By Karen Davis & Christine Merser
Survey of Backgammon Players Major Findings
When we founded Women in Backgammon one year ago, we were shocked to find that women account for only 14% of American Backgammon Tour (ABT) entrants and 5% of ABT Championship players. We launched the organization and a series of activities to change that.
But we also wanted to find out why this is the case. We listened to player stories, but we also needed hard data. This first-ever survey of backgammon players is the result. It contains lots of surprises. It reveals what stands in the way of new players — both men and women — in their entering the world of competitive backgammon. Key among them is overcoming intimidation, including not knowing what to expect, not feeling welcomed and respected, and not having the know-how or skills to compete effectively or a guide to acquiring them.
It suggests strategies for the future of the game and the potential to have more men and women competing at the table, with confidence that they can win against the toughest competition.
The survey findings will certainly help shape our programmatic support going forward, and we hope they will help inform the efforts of others, including backgammon federations, clubs, and tournament directors, among others. We share a common interest in growing the backgammon community and helping players be the best they can be. We urge you to take the survey findings to heart and join in a worldwide movement to help a growing number of backgammon enthusiasts experience the joy and confidence that come with competing and gaining recognition for a growing mastery of the game.
The goals of the survey were to help us understand what will attract more men and women players to competitive backgammon and what the skill level is of those playing the game online, in local gatherings, and in competitive tournaments so we can identify tools and strategies to assist them in acquiring skills that will allow them to become the best players they can be. We also wanted to identify important differences among players on the basis of gender, skill level, and other characteristics.
To our knowledge, it is the first systematic survey of backgammon players in modern times, and we believe it provides important new information on the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of online backgammon players, their playing experience, and their interests and preferences in improving their skill level.
The survey was designed by the authors and experts from Blue Shoe Strategy and Women in Backgammon. Announcements soliciting player participation in the survey were included on BackgammonGalaxy.com, its newsletter, and its social media platforms, as well as the distribution outlets of Women in Backgammon, including its website, social media platforms, and bulk mailing lists.
It should be noted that this is a convenience sample of backgammon players and likely includes a disproportionate sample of online backgammon players, given its marketing through Backgammon Galaxy, the leading online backgammon server. It is also likely that it disproportionately attracted women survey respondents, given its cosponsorship by Women in Backgammon and the marketing through its media outlets. But when you see that only one-third of the respondents are women, well, that should tell you something — not least of which is that this is not just an issue for women, but also an issue for all of us who love the game.
For more detailed results, please click on the following links: all survey results, male/female comparative results, and Novice/Intermediate/Advanced/ Championship/Master results.
Survey respondents are diverse. They include both older and younger players, men and women, employed and retired, and modest- and high-income individuals. In all, 621 players completed the survey, including 417 men and 204 women. The median age is between 51 and 60 years old.
Two-fifths are employed. Of those reporting income, the median annual income is between $75,000 and $100,000, with 19% reporting annual incomes under $50,000 and 13% reporting incomes over $150,000.
About half the players (45%) report learning backgammon as a child (age 18 or younger). Most (90%) play other games, including Scrabble (46%), poker (42%), chess (39%), and gin rummy (24%).
Survey respondents report playing frequently, both in person and online. Almost half of the survey respondents play backgammon every day (49%); another 40% play three to five times a week. Nearly all respondents play online (94%), which is not surprising, given the prevalence of social distancing as a result of the pandemic, as well as the fact that the sample is drawn in large part from Backgammon Galaxy users and/or newsletter subscribers. However, the majority of respondents (59%) also play in person.
The majority (60%) play in tournaments, including online tournaments. Of those playing in tournaments, the typical player competes in local tournaments (78%), while 56% play in national tournaments. Only 27% compete in international tournaments, and 9% play in Backgammon Masters Awarding Body (BMAB) events.
A small minority (4%) indicate they have no interest in tournament play. The reasons given for not playing in tournaments or attending as much as they would like to involve geography (38%), time (37%), finances (30%), and intimidation (20%).
The survey respondents include players at all skill levels. About half consider themselves to be Novice or Intermediate players; about half consider themselves to be Advanced or Championship-level players. The median player has a Backgammon Galaxy rating of 1751–2500.
A relatively small percentage are top-level players: 10% have an eXtreme Gammon rating under 6 (lower is better), 5% are BMAB Grandmasters/Masters (a total of 27 respondents), and 8% have a Backgammon Galaxy rating of 2500 or above. One in 10 (11%) has played in the Backgammon World Championship. A minority of backgammon players report playing for money (39%).
