Playing the opponent

Probably in your everyday game there is not an enormous difference in skill or luck between you and your opponent. In the match there may be. You must vary your play very considerably according to who is the better and by how much. If you are a relative beginner playing against a champion you must adopt special tactics. Nothing, of course, can alter the fact that you are more likely to lose than win. You are going to need more than your share of the luck. But make sure that you give yourself the best possible chance of winning, if you do get that luck. You must obviously not play for complicated games, if you can help it. Try to play a simple positional game and, when you have the opportunity, turn the game into a running game. If it's one in which you have a reasonable chance, double him. The longer and more complicated the game, the greater the chance that the better player will win it. But nothing is more worrying for a champion than to get into a straight running game (a 'no-brainer') against a beginner, where the result of the match depends on it!

But, as so often in backgammon, it is your tactics with the doubling cube that are most important. Play for big games. The smaller the number of games in the match, the more likely it is that you will be lucky and win. But if the match drags on interminably, in a series of single games, without the doubling cube moving, I will give you very little for your chances against a much stronger opponent. So you should be very quick to offer him a double and very willing to accept his doubles if you see yourself in the game with a reasonable chance. You should also take more risks than usual to try to win a gammon.

Obviously the exact opposite applies if you are the stronger player. Play for complicated positions, don't double your opponent too early, and be very careful about accepting his doubles. When you think about it all now, while you are calmly reading, it's self-evident. But in the heat of the moment it is quite easy to do the wrong thing. Most of us are, to some extent, gallery players, i.e. we enjoy the admiration of the spectators and have a tendency to play with that in mind. So if you, the stronger player, start off with some shocking bad luck and your opponent gets a slight lead in the match early on, calm down. If he offers you a double early on in the next game, you may be very tempted to teach the idiot a lesson, accept the double, and rely on his blunders to win the game for you. You may bring it off. But much your best chance is to accept the situation coolly, drop the double, lose a single game and rely on your skill to pull you through as the match goes on.

Similarly, if your opponent is much better than you are, and you are a timid type, it is quite easy to think that when the great expert opposite offers you a double, he's got you completely wrapped up and you really must drop it. On the contrary! Your attitude should be quite the opposite. Don't sit there like a terrified rabbit. Accept the double unless it would be a ridiculous take, and have your hand hovering over the cube to push it straight back to him if the game should turn in your favour. Look at it from his point of view.

Let's say the score is 1-all in a match up to 5. He offers you a double which, in a single game, you would probably drop. But you take it. He is far from pleased. If the game swings slightly in your favour and you redouble him, he has a most unpleasant choice. Either he accepts and the whole match depends on this game, or he drops, in which case he is 3-1 behind in a short match. Whichever he does, this match (which it never crossed his mind he might lose) has become wide open.