Review: Backgammon Openings Marty Storer
Book Review by Marty Storer
9 January 2008
Backgammon Openings: Book A, by Nack Ballard and Paul Weaver. 2007: The Backgammon Press, Richmond, California. ISBN 0-9797053-0-4. Hardcover. Price $39 (USD).
I received Nack Ballard and Paul Weaver’s book, Backgammon Openings, as a Christmas present and was most pleased. It gave me comfort in my illness. Though I can’t rationally say the book was a factor in my recovery, it felt so at the time.
The subject of the book is how to play a roll of 31 in various opening positions occurring during the first three rolls of the game. The authors say that more volumes, covering different rolls, will be forthcoming according to the response by the backgammon community to this first work. They needn’t worry that the response will be anything but enthusiastic
Explanations, backed up by extensive computer (bot) rollouts, are lucid and insightful. There’s never room for doubt about the intended meaning; everything is expressed with a view toward precision, and just about every aspect of the book bespeaks the precision of thought typical of a highly mathematically erudite person such as Paul, and no doubt that of Nack Ballard as well.
All recommended plays are at least highly plausible. A slight few recommendations may be wrong by some small amount, or be a bit off in terms of category of difference (e.g. “barely correct” versus “marginally correct”). If so, the best elucidation will an uber-bot rollout that may benefit from stronger engine (as in some future bot version), or more stringent parameters (such as will become more practical as CPUs increase in power). In the spirit of intellectual openness and honesty, the authors expressly desire to be informed of rollout results that contradict their own.
The hard-core aficionado may wish for the full set of rollout data to be presented in an appendix, but those could better be presented in a companion volume, should the authors believe there’s enough demand to justify the required production costs and associated legwork.
New terminology (e.g. “wipeout,” “blowout,” “mistake,” precisely defined) is in general quite useful and should become widely adopted in all backgammon discourse. My advice to all is to start adopting the Ballard-Weaver terms. Some of the “nactation” terminology is initially confusing, but becomes more natural with time and usage.
Production quality is excellent (solid hardcover with attractive dust jacket). Presentation is likewise excellent. I have a personal preference against sans-serif fonts (I think Arial is the font used), and recommended Times New Roman (font used for Backgammon Praxis) to Paul Weaver, but Paul strongly disagreed. When I had the book in front of me, I was surprised that I did not find the sans-serif font to be a problem despite my preference of fonts, which I now understand is not shared by most readers. The carefully crafted layout should be pleasing to anyone’s eyes.
I have some quibbles about the analysis of perhaps a couple of positions. In these instances, my opinion is that a certain factor does not carry as much weight as the authors think. I can address these at some other time and place, as a matter of theoretical interest.
Other nitpicking objections I might eventually think of would be so insignificant as to be reasonably ignored. Any of my quibbles, even if justified, detracts at most some barely detectable iota from the overall quality of the book.
I recommend Backgammon Openings to all backgammon players, from the rankest beginner to the strongest expert.
I congratulate Nack Ballard and Paul Weaver on a fine effort. All the years and labor spent on it are justified.
Backgammon Openings: 2007 by Nack Ballard and Paul Weaver. The Backgammon Press. Hard cover. 126 pages (8.5″ x 11″). $39 + s&h. For ordering information, please go to www.nackbg.com/buy-the-new-book.
This book was combed by several excellent proof-readers (and by the authors, dozens of times). However, if you find an error, please e-mail BGopenings@aol.com and it will be corrected in the next printing.