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The biggest problem with surveys--long, sorry, but I think important

Posted By: Phil Simborg
Date: Tuesday, 8 December 2015, at 3:46 p.m.

In Response To: It's about time to change these rules / New clock preference survey - Dec 2015 (sebalotek)

I do like surveys like this a lot because it really is good to get the feedback of the people involved and see what the majority thinks, and often you also get some good ideas and input from the minority. But virtually any time you take a survey of a group of people and ask them about changing anything, there is a tremendously strong bias toward voting for the status quo.

I will not waste your time by copying the hundreds of articles you can find on line that explain why people resist change, but virtually all studies will tell you that anytime you suggest a change there is an automatic resistance, and often that is not because the change is inferior to the status quo...it's just our nature to want to keep things the way they are.

What people forget is that the current rules of clocks and everything else were not done with tremendous thought and research; were done long ago; may not be applicable to the modern game; and may not have considered many factors that are present and important to the modern game. It's just what happened to be selected at the time by a person or persons in charge. It would be a great, amazing coincidence if that determination just happened to be what is truly the very best settings or rules for the game.

Of course, the biggest problem is that what is "best" is highly subjective. As we all know, some believe backgammon is a great game if you have a tremendous amount of time to think through all factors and find the right play or cube decision, and others think that ruins the game and makes it too long and boring. Most all reasonable agree there should be "reasonable" time to think through complex decisions but that time should not be so long as to make it impossible to finish a tournament.

So we have two big problems with surveys: first, we don't even know what the end goal is and disagree on those goals, and second, even if we all agreed on how long a game or match should take (impossible) and even if there was a way to change things to better reach that goal, voting would strongly favor the status quo and stop any "improvement" if indeed the change is an improvement.

Now, I do agree with the premise that no change should be made unless it is clearly better...even if it is a little better it is confusing and unsettling and there is a time lag for people to get used to the new rule or procedure and there is trouble educating everyone and you have to deal with all the people who automatically resist change just because people generally resist change.

So even though I can see over 20 places where small changes in the rules of the game would, in my humble (never wrong) opinion, improve the rules and the game (usually by simply eliminating some possible problem or ambiguity because of the way the rule is written), I intentionally did not touch those rules when Jeb and Chuck and I did our recommended re-write of the rules. We didn't want to make so many changes that people would throw out the baby with the bath water, and again, unless the change is an important improvement, it's not worth the trouble and the fight and the time it takes to convince enough people that the change is better in the long run for the game. One reason people automatically resist change, and it's just one of many, is they suspect people are trying to screw with their favorite game not really to make it better but just to show everyone how clever they are for pointing out someone else's mistakes and they take it as an insult to those of us who like things just the way they are and have always been. And by the way, sometimes they are right! That's part of the problem any time you suggest a change even if your motives are to try to make something you like better.

A good example is our government. Do any of us believe our tax system is perfect, or our laws regarding gun control, drug use, or many other areas are perfect? Of course they are not perfect, but of course if you put any two of us in a room it is highly unlikely that we will agree on how these laws should be changed. But one thing you can be sure of: anyone who recommends a lot of changes will be accused by someone of not loving our country because he is critical of our country's rules. I get that all the time when I recommend what I believe is an important improvement to the rules of backgammon. People have already said, either directly to me or to others that I must not love the game if I am trying to change it, and that its such a great game why do I want to change it.

Bottom line, that's the problem with surveys. That's the problem with popular vote deciding what the rules should be.

Now, having said that, how should the "best" clock settings be decided? I know that I believe a small committee of highly experienced and knowledgeable individuals is probably the best way to sort out decisions like this, but I could write paragraphs on the problems with that idea, not the least of which is the resentment of people for being told by a few people what to do or what is right for them, even if the committee was lucky enough to come up with the "best" approach.

My point is this: 1) what we have now, in many people's opinion, based on what "many" of us think is the best way to play the game and keep tournaments and matches running reasonably fast while giving enough time to play reasonably well is causing some problems for many of us WHO LOVE THIS GAME and want to see the game grow and tournaments attract more people. Yes, this is just my opinion and I know for many reasons not everyone agrees, but a lot of people do;

2) while surveys are interesting and we do get more opinions, popular votes and opinions are always greatly slanted away from making any change, and if we just rely on popular opinion, there will never be changes;

3) if you never make changes, be definition you are probably not doing what should be done to improve things and make the game more popular and more in tune with what is needed to grow the game. So many other games and sports have made major changes in the rules (tie-breakers in tennis, shortening cricket games, NFL and baseball playoffs for example) to make the game more exciting for spectators and to fit into schedules better. To simply reject change is not good for any game or sport;

4) and lastly, if I were made King of Backgammon and told that whatever rule I say will be the rule, I don't know myself what the best clock setting should be. I think we need to try out some new settings and see how it feels when we play that way. We need to find something inbetween the speedgammon settings and the "regular" settings and see if it feels like we are so rushed we can't take the time in most cases to make good decisions or if it only forces us to rush a little more than we have been in the past. And of course everyone will have different opinions but we need to be willing to experiment some to see what works. Those of us who play speed gammon and if you look at the PR's in speed gammon can see that it is quite possible for top level players to play very well when they play reasonably fast. Those same settings might destroy a low-intermediate player's game, and for some people, playing faster might even improve their game some! (I scored my highest score ever on Mochy's quiz when I only had a half hour to do it instead of the full hour I took every other time!)

We need to look at ALL THE RULES for tournaments to see how the events can be even more fun for all...players and spectators and organizers, and to see how we can attract more sponsors and people. Resisting all rule changes is clearly not in the best interests of the game. Surveys will tend to slow and stop the process rather than help.

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