Forum Archive : Strategy--Backgames

What is a backgame?

From:   Daniel Murphy
Date:   18 April 2001
Subject:   Re: Back Games Revisited

> Not too long ago, some canonical back game positions were discussed ...
> 1-3, 2-3, 2-4, etc. Along with them, some positions that an
> unsophisticated player (like me) might have considered back game
> positions were also discussed, such as 1-5 and others in which the
> points held were widely separated. However, it was further stated, if my
> interpretation is correct, that 1-3-5 and other multi-anchor positions
> were in fact powerful back game ("massive" back game?) combinations that
> offered excellent winning chances.
> Herewith my questions:
> (1) What constitutes a back game, as opposed to a pseudo back game?
> (2) What constitutes a "massive" back game?
> (3) Can a "massive" back game be too massive?

I don't think it's unsophisticated to regard the 1-5 game as a back
game. In fact I think it's useful to call it a back game -- the worst
of the back games!

If backgammon is primarily a race (and it is) then we can either try
to win the race going forward, or give up on the race, make a prime,
hang back, wait for a shot and hit it. If we choose (or are forced) to
hang way back, and wait a long time, then we're playing a back game.
Or at least we are, according to some of the older backgammon books.
Today theory affords a more sophisticated treatment of defensive
strategies, and we usually use the term "back game" in a more limited

Defensive structures often include one or more anchors. A single
anchor on an advanced point (5, 4 or 3) is called a holding game. A
single anchor on a deep point (1, 2 or 3) is called a deep anchor
game, or ace- or deuce- or 3-point game or

Forward or deep anchor games have corresponding winning strategies;
the 3 point (listed twice above) illustrates the difference. Early in
the game it acts like an advanced anchor, covering the outfield and
affording winning expectations by either hitting an outfield shot or
simply winning the race. Later in the game, usually behind a prime, it
is similar to the deeper points, with winning strategies reduced to
hitting a late shot in the bear-in or bear-off, or rolling several
very large doubles.

The defining characteristic of a back game is that the defensive
structure includes two or more anchors. The back game's corresponding
game plan is to hold both points as long as necessary, force opponent
to bear in or off awkwardly, hit a late shot and contain the blot
behind a prime. Typically, the back game anchors are deep and close
together (1-2, 1-3, 2-3, 2-4). Keeping them back delays the moment
when the (winning) shot comes, and allows time to prepare a prime to
contain the checker or checkers we hit.

If the defensive structure's two anchors are widely separated (1-4,
1-5, 2-5) or are both advanced (3-4, 3-5, 4-5) there's nothing wrong
with calling it a back game, but in practice such structures usually
don't turn out to favor the same strategy as the deep anchor back
games. If the anchors are both advanced, one anchor is usually lost
and the game proceeds as a single anchor holding game. If the anchors
are widely separated, one anchor is usually lost and the game proceeds
either as a holding game or a deep anchor game.

What is a "pseudo back game"? Perhaps that is what some people call
something like the 1-5 game: there's usually no reasonable possibility
of holding both points until opponent leaves a shot, and even if that
is possible, the structure isn't nearly as threatening to opponent as
a deep anchor back game. Consequently, we are usually faced with
deciding between (a) holding the 5 point, giving up the ace point and
losing the race, or (b) giving up the 5 point, allowing the ace point
to be primed and getting gammoned.

If the defensive structure includes 3 or more anchors, it's certainly
a back game and you can call it anything else you want, too.
Typically, such structures afford excellent, even "massive" winning
chances. But if our shot comes before we're ready, the result is often
a gammon or backgammon loss.

Can a back game be too "massive"? Can we have too many points, too
many checkers back? Sure. Not too long ago, backgammon books warned us
not to let the back game player get too many checkers back. More
recent theory is more sophisticated. It's wrong to focus on how many
checkers back is good or bad. That's an impossible question to answer.
Instead, we look at the entire board. Whether more or fewer checkers
back is bad or good depends on where they are, both players' forward
structures, and the delicate timing of preparing a prime to be ready
precisely when the awaited shot finally comes.

Daniel Murphy
Raccoon on FIBS, GamesGrid

Vi ses, og tak for alle fiskene!
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After an early blitz attempt  (Daniel Murphy, Apr 1997) 
But they're so much fun!  (Laury Chizlett+, Oct 2000) 
Checker problem  (David Montgomery+, May 1995) 
Defending against a backgame  (KL Gerber+, Jan 2003)  [Long message]
Defending against a backgame  (Michael J. Zehr, Jan 1995) 
How many men back?  (Brian Sheppard, July 1997) 
Play for a backgame from the start?  (Alan Webb+, Dec 1998) 
What is a backgame?  (Daniel Murphy, Apr 2001) 
When to double  (David Montgomery, May 1995) 
Which anchor is best?  (Kit Woolsey, July 1996) 
Which anchor to break  (Brian Sheppard, May 1997) 
Which anchors are best?  (sebalotek+, Jan 2012) 
Which anchors are best?  (Adam Stocks, Apr 2002) 
Which anchors are best?  (Mary Hickey, Mar 2001) 
Which anchors are best?  (Jerry Weaver+, Apr 1998) 
Which anchors are best?  (Chuck Bower, Jan 1997) 
Which anchors are best?  (Marc Gray, Nov 1995) 

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