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Backgammon for Losers - Caveat Emptor!

Posted By: Chris Bray
Date: Tuesday, 17 November 2015, at 9:42 a.m.

I have just sent the following review to Amazon on the new book "Backgammon for Losers". I have tried to be as objective as possible but in truth the book requires a huge amount of work to make it acceptable - some of the mistakes are so basic they are worrying and I am sure Mochy will be delighted to find that he took part in the Falafel slimming bet!

"By way of establishing my credentials for this review: I am the backgammon columnist for The Independent newspaper in the UK – a position I have held for over 20 years - and have written seven books on the game, including “Backgammon for Dummies” and “Backgammon to Win”. I am also one of the leading historians on the game with a personal library of 120 books and a large collection of backgammon memorabilia and artefacts.

I always try to encourage new writers as there are so few of us and so I was pleased to see a new name emerge. While I applaud the enthusiasm and intentions of the writer I cannot applaud the content. Let me explain why.

(Please note that the book is aimed at beginners/intermediates and I cannot provide a review from that standpoint. What follows is an expert’s review.)

Firstly it is clear that the book has not been proof-read by an expert or even a competent player. If so they would have picked up the many very basic errors including: wrong diagrams, wrong solutions, invalid solutions, duplicated diagrams, duplicated sentences and historical errors. I find it hard to believe that the publishers couldn’t have picked up some of these very basic mistakes. As a simple example I am quoted as defining a basic safety rule in bear-offs. I would love to have been the first to document it but that was actually done some 40 years ago.

The main problem with the book is that it is written by someone with just enough backgammon knowledge to sound credible some of the time but there are conceptual errors that make it incomprehensible in places. The author frequently equates match equity with game equity throughout the book – he never defines the difference between money play and match play - which made it hard for me to understand so it would be even worse for a beginner. He doesn't seem to understand simple probability - fanning three times on a two-point board is quoted as 200,000 to 1 rather the actual 729 to 1 and there are other examples. Terms are used before they are defined and some, for example ‘rollout’, are never defined. One of the things that I learnt when writing both Dummies and BG to Win is just how precise you need to be in terms of sequencing information. There is one position, used to illustrate a point, that I don't think could occur naturally in a thousand years, if ever, and is utterly confusing.

Finally you need to read the book in good light because of the font size which is too small and also some of the photos can't actually be seen easily due to low quality.

The book requires substantial editing to bring it up to an acceptable level. The author and publisher should very quickly engage the help of an expert player to help them in this task as they will not be able to do it alone.

I must also comment on the reviews. For the last two years I have been the interim CEO of a small company specialising in ecommerce and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) so can claim to know something about the topic.

There is no way that all these five star reviews are genuine so somebody is artificially trying to boost the book’s rating – an action I find reprehensible and I will report the abuse to Amazon. Statistically the book should have a spread of reviews (although my analysis above makes that less likely) and after the short period of time the book has been on the market I would expect to see only a single number of reviews. Whoever orchestrated these reviews knows very little about the mechanics of SEO and I suspect the reviews will shortly be removed by Amazon."

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