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  • Writer's pictureLuiza

Are you really that good, or are you just getting lucky?

Public opinion on whether backgammon is a game of skill or luck *May 2020, n = 1,226

The general consensus is correct! Backgammon is indeed a game of skill, much more than luck. While it's hard to pin down the absolute figures, most estimates place 40% of the wins on luck, and 60% on skill. Well.. not exactly. That 60/40 split really only presents itself over time.

For a complete mismatch - a master playing a beginner - the master will win about 75% of one point matches, and nearly 100% of matches to 11 or more (the longer the match, the more chances for skill to emerge as dominant).

Given that, how can I gain an edge?

Math! Let's take a look at an example below.

My friend here has a piece on the bar, and is hoping to roll a 1 to get it back in the game. I've managed to cover 5 out of the 6 available spaces for him to roll in on.. so is he attached to another object by an inclined plane wrapped helically around an axis (in other words, screwed)? It would appear so, but let's do some simple math and find out.

In backgammon, there are 36 possible roll combinations that you can roll at any given time (2 dice, both with 6 numbers. 6 x 6 = 36). In order to determine the percentage likelihood of rolling a specific number at any given time (like a 1), we can add up all the possible rolls and divide by 36. Let's do this for the example above.

First, we list all the possible rolls that would result in him getting his piece back in the game. (We're counting 1,2 and 2,1 as separate rolls because we're rolling two dice)

1, 1 (also called double 1s)

1, 2

2, 1

1, 3

3, 1

1, 4

4, 1

1, 5

5, 1

1, 6

6, 1

That's 11 out of 36 rolls, or about 31%.

Not bad! This means he has a 31% chance of getting his piece back in the game on his next roll. You can utilize this simple probability calculation when making decisions about leaving pieces open, hitting an opponent's piece, or just deciding which piece to move. And just like that, some of the mystery (and luck) has been removed from the equation. If you can do this math and your opponent can't, you've gained an edge. If you're too lazy to do the math (as I often am), memorize this instead.

Over time, you'll start to "feel" when a move is correct. This math will be floating around in the root of your subconscious, acting like a guiding force.

If you haven't already, download FriendGammon here and let's roll them bones!

- Xo, Luiza

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