Backgammon software employing neural net techniques have revolutionized both the practice and study of backgammon, as they have proven stronger than their human opponents. Since the ‘bot revolution, players have been able to enter backgammon positions, games and matches into software programs to see how these mindless but ruthless programs would play them. Then the trick is to figure out why — because they don’t talk much. While you can practice by playing against them, it’s often more effective to set up a position you hope to master — for instance containing a checker after a late hit in the bear off — and play it repeatedly, looking for patterns in how the ‘bot goes about the task. Note that all of these programs have customizable board styles, so don’t judge them by appearances — click on the screen image to visit their websites.
eXtreme Gammon (XG) Version 2
‘XG’ is the indisputable gold standard for neural net analysis of backgammon positions, and a bargain at $59.95. Beyond just playing against it for practice, you can really work at your game by studying positions you get wrong, or by playing out particular scenarios again and again until you understand them better.
Another great use for XG is tracking your progress as you work at your game. Most online BG sites allow you to download a match transcription to your desktop, which you can then run through the XG analyzer and save in your player profile — over time you can see your PR rating drop.
While XG is PC-native, it can also be run on a Mac with an emulator program like Crossover. More details are available on the XG website.
GNU backgammon is also a highly respected positional analyzer — and you can get it for free. While its user interface is a bit less polished and intuitive than XG’s, it includes many of the same features. So if you are interested in getting started with ‘bot analysis of your game, but aren’t ready to invest the cash, this is a great option!
Mobile Device Apps
XG Mobile is a free app that will allow you to play to your heart’s content on your mobile phone or tablet. But it’s worth the $9.99 purchase price to get the ‘Premium’ Version, which not only plays at a higher level than the free version (though the free version will beat you badly enough) — but crucially, allows you to set up positions that arise during your chouette and get a reasonably accurate read on the right play. (The desktop version of XG evaluates more deeply). In addition, you’ll be able to save and export your practice games and positions via email for future reference — or to taunt your opponents.
Backgammon NJ is a very strong backgammon-playing app with a simple, clean interface and some effective tutoring options. While it doesn’t play at XG’s exceedingly high level, it’s plenty strong and will give you a good thrashing at either match or money play while you wait for your bus stop. While you might prefer it for casual practice, it does not allow you to set up your own positions, or to save games for future study. And at $7.99 it’s only two bucks cheaper than XG Mobile’s Premium version. Look for it in your mobile device app store.
One further note about these digital opponents: no, they don’t cheat — though it can sure feel that way! All of them allow you to play against them rolling the dice manually yourself — so you can be sure the game is on the level. They also provide statistical figures describing your dice history — frequency of doubles, etc. — if you care to look into them.