Match To Five Points.

Following Ninja Monkey’s rather lame advice in our previous game and my spectacularly unsuccessful attempts at improving its win rate over the long weekend, I have decided to take things to the Next Level Of Trevor by proposing a Match-To-Five-Points. This would entail the use of a Doubling Cube, so games can terminate early if one side doubles and the other refuses. From earlier interaction with IM Bart and IM Bug, I can safely assume my readers have some familiarity with the mechanics of the doubling cube in Backgammon 😊

To be more specific, here are the rules for 5-Point-Match in Spider Solitaire:

  • The readers (IM Bart, IM Bug plus others) are the “Heroes” and I am the evil Villain.
  • The readers are responsible for making all decisions re card play. I will maintain the game state with my standard Windows Solitaire software. Both my readers and I participate in cube decisions.
  • At any stage of the game, either side can double. The opponent must concede (and start a new game with cube in the middle) or accept (which gives him exclusive right to make the next double). Note that rejecting a bad starting hand is equivalent to conceding a point after the Villain doubles. Obviously restart/undo is not allowed.
  • There are no gammons or backgammons. There is no reward for scoring more than 5 points so paying attention to the match score may be relevant.
  • The Crawford rule applies. This basically means if one side is 1-away from winning the match then the cube is dead for one game only.
  • Pretend you don’t know nothing about chouettes – we shall keep things simple!

Further Clarifications

Just to cover my backside and avoid any unpleasant controversies, I will state the following clarifications up front.

  • It is legal for either side to double before the first move is played. Beware that it is possible for a good start to sour. Conversely, it is equally possible to recover from a poor start with skilled play. It is usually much harder to obtain a reversal of fortunes (in either direction) after the stock is empty!
  • To avoid the (rare-but-theoretically-possible) scenario where both sides wanna double simultaneously with the cube in the middle, you can assume that if I present the latest game state without explicitly mentioning the D-word then I forfeit my right to double.
  • If the readers do not have a clear majority for a preferred action (card-play or cube decision) then I use a random number generator as tie-breaker. Obviously, I will not use my “better judgment” as tie-breaker!
  • It is acceptable to concede after accepting a cube and regretting it (a typical Backgammon analogy would be the losing side resigning after barely avoiding a Gammon in a no-contact position)

Compound Actions

To save time, a reader may wish to combine a cube decision and card-play decision. For instance Joe Bloggs may vote “Double: if Villain accepts then I play (ab,cd,ef)”. A combined decision is always split into two separate decisions, with cube-decision first. If the majority vote is against Joe Bloggs’ cube decision then his card-play decision is redirected to Tumbolia, the land of Dead Hiccups and extinguished lightbulbs. Obviously the card-play decision is N/A if the decision is “decline Villain’s double”.

Note that Villain actually gained information he was not entitled to because the Heroes gave a move sequence before Villain had a chance to accept/refuse the cube (but Villain must accept/refuse before seeing any turnovers resulting from the move sequence). For this reason, I recommend to use compound actions only when the card-play really is trivial.

I Have No Idea If This Will Work But There’s Only 1 Way To Find Out

Here’s hoping there are some Backgammon addicts out there who are willing to join in the fun along with our two IM’s. If you know your Market Losers from your Post-Crawford Game then this should be right up your alley, even if you rot13(fhpx) at Spider Solitaire. In any case, that’s what team-mates like Bug and Bart are for 😊 So, without further ado Let The Games Begin Immediately!

Yes I Know …

6 thoughts on “Match To Five Points.

  1. Well, gulp, that’s an interesting challenge! I think I’m the one who first suggested an analogy to the doubling cube, as a way of saying roughly, “I think we’re really behind here!” I have zero experience with actually playing backgammon with a doubling cube more than maybe a game or two. And I’ll confess I kind of like finishing things. So once we’re into a game, I would find it a bit disappointing to double and have the “villain” decline and so the game is instantly over. I’d like to find out how it turns out! So my natural tendency would be to accept a double unless it looks really awful, and otherwise just ignore the cube. Maybe IMBug will have more ideas about that. The cube wouldn’t be my top choice for the next challenge, but in any case, I’m in!

