By John O’Hagan
Trying to become a better backgammon player? One of the best ways to improve is by reading some of the excellent books that have been written about this complex game. The books I recommend in this article are a pretty good investment — they aren’t overly expensive and virtually everyone will learn something from reading them. The more of these books you read, the more you will learn, and the better your results will be in the long run. I’ve divided this recommended reading list into 3 sections: beginners, intermediates, and experts.
If you are brand new to the game, I definitely recommend Backgammon by Paul Magriel. This is the best beginner’s book on the market and will teach you a lot about the game. A classic that was written in the 1970’s that every backgammon player should have in their library. Another good book in this category is The Backgammon Book by Oswald Jacoby and John Crawford. This was first published in 1970 and it will give the beginner a good grasp of the game.
There are several books written for players in this stage. Read these and you’ll learn a lot. Your game will improve dramatically and you’ll soon be an expert-level player. I’ve always liked Backgammon Boot Camp by the late Walter Trice. I don’t know if it really belongs in the intermediate category or not since the later chapters delve into some pretty advanced material. The first two sections of the book are designed for beginners and intermediates (basic training and advanced training), so I’ll include it in this section. I know I learned a lot from the later chapters so it’s a good book for experts as well. Another good book for intermediates is Improve Your Backgammon by Paul Lamford and Simon Gasquoine. It has good material on races, blitzes, how to calculate equity, and a good section on match play.
There are also several good problem books I heartily recommend to the intermediate. 501 Essential Backgammon Problems by Bill Robertie is one of them. The book consists of common, everyday-type positions where an intermediate player found the wrong play over the board. Robertie explains what the right play is and why it’s better than the play that was chosen. Advanced Backgammon, also authored by Robertie, is also very good. The reader will find lots of valuable insights on how to play the opening, the bear off, and everything in between. Kit Woolsey and Tami Jones co-authored Understanding Backgammon, a problem book where Tami (the intermediate) and Kit (the world-class expert) explain the play they would make and why they would do it. The reader can learn a great deal by seeing how Kit analyzes the position and hopefully they’ll be able to incorporate this expert thinking into their own game. I also recommend Boards, Blots, and Double Shots by Norm Wiggins (and edited by Danny Kleinman). This problem book was published in 2001 and consists of 129 problems. Every position was rolled out using Jellyfish, the best neural net at that time. It’s well-written I learned quite a bit from the variety of positions in this book.
What’s next for the expert who’s read all of the above? I think the following books will allow you to play the game even better. The first book in this category is Backgammon Problems by Mike Corbett. His book features positions so difficult that even the neural net Snowie gets them wrong. Snowie plays better than virtually all of us, so if it gets them wrong you know that most of us will as well. Readers will also enjoy Mike’s creative writing style (at least I did). Another must-have for all experts is Bill Robertie’s Modern Backgammon. It’s the best book I’ve read on checker play and also includes an annotated match between Nack Ballard and Jerry Grandell. The Backgammon Encyclopedia Volume 1: Cube Reference Positions by Kit Woolsey, is another terrific book. The book gives you reference positions for a wide variety of position types (all rolled out by Snowie). Blitzes, holding games, anchor games, priming games, back games, races, and so on. For each position type, a position that’s no double/take will be shown. Then Kit will alter it a bit to make it double/easy take, then alter it some more until it’s a double/marginal take, then again until it’s double/pass. This book will give you the reference positions you will need to be a successful player. Kit was also the author of New Ideas in Backgammon. This problem book came out in 1996 and consists of 104 problems that were misplayed over the board by an expert player and then rolled out by Jellyfish. The rollout results are shown for each problem and Kit adds his own insightful commentary on why the rollout winner is the best play.
Recommended books may be purchased from Carol Joy Cole’s Backgammon Boutique.