Ken Larsen's website - Concerns about the future of tournament backgammon
I directed a backgammon club from April 2008 until February of 2017. I also played in about eight American Backgammon Tour (ABT) Events.
I participated in the backgammon craze of the 1970s and was cheered by what I perceived as a resurrection of backgammon in the first decade of the 21st century. However, I now worry that backgammon will return to a state of slumber. Here are my reasons along with a suggestion for how the slumber can be avoided.
My main complaint is that the rules are becoming increasingly more complicated and more diverse from country to country.
Long ago people threw dice out of their hands. Some people became suspicious about the possibility of dice manipulation, so dice cups were invented. Then, lips were added to dice cups. Then, precision dice were invented. In recent years, baffle boxes were introduced. Then, there became a debate about using dice cups and baffle boxes.
Clocks came into vogue as a means of speeding up play. With clocks came a lot of rules pertaining to what to do when dice rolled off the table and other idiosyncrasies.
In 2016 a dice-on-checker rule was invented by the USBGF as a means of accommodating people who were poor on time management and ended up being "victimized" when their dice landed atop checkers. That triggered debate on what constituted being flat atop checkers. [details]
Periodically debate surfaces about "touch moves" and what else to do to about "checker shufflers". I personally distrust checker shufflers. I perceive them to be cheaters, because trying to keep up with their checker shuffling drains my energy and/or they may not return checkers to their original position. Either gives them an advantage.
There's been debate about whether or not to use "Legal Moves" as an underlying rule.
It's become almost expected that key tournament matches be video-recorded, streamed live, and later analyzed using eXtremeGammon. This drives up the cost and complexity of running a tournament.
Tournament players prefer the Modified Swiss format. Unfortunately, such a format requires an extra day of play.
Once upon a time, the ABT rules were just two pages long and generally (in my view) were compatible with the rules of other countries. Now the USGBF rules are over twenty pages long and not compatible with the rules of other countries. Incompatibility among the worldwide rules gives an advantage to locals. This is not good. There needs to be worldwide commonality.
All of the above add to the complications of being a tournament director and trying to keep everyone happy. In my view, tournament directors may be inclined to do what I did with my local backgammon club ... give up and turn to other pursuits. I now only play online.
In my opinion, there is a simple solution to all of the above problems: Use a computer tablet with eXtremeGammon (XG) instead of a regular backgammon board. XG's dice generation software would generate the dice rolls. Matches could be uploaded to a central server for analysis.
Besides speeding up play and automatically enforcing legal moves, this computer tablet approach could be used to calculate the error rate (called PR in XG) of all the tournament participants. This would be fabulous for flighting people for future tournaments and ensuring that sandbagging does not occur. It also could be used to properly rank people worldwide. Right now the main official world ranking is the Giants voting ... which I regard as primarily a popularity contest. [my web page comparing various ranking schemes]
June 2018: Here's another bullsh*t ruling that traces itself to a USBGF rule: http://www.bgonline.org/forums/webbbs_config.pl?read=207033 [link to video of the incident] [September 16, 2018: I've been advised that this was a bad tournament director ruling ... as opposed to a USBGF rules flaw.]
My USBGF membership expires this month. For the aforementioned reasons, I do not renew it.
September 16, 2018: The downside of tablets is that a lot would be needed [64 players would need 32 tablets], and hauling them back and forth to tournament sites would be a lot of work. You could require each player to bring their own, but then there's the issue of ensuring that a player didn't manipulate their tablet to favor them.