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The game has changed and need more change

Posted By: phil simborg
Date: Sunday, 12 January 2014, at 2:26 p.m.

In Response To: Mochy Petko New York (Bruce Farquhar)

The more I see matches like this the more I am convinced that when the top players in the world meet, under the current rules of backgammon, they are better off saving a lot of time and flipping a coin instead of playing.

The best players are so consistently playing at such low PR's that the skill difference no longer determines, for the most part, who will win the match. Why bother to play? This, of course, was not true 20 years ago when there are great differences in approach and philosophy even amongst the very best players and not everyone was playing pretty much the same.

The rules of tournament play, as they exist, make for a wonderful, exciting game for most of us, and the better player will win enough of the time more than the weaker player to make for a great contest. But that is really not true any more for the top players.

And what about the spectators? Watching Petko play Mochy is very little different from watching XG play XG. During a match like this one, how many critical and important plays and cube decisions would Petko make differently than Mochy? The match is virtually always decided by luck--not just the luck factor that XG calculates, but by the luck of which player happens to be put in the most complicated situations and have to make the more difficult decisions, which XG does not calculate and even humans may not be able to accurately estimate.

So what is the answer? To come up with rules for the Super-Giants and highest levels of competition that truly challenge the players to increase the difficulty of play, reduce the affect of the luck factor, and require the players to use more creativity and mental acuity over the board.

So as not to dilute my main point, I will not go into, at this time, some of the changes that might steer the game more in this direction, as that would deflect the main point I am trying to make.

Once others agree with me that the premise is correct, then we can look for ways to make the game more challenging for players of this level. There are already some excellent ideas on the table that can be implemented (like Nackgammon, The Simborg Rule of not being able to make a point on the opening move, SpeedGammon and shortening the time, playing more short matches instead of long ones, playing "duplicate backgammon" and others that have not been tried yet).

I also wonder how it feels to be Mochy or Petko or any of the other dozen or so players who play close to that level, to travel across the world to a tournament knowing that no matter how well they play there is a strong change some far weaker player will beat them in an early round and that if they do come up against another great player the match will likely be decided by luck no matter how well they play?

I long for the days when I was a strong intermediate player when I walked into the room knowing I was better than most of my competition and the difference in the skill was great enough that my odds of winning were relatively high in spite of the luck factor. Of course, those of us who experienced that lovely feeling are quickly forced to move up and have to try to beat the likes of Mochy and Petko. No wonder I am working on my poker skills as well as my backgammon skills! No wonder I am finding more gin rummy games around Chicago (and elsewhere). No wonder I am spending more time playing ping pong and racquetball.

The game has changed and for the sake of the top players, the spectators, and the health of the game going forward, we need to find ways to change also to make the game more interesting and challenging are more of a true test of skill rather than luck.

Okay, I know I am going to hear great criticism from the "old guard" and people who will say that I must not love and appreciate the game enough the way it is; that the game is 5,000 years old and we should love it the way it is and leave well-enough alone. If that argument were true, then let's get rid of the doubling cube and go back to the game the way it was for most of those 5,000 years. Change is not always bad and is often needed in any game, sport, or area of life in order to adjust to changes in the environment. And for the most part, most of the leaders of this game are too old to be open to change and innovation and new ideas (I don't criticize them for being old, as I am relatively old myself, but for not being open to new ideas and improvement).

So go ahead and take your shots at me for suggesting that our game is not as good and exciting and competitive as it could be. But don't tell me that I don't love this game and don't care about trying to make it better just because you don't agree with my ideas. And I don't accuse you of not loving the game and not caring just because you don't agree with mine.

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