Reading good backgammon books and playing a lot of games are great ways to become a better player, but there is no faster way to become an advanced-level player than with the help of one of the two major commercial backgammon programs: Jellyfish or Snowie.
If you don’t want to pay to buy either of these programs, there is a free option: GNU Backgammon. Other inexpensive programs are also available.
JellyFish is a neural net based backgammon program that plays as well as the best humans players, when set to its highest playing level. Two-time world champion Bill Robertie says “it’s the strongest commercially-available program right now”.
You can use Jellyfish as a practice opponent, to analyze past matches, or as a backgammon tutor to help improve your game. For example, JellyFish can give running commentary on all your moves and cube decisions.
Several versions of JellyFish are available ranging from basic freeware to the complete Jellyfish Analyzer, which costs about $220.
Snowie is another computer program that uses neural network technology to play as good as or better than the best human players. Its developers believe the latest version of Snowie, version 4, is stronger than the best human player.
Snowie can advise you on checker plays and cube decisions. You can also let Snowie analyze your matches and determine your error rate.
“[Snowie’s] automated rollout feature which allows the user to automatically have the program roll out and annotate an entire match is the most valuable learning tool in existence today,” says backgammon author Kit Woolsey.
The professional edition of Snowie costs about $380. A student edition is available for $100.
If you don’t want to pay a couple hundred dollars to buy Jellyfish or Snowie, you might consider GNU Backgammon.
GNU Backgammon is free software built on the GNU Operating System that, according to its developers, currently plays at the level of a championship flight tournament player, and is gradually improving.
You can play against GNU or use it to analyze games and matches. GNU also has a tutor mode that will give you hints on checker plays and cube decisions.
GNU Backgammon is a work-in-progress so be prepared to forgive any flaws.
For more information on using GNU as a backgammon tutor, see the Cheapskate’s Guide to Becoming an Expert Backgammon Player.
More training software
In addition to the three neural net programs mentioned above, there are a number of other software and shareware programs that can serve as opponents and give strategic advice.
One of the best is BGBlitz, which is a strong player and includes a configurable tutor. The professional version sells for under $50.