Backgammon Position #6

Here we are faced with a classic backgammon position, one which no expert player would ever get wrong but one where new players usually go wrong in one of two ways.


The beginners analysis

Black does not redouble. He notices that he is likely to leave a shot and correctly worries about that checker being hit and consequently losing the game. Therefore he holds onto the cube and does not redouble until either he has cleared hist 10pt or left a shot that has been missed.

When black does redouble white will often pass. White will note that black may leave a shot, but that White will not be favorite to make the hit. He is 37 pips behind in the race and therefore he decides to pass on the redouble.

The expert analysis

Black thinks , “I have a large lead in the race so if I am not hit I should win this game. I leave a possible shot on the next roll with 61, 62, and 63. Good rolls are 11, 22, 33, 44, 55 and 54 – the good and the bad nearly cancel each other out. However, even if I have to leave a shot with something like 53 (played 10/5, 10/8) then my opponent will only hit one time out of three. Even if I have to leave a shot about 70% of the time this will mean that I only get hit 23% of the time. The position is highly volatile and it looks as if I will win close near to 77% of the time then I must redouble. Anyway, maybe my opponent will pass. I redouble.”

And White , “ Not very good as I am so far behind in the race. However, black will quite often be forced to leave me a shot and if I hit it I will be nearly certain of winning (especially when owning the cube). Will I hit a shot often enough to be able to take? Without showing all the calculations I believe I will. Also, in my playing experience, I have seen this position (or very similar ones) before and I remember that this is a take. It is interesting to note that I also remember that if black’s two men on his 10-pt were on his 9-pt this would be a borderline pass. I take.”

The rollouts show that the expert analysis is the correct one.


Key Points

Calm objective analysis of the situation will help you make the right decisions more often than not.

Do not fear the cube getting to high levels even though there is a chance that you will lose the game – The ability to accurately redouble is essential to winning in backgammon.

You will need a big database of reference positions if you hope to become an expert backgammon player.

Backgammon Position #5

Here we are looking at a position in a real money game of backgammon, where the player is facing a classic backgammon dilemma, should you hit or not ?


The two moves that we are considering are ;

(a) 20/15*/13 and

(b) 13/8, 13/11.
How we do analyse these two options and make a decision?

First things first. Let us take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the two players and then decide how black is going to win this game? Key points of the position are ; After the roll black will be 8 pips behind, after play (b), or 7 pips ahead, after play (a). In a race of this length these are not significant differences. The hit will improve black’s winning chances but not by a large amount.

In terms of the strenght of the boardm white has the better home board (4 points made to 2). White has the better checker distribution. Black still has 5 checkers on his 6-pt which is a very inefficient use of his men. After (b) he will have, in addition, 4 checkers on his 8-pt.

Black owns the doubling cube. This is a powerful asset but it also means that gammons are active – remember that this is a real money game.

Before the roll the position was not particularly volatile. Mutual holding games,like this is, are quite often resolved when one side rolls a big double.

Black’s only real winning plan is to win the race. Given the distribution of his checkers he is unlikely to be able to prime any of white’s checkers. So now the question is should he sit quietly with (b) and be patient , or make a run for it and take the lead in the race with (a).

If he plays (b) he will be a slight underdog but holding the cube chances will be nearly equal. If he plays (a) he will take the lead in the race so from that point of view he will be better off but there is one potential downside to the play that we have not yet considered and that is without an anchor he will at risk of losing a gammon if one (or more) of his checkers does get hit.

After (a) White will return hits with 11 rolls (42, 24, 52, 25, 21, 12, 56, 65, 11, 44, 22). Were black then to fan (a), which is a 44% chance, then he will be in extreme gammon danger.

The upshot of this is that black will gain a slight edge after (a) when thing go well, but when thing go wrong he could find himself on the receiving end a gammon. There is an old saying in backgammon that you should never take a knife to a gunfight and that is the case in this situation.

Simply put Blacks’ plan should be :

  • Play safe
  • Develop a stronger home board.
  • Wait and hope for a big double so as to make a run for it

One of the key points is that holding the cube he doesn’t have to take huge risks – he can wait for a better time to break his anchor, for example when he does have a stronger home board.


