by Douglas Zare
2 November 2009
In the short run, a game of skill and chance like backgammon might be viewed as a game of chess for $1 plus a coin flip for $10. Except for gross disparities of skill, whether you win or lose a match or a short session depends primarily on the coin flip. In the long run, the coin flips will roughly cancel out, and what matters is whether you are making better decisions than your opponents. Your results in the long run might be described as a game of chess for $1000 plus a coin flip for $100.
How long is the long run? In this column, we'll look at a mathematical measurement of the long run in backgammon. We'll apply this measurement to matches, money games, props, and tournaments. We won't study how to play backgammon better this month, but perhaps we'll understand the luck of backgammon better, and how much you have to play for skill to dominate.
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