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:

backgammon-opening-moves-II-1
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:

backgammon-opening-moves-II-02

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:

backgammon-opening-moves-II-03

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

backgammon-opening-moves-II-04

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

backgammon-opening-moves-II-05
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.