The rollouts support this approach – look how many gammons black loses with the risky play. Play (a) does win more games but that will not compensate for all the extra gammon losses.

Backgammon Position #4

Lets assume you are playing black in the position above. Would you double? If you where white would you take if you are doubled?


Beginners and many intermediate players have problems with positions like this. What usually happens is they roll something like 62, play it 15/7 and then after white rolls an average number – 53 for example played 17/9, black doubles and white will pass..

They do not double before the roll because the players are thinking along the lines of : “I am not favorite to get that checker on my 15-pt to safety and then if it does get hit white will have such a strong board that I will have to pass his redouble – I think I shall wait.”

Now let us take a look at how to think about this position in the correct manner. . You must first check the three key elements of doubling:

The Race – black is ahead by 17 pips before the roll so based on the race alone this is a pass. Advantage lies with black

Position – black has a 4½ point home board as opposed to white’s five point board. Slight advantage to white.

Threat – black has some big threats. He could make the point on white’s blot on his 5-pt. He could hit the white blot on his 8-pt and not be hit back at all. . He could bring his last checker to safety. He could roll a big double. These threats are immediate so the position is highly volatile. Big advantage in black favor.

The rule of thumb is that if you are ahead in two of the three elements then you should at least be considering the double. It should therefore be obvious that black has a powerhouse double.

Waiting until your opponent has a clear drop is not the way to maximise your equity when playing backgammon. You must double when you threaten to lose your market by the time it is your turn to roll again. You will lose some games in which you have doubled – that lies in the very nature of backgamon and that is what makes it such a great game in the first place. If however, you double at the right moment, then you will win lots more two-pointers and four-pointers.

Should white take the double? If white estimates that he can win approximately one game out of four then he should be taking the double. Most good players will be able to judge from past experience that this is a take. A lot of the time when black hits, e.g. 52 played 15/8*, then white will have the possibility of immediate return game winning shots and in some cases he will win a gammon if he can hit and close out two of black’s men. It’s impossible to count all the hitting sequences but white will get a single shot (which he has a 30% chance of hitting) often enough to make this a comfortable take. Thus the position is both a correct double and a correct take as evidenced by the rollouts shown below.


Just out of interest , how would you play 32 as black after double/take? I hope you would play 7/5*, 6/3 despite the fact it will leave three blots. 6/4, 6/3 would be a huge error. 7/5*, 6/3 will win many more games and many more gammons than 6/4, 6/3. And yes you will occasionally lose a gammon by making this play but as stated earlier that’s part of the game.

Backgammon Position #3 – the Backgame

The objective of the person playing the backgame is to hold both the points in his opponent’s board and at the same time use their remaining checkers to build a strong home board. If the back game is well timed the opponent will be forced into leaving a blot, probably exposed to a double shot. The idea being that the player of the backgame then hits the shot and contains the hit checker.


As the player of the backgame will normally be in posession of the doubling cube the final fase is to win the game with a well-timed redouble.

The first piece of advice about backgames is this – try to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. They are great when they work but they are difficult to play and when they go wrong you will quite often lose a gammon. No matter how well you play one bad roll can destroy even the best timed backgame. Look at the position above and see what would have happened if black had rolled double 4 – his beautiful home board would have been ruined completely.

However, black has a 51 to play and must choose between (a) 23/18, 8/7 and (b) 8/2 (I hope no-one considered playing 21/15??). Which shall it be?

The game has reached its climax and the next two turns (one by each player) could be decisive. (a) guarantees black’s timing by freeing the spare man from the rearmost point whilst (b) makes a strong home board but does risk some bad numbers (such as 44 and having to run off the 21-pt with any 6) next turn. Are we any clearer?

Having looked at the general considerations what about specifics? If black plays (a) then nearly all of white’s 1’s play much better than after (b). The second consideration is that after (a) and a subsequent hit by black, black’s home board will not be as strong as after (a) and white may be able to return hit from the bar.

These specific considerations outweigh the generalities (often the case in late game positions) and (b) is correct as can be seen from the rollout below. In the game black chose (a) and white responded with 41, played 8/7*/3. Black fanned, white never left a shot in the bear-off and easily won a gammon.

Chris Bray
May 07

Play to Win

What play would you make ?

