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How to Play the Opening in Backgammon_Part 1
A New Way of Thinking by Bill Roberte

v120540 How to Play the Opening in Backgammon Part 1 – A New Way of Thinking by Bill Roberte Backgammon Book.

Intermediate/Advanced
Info:
Published 2020, 144 pages, 281 diagrams, softbound.

Price (excluding UK/EU/Europe): $67.00
(price UK: £48.00, EU/Europe: €60.00, Denmark: kr 440.00)

About the book:
How to Play the Opening in Backgammon/Part 1 – A New Way of Thinking looks at opening positions in terms of assets and liabilities with an emphasis on balance and giving you the tools to be able to spot the often-not-obvious best play quickly over the board.

In the Introduction, Bill Robertie writes, “The opening occurs in every game. By definition, you will be faced with more opening problems which will account for the highest proportion of your errors. The goal of this book is to present a new way of looking at opening positions and to drive home the very important point that in the opening everything matters.”

A careful study of How to Play the Opening in Backgammon/Part 1 – A New Way of Thinking will help you develop a sense of how stacks, stripped points, blots, the position of the back checkers, and the race all exert an effect on your play. Putting these pieces together combined with an understanding of how they influence a position will let you take a big step toward playing better backgammon.

What's been said about the book by Bob Dancer
The new series on backgammon openings is divided into three parts, only the first of which has been released so far.

In Chapter 1, he explores the 15 possible opening rolls. (If you and your opponent roll the same number, you re-roll until the numbers are different.) Some of these are essentially forced, for which there isn’t a lot of discussion. But many have split-or-slot choices, or contact-or-run choices, or where-to-split choices. (I know that’s a lot of jargon for non-players. In the book itself, there are hundreds of diagrams demonstrating these terms and others.) He tells you which ones are absolutely best, which ones are close plays, and among those close plays, what circumstances would lead you to play one way or the other.

He uses the currently preferred AI Bot, eXtreme gammon (XG), as the authority, but there’s a lot of discussion that can only come from being a world-class player playing top competition. I, as an intermediate player and a competent writer, could certainly write a book listing all of XG’s preferred plays, but there’s a whole lot of nuance and overall theory that comes from being at the very top that I simply do not have.

In Chapter 2, he gives the preferred 21 responses to each of the 15 opening rolls. (The six doubles are included in the first number and not in the second.) That multiplies out to 315 possible permutations — but there are actually quite a few more than that because there are choices in how the first 15 numbers are played and even more choices as to how the 21 responses are played. The actual number of permutations considered (I didn’t count them) comes out to around 500 — all listed in charts.

It’s the discussion that goes along with these 500 combinations that’s important. For example, I suspect most intermediate players play 6-2, 6-3, and 6-4 essentially the same as a response to the opening roll. But there are differences between them that are discussed — and how those differences are exacerbated by whatever the opening roll was. This isn’t easy going — but it’s very useful if you want to start your game off in the best way possible.

At the start of a game, your 5-point and your opponent’s 5-point (also called your 20-point) are the two most important unmade points. Chapter 3 begins by discussing the cases where you can make either point, but not both. Which do you choose? Robertie lists the factors that determine this, including whether you’re ahead or behind, whether one of the plays is safer than the other, whether one of the plays leaves a better distribution of checkers, and other factors as well.

The chapter then goes on to discuss positions where you could make your five-point and numerous other points. The idiom learned by beginners of When in doubt make your five-point,” is correct often enough to make it a useful idiom, but incorrect often enough to make the exceptions worth studying. 

Several of the positions described are virtual toss-ups, where it doesn’t much matter which play you make. But, if you memorize these positions, a slight improvement on either side will make it no longer a toss-up.

Chapter 4 is similar to Chapter 3 except it’s based on making the 20-point versus other good plays. Likewise Chapter 5, except it’s based on making your 4-point versus other good plays.

And the appendix lists the results of the XG rollouts of each of the 250 or so positions in the book. One example from Chapter 3, which Robertie called a toss-up in the text, shows the position is worth +0.272 if you make your 5-point versus +0.269 if you make your 4-point. That sounds like a toss-up to me, and future generations of AI bots may well switch the order of preference.

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