Bearing off in backgammon – Part 1

In this 1st article of the series , we are going to be looking at the so called end game in backgammon. Remember in backgammon you cannot bear off any men until all 15 of them are in your home board. If at any stage during bearing off one or more of your men is hit, these men will have to make the return trip from the bar all the way back to the home board before you can continue bearing off.

We will be looking at the types of bear off that can take place and some of the basics of bearing off.

Basically there are 4 types 

  1. Bearing off with no opposition (a race)
  2. Bearing off with an opponents anchor
  3. Bearing off with an opponents checker on the bar (or more than one)
  4. Bearing off with a backgame (ie your opponent is holding one or more points in your home board)

Bearing off with no opposition.

As in any backgammon game, correct use of the doubling cube is essential and we will be analysing this extensively in other articles.

We will look at a game with no opposition , making the priority to get your men into your home board as quickly as possible.

We are assuming that you have created some points in your home board during the course of the game. The question then is where to place your men as you bear them in.

It may seem the obvious choice to arrange your men as shown in the diagram below.


In this case however reds checkers are distributed much better than blacks. It is very important to place more men on the 3 highest points in your home board.

The concept known as wastage comes into play here. (we will be looking at this more indepth in later articles). If your checkers are placed on the one point and you roll a sixes or fives or anything higher than 1 you will be wasting pips everytime you bear off. In order to bear off in the most efficient manner we aim to keep wastage down to a minumum.

There is a very old saying in backgammon that you can never have too many men on your 4 point. Take a look at the following situation which will show you why:


In this situation blacks position is very inefficient. There are too many checkers on the two and three point. If black rolls a four he will have no choice but to play 6-2 or 5-1. Afterwards he can bear them off by rolling threes , fours , fives or sixes. It is clear to see that this will lead to massive amounts of wastage.

The least wastage will be created by a position as illustrated below:


In theory this is the best possible position to be in. You are very unlikely to achieve though due to the nature of the game, but it does illustrate our point.

When all your men are in the home board, bearing them off is usually a straight forward matter.

There are some situations where a more subtle approach is called for when bearing off. below is an example:


Black has rolled six, three and has to play. He could play 6 and off, and 4/1. The problem playing this is that when he rolls his next three he will not be able to use the number to take a man off. As black has an even number of men left this may cost him a whole roll, i.e. he will take an extra turn to remove all his men.

Since the rules of backgammon do allow you to play your dice in either order, black can play the much better option of , 6/3, 4 and off. The checker that he puts on his three point with this play may save him the extra roll.

Summary of the unopposed bear off

The strategy for bearing off in this situation is pretty straight forward . Get your men in your home board and remove them pretty much sums it up. it is however important that when possible position your men on the higher points, ie 4, 5 & points.

Don’t forget the saying about the four point and finally remember that the rules of backgammon allow you to play the numbers on your dice in either order.