The Backgammon Encyclopedia Vol 2 Reviewed

by Jake Jacobs
8 January 2018

Jake Jacobs

Thirty-five years ago Mike Maxakuli, publisher of the Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine, came to me with an idea. I should write the Backgammon Encyclopedia, which he would publish. He claimed that as a reference book it could count on sales to thirty thousand libraries, which would make it a best seller as backgammon books go.

I did some thinking about the idea, but very little writing. My roommate, Tim Wisecarver, was keen, and did some work on the entry for "Backgame," as I recall. In the end nothing came of it. Too bad, as years later Bill Robertie told me that he had researched it and having "Encyclopedia" in the tile was very good for sales. By this time Kit Woolsey had sewn up the title with the first volume of the series. Neither volume is like the project I toyed with, however. So if you are looking for a reference book that will answer questions like "What's the Thorp Count," or "Who were the winners of the Plimpton Cup," seek them elsewhere.

This volume comprises sets of cube reference positions. There are ten chapters, ranging from "Early Advantage" to "Racing." There are over one hundred pages, with two or three positions on a page. Each includes rollout results, and Kit's explanation of the dynamics of the position.

Kit calls this a "typical early position." Well, maybe. I wonder how Black has managed to do all of that, while White seems to have moved just two pips? Nack Ballard likes composing puzzles where you need to reconstruct the rolls and plays, assuming each player played perfectly, to reach a given position. I guess there is a way of getting here - there usually is - but I will let the curious pursue it. The double is obvious; the take is correct, at .95, though less obvious.

Having set up his base camp, Kit goes exploring. What if Black owns the 4pt instead of the 5pt? It is still a double, but now only .83. How about the 3pt? No double. What if White owns the 11pt? And so forth, for a total of twenty-five variations. Kit's method, or at least his hope, is that you will not memorize these variations, but rather develop a sense of how small changes affect your equity, and if facing a similar sort of position, have developed a feel for what to do.
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