A Brief Introduction to Safe Harbor Games Backgammon

Since we are unable to meet in person at the moment we have decided to keep the club going online. You can find more information about our online play offering on the home page. We will be using Safe Harbor Games (SafeHarborGames.net), or SHG for short, as our online play site. This post will offer an introduction to getting started with backgammon on SHG.

If you plan on joining us for our online tournament please log into SHG create an account and try to play a practice match before the first tournament. You can usually pick up a casual match in “The Lagoon” room on SHG (that will make more sense when you read further). You can also post via our new Google Groups email list https://groups.google.com/d/forum/mkebackgammon or email info@mkebackgammon.org for help with arranging a practice match. I will also be in the USBGF Playground room from about 8 to 10 pm on 3/22, 3/23, and 3/24 to meet with anyone that would like practice using the interface. My nickname on SHG is BigWill, just let me know you are club a member in the chat room when you want to play.

SHG works with Windows and Macintosh systems. We tried to find an option that would support both tournament management and social interaction that could also be used for mobile devices but have not been able to locate one. (The SHG page mentions Android and IOS apps for their paid Yacht Club Members. I am not member and cannot to speak to the quality or functionality of these apps)

Create a SHG Account

When you first go to SafeHarborGames.net you will get a screen like the one below. Click Register on the menu tab and follow the instructions. You will need to create a User Name, which will be the name that you will be known by in the playing rooms, at the time you register. You will also need a working email to register. There is no cost to play on SHG.

Since we want to maintain the social interaction of the club and we will be keeping a leaderboard for online play we ask that you let everyone know the the real person behind the user name.

Once you have set up your account return to the SHG main page and click on the Backgammon icon, you will be take to a screen like the one below. Click on the Backgammon icon. If you have not already downloaded the SHG software you will be prompted to do so. Even if you have downloaded the software you may get a notice to download a software update, this can take some time so if you have not logged in and entered a game room recently please enter SHG well before the tournament start time.

When you enter backgammon you will see a page showing you all of the available playing rooms and the number of people in them.

Note that some of the rooms have a red dice icon next to them and some a gold dice icon. If you click the “About our Dice” link on the left side of the page you will find an explanation of these icons. We strongly discouraging you from playing in rooms using the red dice icons. The reduced number of doubles in these rooms changes many aspects of the game in ways that are not immediately obvious but that will reinforce many bad play decisions.

Our tournaments will be held in the USBGF Playground. Click on that link and you will be taken to the game lobby, shown below.

The SHG playing model consist of a large number of tables, 12 are shown above but the scroll bar to the right will allow you to scroll down through all 150 tables in the room.

At the bottom of the screen is a chat box that is visible to everyone in the room. This is where information about the current tournament will be posted, matches assigned, and match results reported. Note that you can also chat privately with other people in the room by double clicking their name on the right hand side. A separate chat window will open on your screen and theirs that allows for private chat.

To prepare to play a match click on one of the empty chairs at a table. Your opponent will click on the other chair. Once you are seated at a table there will be a GO icon in the middle of the table. When both players click GO the game board will open. The player in the upper seat will have a dialog box with up and down arrows that allows her or him to select the length of the match.

Below the board is a chat box that is used by the players and those watching the match (Kibitzers). While there are options for silencing Kibitzers and or even preventing anyone from watching a match it is critical that you do not use these during tournament play. The tournament director must have access to view your match and chat with you. We ask that others watching a match be respectful of the players just as you would in live play.

If you have any problems during a match where you need to involve the tournament director go to the game room and use the private message feature to notify the director.

Once the match length is set and the player in the upper chair clicks ok the game will begin.

Click the Roll icon in the middle of the board. On the first roll when both players click the roll icon the roll will be shown, the color of the dice will indicate which player one the opening roll. If a double was rolled on the opening you will see one die of each color and the roll icon will reappear to allow each player to roll again.

Game play is relatively straight forward. The higher die will always be shown of the left when a roll occurs. If you click on a check it will move to the appropriate point and that die will change to read Done.

The next checker you click on will move the value on the other die. To move the lower valued die first click on the dice, the order of dice with flip and the lower value will move first. Note that SHG does not automatically move the lower value die first when that is the only legal move for the checker. You must first reverse the order of dice by clicking on them, then click on the checker you wish to move.

Clicking the Undo button at the bottom of the board will undo that last checker moved. If you have moved both checkers but have not yet finished you roll you must click undo twice to get back to the starting position (4 times if you have doubles and have moved all 4 checkers).

When both dice show Done you complete your move by clicking on the dice. Once you click on the dice when both say Done your move is committed, the is no confirmation message.

To double click on the cube located on the right side of the board. You will get a message box asking you to confirm that you want to double. When you click yes your opponent will get a message box on their screen.

When you are doubled be careful to click on the right decision. There is no confirmation screen for your accept or reject decision and no way to reset the match if you make accidentally click on the wrong selection.

These are the basics to get started on SHG. There are other options that you might wish to explore which is why we highly recommend you contact us to play a practice match before our first online tournament.

Meetings Suspended Until Further Notice

I am sure everyone has figured it out by now given the restrictions that have been placed on bars and restaurants due to the COVID-19 pandemic that we will not be holding club meetings for now. At this point it is impossible to say when we will resume, there seems to have been a great deal of talk around restrictions going on for 8 weeks, but there other reports that indicate it could be late summer before things get back to some semblance of normal. We will keep monitoring developments and communicate with you both here and through our email list.

In the next few days we will also be posting some information about online play sites and if there is interest may even look into having some club play online.

It’s Good to be Greedy (99.86% of the Time)

In backgammon a greedy bearoff play refers to taking off as many checkers as possible with the current roll. In the position above it is only possible to bear off one checker so the greedy play is 6/off. It is not uncommon, however, to see players move 6/5, 2/1 in this type of position. The thought behind this is to smooth out the position so that a 5 will not miss the next time it is rolled.

So which play is correct 6/off or 6/5, 2/1? More importantly how does one decide when the greedy play is correct and when to fill gaps and smooth out the position? In the winter 2020 edition of the USBGF’s Prime Time Backgammon mathematician and backgammon player Art Benjamin explores this question in his regular Math Overboard column.

Rather than analyzing all of the possible bearoff positions and rolls with a backgammon bot (a very difficult task given the number of possible position/roll combinations) Dr. Benjamin and his team created a mathematical model that allowed direct calculation of the optimal move for all possible noncontact bearoff positions and rolls.

The results of this analysis showed that making the greedy play is almost always correct. Specifically, of the 1,139,523 possible combinations of positions and rolls there are only 1669 (about 0.14%) where the greedy play is not the best play. Most of the positions where it is a significant error to make the greedy play are positions with 13 to 15 checkers remaining, large stacks on the 1,3 and/or 5 points and no or only 1 check on each of the 2, 4, and 6 points. These positions are not very common, you might play for years and never encounter one of them!

What does this mean for everyday play? When bearing off without contact just take as many checkers off as possible every time and don’t give it a second thought. You will make the correct play 99.86% of the time!