People love playing backgammon because they can learn the basics quickly. But mastering the game can take years -- and the right mental skills. Two of those abilities involve the part of your brain that crunches numbers. For example, the better you are at some basic arithmetic and probability, the better you'll be at backgammon. Why? Because backgammon relies on the roll of dice, so a good grasp of numbers and probability is enormously helpful. Here's just one example: Rolling two dice produces 36 possible outcomes. The odds of rolling a specific number are 11 in 36. The odds that a roll contains one of two specific numbers are 20 in 36.
Another useful talent is recognizing patterns on the backgammon board. This comes after playing many, many games and seeing how checkers often fall into certain positions that can be exploited by specific moves. After a while, you begin to recognize those positions and memorize the best corresponding moves. Ace players have a mental library containing hundreds of such moves, enabling them to make quick decisions during a game.
Finally, don't underestimate the psychology of playing backgammon. Everyone has a certain personality and tendencies when they make moves and evaluate doubling opportunities. As you get to know these tendencies, you can use them to your advantage. For example, you might double early in a match with an unknown opponent just to gauge her reaction. If she doesn't take the wager, double early again in the next game. You might find that she is reluctant to accept a double -- a habit that could be her undoing.
It's this unique combination of luck, skill and strategy that has made backgammon such a popular game for thousands of years. It offers ample opportunities to have some fun and meet interesting people, and, if you like to gamble, it can satisfy that need, as well. Just keep in mind Dutchman Jan Steen's painting of a good backgammon game turned sour -- and leave all of the hitting on the board.
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