Backgammon Opening Replies

Replies to the Opening Move
By Tom Keith

When your opponent wins the opening roll, there are fifteen possible rolls. Those fifteen rolls can be played in perhaps a total 33 reasonable ways. Now you can roll 21 different numbers in reply. That makes a total of 33 × 21 = 693 different positions you might encounter when it is your turn if you happen to lose the opening roll.

That may seem like a lot, but consider this. One of these positions will come up every other game you play. So it is worthwhile taking some time to learn how to play them.

This article has three sections:

General Principles
What basic principles should you follow when replying to your opponent's opening roll? Here are some points to keep in mind that will lead you in the right direction most of the time. (Check how well these suggestions work on specific positions by consulting the rollouts given later on.)

1.  Hit an enemy blot on the opponent's side of the board.
White to play .

It's better to hit the blot on 16 than the blot on 7.

White to play .

Hit the blot on 20 instead of making your five-point.

2.  Knock an opponent's blot off your five-point or four-point.
White to play .

Hitting 13/5* is better than making your three-point.

White to play .

Hit 24/18, 6/5* rather than make your bar-point.

White to play .

Don't let Red get a foothold on your four-point. 24/23, 6/4*.

3.  When you can't hit, then make a point in the usual way with these rolls:
, , , and .

4.  Hitting two blots is often good.
White to play .

24/20*, 8/5* slots two key points and puts two checkers on the bar.

White to play .

The best play here is the double-hit, 13/7*, 6/1*.

White to play .

With nothing else particularly good here, 6/2*/1* stands out.

5.  Mirror your opponent's play.
White to play .

Red makes a deep home-board point, you make one too, 8/2, 6/2.

White to play .

He slots a home-board point, you counterslot 13/5.

White to play .

He brings two builders off the mid-point, you do the same 13/10, 13/9.

6.  If the opponent makes his five-point, split your back checkers to try for an advanced anchor.
White to play .

Split 24/21, 13/9 rather than bring down two builders.

7.  If opponent splits his back checkers, be careful about leaving indirect shots.
White to play .

It is safer to run 24/15 than bring a builder down from your mid-point.

8.  Be careful about coming under the gun.
White to play .

Play the 4 off your mid-point, 13/9, 13/8, rather than advance a back checker.

Match Play Considerations
In matches, the correct play often depends on the score. At some match scores, the value of a gammon for one side is quite different than for the other side.

For example, suppose you are four points from victory playing an opponent who is just two points from victory. And let's say your opponent owns the cube at 2. Winning a gammon in this situation is very valuable for you because it also wins the match. But losing a gammon costs no more than losing the game because you lose the match either way.

This situation is called gammon-go because you really go for a gammon. The reverse situation is called gammon-save. Checker play in these lopsided gammon situations can be quite different than when playing at an even score or when playing for money.


Gammon-go calls for very aggressive play:

1.  Bring builders into play quickly; splitting is less important.
White to play .

Bring builders within attacking range, 13/10, 13/9.

2.  Hitting is very important.
White to play .

Play the aggressive double-hit 8/5*, 8/4* even though it destroys your eight-point.

3.  Make home-board points as fast as you can.
White to play .

Make two home-board points: 8/5(2), 6/3(2).


At gammon-save, you should play very defensively.

1.  Make an advanced anchor at your first opportunity.
White to play .

First priority is to anchor on the opponent's five-point, 24/20(2).

2.  Split your back checkers, if you can do so safely, with the idea of making an advanced anchor next turn.
White to play .

The defensive split 24/21, 13/8 is better than making your three-point.

Rollouts of Replies
In this section, we present the results of computer rollouts. A rollout determines the best way to play a roll by simulating the game on computer. Whichever play wins more games is deemed to be correct according to the rollout. As long as you play enough games, the luck of the dice plays only a small part in determining the winning play in a rollout. You can find more information here on the rollout settings used.

The rollouts are arranged according to the opening roll. Find your opponent's opening roll in the chart below. Since many openings can be played in more than one way, you must then find the actual play that your opponent made. Click on that play and you are taken to a page with rollouts of all 21 reply rolls.

Opening Roll Opening Play
    24/23, 13/11
    13/11, 6/5
    8/5, 6/5
    24/21, 13/11
    13/11, 13/10
    24/23, 13/9
    24/20, 6/5
    13/9, 6/5
    8/4, 6/4
    24/21, 24/20
    24/21, 13/9
    24/20, 13/10
    13/10, 13/9
    24/23, 13/8
    13/8, 6/5
    24/22, 13/8
    13/11, 13/8
    13/8, 6/4
Opening Roll Opening Play
    13/10, 13/8
    8/3, 6/3
    24/20, 13/8
    13/9, 13/8
    13/7, 8/7
    24/18, 13/11
    24/18, 13/10
    8/2, 6/2
    24/18, 13/9

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