• Match Play Mentality

    I have done a lot of teaching over my backgammon career and more so over the last five years since I retired from full-time employment. Teaching the basics of the game is relatively easy but, as players improve, further development is much more difficult, as it is with most games and sports.

    One reason is that only dedicated students will take the time necessary to learn the intricacies of the game. Many of my students have started out well but have balked at the hours required to become an expert player. Sadly for them Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory holds as true for backgammon as it does for just about everything else in life. You cannot become a great player in a couple of months.

    Not only do you have to master the technical side of the game, but you also have to develop the right mental attitude for each form of the game that you play, be it money, chouette or match play. Teaching players how to develop the correct mental attitude is as difficult, if not more so, than teaching technical competence.

    I find this is particularly so in match play where most beginners and intermediates just cannot accept that risk and reward must be balanced and that decisions must be based upon analysis and logic rather than on emotion.

    Today’s position shows a typical intermediate error in match play thinking. Black was leading 3-2 to 5 and very reasonably doubled. At 3-2 you often play on for an undoubled gammon but that is an unlikely scenario here. Black is a clear favourite and the position is certainly volatile so it is right to double.

    Over the board White’s reasoning was that as he was not favourite it must be correct tor him to drop this double and live to fight another day and that is what he did. He subsequently lost the Crawford Game and the match. He did not want to put the match on the line by accepting the double. That type of thinking is commonplace in intermediate backgammon and it is why intermediates remain intermediates.

    The correct think for White here is this: “If I drop I will be behind 3-away vs 1-away (Crawford). Therefore, my winning chances are exactly 25%. Can I do better by accepting this double and immediately redoubling to 4, putting the match on the line? In other words, are my winning chances in this game more or less than 25%?

    My racing chances are reasonable but based on the race alone this would be a pass. However. I can also win by hitting a blot. Only 61, 65 and 66 leave immediate direct shots but Black will have difficulty clearing his 8-pt with both his bar-pt and 5-pt empty. It looks like I will hit often enough to bring my overall winning percentage up above 25%. Ergo, I take and redouble.”

    In fact, White wins more than 28% of the time and therefore the take is very easy, and it is a triple blunder to pass.

    The difficulty lies in getting the White player to think as above and leave the emotion out of it. I can assure you it takes more than a couple of teaching to change players’ mental attitudes.


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