Good backgammon players have the ability to calmly take risks at appropriate moments. Or in other words, they would rather play to win rather than play to avoid losing badly.

This position illustrates this idea. Black is in a poor position. Had he rolled a 5 he would have had reasonable chances of winning but instead the dice have given him a 62 to play.

No matter what he does he will be leaving shots and at least two blots for white to attack. He could make a 5-pt point board with plays like 13/7, 6/4 or 15/9, 6/4 but both of these plays leave multiple shots and that nice home board will soon disintegrate as soon as several black men end up behind white’s broken five-point prime.

The ‘play to avoid losing badly’ approach is to play 15/9, 15/13. This will leave only two blots but any 4 by white still more or less wins the game and white will often attack the blot on his 2-pt when he is unable hit the outfield blot. Even if black survives this roll he will still be in trouble and the initiative lies with white.

Can that initiative be taken over by black? Yes it can. It may seem suicide but the correct play in this position is actually 13/5*! Can a play that exposes four blots possibly be correct?

Once again the answer is yes and for the following reasons:
Black has a four-point home board, just as strong as white’s, so he should seek to utilise that asset.

The main reason is that on 16 (out of a possible 36) rolls next turn white will languish on the bar If black survives that next roll he will have very real winning chances and will even win a gammon on occasion. As an example look how 33 for white plays after 13/5* and 15/9, 15/13 – quite a marked difference!

This is the ‘play to win’ approach. Black has been given the chance to seize victory from the jaws of defeat and should take that opportunity.

As you can see from the rollouts below the decision is not close. 13/5* is clearly correct. It loses about the same number of gammons as the apparently ‘safer’ 15/13, 15/9 but wins an extra 10% of the games – which is a very big difference.

To lift or not to lift

This position does not look very very difficult , but a good player went very wrong from this position.


Position Summary

1) Match score: Black leads 4-1 and the cube is on 4.

Gammons do not mean a lot to Black. Leading 8-1 Crawford will make him 93.5% favorite to win the match, so the gammon gains only 6.5%. However, if he loses the game compared to winning, he goes from 93.5% to 42.7%, a drop of about 51%. Black can play for a gammon only if he wins 8 times as many gammons as that he loses games.

2) This position is kind of a holding game. Black simply wants to come home safely against the gap on the 3pt. Black leads in the race, and may well lead by a lot if white stays out.

3) At the table, Black played 11-6.

4) As for the Snowie results, Black was way off here

What was Black thinking when he played ?

Black would surely have gone right if he had looked at the match score and thought about the position a bit more.

The five best plays all involve lifting or covering the blot. In fact, the five best plays are all the plays that do not actually leave a blot.

Even for money, Black misjudged. His play gains about 5% gammons while losing 7% more games. A play winning 7% fewer games needs to win 14% more gammons. But it might have been more understandable.

Black was obsessed by the idea of “purity.” Purity refers to positions where all your checkers are in play, all working toward the eventual goal of gaining an overwhelming positional advantage. Rather than bury a checker on the ace-point, Black kept the checker in position to make a useful point.

As far as the best play that does not leave a blot, there are two possible approaches: Player 3-1, or cover the 3pt. Opening the 5 or 6pts seems bad. Black wants to bring his checkers home safely. Making White enter on the 3pt means that Black checkers on the 10pt and higher are safe. They also give Black the chance to put builders on the 4, 5 and 6 points to pick and pass or maybe even make the 3pt.

If Black plays 3-1, he has to pick a 3 to play. 11-8 leaves only 53 as a hitting roll, while 18-15 leaves 31 and 32. However, Black will need to get the back checkers moving.

It is much safer to do this now, whilst White is on the bar. Further, 18-15 does two more good things. It forces White to create two new blots to hit, and it keeps Black’s checkers connected.

In this position, each side wants to make it difficult for the opponent to cross the outfield and get their men home. 18-15 helps Black take control of the outfield. I was a little surprised that it leads to only 0.5% more gammons for White, since White will have builders activated to make points in his board and Black will have several blots.

With gammons being so important to White, I would have to admit that over the board I would look long and hard at 11-8. But the time to take risks like this is when your opponent is helpless to respond. White’s board is going to get better, and once he enters, every extra Black checker in the outfield will represent at least a 2-number fly shot.

