Like the game of chess, backgammon requires players to understand backgammon strategy if they wish to be consistently competitive in their game play. In this post we will cover the following core topics for learning backgammon strategies:
Game Of Skill
People see that backgammon is played with dice and automatically assume that it is a game of luck, rather than a game of skill. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, the government at one point tried to convince the courts that backgammon should be considered gambling!
The courts ruled that despite some level of luck in the game as a result of the dice, understanding backgammon strategy and executing those strategies in games is what ultimately decides the winners in the end.
A player may get some lucky rolls and win a single game or two against a superior player, but the strategic player will win in most cases. Particularly when playing a longer games, like points games.
Core Backgammon Strategy:
Below are some well known general strategies for backgammon that all players should know. They are relatively simple ideas to grasp, and are something you should be able to start implementing right away.
Maybe the most common backgammon strategy is the Running game. As is sounds the running strategy simply involves moving your checkers around the board as quickly as possible. Very little thought goes into this strategy, and if both players are playing a running game the winner will likely be the player with the best dice rolls. This is the core strategy of beginners, and one of the easiest to beat for an experienced player.
The blitz backgammon strategy generally comes next for beginners when learning how to play backgammon. When a player recognizes that running a race around the board leaves a lot to chance, they tend to view hitting blots as the next best plan of action. When a player runs the blitz strategy they are basically trying to send as many of their opponents checkers to the bar for re-entry.
This strategy is effective at slowing down a player using the running strategy, and you may even cause your opponent to have to skip a turn because they have a checker stuck on the bar. It can get risky if you leaving a lot of blots on the board, so pay attention to that!
The term priming refers to when a player creates a set of four blocked points in a row, this is called as a prime. Setting up a four point prime blocks your opponent from moving checkers toward their home board without rolling at least a 5 or 6 on the dice.
Priming in the right location can also help you move your checkers into your home board by providing a safe landing zone. Also, if you set up your prime in your home board, or bridging the bar in your home board, you have a good chance of trapping your opponents checkers on the bar. How ever you choose to set up your prime, know that priming is without a doubt one of the most effective backgammon strategies to add to your game.
When playing an experienced player it is often a good idea to set up an anchor in their home board so you have a place to re-enter checkers that end up on the bar. If your opponent is able to set up a prime in their home board any checkers you have on the bar may end up stuck while they run their checkers home.
The game basically begins with anchors on the 24 points, but it is a good idea to move it forward some to try to prevent a prime coming together in your opponents home board. We will talk more about positing of this type of anchor in the advanced strategies section.
Another advantage to the anchoring backgammon strategy is that you can hit your opponents checkers in or near their home board, sending them all the way back to the beginning of their outside board. It is even ok to leave an open blot when making this type of move because you haven’t moved your anchor checkers far at this point, and resetting them doesn’t do a whole lot of damage.
Back Game Strategy
Back game takes the anchoring strategy to the next level. Ideally you want to be advancing your checkers strategically toward your home board, but it your opponent is blitzing the bag game can be a great way to counter attack.
When you are forced to play back game as a result of a number of hits, you are going to try to set up a block in or near your opponents home board. You will prevent your opponent from being able to advance some of their checkers, and also be able to use these multiple anchors to blitz their checkers that are getting close to their home board.
Backgammon Strategic Opening Moves:
Knowing your opening strategy will go a long way to getting your game off to the right start. That said, your overall strategy for the game can be effected by your first couple of rolls, which is why it is important to be well versed in your options. You may plan to be priming, but an initial roll might set up up for an ideal anchoring position.
Backgammon has been around for a long time, and the opening moves have actually changed with the ability to analyze the game with computers. Below is a list of the best strategies for backgammon opening moves:
The moves in this listed are written using backgammon notation. Backgammon notation simply means the points are numbered from 24 to 1 as is used in every description of set up and game play on this site. So when it a move is shown as 13/11, it means moving one checker from the 13 point to the 11 point.
Here is the chart of opening moves:
The one thing this chart does not take into account is opening with a doubles roll. In that case we recommend the following opening moves:
Advanced Backgammon Strategies:
Two-way forward attacking
Knowing each of the backgammon strategies and combining them as a part of your overall attacking scheme is a deadly combination.
For example Priming is a great strategy to pair with a blitz attack. If you are able to keep your opponent in the outer board by hitting, and at the same time structuring a prime, you can set yourself up for smooth sailing through bearing off. Conversely, if your opponent is off to a strong start, you may combine a strong back game strategy followed by a blitz to regain position.
The bottom line here is that knowing all of your strategic options, and how to blend them together is a true winning strategy.
The 5 points
Your and your opponents 5 points are an important part of the game. You may try to make one or both of these points during game play.
In your opponents board, the 5 point makes a nice anchor position. It is relatively safe from getting stuck behind a prime, should your opponent build one, and also gives you a nice re-entry point for any of your checkers that end up on the bar.
In your home board making the 5 point is an exceptionally strong move. It makes a great block for your opponent when they are trying to enter checkers from the bar, and also sets you up nicely make a prime on the 5,6,7,and 8 points.
The Bar Points
After the 5 points, strategically, the 7 points should likely be your next target.
On your home board, while they don’t have the advantage of blocking checkers from entering, the 7 points are conducive to setting up an aggressive prime against your opponent. It also provides a nice landing pillow between the 6 and 8 points for checkers you are trying to get into your home board.
Making your opponents 7 point can be equally effective for anchoring and blocking.
When in doubt, hit. Sometime in trying to stick to a single strategy you end up playing it safe while trying to set up primes or control points. In most cases sending your opponents checkers to the bar when possible is going to be the right move for multiple reasons. You may trap them on the bar or behind a nice block, but at the very least you have reset the chip and it will now have to travel all the way around the board to get home.
You should exercise caution on hitting when you have your own blots in your home board. You don’t want to inadvertently get your own check hit after you have moved it all the way the board.
Dialing In Your Game:
Being able to adapt to a changing game on the fly is key to winning consistently in backgammon. In this post we have stressed the importance of knowing the options in order to be able to shift when things don’t go your way.
Backgammon strategy is more mathematical than anything else. The more times you see a situation, the better you will know how to handle it in the future. Computers are able to calculate the statistical success of every available move on the table. We obviously are not able to proceed information anywhere near that level, but if we can land between there and just blindly rolling dice and running around the board, we can win some games pretty consistently.
There are softwares available online, many for free, that will let you run all kinds of practice games. Some will let you set up and play through specific situations, and others will show you the best moves before you make them in the game. If you are interested in checking that out, or just want to pick up some extra game play online, check out our article on the best places to play backgammon online.
It is important to keep in mind that you can’t control the dice portion of the game, and that you need to keep you head in the game when you have some bad rolls. Many players will take a few poor dice rolls, to an opponents lucky ones, personally and lose sight of their game strategy mindset.
Don’t be afraid to double aggressively. Many players tend to play conservatively a lot more often than is truly necessary. Many games that are lost, could easily have been one sometimes by one different move. Often, that one miss step is a result of trying to play it safe.
As we outlined in our standard play and variations rules article, we like the using the beaver and raccoon rules when they are allowed. An aggressive doubling strategy can help keep you opponent on their heels.
We believe this article gives you everything you need to build a very strong base for your own backgammon strategy. The core strategy principals have been laid out right from the opening rolls of the game.
Of course the best way to develop your game further, and know which strategy to apply, is to see more game situations. Playing online is fun, but a face to face game is always the best. Backgammon is a great game to teach kids as well, and almost became a lost art for a little period there. If you don’t have physical board, you can find some great options for any budget in this article.
So get out there and get in some games!