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Revisiting O'Hagan AtS Cube/Ray Response

Posted By: Timothy Chow
Date: Friday, 11 April 2014, at 2:48 p.m.

In Response To: Revisiting O'Hagan AtS Cube/Ray Response (Matt Cohn-Geier)

MCG wrote:

Here is a simple truth: backgammon is a complex enough game that it can't be reduced to simple platitudes and snappy catch-alls.

The voice of reason!

Here, for example, is something that in my opinion is a critical opponent-based consideration that hasn't been mentioned by anyone. People have been focusing on the winning percentage, but in my experience, whether a player takes a desperation cube depends on a lot on what kind of position it is, not just the theoretical winning percentage. If you're good at reading people, you might also know by this point in the match some specific information about your opponent, but even assuming you don't, in general people can have very different psychological attitudes towards (1) winning a long race; (2) winning a short race; (3) getting and hitting a shot. My experience has been that weaker players tend to be much less willing to enter a 5% long race than a 5% short race or a 5% get-and-hit-a-shot, even if technically the long race gives them slightly better theoretical percentages. This is partly because it's virtually impossible to tell the difference between 5% winning chances and 0.1% winning chances without a formula, and if a player knows enough to use the formula then he or she is probably not that weak.

But anyway, my point isn't to argue that the position is or isn't a double, because my experience is anecdotal, just like anyone else's. It's just to underline MCG's point that there cannot be a single right answer. This is largely an issue of understanding how your opponent thinks, and in the absence of hard statistics collected from real data, there's no way to have a well-founded opinion on the matter, even on the assumption that you've been unable to glean anything from observing your opponent up to this point in the match. The vehemence with which people are insisting that tournament players will take or drop or whatever, based purely on anecdotal evidence, reminds me of the vehemence with which some people insist that the bots cheat, based purely on anecdotal evidence.

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