Giving one fly shot now to resolve the issue may be better than giving multiple fly shots later. Probably the rollout is seeing that Black can lose a gammon as easily from being hit with a fly shot later when he is vulnerable as that he can now.

Different types of backgammon strategy

To the casual observer there would seem to be no logical way in which a game of backgammon develops from the starting position. However upon closer scrutiny , much like in chess, there are several different strategies one can use when playing backgammon. There are 8 defined types of strategy or game,

  1. Running Game (or Race)
  2. High Anchor
  3. Mutual Holding Game
  4. Low Anchor
  5. Blitz
  6. Prime versus Prime
  7. Back Game
  8. Scramble

Occasionally there is a game that does not fall under one of the specific strategies above , however in 97% of the games played this is not the case. In order to be a good backgammon player it is essential that one has an understanding of all the ‘basic backgammon strategies”.

It is important not only to understand how to develop a game into one of these particular types but also to, once having achieved this, to know how to play each positional type and the associated doubling strategies. This last point is particularly important as the understanding of the correct doubling strategies will gain you far more points than the understanding of how to move the checkers.

Running Game

Of the eight types, by far the easiest is the running game and the easiest example of this is where both sides start by rolling 65 twice and run both their back checkers out to their mid-points – as shown below. After this there will be no more contact between the two armies and the winner will be the side that rolls the highest numbers on the dice.


High Anchor

A high anchor game is one where you have moved your back checkers at least as far as your mid-point whilst your opponent still holds either your 4pt, 5pt or bar point. An example of this is shown in the position below.


Mutual Holding Game

A mutual holding game is one where both sides have a high anchor (a high anchor is one of three points, your opponent’s 4pt, 5pt or bar point). This position occurs after the sequence: Red 43: 24/20, 13/10; Black 66: 24/18(2), 13/7(2); Red 43: 24/20, 13/10.


Low Anchor

A low anchor game can occur in many different ways but is characterised by one player holding his opponent’s 1,2 or 3 point whilst the opponent has escaped his back checkers. The position below is a typical low anchor game where black has escaped his back checkers and red is trapped on black’s ace point.



The blitz is the most volatile of all the game types. A blitz is characterised by one player desperately trying to get an anchor in his opponent’s home board whilst his opponent does everything he can to prevent it. The position below is typical of the early stages of a blitz where red has split his checkers with a 52 played 13/8, 24/22 and black has replied with 55, played 8/3(2)*, 6/1(2)* putting two red checkers on the bar.


Prime vs. Prime

Prime against prime is characterised by both players having one or more of his opponent’s checkers trapped behind a blockade of 4, 5 or 6 points. Prime vs. prime games require fine judgement and are amongst the most difficult of all backgammon game types to play. In a blitz, once you have started it, most of the moves are clear, in a prime v prime each individual move will require much more thought.

The position shown below is a typical prime vs. prime game with both players having two checkers trapped behind 5-point primes.


Back Game

The backgame game is when you hold two or more points in your opponent’s home board, usually as a result of lots of blots being hit. Now an excellent piece of advice: DO NOT play back games at all costs. When they go well they are wonderful, but if you lose, then you are likely to lose either a gammon or a backgammon.

The position below shows a typical back game where red is playing the back game by holding black’s 1-pt and 2-pt. As we shall see in future articles which two points you hold in your opponent’s home board are critical to the likely success, or not, of your back game.



Last but not least comes the Scramble. This type of position normally occurs after one player has been hit whilst bearing off and is then trying to ‘scramble’ the hit checker back to the safety of his home board. Such a position is shown below where black is trying to scramble home his checker on red’s bar-point.



The vast majority of backgammon games will evolve into one of these eight game types. Many games develop from one type to another, for example, a back game often evolves into a scramble, or a blitz may evolve into a low anchor or high anchor game.

Opening moves in backgammon – Part IV

In this the final part of our series on opening moves or rolls in backgammon we are going to be looking at the following rolls.

52, 64 and 54

These are rolls on which there is no wide agreement on how to play them, as usual we will be discussing and illustrating the various ways to play them and discuss the positives and negatives of each possible play.


This is one of the worst opening rolls in the game. We will ignore 13/6 as it does not improve blacks position and does nothing to achieve any of the objectives we aim to achieve when opening in backgammon.

