Quantum Backgammon

One of the ways to maintain interest in a competition that might otherwise be a somewhat monotonous series of individual games is to make some of those games more valuable than others. Backgammon does this in a really ingenious way.

The backgammon boom of the 1930s is often attributed to the invention of the doubling cube, a device that causes some games to be more valuable than others, but does so in a way that opens new avenues for skill.

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Quantum Golf

One of the ways to keep games interesting for both players and spectators is to have quantum effects in the criteria for success.

A quantum effect is created when success or failure in a game is made to depend on a sharply delineated result according to a strict category criterion. The game of golf provides a useful example of this. No golf shot is definitively good except the ones that end with the ball in the hole rather than somewhere else.

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The Summer of ’81

As promised, a notorious example of using the fresh start technique to add interest to a professional sports problem. In the Major League Baseball season of 1981, the need to maintain interest in the season with a fresh start tempted tournament organizers to compromise all three of the maxims of tournament design.

A strike by the players resulted in the cancellation of about a third of the 1981 season. In order to recoup some of the revenue lost during the strike, when play resumed it was announced that there would be an additional round to the post-season playoffs, pitting the winner of the first half of the season against the winner of the second half. This arrangement threatened to compromise all three of the maxims.

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Hope Springs Eternal, at Least in Tennis

To win a match in a high-level professional tennis tournament, you need to win about 100 points (unless the match is in the men’s draw at one of the majors, in which case you’ll need about 150). So it should be possible to simplify the famously elaborate scoring system for tennis, and possible make the game more fair. Why fuss with love-15-30-40, with deuce and advantage, with games, tiebreakers, and sets? Why not just tally up the number of points won – first to 100 is the winner?

That’s a really bad idea, a recipe for truly boring tennis.

The scoring system for tennis is of the best examples of two related techniques for keeping it interesting: the fresh start, and the quantum effect. I’ll write more about the quantum effect in a future post, but for now let’s focus on the fresh start.

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Backgammon Content on Tourneygeek

I’m running for the Board of Directors of the United States Backgammon Federation, or USBGF. In connection with this, I’m hoping for a small influx of readers interested specifically in what this blog has to say about backgammon. This page provides a starting point.

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