The World Backgammon Championships are taking place this week where skills of leadership and management, as well as embracing failure will be on world-class display. I’ve written a few times about the lesson from risk taking in poker, but a similar game which combines strategy with risk is Backgammon. A number of core principles to the game involve balancing upside with downside, as well as embracing risk.

  • · Superior Position is a Combination of both Upside and Downside – Backgammon appears to be a race to get your pieces around and off the board. But it is really a “race to position” (a critical part of which, like so many domains, start with controlling the centre with chess and military battlefields being a few prominent examples). The first player to superior position doubles and (usually) wins. A superior position entails both (a) the upside of having a strong attack on the opponent’s back pieces, and (b) ensuring that your own back pieces have contained downside by being in a safe enough position to escape.
  • · The Power of Resigning – When I first started playing computer Backgammon at the Master level, the biggest hole in my game was accepting doubles. The computer would double against me and too often I accepted it when I really was in a position of inferiority. Instead of resigning with 1 lost point, I would almost always lose with 2 (doubled). But even worse, by carrying on the game from a weak position, I would quite regularly go from bad to worse where a mere loss would turn into a gammon losing twice as many points more. The best thing I did to improve my performance was to resign more readily.