With this roll there are only 2 real alternatives 13/8 and 13/11 as shown below


This move will unstack the mid-point and bring a builder into play on the 11 point. Not as useful as a builder on the 10 or 9 point but on the positive side it can only be taken out by red if he rolls a 64.

The second option available is to split your back checkers by playing 13/8 and 24/22


This moved wasnt played for a long time as players were afraid of being hit by double 5 or double 3 rolls from their opponent. However as these are only 2 possible rolls out of 36 this split works well as it can deter red from freely creating builders in his outer board.

The building play 13/8 and 13/11 on average leads to more complex games than 13/8 and 24/22 which often creates a mutual high anchor game.

Computer analysis will show the 13/8, 24/22 move as a small favorite.


This roll has three possible alternatives of which one is almost never played anymore , namely the running option of 24/15.


This is not a bad play, it is just that the other 2 plays are much better alternatives.

13/8 and 13/9 is the building play


This is not the strongest building play of all the building plays we have looked at, but in backgammon you are faced with what the dice roll. If black does not get hit he has a good chance of establishing a new point on the next roll.

The last option is to slot your opponents 5 point by playing 13/8 and 24/20


We look at this as battling for your opponent’s 5 point.. Red will hit the blot with most 1’s and 3’s,in return leaving his own blot if he has to. The importance of the two 5-points in the early stages of the game is so high that both sides should take risks to establish them. An example of this is if red rolls 53 in response to the split play then his correct move is 13/5* instead of 8/3, 6/3.


The simplest option with this roll is to play the running option with 24/14. This is much like the option we looked at in our other article detailing the 6/2 and 6/3 options.


In the case of 64 running is a slightly better option than running with 62 and 63. In this case there are only 11 numbers that red can hit on and if the blot is not hit it is a stronger builder than in the earlier cases.

An argument for not playing this move is the fact that black will have to take time to move the checker to safety next turn.

Option number two to is to play the split, 24/18 and 13/9


As is the case with 62 and 63 this can lead to complicated games with lots of early hitting. The better player should select this option as playing the running move will lead to pretty straightforward game play.

The third option is to create the 2 point by playing 8/2 and 6/2.


Is it wrong to establish a point in your home board this early?. Standard backgammon theory tells us that it is a) too early in the game and b) that the 8 and 2 points cannot be in the same prime, so why play this move ?

If you look back at backgammon theory over the course of time, then a century ago this would have been a popular move. When Jellyfish came out it recommended making the 2 point. Snowie came into existence and said to play 24/12. Later versions of this analysis software said 24/18 and 13/9 was the way to go.

What is the play to make in this case? Nobody seems to be certain, as with all the options in this article we recommend taking the option that suits both your style of play and takes into account the strength of your opponent.

Opening moves in backgammon – Part III

We are going to be analyzing three more opening rolls in this, Part III of our series of articles looking at opening moves.

In this article we are going to look at the following rolls: 21, 41, 51
Each of these rolls can be played in at least two ways and as usual we are going to show you the pro’s and con’s of each way of playing them.

If we were in the 70’s this article would be short indeed,at that time everyone played the one (1) 6/5. The common assumption at the time was that splitting the rear checkers (ie playing 24/23) was not done. At the time slotting key points and estabishing them on the next roll was the way to go.

Years have passed since then and with the coming of computers we can now establish that there are arguments for both options.
Slotting the 5 point by playing 6/5 is an attempt to establish your own 5 point as early as possible. If your opponent doesn’t hit the blot then you will be a strong favourite to establish the point on your next turn. The game may then evolve into many different types but quite often it will become a prime vs. prime game, this being the most difficult of all backgammon games to play.

Be aware then that slotting will often lead to complex positions on the board. Splitting, on the other hand, often evolves into much simpler positions, most typically mutual holding games or high anchor positions.

This brings us to the issue of analysing your strength against that of your opponent and how to adjust your play based on that analysis. If you are the stronger player you should opt for complex and long games and you should attempt to slot. The more complex the position the more chance there will be for your weaker opponent to make mistakes– the longer the game the more chance you will have to bring into play your superior experties.

Obviously if you are the less experienced player you should aim to avoid complexity and you should go for simple positions. This would lead to splitting rather than slotting.

