Gamesmanship - The Opponent Factor

by Alan Martin
20 March 2017

Alan Martin

In the late 1960's I was living in New York City. I used to go to a small club on West 72nd St. where I played gin rummy. When I didn't play gin I watched the best backgammon player there, Mike Senkowitz.

Mike was a champion scrabble player and excelled in bridge, chess, and other games as well. I was surprised at how my beginner instincts in backgammon were not even close to the play of "Senk." and the other top player there, Fran Goldfarb. Little did I know back then that by watching Mike play in this small insignificant club, I was learning from one of the top 5 all around game players of all time.

There came a day when I was trying to learn the cube. I asked Senk why he didn't double what seemed to me would be a good double. Mike looked at me and said "I know him, he'll take later." Everybody there laughed. So early on I learned that a games player will not always do what he is supposed to do. It all depends on the opponent you are playing.

Now, jump 48 years to today's players who strive to mimic the computer. My one criticism of the computer is that it assumes all players are equal and it's checker plays or cube decisions reflect the correct extensive computer rollout play. There is no programming for a strong player versus a weak player that I know of.

There are some giants that care more about their PR score, than considering what has been taught to me, which is referred to as "The opponent factor." As a matter of fact I am sure that some backgammon purists would consider the concept of gamesmanship, or the opponent factor nonsense. They may feel they should make the play that the computer says is right and stick with that.

A publishing company relocated me to Beverly Hills, Ca. in 1974 and I found that I could play gin and backgammon at the "Cavendish West," a private games club in Beverly Hills. That club and the "Mayfair club in NYC were like two colleges for gin, backgammon, bridge, and chess. The backgammon room at the Cavendish was filled with hardened gamblers and celebrities mixed together. They had "A" games "B" games and "C" games.

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