There is strong interest among survey respondents in improving their game. Almost three-fourths of respondents (71%) have goals to improve their backgammon skills or experience. Their chosen learning tools include the following: playing (77%), watching others play (49%), learning using eXtreme Gammon or other analysis software (56%), reading books or online material (55%), watching videos (36%), and taking lessons (35%). Respondents are most interested in the following: receiving education to improve play (75%), reading articles on backgammon strategy (67%), and watching match replays on video (46%). Respondents prefer receiving information through these channels: YouTube (67%), other websites (64%), social media platforms (36%), local clubs (31%), and newsletters (31%). T
Topics respondents would like information on include the following: the doubling cube (70%), the middle game (51%), and tournament play (45%). There is less interest in the opening game (24%) and basic concepts (18%).
Key Differences by Skill Level
Key differences on select characteristics, particularly skill level and gender, suggest that players differ widely in their sociodemographic characteristics, playing experience, and preferences for improving their game.
Survey respondents were asked which division/level of play best characterizes their game: Championship/Masters division, Advanced level, Intermediate level, Novice level, or noncompetitive social player. While this is a subjective selfassessment, the self-ranked level of play is consistent with the reported ratings on Backgammon Galaxy, eXtreme Gammon, and BMAB.
Survey respondents are split evenly between Novice/Intermediate players and Advanced/Championship players (48% and 49% respectively). The major demographic difference is that while about half (49%) of Novice players are women, women make up 42% of Intermediate players, 27% of Advanced players, and 8% of Championship players.
Other sociodemographic differences include the following:
● Novice players are younger (50% are under age 18, compared with 27% of Championship players).
● Novice players are more likely to be working (62%, compared with 50% of Championship players) and are more likely to report annual incomes under $50,000 (38% of those reporting income, compared with 23% of Championship players).
Novice players play a lot of other games. The most popular is Scrabble, with 47% of Novice survey respondents indicating they play Scrabble, almost twice the rate of Scrabble playing among Championship players (28%). By contrast, Championship players are more likely to report playing poker (59% vs. 32% of Novice players) and chess (58% vs. 32% of Novice players).
Despite wide differences in playing experience, one commonality stands out: players at all levels typically play daily, reflecting strong interest and enthusiasm for the game.
Championship players, however, are more likely to play in tournaments, with 86% reporting doing so, compared with 30% of Novices. Given that nearly all players report interest in playing in tournaments, the reasons cited for not playing in tournaments or not playing in them as much as they would like to are particularly instructive. Novice players are much more likely to cite intimidation as a reason (52% compared with 0% of Championship players). Championship players are more likely to cite geography (i.e., not living close to where tournaments are held), time, and finances, than Novice players.
Improving Skill Level
Nearly all survey respondents report having goals for their game. While interest in improving skill level is widespread, the way in which players prefer to learn differs by skill level. Novice players are much more interested in lessons than are Championship players (42% vs. 28%). By contrast, high-level players report more interest in using software analysis tools, such as eXtreme Gammon (60% of Championship players compared with 40% of Novice players).
YouTube stands out as a preferred source of information on improving skill level; 76% of Championship players report YouTube as a preferred source, as do 70% of Novice players.
The Gender Differential
The differences between men and women survey respondents are also striking. About two-thirds of the survey respondents are men (417); about one-third are women (204).
Women survey respondents are somewhat older than men respondents; 35% are between the ages of 51 and 60, compared with 26% of men. They are somewhat less likely to be employed (54% vs. 64% of men). The women report annual incomes similar to those of the men.
Men and women respondents are similar in their enthusiasm for the game. Women respondents and men respondents both play frequently. Half of both women (49%) and men (48%) play daily, with most of the remainder playing three to five times a week.
Nearly all men and women respondents report either playing in tournaments or interest in doing so. What stands out, however, are differences in the reasons given for not playing in tournaments or not playing as much as they would like. In particular, women point to intimidation as a reason at a higher rate than men (29% of women vs. 15% of men). Men are more likely to cite geography (44% of men vs. 29% of women). Men also rank time constraints higher than women (42% vs. 27%). A slightly higher percentage of men point to financial reasons (31% of men vs. 27% of women).
Women are much more likely than men to view gender as a negative in backgammon play, although relatively few women have this view (11% of women vs. 0.3% of men).