Please note that in tournament matches the leader should strive for simple games and the player behind should aim for complex games (slot). This is because the slot will lead to many more gammons than splitting and the player behind in a match should be aiming for gammons.
The actual rolls (split or slot)


In this case let us ignore the beginner’s move 13/10. The opening is the time when we can take risks to strengthen our position and whilst 13/10 unstacks a heavy point and prepares to make new points it is not as dynamic as the other two moves, both of which accomplish 2 good things.

The first move we look at is 13/11, 6/5, as shown below;


This will unstack the two heaviest points and slots the most important point on the backgammon board- your own 5-point . If red does not hit this blot (and he is not favorite to do so) then black is an overwhelming favorite to establish the point on his next turn.

If red does hit the blot then the black blot on the 11 point is well placed to return hit on the 5 point next turn. This is because it is six points away from the blot and a 6 is the one number black is unable to use to re-enter the board.

The other option is to play the split, 13/11, 24/23:


The aim of the split is two fold. It makes it more dangerous for red to move builders into his outer board and it gives black several good rolls next turn to establish an advanced anchor, e.g. 32 played 24/21, 23/21.

The split involves less risk than the slot and subsequently the rewards are not as high. If you pull of the slot you will own your 5 point , a major improvement. When the split shows a profit it is usually in the way of an advance anchor or a hit in reds outer board. These are gains that cannot be ignored but establishing the 5 point is the biggest gain you can make in the beginning of a game of backgammon.
41 Can we just apply the same arguments to 41 and come up with the same answers?

The answer to this is no, and we must take a much deeper look.

Again we shall ignore the beginner’s move 13/8 for much the same reasons we discarded 13/10 as an alternative move for our 21 opening. Whilst it is completely safe and does bring another useful builder to black’s 8 point, it just doesn’t do enough at a time when you should be taking risks to improve your in game position.

Let us look at the viable moves

First the slot, 13/9, 6/5:


and second the split, 13/9, 24/23:


The theory of slot vs. split will apply to these moves just as they did to our 21 opener. However, there are a number of mathematical differences that make this a much closer call than before

  • After playing the slot, red has 19 hitting numbers (as opposed to 15 after 21) because he now hits with 62 and 53 as well as with all 4’s.
  • Because black’s builder is on the 9-pt rather than the 11-pt he has more point making rolls next turn even without slotting so it is possible that slotting may be too much of a good thing
  • If the slotted blot is hit then black will no longer have a builder placed the optimal 6 points away and the checker on the 9-pt is much less effectively placed for hitting back.

These may appear to be very small differences but small differences is what backgammon is all about and the computer software today, would lead us to believe that these differences are big enough to make the split 13/9, 24/23 the correct play with an opening 41.

I feel they are most likely correct but that does not take into account the opponent factor. Against a weaker player I will always play 13/9, 6/5 seeking the complex game that I believe will give me the edge. Against an opponent of equal strength or a stronger opponent I will play for 13/9, 24/23.

One final note on 41. There are some other alternatives such as 24/20, 24/23 and 24/20, 6/5. Over time these moves have been discounted from the list of serious contenders. The first because it does not take the option of unstacking the overloaded mid point and the latter because it is just too boldto play , as we shall see subsequently, splitting and slotting in the same move is almost never correct.


This brings us to 51. Again there are some subtle differences. Let’s analyse the two moves, starting with slot, 13/8, 6/5:


and now the split, 13/8, 24/23:


The problem with both of these moves is that the ‘5’ does not really improve black’s game position. Black already has a spare builder on his 8 point. Another checker there is only a slim improvement at the very best. However, most 5’s play poorly in the opening and we have to play what the gods of dice give us. 13/8 is really the only option available to us here.

The issue with the slot is that if red misses the shot at the blot, whilst still favorite to make the 5-pt, black only has a 2-1 chance to do so rather than being the big favorite after the 21 and 41 slot plays.

For this very reason the computers once again prefer the split play 13/8, 24/23, although it is a very close call. As in the notes to the 41 play I always play the slot against weaker opponents and in this instance also against equal opponents. Only against a much stronger opponent will I play the split option.

