One of the most fundamental backgammon strategy lessons to learn while moving your pieces around the board is don’t leave yourself exposed.
By this I mean, as you’re moving, don’t leave unnecessary blots all over the place.
Blots are discussed on the ‘how to play the game’ but are simply pieces that are on their own. If you have two or more pieces on a point then you are safe but if only one is left then it can be ‘hit’ by your opponent and you will then have to get that piece out of the bar and back into the game.
So, as you move around make sure you use your dice rolls in such a way as to keep at least two of your pieces on each of your occupied points.
If you have to leave a blot on the board then try to make sure that the one you leave is the furthest from your opponents pieces. If your opponent cannot reach your blot with an average dice throw then that is a better situation than leaving a blot close to your opponent’s pieces.
Another great strategy idea to use while playing backgammon is to build as many points as you can.
By this I mean place 2 or more of your pieces on points around the board.
Doing this will have two major advantages. Firstly, each point you build can be used as a safe stop-over point so you don’t leave your pieces exposed, and secondly because your opponent cannot land on your safe points, it makes it harder for them to navigate the board.
Making points in your home board can be especially useful.
If you make a number of points here and then you hit any of you opponents pieces then your opponent has to get out of the bar, which of course has to happen via your home board.
If you have blocked a number of your home board points then you can make it very difficult for your opponent to leave the bar, and hence, for you opponent to win the game.
If you manage to block every point in your home board then you can prevent your opponent from doing anything at all for a few rolls which can significantly increase you chances of winning the game.
When you make points in groups (i.e. a row of 2 or more) on the board, these are known as ‘primes’ and are another way of hampering your opponent.
They make it difficult for you opponent to move around and can offer a safe haven for your pieces.
It’s good practice to try to make one or more of these as you play the game so you can improve your chances of winning.
When you make your first move in the game, it’s important to try to gain some kind of advantage.
First, it’s a good idea to move some pieces from the larger stacks that you have and make some new points. Doing this will make your position stronger and may slow down your opponent.
Second, it’s also a good idea to begin moving the furthest of your pieces (the ones in your opponent’s home board) closer to your home board.
The early part of the game is a good time for risk taking. If you make moves which result in your pieces being hit and put in the bar, it is easier to leave the bar and continue. Some of these risky moves could pay off by giving you some early momentum in the game.
The start of the game is also a good time to make some points at places on the board which may come in handy later in the game, either as refuges or as blocking points to give you an edge when you need it.
Getting a good distribution of your pieces around the board, whilst also making sure that they cannot be hit can be very useful. This is because your pieces will then be in a much better position to hit your opponent’s pieces should they become exposed during the game.
Many backgammon experts agree that it is best to be aggressive in the opening stages of the game and attack you opponent as much as possible. This strategy, in theory, is the best one to maximise your chances of victory.
Playing Your Middle Game
Getting this part of the game right can make the difference between winning and losing.
This part can also be responsible for making the game a nice short one or a very drawn out one.
The Doubling Cube
The doubling cube, which looks similar to a dice but with the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 on it is used during the game to double the stakes and make the game more interesting/expensive.
The cube itself is placed on the backgammon board, sometimes off to one side or sometimes in the centre of the bar.
To start with, the cube is placed with the 64 on the top. This denotes that the stake is 1 because there is no 1 on the cube.
If, during the game a player thins that they are in a winning position, they can challenge their opponent to double the stakes. The opponent can either accept (known as ‘take’) the double or reject the double (known as ‘pass’).
If they take it, the doubling cube is rotated so that the next higher number is shown on the top (i.e. from 64 to 2). From this point on the new stake (of 2, or double) applies to the game and whoever wins will win twice the original stake.
Doubling can happen multiple times during the game, and each time the stake is redoubled.
So, for example, if the stake stands at 2 and a player doubles then the stake rises to 4 and the winner stands to get 4 times the original stake.
The stake can carry on being doubled passed the available numbers on the cube. In this case, the players have to remember the current stake.
The location of the doubling cube on the board often denotes who has made the last double. The cube resides closer to the player who has made the latest doubling challenge.
If you are challenged to double by your opponent but you feel that you are in a better position than they are then you can claim the double back for yourself by redoubling.
To do this, you ‘beaver’ the double. This means the stake is doubled twice in one go and things can get out of hand quite quickly.
Also, this process can happen multiple times with the subsequent redoubles being called ‘raccoons’ and ‘aardvarks’ (16 times the original stake), although these are rarely used in most games.
If the player being challenged to double refuses (known as a ‘pass’) then that player must pay the original stake and the game is restarted.
