Many years ago, I was taught to play backgammon by an aunt who didn’t understand the game. She brushed the doubling cube aside with the comment, “That’s just for gambling. It doesn’t really matter.”
She was absolutely wrong. The doubling cube is critical to backgammon strategy. She was a serious bridge player and would have been horrified if someone had said, “Bidding in bridge is just for gambling and doesn’t really matter.” Yet it’s the same thing. The doubling cube is the way you bid in backgammon.
First, you have to understand that you’re not playing a single game when you play backgammon on the Microsoft Internet server. You’re playing a match of five points. It can take as many as nine games for one player to accumulate five points, but more often it requires only three or four games because of gammons and the doubling cube.
Without the doubling cube, each game that you win adds one point toward the five points required to win the match. Unless you gammon your opponent. You get two points if you finish bearing off while he still has all his men on the board. Or backgammon him. You get three points if you finish bearing off while he still has all his men on the board, one of which is still in your inner table.
The doubling cube simply doubles those numbers. At any point, you can challenge your opponent with the cube. If he refuses, he forfeits the game. If he accepts, you are now playing for double the number of points. And he now controls the cube. That means that he can challenge you back again and, if you accept, you’re now playing for quadruple the points. And it’s now you who controls the cube.
Doubling and redoubling quickly brings you closer to winning or losing the match. You want to challenge your opponent with the doubling cube if you think that you’re going to win. But if you think that you’re going to lose and your opponent offers you the cube, you should refuse and forfeit. You only accept the cube if you think that your opponent has made a mistake and you have a nearly even chance against him.
If you think that you’re going to gammon your opponent, you don’t want to double. Why not? Because he can refuse and lose only one point instead of being gammoned and lose two points.
The bottom line, is that if you’re doing well, you want to double, but you want to do it before you’re too far ahead. It’s a tricky decision. I’m constantly thinking about whether I should be doubling or not.
On the other hand, if you’re too far behind, you can only hope that you will be offered the cube so that you can refuse and forfeit a single point.
But surely you already knew all this.
When I play, I double often. Maybe on almost half the games I play. Often I double when each of us have only four or five men left on the board.
Why do so many people who play backgammon on the Internet fail to double when they should?
It’s people who don’t know how to double strategically who are most likely to complain that the dice must be rigged and their opponent must be cheating. The fact is, they wouldn’t be as paranoid about cheating if they knew how to use the cube strategically. They wouldn’t be giving their opponents so many chances to get lucky. The cube is a psychological club that you can wave around to intimidate your opponent into submission.
Here’s the situation where the cube can best be used to win. Imagine that you and your opponent are both bearing off and you’re somewhat ahead of him. Gammoning him is no longer in the picture because he’s already taken some of his men off. He might win if he rolls double fours or better and will certainly win if he rolls doubles more than once.
That’s when you double him with the cube. Why? To make him pay if he tries to get lucky.
If you don’t double him, he’ll keep playing, hoping to roll doubles. He’s got nothing to lose by trying. And sometimes he will get his doubles. Sometimes, he’ll even roll two or three doubles. And you’re going to curse the gods or swear that he’s controlling the dice.
Fool. All you had to do was double him when you were ahead. Almost always, he’ll refuse the cube and give you the game. If he doesn’t and keeps rolling, hoping for a streak of big rolls and doubles, then more often than not, you’ll win twice as many points as you should. Then you get to laugh at him.
Consider a crystal clear example. You and your opponent are both bearing off; you both have four men left on your respective one points; and you have the roll. If you don’t roll doubles and your opponent does, you lose. That will happen 13% of the time: ((30/36)/6)=0.13. Why take the chance? Challenge him with the cube and, if he knows what he’s doing, he’ll forfeit. If he doesn’t know what he’s doing and he accepts the cube, 87% of the time you’ll win two points instead of one. Yay!
That’s why I double people in the last few moves of so many games. I’m forcing them out of the game instead of letting them keep rolling and trying to get lucky.
Learn to do that and you’ll not only win more games, you’ll be a lot less likely to think the dice are rigged because you won’t have your opponent coming up from behind and winning with lucky rolls.