Opening Moves in Backgammon

There are two very important things you should know about opening moves in backgammon

The experts, having studied opening moves for many years, and having the benefit of experience, the use of advanced computer programs, in combination with tremendous personal skill and intuition, have basically all agreed on what are the best opening moves for every possible dice combination.

If you any move other than the ones that the experts recommend, you are reducing your chance of winning the game and match.

Its that simple. You must memorize the best opening moves, and play them. Of course it will help you greatly to also understand the reason behind each move, and it will help you to also go to the next step and know and understand what the experts recommend you do on the “next” roll in response to opening moves if/when your opponent gets the opening rolls. And of course , none of that will be of much help unless you understand how to play for the rest of the game.

But since it is impossible to learn the entire theory of how to become a backgammon expert from a single article, let me offer some help regarding the opening moves.

There is no question what to do with 3-1, 6-1, 4-2, 6-5. How to play these opening moves has been agreed to for a number of years, and the correct plays are correct for ANY match score, whether you are winning or losing by a little or a by a lot, or tied. For all other moves, there is some debate; there are some different plays depending on the score; and the decision is not less clear.

Let’s take care of the definite ones first. With 3-1 you create your 5 point. Not only do most experts agree that the 5 point is the most important point to make (for a multitude of reasons), but any other 3-1 play exposes you to an unnecessary chance of getting hit.

Why is getting hit so bad, especially early on in the game? Because one of the overriding principles of backgammon is that every game, no matter how complex, ends up as a race to see who can get his checkers around the board and bear off first.

Everything else that happens between the first roll and the removal of the last checker is just preparation for who the one is that gets to remove that last checker. Even games that end as a result of a double/drop are because the dropper determined that he is less likely to be the one removing their last checker first.

With 6-1 you make your bar point (7 point) as that is the second most important point, and again, any other move leaves exposed blots (single checkers on a point). With 4-2 you make your 4 point because that is also an important point, and again, you don’t want to be leaving blots. And with 6-5 you simply run a back checker all the way because it is very good for the race and again, you do not leave any exposed blots.

There used to be a lot of debate about how to play an opening of 5-3. Many experts in the 70’s and 80’s believed that making the 3 point was wrong. That they were better off making several other moves that provided them with more “flexibility” and put their checkers in better strategic places for the next move.

The problem with the others moves, however, is this :

First, it leaves exposed blots, and if hit, gives the opponent an immediate advantage, and second, an opportunity to make the 3-point has been passed up, and the 3-point, while not as critical as the bar, 5, and 4 points, is still a very good point to have. The experts of the new millennium virtually all agree with each other that it is right to make the 3 point with your 5-3, regardless of what the score is.

Here is the list of standard opening moves in backgammon with variations

6 – 5 run a back checker

6 – 4 There are three acceptable play in this situation. You can make your two point; you can run a back checker all the way out to your 14 point; you can run a back checker out to your opponent’s bar (24-18), and then bring down one checker off your midpoint (13-9).

6 – 3 There are two plays: you can either run a checker all the way off your 24 point, or you can run to your opponent’s bar and bring one down from your midpoint.

6 – 2 Two plays: run all the way, or run to the bar and bring one men down

6 – 1 Create your bar

5 – 4 Two plays: move a back checker up (24-20) and bring one down (13-8), or bring two down from the midpoint (13-8, 13-9)

5 – 3 Make your 3 point

5 – 2 Two plays: move a back checker 2 (24-22) and bring one down (13-8), or bring two down (13-8, 13-11)

5 – 1 Generally, it is cnsidered right to split the back checker and bring one down (24-23, 13-8). When behind in the match and a gammon win is a major plus, you might bring one down and slot your 5-point (13-8, 6-5).

4 – 3 This move has the most possible variations, depending on score, but generally, the experts agree that it is best to move up 3 off your back point (24-21) and bring the 4 down (13-9).

4 – 2 Create your 4 point.

4 – 1 Generally, it is right to split the back checker and bring one down (24-23, 13-9), but it is not a bad gambling play, when gammons are key, to bring one down and slot your 5 point.

3 – 2 This play also has many variations, but generally the experts agree that the best play is to bring you back checker up 3 (24-21) and bring a 2 down from the midpoint (13-11).

3 – 1 Make your 5 point

2 – 1 Split your back checkers (24-23) and bring one down (13-11). Here again, if you wish to gamble, bringing one down and slotting your 5 point is not a bad play.

Conclusion

Will you win more often if you make the above opening moves? Yes, you will. It has been proven, statistically.

With the aid of computer programs (Snowie and Jellyfish) we can take any move or position and play out thousands, and even millions of games to “prove” that over the long run, one play or cube decision is better than another.

So not only for the opening moves, but for EVERY MOVE, if you want to win more often, you must learn the correct move to play. It is IMPOSSIBLE to memorize the correct move for every possible position, but it certainly is possible to memorize the opening moves, so why not do so?