Monday 19 January 2009


Chess is often touted as the greatest of all boardgames.
That it is the one that challenges the human mind most, it is, of all games, the master challenge.

I actually don't entirely agree. I think it is a good game, which is why it has stood the test of time. Whereas I doubt 'Guess Who' will.
But is it the ultimate board game?

No, I still cast my vote here for Backgammon.

And I'll tell you why.
A lot of people, on first being introduced to the game say 'But's all down to the dice. It's a game of luck'.
Really? Let's play again then.
Still luck? Let's try again.

Now you're getting it. Not all down to luck is it?

I don't mind a game of Chess. But I can't sit there and JUST focus on the game. Too much sitting around waiting for the other side to move. And really, that's all I need to worry about. What YOU'LL do.
And the game has become too rehearsed. Set moves, etc.

To be honest, I play a different way to most people. A win or lose strategy. I'm not interested in defending my King. I won't castle him or defend him. I'll bring him out into the open. Why? I want him to have eight free squares around him. I'm going to make it hard for you to Checkmate me by making sure my King isn't a corner. So he can move around. Otherwise, he can defend himself. Then I'll let you box your King in whilst I bring all my heavyweight pieces, all of them, into your area. And I only need three to Checkmate you. So I'm not fussed what you take. I treat every piece as a pawn to be disposed of, except the three I'm counting on to lock you in. And I might even have marked my Queen for sacrifice.

You can often win a game after your opponent has taken your Queen quite easily. Because he thinks he's close and he's not watching what you're up to.

But it lacks something. Just as Rugby is lacking in something only real Football can really provide. Simplicity, Adrenalin and rapidly changing circumstances.

When you play Backgammon, your Adrenalin levels rise.

Because you have to gamble. It's a bit like a real war, chess isn't. Because in a real war, commanders are victims of fortune. It's what they do with unforeseen circumstances outside their control. They have to keep changing strategy because of what's been thrown up. Things their armies had nothing to do with.

But a good player goes through all the options and plays a versatile enough strategy to be able to know that what he is doing will ultimately work out by law of probabilities.

I had a look to see if anywhere online gives Backgammon rules that were simply explained.
I wasn't overly impressed. There are many variations, but the form I'm used to and the only version I've ever come into contact with runs as follows.

The pieces are laid out as follows.

You will notice that each player has pieces in every quarter. There are two dice.
Each player has to get all his pieces into the quarter where at the start the other player only has two. So some are quite near his box. The two on each end are furthest away. One player is sweeping one way, the other sweeps the other. So you're going past eachother.
Each throw, a player may move one piece both numbers, or two pieces each number. If he throws a double, he actually gets FOUR moves.

A piece on it's own, may be 'eaten' by a piece of the other colour that lands on it. This means the piece goes off the board and the next move the player who's lost the piece must do, is to throw it back on. It come on at HIS start. Which is his opponent's finish.

However. Only pieces on their own are vulnerable. A piece with another of it's own on top, is covered. So if I have two of mine on a spike, you can't land on it.

So it's a numbers game. It's about being able to work out what your options are and keep your options open, whilst closing down the options of your opponent.

I've taught several people to play over the years. And I've usually taught them my general strategy. Because it tends to work.
Most people will try move their back pieces forward first. To try and get out of harm's way.
I forget about them.
They're not my priority.

My priority is to block your back pieces in. So I start by moving the corner pile of five forward into my own half. And then pretty much any combination the dice gives me allows me to get two of my own pieces on spikes further and further forward.
and I don't mind getting eaten and sent back. At this stage, you putting my sacrificial lambs off the board doesn't bother me. Because I can throw them back on.

What I'm trying to do, is make it hard for you to come back on.
Any two of my counters on a spike in my box, I'm getting there. It means every time I eat you, that's one less number available for you to come back on, when I eat you.

In fact, soon you'll start missing turns because you can't get the numbers you need. And now? Now I start to bring my back pieces, kindly added to by you, forward. And I eat every lone piece you have.

Now all I need to do, is worry about leaving my pieces as vulnerable as I throw them OFF the board.

Because one you have ALL your pieces in your box (but not before), you have to start taking them off. Throw by throw. And of course, this means you might have to leave pieces on their own. And you're still throwing your pieces back ON.

If you can get your pieces off the board, whilst your opponent has still got pieces outside his box, it's a double game.

I did ONCE do what I didn't see could be possible, before I did it. Get all my pieces OFF whilst they still had pieces to come back ON.

From what I remember it was because I had eaten about half their pieces. And I had blocked off my box completely. So they couldn't throw until a space opened up. And numbers became free. But of course, even so, they can only get two maximum back on in each throw. Four if they were very lucky. I think they got all but one back on and I only had to get three off. I was a bit worried that one piece would be eaten at this point, but I threw a double and took them all off.

It's the only board game really gives you an adrenalin rush.

It's not about the numbers.
It's about what you do with your options.


Anonymous said...

I loved this post - I am a big fan of both Chess and Backgammon - I think I will change my backgammon strategy now!

Anonymous said...

I've never played backgammon. Oddly, I am presently teaching myself to play chess because my son has decided to take it up. I've downloaded an app on my iPhone. I've noticed that I forget to do anything with my king and ted to be aggressive with my other pieces and thus far usually beat the computer or cause a stalemate. Of course I'm still at idiot level.

Maybe I'll give backgammon a try too.

Anonymous said...

Your backgammon strategy is very sound. Your chess strategy is creative but can we play for money?

Anonymous said...

I haven't played backgammon in years but reckon I'll haul the board out tonight and thrash my flatmates over a bottle of wine or three.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I hate Chess. My brother loves it. I won't play with him because I don't want to memorize all those moves. That just takes away from the fun factor of a game for me.
I'll have to try Backgammon.

Anonymous said...

I used to play Chess at school, an avid member of the Chess Club. As I am now in that late 40 something age group, board games bore me... I am an online female warrior!

Anonymous said...

I have never played backgammon. But you make a good point and this is an interesting, well argued post.

What do you think of reversi? I think that is underestimated.

Anonymous said...

Go Sue! I enjoyed board games as a kid. Now I spend my spare time in second life... when I am not blogging.

I am trying to learn to fight I have a sneaky practice dummy and a pair of katana, but I don't want a serious fight till I know if I am any good and don't have a sparring partner.

My friends recommend magic as more appropriate. I quite like the idea of being a ninja "kill bill".