to see at least a good part of the time, rather than have to let go because of a cube turn. Exceptions tend to involve match scores, gammon possibilities, or some other extraneous features of the position (maybe some of the hitting rolls semi-root, etc.)
In general, if "paying now" involves leaving more than 11 shots, spare another thought for paying later. And remember that you are allowed to roll a double sometimes!
Good article. I have just two quibbles: (1) Courage is still needed if you develop ideas that can't be validated by the bots, either because it's an area of the game that they still misplay or because you're factoring in human error. (2) Knowing how to play badminton can still net you an Olympic medal, especially if many of your competitors get disqualified for trying to throw their games...
Very good article but somewhat surprising is that XG Version: 1.21 is used in all cases.
Why you are using old XG?
Hi Timothy: You especially need that kind of courage if you are in a backgammon peer group that thinks PR is everything. And regarding the badminton fiasco--if they ever make backgammon an Olympic event, maybe we had better be careful what the format is!
Hi Mika: I started the article a long time ago, so it's possible I opened its first file using Explore and didn't notice which version opened it. Or maybe it was something else, LOL Anyway, thanks for pointing it out. It won't happen with my next article, because I just reformatted, so XG 1.21 won't be on my new install.
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