Backgammon and Life (2) What are Strategies and Tactics, How are They Applied?

Strategies and tactics are present in all our pursuits. There are evidence that functions of our brain are structured alike. In backgammon, as in life, in order to be able to stay longer in the game, using strategies and tactics we obtain quality solutions pertaining to our goals in a limited amount of time. Strategies are solution models which point to the big picture – an understanding of the gist of the problem, and their values emerge in the long run. For example, in backgammon, making points is a strategy for moving checkers without getting hit and also blocking the opponent. Receiving training can be used as a strategy to get better job opportunities. On the other hand, tactics are mostly related to immediate, shorter term, life and death situations. They can be used when the problems have narrower boundaries and it is somehow possible to measure the probability of opportunities and the resulting gain. In backgammon, hitting an opponent checker can be used as a tactical means to direct the game to our end by limiting our opponent’s options. In the inexperience phase of our pursuits “what” and “how” questions are advantageous to proceed. In this article I will try to present an overview of such a look.

Since backgammon is basically a race, the side leading races more whereas the other side blocks more. In business world, some gets ahead, some tries to block or catch up, and still some others bring new dimensions to the race ground by revealing or inventing different and powerful characteristics. Strategies and tactics are related to the timespan focused and our ability to calculate/predict gains. In backgammon there are strategies and tactics spread to varying timespans of play such as move, game, match, tournament, season and backgammon career. The calculation for one move might be a tactical evaluation involving our selected candidate moves and the ways our opponent answers these. For example, we can group our opponent’s dice as good, medium, or bad, and then evaluate resulting scenarios corresponding to each group. As masters of this tactical evaluation, bots (computer backgammon programs) have provided human players so much contribution. Likewise, in business world similar analyses are performed frequently in brain storming sessions where computer simulations are also exploited.

In backgammon, there are strategies like racing, holding, blitzing, priming and backgame providing different contact and complexity options. In all strategies one side tries racing while blocking the opponent. In accord with the nature of the game, the best that leader in the race can do is to race only. The simplest way to win is to conceive the game or pursuit at the level of its design and not to deviate from the goal we envision for the game. However, when needed, strategies should be switched quickly because they are not the goal of the game but tools for winning. If only strategical tool we know is racing then we will inevitably look at all situations as race. Likewise, if we only think about winning then we miss the opportunity of growing with the pursuit. For example, if a company sets making profit as the only goal, in the bigger picture containing partners, employees, and customers it can manage to disappoint all.

To be able to employ strategies and tactics some measurable criteria are needed. In backgammon, there are lots of performance indicators and measurement methods like pip count (measures the race), crossover count, probability calculation methods, number of checkers on the bar, number of checkers at the back, number of home board points, and number of points in the prime. In backgammon and life, instead of keeping verbose information, measurable criteria show us whether our strategies and tactics are working and reusable in other applicable timespans. To this end it is also very important to get support from bots by understanding their design and operational principles; like the support we get from simulations and computer assisted analyzes in business world. In addition, with their evolutionary design, nature and animals are also very long time framed, complex systems that can shed light to these computational phenomena.

Strategies and tactics are used in backgammon and life as tools providing feasible solutions to the variable time framed problems occuring in our pursuits. In game and life it is necessary for us to gather all needed ones and to put them on use in all timespans we are interested in. The awareness of options and probabilities provides a way of psychological reconciliation with the factor of chance by using move and game based tactics. By zeroing the chance factor, on the other hand, strategies generate opportunities in longer timespans such as game, match, season, or backgammon career. In the next article in order to show that mastery requires an understanding of “why”s, I will follow along Sun Tzu who said “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved”.

Sabri Büyüksoy

Backgammon and Life (1) Backgammon Playing Us

Backgammon is not only backgammon. Every pursuit brings an interaction between the individual and the activity itself. This situation can also be observed between the backgammon and the player. Three basic phases of the interaction happening in pursuits can be applied to backgammon too. First, it plays with an individual’s self and makes one feel helpless. Let us call this phase “inexperience/apprenticeship”. Then the individual goes on playing backgammon for some years and achieves some mechanical maturity and grip. Let us call this “sophistication/mastership” phase. These two phases can be intertwined because like every pursuit playing backgammon has also some mixed stages and sluggish plateaus. In the last phase, however, the differentiation between the player and the play disappears, and only the backgammon remains. In this phase of unity, when observed both from inside and outside, the play of backgammon emerges naturally and organically. Let us call this last phase “integration/harmony”. In this series of articles I will cover these three phases by expanding briefly packed topics below.

