Basic Backgammon Strategies

Overall Board Game Strategy

As you develop your backgammon skills and begin to test out different tactics during money play, your overall planned objective is always finding a way to get your checkers around the board and off before your opponent does. There are a variety of strategies available to do that. The strategy you choose is often dictated by the dice rolls early in the game and the strategy chosen by your opponent. If your first two rolls are 6-5 and 6-5, you will often move your back checkers forward and get into a race. If you are hit early and have checkers sent back, you will choose a holding game or a back game.

The Five Basic Backgammon Strategies

There are 5 basic strategies that you can use when you play backgammon online or for money.

The Running Game

The objective of the Running Game is to bring all your men into your inner board and bear them off as quickly as possible, similar to a competitive race. You should choose a running game when you have fewer pips remaining to get all your checkers off than your opponent, and you already have gotten all your checkers past your opponent or it appears likely that you can do so. Before engaging in a Running Game, it is important to evaluate the position of your men and decide whether it is at your advantage to do so. If your opponent has fewer pips remaining than you, then aiming for a running game is a poor strategy, and has little chance of success.

The Holding Game

The central idea of the Holding Game is to plan on keeping a point in your control that is located highly in your opponent’s board, usually a point in his inner board or the bar point. This is often the best strategy when trailing in the pipcount race. Playing this kind of positional advantage is more of a style than a backgammon strategy. The 20 point or bar points are the best holding game anchors, as they provide maximum chances to hit your opponent as he brings his checkers closer to home. Points further back get much weaker. It is also crucial to understand the right times to offer the doubling cube, and to accept or drop a double when playing or defending a holding game. Another key strategical element to the holding game is the distribution of the opponent’s checkers. If he has only the 8 and 13 points made (as in the starting position), he will often have to leave a shot as he brings his checkers around. If he has made additional landing points in his outer board, your hitting chances go down significantly.

The Priming Game

The Priming Game is a particular type of holding game and involves building a prime—a long wall of your pieces, ideally 6 points in a row—in order to block the movement of your opponent’s pieces that are behind the wall. These pieces will remain trapped as long as you can maintain the prime, and can result in an interesting struggle for your opponent to move pieces around the backgammon board. Hitting an opponent’s blot to trap it behind your blockade is the main aim of playing a Priming Game when gambling on backgammon. The prime can be constructed anywhere between point 2 and point 11 in your board, then you can shuffle it into your inner table as you approach the bearing-off game phase.

The Prime vs. Prime Game

When your opponent has a prime, it is very important to get your checkers to where they can escape with a single number. For example, if his prime is 5 points long, it is very important to get to the front so you can escape with a 6. If his prime is 6 long, you cannot escape.

A variation of the priming game is the prime versus prime, when both sides have strong blockade. The key features are the number of points in the prime for each side, the number of checkers behind the prime, and whether the stranded checkers are at the front of the prime. The most unusual thing about a prime versus prime game is that, all else being equal, strategically the player behind in the pip count is favored to win the game. This is because if neither side escapes their checkers, the one leading in the race will have to give up his prime first.

The Backgammon Blitz

The Backgammon Blitz is essentially an attack on your opponent’s pieces, with the aim of keeping your opponent on the bar while moving your pieces into your inner table as quickly as possible. The ultimate goal of the blitz is to close out one or more of your opponent’s pieces by occupying all 6 of the points in your inner table, making it impossible for these pieces to return to the game until a point becomes available when you are bearing off.

Blitzes are very committal—once you begin to attack, you have to continue to hit and take risks and changes to make additional points. If the attack fails, either because the opponent makes an anchor or because you get too many checkers hit and sent back, you can easily reach a point where you are losing the game.

The key strategy to starting a blitz is usually an early roll where you hit an opponent’s checker and he stays on the bar, or perhaps you hit two and he doesn’t enter both. A blitz is a much weaker plan when your opponent has as many (or nearly as many) points made in his board as you do in yours. Since you are taking risks to make points, you cannot afford to be hit and dance on the bar. It is also crucial to double at the right time. Blitzes, when they succeed, often result in gammons, and you can easily become too good to double if things go well. This is especially true in money games or tournaments with the Jacoby Rule in effect. It is foolish to take risks to win a gammon and not get the full value of them by doubling at the right time. The Blitz gives you a great tactical advantage.

The Two-Way Forward Game

The two-way forward game is not listed as a basic plan, because it is a hybrid of the blitz and prime games. In the two-way forward game, you normally have built a mini-prime of 3 or 4 points, and then have the opportunity to attack your opponent. If your opponent anchors, you hope to have extended your prime in the process and to win from a priming game. Two-way forward games are extremely strong when they come up, because if the dice go badly for one plan, they often go well for the other.

The Back Game

The Back Game is achieved by controlling two (or more) points in your opponent’s inner table. The main game objective is to hit a blot late in the game and contain it. It is a difficult strategy to play in backgammon because the chance of a successful Back Game is influenced by the luck of the dice roll.

A successful Back Game requires that you establish two anchors, have at least 10 of your checkers advanced to contain the opponent if you hit, and have enough timing (i.e. are far enough behind in the race) to wait until he rolls awkwardly and leaves a single or double shot. Back games that are unsuccessful often result in gammon or backgammon losses. If your timing is marginal (if you are only down 50 to 70 pips in the race), a back game involving higher points (like the 2 and 4 or 3 and 4) is much stronger than those involving the ace point. The back games involving the 1 and 2 points is not that strong; the best back games are usually considered the 1-3, 2-3, and 2-4.

While a weak opponent can often be seduced into overrating his position when you play a back game, it is rarely a good strategy to seek a back game from the start. It will often arise on its own if you attempt a blitz and have many checkers hit. Even then, you would usually prefer to hit an opposing checker early and try to trap it. You should only go all-out for a back game once you have two back points made and are at least 70 pips or so behind in the race.

Important to note that this tactic is not a strategy to play from the outset of a game , and should only be adopted when you are significantly behind. It is a losing strategy caused by the circumstances of the game and is simply intended to hinder your opponent’s options in order to improve your chances of winning.