History of BG

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Laury Chizlett

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Aug 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM8/31/98
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I have not seen much on the history of BG. I see the occasional
reference to "the 70s revolution": who was envolved and what was play
like before that?

I believe the historical development of a game of strategy is important
in understanding the game itself, and that it often mirrors one's own
path to understanding: one goes through the same steps, accelerated
because one can study the works of the previous masters.

I learnt BG (around 1964) from a US book "The Modern Hoyle" by R
Forster, published in New York around 1904. This is still a great book
for rules of card and board games, as well as billiards, bowling and
every other game played indoors. It also has sections on strategy, and
if I remember rightly, in the one on BG, Forster advocated making the
bar point and diversifying men to make key points. It descriminated
between the "American" game - not leaving blots - and the "English" game
- running like mad, and the hell with blots.

For Chess I could construct the following - possibly controversial -
table of key developments and the people who were responsible, or who
were these development's main exponents:

pre-1850: All out attack from the start (McDonnell, de la Bourdonnais)

c1851: Complete and active development before attack (Adolf Anderssen,
Paul Morphy)

c1860: Concentration on the exploitation of small advantages such as the
opponent's doubled or backward pawns (Wilhelm Steinitz)

c1900: Chess as fight. The importance of will and determination
(Emmanual Lasker)

c1900 onwards: The synthesis and experimentation with the ideas of the
hyper-modernists such as indirect methods of controlling the centre: (A
Nimzowitz, Tartakova)

c1927: the development of the present style, with increasing
concentration on expanding the opening repetoire, unbalancing the
position to avoid the sometimes sterile positions resulting from the
proper implentation of the above (A Alekhine, J Capablanca)

etc (as this is not a Chess newsgroup)

Is it possible to do this for BG? From, say, about 1900? I have not seen
any reference to any book that covers BG history, even in part. Is there
one?

-- ^ To Liverpool St
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35


Albert Steg

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Aug 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM8/31/98
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In article <HSIdyDAO...@trpdata.demon.co.uk>, Laury Chizlett
<la...@trpdata.demon.co.uk> wrote:

> I have not seen much on the history of BG. I see the occasional
> reference to "the 70s revolution": who was envolved and what was play

> like before that? ......

> ..I believe the historical development of a game of strategy is important
> in understanding the game itself,........I have not seen


> any reference to any book that covers BG history, even in part.

The Jacoby/Crawford features a section on the history of the game, but
not so much with regard to developments in checker strategy as to pictures
of beautiful boards throughout history.

The best way to gain the sort of perspective you'r looking for is to
actually find books written in a variety of periods and read them
yourself. Here are some titles I would recommend:

1800's:
Find the earliest version of Hoyle that you can. I've got one circa
1838 that has a delightful, fascinating section on bg -- much more than
mere rules.

1920's - 1930's

This was the period of the big BG boom in America, when the doubling
cube was first introduced. A number of lovely books were published (the
dust jackets tend to feature terrific deco colors & shapes) that capture
the feel of the game back then vividly.

_The New Backgammon_ by Elizabeth Clark Boyden
_Modern Backgammon_ by Gosnevor Nicholas
_Vanity Fair's Backgammon to Win_ by Georges Mabardi

(Mabardi was reprinted in the 70's and isn't too hard to find -- though
for some sad reason they removed the cool little illustrations of
martinis, hors-douvres, and champagne settings that adorned the diagrams
in the original. This book features the landmark proclamation that
"...accepted doubles can only be the result of imperfect play.")


1960's - 1970's

_The Backgammon Book_ (Jacoby/Crawford)
_The Playboy Book of Backgammon_ (Deyoung) -- especially rich in period
anecdotes, descriptions of tournament scenarios, style of play, etc.
_BG: The Cruelest Game_ (Cooke)
_Championship Backgammon_ (Cooke/Orleans)
_Backgammon for Blood_ (Becker)
_Backgammon_ (Magriel)

1980's - 1990's

Various books by Kleinman, Robertie, Woolsey and many others ushered in
the current era of thoroughgoing mathematical analysis of the game. The
availability of effective computer applications for performing exhaustive
rollouts has made modern understanding of the game even more
quantitative.

Happy reading.