In “inexperience/apprenticeship” phase, ignoring human dimensions, first we can inspect strategical and tactical aspects of backgammon as a race of variable timespans. Backgammon offers us options about when and how to win or loose the race. It is closely related to mathematical notions of probability and statistics in a lot of ways. Like life, containing endless possibilities, backgammon reveals the relativity of and our bias about luck to the players who can master the game. Built on right top of these dimensions backgammon also points to the importance of other aspects like risk management, crisis management, movement flexibility, structural weakness/strength and connectivity. The importance of goal setting during the game and openness to multiple plans emerges after some maturity. In this phase in addition to game playing skills, human aspects also kick in and they show us the way to move ourselves beyond technical dimension. Our attitude towards life manifests itself in backgammon. Our conception of luck and how we conceive ourselves with respect to luck will be made obvious by backgammon. It shows our maturity about winning and loosing. We can learn how well we are aware of our psychological drifts. Our performance in backgammon will show us how efficient we are able to use the power of our mind, body and breath. Thanks to backgammon, similar to what people in show business experience, we can understand how we can manage our excitement by converting it to an advantage. Turning experience into game skills and shared knowledge would add very much to a player. From our performance, we can tell how much we have been present at the table and how much distracted in backgammon. We can also tell if we have the ability to stay in the game in annoying situations.

In “sophistication/mastership” phase, the question of why we play backgammon will appear more. Like in every pursuit in life, backgammon, too, can be played for love or lust. Some play the game because they like playing whereas some play for prize. Both ways are acceptable as different personal choices. Simply, pursuits followed with love can be satisfying whatever the results might be. When fulfilled to reach some material goal, however, joy and success, tied to an external factor, are harder to achieve. For example, coping with bad luck can be easier when the pursuit stems from love. The person involved in love directed activities will be more in her/his desired aura and the activity itself will bring happiness. With success anxiety, however, every moment will be a source of stress until desired results are attained.

It is hard to understand the phase of “integration/harmony” appearing at the end of backgammon and other pursuits. We can adapt Hugo Paulson ‘s idea of “Good firms worry about competition, great firms worry about clients” to the person who play backgammon as follows: Wonderful backgammon player is the one who loses her/his self and who can produce value for all. A pursuit is more meaningful when it provides an opportunity to know one’s self and carry one to her/his higher potential while also increasing total value. No one is an island. It is not true that a person is a subject and all else are objects. S/he is both part of the whole and the whole itself. Life and backgammon do not only flow around us, but they are also inside us. When we play wonderful backgammon, at the same time we touch ourselves and also produce a universal value.

Sabri Büyüksoy

6th Georgian Open

Supported by OBSS, Sabri Büyüksoy won the Last Chance tournament of Masters category at the 6th Georgian Open 2012 Backgammon Championship. He played against World no.22 Backgammon Giant Jürgen Orlowski in the final match. In addition, together with Prof. Haluk Oral they played the final of Doubles Consulting event against another Turkish team and got second prize trophy. Detailed results of the tournament can be reached at

At Last Chance final match, coming from 0-3 behind, I won the match 7-3. Taken in the same shot, my Doubles tournament partner Haluk Oral won One-point tournament.

Doubles or Double Consultation is a very nice backgammon activity format where one player plays and the other player can give advice or shares his/her opinion. In practice, usually after losing a game, the player and the consultant swap places so that they will have a fresh start. Two Turkish teams reached to the final. This photo is taken before the match but after losing, my partner and I could still smile 🙂

With the trophies our team is happy. Thanks to Arda Fındıkoğlu for sharing these photos. This tournament is a memorial to Gogi Bukia ‘s birthday. In yellow sheets, there is a poem dedicated to his memory. At the ceremony we toasted so many times to Gogi Bukia and listened to nice poems which we didn’t understand. Then, Prof. Haluk Oral took the scene and with a sentimental tone, he recited a very nice poem from Nazım Hikmet. This time Georgian players applauded our poem despite they didn’t understood anything 🙂

Georgian people know how to cook meat. This whole goat was cooked in wood fire and then served as a whole. Guests serve their dishes themselves by cutting the goat. There was very beatiful dances and singing also. Georgian people are very talented in both.