    I have in years past had some minor experience at least with a whole variety of German-style board games, which I generally liked until I got worse and worse at absorbing new rules. But one observation back then was that games where a newbie was at a real disadvantage were ones that involved auctions… knowing how much to pay for something is dependent more than most decisions on experience. In a sense backgammon doubling decisions are in the same category as auctions… judging chances of what happens in the future compared to a universe of similar games…

    I didn’t reply to a few of the earlier posts about solvers. I thought they were interesting as mathematical and logical puzzles, but kind of detached from the actual game of Spider, which is (I adamantly reassert) one played WITHOUT the Z-key, or at least only minor and limited use thereof. I got to thinking of bridge (a game I’ve played a reasonable amount of). I wondered if there had been solvers made for double dummy problems, and indeed there have. But as any bridge player would tell you, a double dummy problem is very different from the spirit of the game of bridge.

    I got into the recent web-wide interest in wordle — and quordle — and made a few handy little programs to help with them. Which I use not so much for cheating as to answer questions like, “Given what I knew at point X, did I just get lucky with that guess, or were there in fact no other words consistent with that info?”


    1. Hi Bart,

      I agree that the Backgammon Cube has its flaws but it was the best “next-level-of-Trevor” I could come up with. In any case, if you’re really anxious to finish every game then the losing side can always concede but see what would have happened if they had accepted the cube. I will wait a day or so to see if IM Bug has any opinion on Match-to-5-Points.

      FUN FACT: There is a similar practice in Poker known as “rabbit-hunting” (GIYF). It’s frowned upon in casinos since it slows the game down, but I will allow it if you’re happy with the rabbit hunting option.

      One can think of Match-to-5-Points as an exercise in estimating winning chances rather than focusing on minutiae such as “how can we increase our chances of getting that empty column by 0.0001%?” This goes hand in hand with other long-term planning skills such as finding a good overall game-plan in a complex middlegame. Ergo, I believe this “exercise” is still useful if your goal is to improve your skill at 4SSS-Sans-Z-Key.
      Your point about accepting a double unless it looks really awful is spot on. Having the exclusive right to make the next double is a huge asset – especially in the opening stages when it’s virtually impossible for either side to claim a lock. On the other hand, it’s always nice to convert a strong position to 2 points instead of 1, so don’t be too shy with the cube either!

      The posts on solvers were included, because the size of my readership exceeds 1 😊 You never know if someone reading this blog happens to be a professional software engineer but a rank beginner at Spider.

      Hopefully that answers most of your questions


  2. I had another idea for how to make the next go-round a little different instead of the doubling cube. The major divide in terms of how this game is played is whether to use the Z-key or not. What about a hybrid game? We specifically limit ourselves to a small number of “undo” operations, say, in the 3-12 range. Undoing a deal is not allowed. So among the various options at any given point is of course “undo the move that uncovered that card”. Like the doubling cube, this would also involve judgment about the game state — when are we likely to be a a crucial point, and when less so?


    1. Another idea I had was to replace the Backgammon Doubling cube with the Spider Incremental Cube with faces numbered 1-6. After dealing 10 cards (NOT counting the very start) the player can raise the value of the cube by 1, which means the maximum value of the cube is 6. There is no “villain” i.e. I can barrack for things to go wrong, but I don’t actively participate in any decision-making. After the game is over the player wins or loses the number of VP indicated by the Incremental Cube. This means the game is always played to completion no matter how one-sided and players get to test their skills in evaluating winning chances. It’s definitely more suitable for folk who are not comfortable with the usual doubling cube in Backgammon.

      Ergo, we can play e.g. a single game with the aim to maximise VP or a mini-series where the aim is to stay positive after a fixed number of hands. Let me know what you think.

      The other good news is IM Bug seems happy to go along with whatever we propose 🙂


      1. I hope it was clear that I was throwing out another idea with my “limited undo”, but happy to go along with the original plan too!


  3. Master Chi-Yuen, I say what the hay, lets play.

    I think that as a team, Esteemed Scholar Bart and my lowly self should have some interface and agree on a plan. As a start I think if I do my normal post without reading anything that might has already been posted, then reading existing posts and again posting to change my tune or agree with ESB, then Esteemed Scholar Bart commenting and I or he would give the OK go ahead. I don’t think I wrote that well. Bottom line is that I see ESB and myself needing two to three posts each to get into an agreement mode.

    So I guess that I think this might take a while to play a hand, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I actually preferred the slower pace.


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