Albert

Chuck Bower

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Aug 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM8/31/98
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In article <HSIdyDAO...@trpdata.demon.co.uk>,
Laury Chizlett <la...@trpdata.demon.co.uk> wrote:
>I have not seen much on the history of BG. I see the occasional
>reference to "the 70s revolution": who was envolved and what was play
>like before that?
(snip)

I've only read a handful of books written prior to 1970, but if
they are any indication of the level of play at the time they were
written, then is was pretty mediocre. Of course it could be that the
really good players didn't see any reason to write books (and give
away their secrets)! Unfortunately most of the players who spanned
the pre- and post-1970 revolution (e.g Barclay Cooke and Oswald Jacoby)
are now no longer living. I suspect that Jacoby was one of the best
players prior to 1970, and his book (co-authored with John Crawford--
also a top player back then) doesn't seem all that insightful today.

Here is something worth thinking about: imagine you had a time
machine and could take a player back in time and "salt" him/her in a
past tournament. As a function of year, what is the minimum present
(Aug 1998) FIBS rating needed to make the "ringer" a favorite? If
the books are any indication, then I would guess that at 1650 FIBS
player (who played at that level and didn't choke) would be the favorite
in ANY tournament prior to Obolensky's promotion of the game in the
mid-60's.

One way of measuring historical player strength might be to analyze
matches. Unfortunately recording (and publishing) matches was rare prior
to Kent Goulding's early 80's series "Backgammon with the Champions".
However, it still would be interesting to go through those 14 or so matches
and see what the bots say about the level of play. Has anyone ever done
that?

Actually there may be a reasonably strong mid-late 70's player still
around, caught in a time warp. I'm referring to a computer program written
by Hans Berliner (with help from none other than Paul Magriel) which used
to be available on the Arpanet (fore-runner of the internet) and which was
unsuccessfully marketed for a VERY short time by Kim Brand. In 1979 in a
promotional coup, Brand took the program (at that time nicknamed Aristotle)
to the Monte Carlo World Championship to play a five point match with the
newly crowned World Champion for a winner-take-all prize (computers don't
hedge!) of $10k, if memory serves me.

Luigi Villa won the World Championship but then lost to Aristotle on
what was considered then some rather lucky rolling by the bot. (And just
in case SOME of you were wondering, humans were rolling the dice!) This
was chronicled in a couple places, including GAMES magazine.

Coincidentally (but maybe not completely so), Kim Brand was a high
school classmate of mine. I step back in time for a moment and relate
some of the goings on. Around 1977 Kim asked me to work on a program to
play BG. I called a former college roommate, Mike Farmwald--a Knuth
'offspring' and today some kind of Silicon Valley computer guru--who suggested
Berliner. Brand contracted Berliner first, and then called Magriel and
talked him into collaborating. (Obviously I quietly slipped out of the
picture!)

At our 25th high school reunion two years ago, I asked Kim if he
still had the program. The answer was "sort of". He had machine code
for some now obscure computer on floppy disks. I think the computer may
have been a Data General running PC/M operating system. Of course the
floppies were written by that mid-70's computer! He long ago lost the
source code. Kim didn't seem too
excited about dredging up the past so after a few e-mails, my idea of
resurrecting Aristotle once again went into dormancy. Of course this
newsgroup is monitored by LOTS of c.s. types. Maybe the current obstacles
aren't as great as they appear....


Chuck
bo...@bigbang.astro.indiana.edu
c_ray on FIBS


EdmondT

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Sep 1, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/1/98
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Chuck Bower writes:

>imagine you had a time machine and could take a player back in time and "salt"
him/her in a past tournament. As a function of year, what is the minimum
present (Aug 1998) FIBS rating needed to make the "ringer" a favorite? If the
books are any indication, then I would guess that at 1650 FIBS player (who
played at that level and didn't choke) would be the favorite
in ANY tournament prior to Obolensky's promotion of the game in the mid-60's.

I think you are missing a very important point. BG is very big in the middle
East, and there are tons of great players there who dont' write books about it.

How do I know this? Last month I went to a 2 day game fest of Armenian men
(all in their 80's) The first day I went, they absolutely creamed me (I'm
currently FIBS 1740) and I figured I had "bad luck."

The next day they creamed me worst. At the end of two days of play, I finished
DEAD LAST of about ten 80+ year old men!

I seriously doubt any of them had ever read a book on BG.

Edm...@aol.com

Chuck Bower

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Sep 1, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/1/98
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In article <199809011212...@ladder03.news.aol.com>,

EdmondT <edm...@aol.com> wrote:

>Chuck Bower writes:
>
>>imagine you had a time machine and could take a player back in time and
>>"salt" him/her in a past tournament. As a function of year, what is the
>>minimum present (Aug 1998) FIBS rating needed to make the "ringer" a
>>favorite? If the books are any indication, then I would guess that at 1650
>>FIBS player (who played at that level and didn't choke) would be the
>>favorite in ANY tournament prior to Obolensky's promotion of the game in
>>the mid-60's.
>
>I think you are missing a very important point. BG is very big in the middle
>East, and there are tons of great players there who dont' write books about
>it.

