All That Luck

In Skill and Luck in Backgammon, I described the process by which I settled on the parameters tourneygeek should use to simulate backgammon tournaments. The result was that the luck factor should be set to three, which implies that backgammon is 75% luck, and only 25% skill.

This does not mean, however, that backgammon is an easy game – a game in which a few small, easily learned heuristics will allow you to play at a high level. Open any of the many more advanced monographs on backgammon strategy and tactics, and you’ll soon see that there’s an enormous body of knowledge that expert players have and others do not. There’s plenty of skill in backgammon, it’s just that this skill is regularly overwhelmed because there’s even more luck.

Is there really that much luck in backgammon? How do players cope with it?

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More Better Bad Byes

In More Bad Byes, I looked at the consequences of grouping byes together in a bracket rather than spreading them evenly according to the conventional seeding pattern. Today I’ll follow up on a couple of suggestions that were made in the comments to that post.

Kevin H. suggested a format with the byes grouped just enough to allow the second round to start immediately. His bracket would equalize in the third round, rather than the second as happens with fully spread byes. As might be expected, his bracket does better than one with fully-grouped byes, but not as well as with a full spread.

Sean Garber, the author of the grouped-bye design that was the centerpiece of the analysis, mentioned that he had revised the drops for that design, and sent the new ones. His new drops made a modest improvement in fairness (C), but actually hurt fairness (B) a little, and increased the number of repeated pairings. I, guided by the pattern Sean established, uses the technique described in Getting the Drops Right, Part II to derive another new set of drops, which improved fairness (C) and reduced the number of repeats.

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In Praise of Games

In Playing Games I offered my definition of game play, and suggested how that definition might help explain how it is that some games are good and others are not. In Kissing and Contract Bridge, I used that interpretive framework to show why a hypothetical kissing game was not a good game, and why contract bridge was, at least as played by my mother’s generation, also a bad game.

I’m concerned that, by focussing on those examples of bad games, I might be suggesting that playing games is a bad thing. It’s not, of course. If I didn’t have a deep affection for games and game play, I wouldn’t bother with this blog. I like to think that tourneygeek is, at its heart, my way of expressing thanks for the benefit of a lifetime of playing games.

I know many people who feel this way about a particular game or sport. One reason that I’m trying to make tourneygeek relevant to a wide range of games is that I have, at different times, benefited from playing a lot of different ones. Chess, fencing, darts, bowling, golf, bridge, cribbage, backgammon … at one time or another, each of these has been important to me.

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Big Round Robins: The Silverton System

Say you’ve got about 25 members of your clan descending on your city for a family reunion, and you want to have a tournament be part of the entertainment. There will be a few new in-laws this year, and you want them to have a chance to meet everyone. Individual games don’t take very long. So make it a round robin!

A daunting organizational task you think. But it’s actually quite doable. I’ve got your format.

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Round Robins

I want this blog to be about tournaments in general, not about one particular approach. There are many loose threads to be gathered in the discussion of elimination tournaments, which can, and probably will, keep tourneygeek busy more or less indefinitely. But it’s high time to open the conversation about that other basic form of tournament organization, the round robin.

Fortunately, the fundamentals are explained well in an unusually good Wikipedia article: Round-robin tournament. I’ll add round robin resources to tourneygeek at some point, but for now I’ll skip the basics. This first post will introduce round robins and relate them to the “FEPS” framework – fairness, efficiency, participation, and spectacle – introduced in four goals of tournament design. In subsequent posts, I’ll treat a few advanced topics that are not covered by Wikipedia or, as far as I know, anywhere else.

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Skill and Luck in Backgammon

In general, I want to make this blog about games and tournaments in general, not about backgammon tournaments, or any other particular kind of competition. But, as I often used to admonish colleagues when I worked, in a past life, developing information products for lawyers, you need to solve someone’s problem before you’re ready to solve everyone’s problem.

Backgammon is the only game I play competitively, these days, and it’s the one I know best. So It can, I hope, serve as a model for how to adapt insights about tournaments in general to help improve particular events by adjusting the general model to suit the specific game.

This is the first of three posts on Backgammon. It discusses the balance of skill and luck in the game, and how that affects tournament simulations. The second will explore what that means for how the game is learned and played. And the third will discuss computer players, and the curious fact that every decent computerized backgammon player is frequently accused of cheating.

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