Improving Skill Level
The other striking difference is the level of skill rating. Male survey respondents are much more likely to report high skill ratings: Backgammon Galaxy rating 1750 or above — 64% of men vs. 29% of women; 5% of men respondents are BMAB Grandmasters/Masters, compared with 3% of women; 40% of men respondents assess themselves as Novice/Intermediate players, compared with 65% of women; XG rating under 9.0 — 31% of men vs. 12% of women.
Both men and women report strong interest in improving their game; 70% of men and women report having goals for their game. The survey found strong interest in education to improve their game from both women and men, but at higher rates among women (83% of women vs. 71% of men).
The way they most prefer learning, however, differs. Women prefer lessons as a way of obtaining information to improve their game (46% of women vs. 29% of men). YouTube is the most preferred channel for receiving backgammon information, especially for men (76% vs. 48% of women). Men reported more interest in information on backgammon strategy (71% vs. 60% of women) and watching match videos (52% vs. 32% of women).
Men and women both report playing other games, but the games played differ by gender. Women are more likely to report playing Scrabble (53% vs. 28% of men). By contrast, men are more likely to report playing chess (49% vs. 20% of women) and poker (49% vs. 30% of women). Men are more likely to play backgammon for money (42% vs. 32% of women).
Implications for Growing the Backgammon Community and Improving Competitive Play
The survey sponsors, Women in Backgammon and Backgammon Galaxy, conducted the survey to learn how to grow the game, attract more players to competitive backgammon, and assist players in improving their skill level. While more research is needed to probe the issues surfaced by the survey, several preliminary conclusions are suggested by the survey results, and they will help inform future activities of the sponsoring organizations.
Novice players and women players are an important source of potential growth in competitive tournament players. What’s required is an investment in overcoming the obstacles such players perceive in engaging in competitive play.
Intimidation stands out as an obstacle, with 52% of Novice players and 29% of women players citing intimidation as a reason for not playing in tournaments or not playing as much as they would like.
Possible actions include the following:
● Establishing rookie-only and women-only events to help players become comfortable with competing.
● Conducting seminars, especially at tournaments, to address specific issues, including cube strategy, tournament play, and tools to improve game, such as recording and transcribing matches.
● Creating prizes such as lessons with expert coaches and match recording equipment.
● Recording YouTube videos of teaching matches, with experts discussing issues arising during these teaching matches.
● Identifying player-friendly tournaments that ensure good sportsmanship and that all players are treated with respect.
● Adding website information on resources for improving game, such as books and expert lessons, as well as local, national, and international tournaments that provide good experiences for all players.
● Developing more learning material for novice and intermediate players, as well as video lessons on the doubling cube, tournament play, match play, and the middle game.
● Making eXtreme Gammon software and XG Mobile more accessible through sessions using the XG software at local and national tournaments and given as prizes.
To attract more women to competitive play, the following should be offered:
● Lessons and/or coaches as prizes for women.
● Seminars for Novices and women at backgammon tournaments.
● Access for women to recording equipment and XG analysis.
● Women-friendly tournaments, where good sportsmanship and respect for all players are expected, and women-only events at tournaments.
● More doubles events, especially mixed doubles with male/female partners.
● More visibility for women players, streamed matches of women, women commentators, women-only events, news coverage, and women role models featured in publications.
The survey also suggests several strategies for attracting new players to the game, including the following:
● Increasing the network of local clubs.
● Expanding YouTube backgammon offerings and website information.
● Reaching potential backgammon players through other game organizations’ publications, especially Scrabble, chess, and poker.
● Emphasizing learning as a child through parents, family game nights, and schools.
What’s next? Women in Backgammon is committed to taking this survey information and using it to enlighten sponsors, supporters, and new participants in enriching a competitive game that offers women so much. You will be hearing from us in the near future about some of the ways we will incorporate the data with anecdotes, with solid plans to use it toward growing women’s participation in competitive play. Stay tuned for our end-of-first-year report for a review of where we have come and where we hope to be, moving forward. Women in Backgammon and Backgammon Galaxy are pleased to have sponsored this pathbreaking survey. We welcome suggestions, offers of volunteer support, and commitment to promoting good sportsmanship and respect for all players in competitive backgammon.
You may contact us at Women in Backgammon and Backgammon Galaxy.
Karen Davis and Christine Merser
Co-founders, Women in Backgammon
A heartfelt thank you to Marc Olsen, Team Backgammon Galaxy, Team Blue Shoe, and Melanie Hughes for your assistance in putting all this together