But maybe they READ them! ;) Seriously, possibly you have done what
anthropologists usually only dream about--find an isolated population
to observe. It does seem hard to believe that a game that has been around for
4000 years or so has only matured in the last 20. On the other hand, why did
no one write down their techniques? Did EVERY good player want to keep
his/her tricks a secret?

(Edmond continues:)


>How do I know this? Last month I went to a 2 day game fest of Armenian men
>(all in their 80's) The first day I went, they absolutely creamed me (I'm
>currently FIBS 1740) and I figured I had "bad luck."
>
>The next day they creamed me worst. At the end of two days of play, I
>finished DEAD LAST of about ten 80+ year old men!

Yes, but you didn't say WHO was rolling the dice. ;)

>I seriously doubt any of them had ever read a book on BG.

But if they keep their BG techniques a secret, maybe they also hid
from you their reading lists. In any case, I sure hope you didn't invite
them to our servers!

One last question: was any of these "Armenian men" named Murat??

Albert Steg

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Sep 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/3/98
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> >How do I know this? Last month I went to a 2 day game fest of Armenian men
> >(all in their 80's) The first day I went, they absolutely creamed me (I'm
> >currently FIBS 1740) and I figured I had "bad luck."
> >
> >The next day they creamed me worst. At the end of two days of play, I
> >finished DEAD LAST of about ten 80+ year old men!

Well, that's quite a provocative experience, but really, two days of play
isn't a very big sample, unless you were playing 48 hours straight, in
which case you wouldn't have been functioning very sharply.

Aside from the result, did you notice markedly different strategies they
were using? And were you using the doubling cube? It's much less popular
in the Armenian community, and there are some difference between cubeful &
cubeless play.

Albert

EdmondT

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Sep 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/3/98
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>Well, that's quite a provocative experience, but really, two days of play
isn't a very big sample, unless you were playing 48 hours straight, in which
case you wouldn't have been functioning very sharply.>

How about the 80 year old men? I'd think they'd be more affected.

>Aside from the result, did you notice markedly different strategies?>

You were correct that they did not use the doubling cube. We played each other
in five game sets, each game being worth $5, gammons counting double.

I would say that the basic difference in strategy is that they were very
cautious about leaving blots. Never slotted men. Thought it was funny when I
did.

While I realize this is not "modern" play (remember that in few years the
current "modern" style will change) I can also tell you that really skilled
players who play this way are very hard to beat. Remember that really skilled
players that we normally face do not play this way anymore, and the ones who do
are beginners or intermediates, "learing" to play "modern" BG.

I felt like I went through whole sets of games where I never really got a
direct shot, much less multiple ones. In the meantime, my "modern" play left
them with numerous opportunities to hit me.


Edm...@aol.com

Laury Chizlett

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Sep 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/3/98
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In article <199809031158...@ladder03.news.aol.com>, EdmondT
<edm...@aol.com> writes

>>Well, that's quite a provocative experience, but really, two days of play
>isn't a very big sample, unless you were playing 48 hours straight, in which
>case you wouldn't have been functioning very sharply.>
>>Aside from the result, did you notice markedly different strategies?>
<snip>

>
>You were correct that they did not use the doubling cube. We played each other
>in five game sets, each game being worth $5, gammons counting double.
>
>I would say that the basic difference in strategy is that they were very
>cautious about leaving blots. Never slotted men. Thought it was funny when I
>did.
>
>While I realize this is not "modern" play (remember that in few years the
>current "modern" style will change) I can also tell you that really skilled
>players who play this way are very hard to beat. Remember that really skilled
>players that we normally face do not play this way anymore, and the ones who do
>are beginners or intermediates, "learing" to play "modern" BG.
>
>I felt like I went through whole sets of games where I never really got a
>direct shot, much less multiple ones. In the meantime, my "modern" play left
>them with numerous opportunities to hit me.
>
>
>Edm...@aol.com

This is one of the reasons why I think the history of a game is so
important. There is a tendency to believe that games evolve over time
towards some eventual perfection, but this is not neccessarily so. It
could be that with modern communications, availability of books,
computers etc all the players of a certain time play to the same broad
_style_ and thus reinforce the correctness of their play between
themselves. A player from the past comes along and beats them through
"breaking all the rules". And breaking the rules is what all great
players seem to get away with.