With 51 there is a also a 3rd alternative that did gain some popularity a few years ago but I have not seen this played very often lately. I think, however, that it is worth taking a look at. The move is 24/18, as show below:


The logic behind this play is very similar to that for the 62 and 63 moves that we have already taken a look at . It aims to enable black to either make red’s bar-point next turn or to promote an advantageous (to black) sequence of hits on red’s bar point. It also uses the 5 effectively which neither the slotting nor the splitting play do.


So there it is. With 21 it is seems fairly obvious that the technically best move is 13/11, 6/5 but do not forget to consider your opponent and match score.

Just as obvious with 41 the correct play is 13/9, 24/23 because slotting in this situation can be viewed as overkill.

With 51 the verdict is undecided and the slot and the split are very close with the computers tipping the balance in favor of playing the split.

Opening moves in Backgammon – Part II

In our 1st article we analysed opening rolls that are always played in the same fashion. In this the 2nd article of the series e we are going to look in detail at another set of rolls on which there is a broad agreement on how to play them.
Rolls we are going to be looking at are 6/2 and 6/3

These rolls can both be played in at least 2 ways and we are going to be determining the pros and cons of the various ways of playing them.
Whenever we begin a game of backgammon we are trying to achieve the following objectives ;

  1. Establish new points
  2. Mobilise the back checkers
  3. Unstack the heavy points on the board

6 & 3

There are two options with this roll of the dice. The first is 24/18, 13/10 as can be seen in the diagram below:

The logic behind this play is twofold. Let us consider the first part of the move, the six, played 24/18. First of all it attempts to make the opponent’s bar-point by slotting it. If red doesn’t hit the blot then black will be just about even money to establish the point on his next turn.

Secondly the play may induce an exchange of hits on the bar-point. For example red may roll 42, played 13/7* and then black could roll 26, played bar/23, 24/18*. This exchange of hits favours black as he gains in the overall race by sending one of red’s checkers from his-mid-point all the way back to the start of the board . In contrast black has only lost a few pips because it is one of his back checkers that ended up getting sent to the bar.

The second part of the move, the three, played 13/10, provides a builder for black’s home board and creates for black some flexibility on his next turn (if he has not been sent to the bar). For example, let’s say red rolls 52 and plays 13/8, 24/22 and now black rolls 51 on his next turn. He would then have the choice of making his opponent’s bar-point with 24/18 or his own 5-pt with 10/5, 6/5

Of course red could end up rolling something like 61, played 13/7*, 8/7 making his bar-point which will give him a slight advantage. Like all things in backgammon it is a question of balancing risk and reward – sometime you will gain the advantage and sometimes you will lose it.

Playing 24/18, 13/10 can often leads to complex games with lots hitting in the early stages of the game.

In contrast the second option, 24/15 as shown below:


is an attempt to race straight for home. If red doesn’t roll a number that hits the checker on red’s 10-pt then black will, in all likelyhood, be able to move it to safety next time he plays and he will have successfully removed half of his rear checkers to a safe place.

24/15 will create much simpler games. In later articles we will establish that , particularly in tournament situations, it is sometimes the smart thing to do , to play for complexity and sometimes for simplicity and this can quite often be determined by the choice of your opening move.

Beginners that are faced with a better opponent should choose for 24/15 and try to keep the game as simple as possible.

6 & 2

The options for this roll of the dice are the same as for 6 & 3. The two moves are very similar. So the complex option in this case is 24/18, 13/11:


and the simpler option is 24/16 as can be seen below:


When I 1st started playing backgammon (over 25 years ago) 62 was usually played 13/5 as can be seen below ;

However, as backgammon theory developed the need to move the back checkers early in the game became obvious and I have seen 13/5 played only a couple of times over the last few years.

Most backgammon players will opt for 24/18 and 13/10 or 13/11 with 63 and 62 – the pure running plays for home are being used less and less as players aim for complexity, being of the assumption that they are stronger than the opponent that they are playing.
Only two possible rolls were discussed here and yet we managed to cover a number of the fundamentals of opening theory. The time to take risks is early in the game before your opponent has been able to create any new home board points. The concept of splitting to your opponent’s bar-point with 62 or 63 follows that theory. We will see later that this same theory can also be applied to 64 but that there is also a third option for this roll.