Originally published in Bluff Magazine- reproduced with thanks
When working out what the best chequer play is and when to raise or accept a higher stake in a game of backgammon, the process of analysis can be similar to poker. Certain plays can be trivial. With complexity, an ordinary style of play can result in being too passive, and that can lead to blunders!
An astute and cunning style of play can exploit weaknesses in an opponent, where there is high difficulty in plays which need to be assessed fully. The outcome can result in a “blunder play”, where a player has calculated that there is a reasonable chance of a blunder by his opponent.
Understanding Bluff Plays in Backgammon
In backgammon, bluff plays are not discussed very much at the highest level. Namely, this is where a top player can knowingly make a blunder themselves by offering a raise of the stakes that can then be either wrongly accepted, or declined. Let’s take a look at several classic moves in backgammon to see where poker players can take advantage.
Mochy Masayuki of Japan is regarded as the best player in the world by many. Mochy does not hide information, unlike many, and offers these positions to show where it is worth offering a technically wrong cube.
Looking at our first situation, Mochy picks out three key things:
- This position looks like a perfect example of the bluff.
- There is small risk to the cuber, but potentially a big gain.
- It is a 4 cube and too many gammons are involved.
- Many people will be scared. Also the risk (error) is not big.
- It’s a bluff!
Now take our second scenario. Here, says Mochy, a ‘Blitz’ is always the greatest game for the bluff.
“I have seen people dropping this kind of game due to ‘gammon fear’.”
Conclusion: I bluff!
Take a look at this backgammon game. It’s of leading player, Mike ‘Falafel’ Nathanzon, from a multi-player chouette game versus four players at $100.00 per point. The Doubling cubes are on 2 already so the value of the game is $800.00.
There are two things to note:
- Most players get fooled by this type of position
- It’s the sort of position where its a complete bluff.
Where Poker and Backgammon Merge
In poker, players have to assess the value of betting into a pot when holding a zero-value or weak hand. If the value of the bet is sufficient to suggest to the opponent that he or she faces a strong hand, a fold may be the outcome.
When your opponent bets, you need to evaluate how often the opponent would bet into a pot holding a weak hand, therefore you can assess how often you should call while you are holding a mediocre hand. When folding every time you see a bet, you are extremely passive and will be losing a lot in the long run.
Learning backgammon can substantially help a poker player in understanding the equities in any position. Even in backgammon where all the information is visible, a bluff is still feasible, as the complexity can be difficult to understand.
As poker has seen enormous growth in the past decade, over time many players have improved their skill so it is most certainly more difficult to be sure of winning in the long run. If a poker player can add the mathematical analysis of backgammon to their game, they are surely better off.
Gus Hansen is one of the most famous poker players in the world and is regarded as a very strong backgammon player too. Gus understands equities brilliantly and makes excellent decisions based on his mathematic analysis, which stems from his backgammon playing. This analysis makes him one of the greatest bluff players in poker.
He says: “Bluffing in backgammon requires a more devious mindset than in poker. You have to bluff knowing that your opponents are holding a strong enough hand to call. The desired action is for your opponent to fold, but much like a semi-bluff you do retain a lot of equity, even if your bluff is called. To pull off these kinds of plays, you have to be completely in sync with the situation at hand –sometimes I wish I was as good at poker as I was ‘I was’ in backgammon.”