I apologise for taking another example from Chess (I have recently
almost deserted Chess for BG - could not keep up with opening theory!)
but I would contend that there are players from the past who could
really clear up today. Capablanca - dead for 50 years - certainly "left
no blots" and had an uncertain knowledge of the openings, prefering to
work things out over the board. His games were famous for being
extremely "simple" and logical. (This is the equivalent of being "lucky"
at BG.) No one's games are like his, even now. The present style of
Kasparov, the present world champion, is more like Capablanca's
successor Alekhine (who only beat him once and refused to play him
again) and is all fire and strategic daring. Capa thought he had solved
chess, proposing adding another rank to the board to make the game more
interesting.

In BG's case we all know that a "no blots" strategy leads to
inflexibility. You also have to think ahead a lot. But I bet we all used
to do it when starting out. We get talked out of it and I would suggest
it is at least _possible_ that looking backwards is sometimes the way
forward. Every now and then I try "no blots" and "go-for-the-prime-oops-
its-failed-backgame time" strategies and have a good time! (I am
excluding from these thoughts the playing of the modern style wrongly -
slotting when not neccessary, for example: all styles need accurate,
consistant play.)

Chuck Bower

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Sep 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/3/98
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In article <tCqXWDAD...@trpdata.demon.co.uk>,
Laury Chizlett <la...@trpdata.demon.co.uk> wrote:

(in reference to his "Armenian men's club" experience--my title:)


>>I would say that the basic difference in strategy is that they were very
>>cautious about leaving blots. Never slotted men. Thought it was funny
>>when I did.
>>
>>While I realize this is not "modern" play (remember that in few years the
>>current "modern" style will change) I can also tell you that really skilled
>>players who play this way are very hard to beat. Remember that really
>>skilled players that we normally face do not play this way anymore, and
>>the ones who do are beginners or intermediates, "learing" to play
>>"modern" BG.

(snip)
(and Larry opines:)


>This is one of the reasons why I think the history of a game is so
>important. There is a tendency to believe that games evolve over time
>towards some eventual perfection, but this is not neccessarily so. It
>could be that with modern communications, availability of books,
>computers etc all the players of a certain time play to the same broad
>_style_ and thus reinforce the correctness of their play between
>themselves. A player from the past comes along and beats them through
>"breaking all the rules". And breaking the rules is what all great
>players seem to get away with.
>

(snip an anology to chess...)


>
>In BG's case we all know that a "no blots" strategy leads to
>inflexibility. You also have to think ahead a lot. But I bet we all used
>to do it when starting out. We get talked out of it and I would suggest
>it is at least _possible_ that looking backwards is sometimes the way
>forward. Every now and then I try "no blots" and "go-for-the-prime-oops-
>its-failed-backgame time" strategies and have a good time! (I am
>excluding from these thoughts the playing of the modern style wrongly -
>slotting when not neccessary, for example: all styles need accurate,
>consistant play.)


Interesting ideas. But I don't think it is quite this simple. Just
because SOME players can't react to "unexpected" play by their opponents
doesn't mean that ALL players don't. Maybe I shouldn't have snipped
Larry's analogy to chess because I believe he said that Capablanca (wasn't
that a movie?) won by THINKING. And, guess what. So do the best BG players!

Having said that, I can also relate a couple things that possibly
support the other side of this argument:

a) At the 1994 World Cup lecture, Joe Sylvester (certainly considered one
of the top players then, anyway) told a story about playing some old guy
from California who moved his opening rolls with the DOUBLE SPLIT (moving
both checkers off the 24-point). Joe said it drove him crazy!

b) Robot rollouts (with the obvious caveats) say that the opening 43 opening
is pretty close between four plays: 13/9,13/10; 13/9,24/21; 13/10,24/20; and
24/20,24/21. The way JF plays the remainder of the games (rollouts),
24/20,24/21 comes in worst, but not by very much. Now, suppose your opp
opens with this and you respond 21. How do you play it? Think about it
before reading on...

OK, have you got your answer? JF Rollouts say if you don't hit BOTH blots, you
have swung the equities enough to make 24/20, 24/21 CLEARLY THE BEST way for
your opp to open that roll! (Of course I'm assuming you respond "correctly"
to all the other reply rolls to the other 43 candidates.)

What I would find quite interesting would be if you threw one of our
"modern" experts (e.g. Kit) into this Armenian shark pool and see how badly
s/he gets sliced up.