The time to offer a double is at the start of your turn, before you roll your dice.
Before accepting a double, it is important to analyse your position carefully to establish weather it is better to take the increase in stake or to simply cut your losses and accept paying the original stake.
Seeing as, on the whole, you are most likely to be offered a double by your opponent if you are losing, it might first appear as though it is an unfair process.
However, if you consider your strategy over a number of games, you can be in a winning position at least some of the time by accepting the double rather than passing and losing a single game and its stake.
The 25 percent rule is often used by a player when deciding weather or not to take a double. If the player has more than a 25 percent chance of winning the game then they should accept the double, if not, it should be passed.
Although the odds are against you if you have a 25 percent chance of winning, it can be really satisfying to come back and win from such a position.
Also, bear in mind that if you are in a weak position and you accept a double, you don’t have to then finish the game to win it.
You just need to get to a strong position and then offer your opponent a double. If your position is truly strong then your opponent will pass and you automatically win the game without having to complete it.
The Jacoby Rule
Simply put, the Jacoby Rule dictates that a gammon can only be won after one of the players has doubled during the game.
The rule only applies to games which are played for money and is never used, for example, during a tournament.
The main idea behind this rule was to speed up games which would have otherwise taken too long in fast moving money backgammon games.
During the middle game, if your opponent still has back pieces (i.e. one or more of their pieces in your home board) it’s a good idea to try to build a prime so the opponent can get them out.
A prime, as previously discussed, is a consecutive group of your pieces which you can use to stop your opponent moving their pieces due to the fact that no matter what they roll, they cannot reach past the prime.
If your opponent has only one back piece, then make sure you hit it if you can and keep hitting your opponent’s blots in your home board as much as possible.
Thinking about the finish
Sooner or later, there will be a time when one or both players start making a move towards the end of the game. It’s a good idea to have this in mind during the middle part of the game and to make your moves accordingly.
If you have an anchor in your opponent’s home board (i.e. two or more pieces on one of their home board points), it’s sometimes difficult to know when to start moving those pieces towards your home board.
The decision of when to do this is entirely the players own, but as a general rule of thumb, start moving the anchor when it can no longer serve any useful purpose.
If you have a high anchor, one which is close to the edge of the board, then it is of course far more valuable from a strategy point of view than a low one.
It may well be worth keeping a high anchor until close to the very end of the game.
With a high anchor, you can still attack your opponent right up to the point where they have almost borne off
One thing to remember, when moving your pieces into your home board before you attempt to bear off, is to make sure you place them efficiently.
If your opponent still has an anchor in your board, then be sure to not leave any blots. Also, try to build your pieces on the low numbered points (close to the edge of the board). This will make the process of bearing off easier and faster and could give you an edge.
A term that you may hear in backgammon circles is Blitzing. It’s the word given to a strategy which involves attacking an opponent with as many hits as possible.
Pieces are often brought in from around the board to sustain a blitz and the intention is general to get as many of the opponents pieces into the bar.
Like many plays, a blitz can of course work in an unintended way. While attempting a blitz, a player will probably leave themselves badly exposed and a shrewd opponent can counter the blitz by hitting the player back as much as possible.
Sometimes the end result is worse for the attacking player than the victim.
Also, during the attack, the opponent can use the distraction of the blitz to form important anchors and even primes which will strengthen their position later in the game.
During the bearing off stage, one of the most important points to remember is that of protection. Make sure you don’t leave any of your pieces alone and in the firing line of your opponent.
The whole game could swing in your opponent’s direction if you are bearing off and they manage to hit a piece that you left exposed.
As you assemble your pieces in your home board, it’s good advice to stack more pieces on the higher numbers (the edge closest to the bar). This will allow you to bear off your pieces much more safely.
It goes without saying that it’s also a good idea to fill the whole of your home board with protected pieces, especially if you opponent is still in your board or, better still in the bar.
When bearing off, try to maintain an even number of pieces on your points, especially your higher points.
Make the pieces on the higher points the ones you bear off first and also avoid making gaps in your groups of pieces.
This will make it less likely you leave exposed points as you bear off and also will continually prevent your opponent from re-entering from the bar if they are still there.
Remember that at this point in the game, doubles can still play an important part.
It’s good advice to continue to use the 25 percent rule plus some common sense to determine if you should accept or pass a double while you are in the bearing off phase.
Hopefully this guide will help you with your backgammon games in the future.
Although it’s not a comprehensive one, at least it will give you a starting point to help improve your game and maybe allow you to relax and have a bit of fun playing backgammon.