Murat Kalinyaprak

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Sep 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/4/98
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Chuck Bower wrote:

>EdmondT wrote:

>>Chuck Bower writes:

>>I think you are missing a very important point. BG is
>>very big in the middle East, and there are tons of great
>>players there who dont' write books about it.

> But maybe they READ them! ;)

Ignoring the "smiley", I doubt it... I learned it when
I was 8-9 years old, just like perhaps almost all males
would in Middle-Eastern countries. I can state that I
have never read a book about it myself, nor seen anybody
reading one, nor heard of anybody who read one...

> Seriously,

For real...?

> possibly you have done what anthropologists usually only
> dream about--find an isolated population to observe.

What "isolated population"...? Whether they still live
in their native countries or immigrated elsewhere, you
won't find too many Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Iranians,
etc. who won't know the game and/or play it at a quite
decent level. In areas like So. California, they may
even constitute as much as half (if not more) of the
participants in local live-tournaments. You can see a
good number of them playing on Internet servers also.
If people in Middle-Eastern countries had similar means
of access to Internet as in US or Europe, I bet they
would outnumber the rest by far...

> It does seem hard to believe that a game that has been
> around for 4000 years or so has only matured in the last
> 20. On the other hand, why did no one write down their
> techniques? Did EVERY good player want to keep his/her
> tricks a secret?

First of all, widespread literacy is a recent phenomenon
and Middle-East being one area still lagging behind on
this. So, in older times, you could have counted people
who knew how to read and write probably with your fingers.
Oh, and there were no incentives as selling a few million
copies and getting rich writing books...

Second, the same applies to almost anything. Music,
horsemanship, agriculture, etc, etc. all survived and
matured without books about them. They have been cooking
excellent kebab in the Middle-East for thousands of years
without receipe books also...

Tricks are not kept secret (how could they be...?). They
are either explicitly thought or learned by just playing
and observing older/better players, sometimes in such
interesting ways as naming certain moves. For example, in
Turkey, building a block on one's two point is called
"Agop's block" ("Agop" is an Armenian name)...

>>The next day they creamed me worst. At the end of two days
>>of play, I finished DEAD LAST of about ten 80+ year old men!

> Yes, but you didn't say WHO was rolling the dice. ;)

The guy is relating an experience he found interesting
and which apparently you didn't have the opportunity
to experience yourself. Why don't you shove your tiring
useless sarcasms...

>>I seriously doubt any of them had ever read a book on BG.

> But if they keep their BG techniques a secret, maybe they
>also hid from you their reading lists. In any case, I sure
>hope you didn't invite them to our servers!

If you could recognize names/words from Middle-Eastern
countries/languages, you would have noticed that there
is a good number of them on "your" servers already. As
computer and Internet usage becomes more widespread in
those countries, you can look forward to seeing more of
them...

Whether you will see more top players from among them
is another matter. I don't think they'll get used to
the idea of playing bg with cube, counting pips and
calculating equities very easily (which seems to be
necessary to make it in world-wide comppetitions). If
they see people doing those things, they'll probably
look at them as nerds or something. Backgammon is too
much a part of their culture and at the same time those
things are not part of the "spirit of the game"...

>One last question: was any of these "Armenian men" named Murat??

"Murat" is not a traditionally Armenian name (it's a
Muslim name) but one can see it possibly in some
Armenian last names like "Muradian??".

Sounds like you have a problem with somebody named
"Murat"...? :)

MK

rcerutti

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Sep 9, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/9/98
to

Precursors of backgammon are among the most ancient of all games and may date
from as early as 3000 BC. The ancient Romans
played a game, Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum ("Twelve-lined Game"), which was
identical, or nearly so, to modern backgammon. The
game is still most generally played in the eastern Mediterranean countries.

Laury Chizlett wrote:

> I have not seen much on the history of BG. I see the occasional
> reference to "the 70s revolution": who was envolved and what was play
> like before that?
>

> I believe the historical development of a game of strategy is important

> Is it possible to do this for BG? From, say, about 1900? I have not seen
> any reference to any book that covers BG history, even in part. Is there
> one?


>
> -- ^ To Liverpool St
> ^ Station & City
> Laury | ^ | 1.5 miles
> ________________________| |
> TRP Ridley Rd Street Market |__
> 35 Colvestone Crescent __________________ _ | | Dalston
> London / / | |__| Kingsland
> E8 2LG / / |A10 | Station
> ________________/ / | |
> Tel: 0171 923 0244 Colvestone Cres / | |
> Fax: 0171 923 1471 ____________________/ | |
> 35
>

--

Sincerely,

Rene Cerutti - Scottsdale - Arizona - rcer...@worldnet.att.net

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