Back Games

For Beginners at Backgammon:

Fran Goldfarb, 1982

From Backgammon Times, Volume 2, Number 1, Winter 1982.

We all love backgames. It's great to hang onto those points in your opponent's homeboard, waiting for that shot, playing for the win. There's a thrill in risking gammons and backgammons.

If you lose too many points too often, take a look at some backgames. Winning every game should not be your goal. It's often correct to play to save a gammon. I know it may not sound like fun to a gambler, but it's a necessary part of a good player's game.

Take the favorite 1-3 backgame. Suppose your timing is bad and your board is about to crack. When is it wise to give up one of those points in your opponent's home board? Which point do you vacate?

You're White in the following positions with a 6-2 to play.
13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Diagram 1.
White to play 6-2.
The 3 point looks tempting, but what do you do after that? The correct play is 24/22, 9/3, coming up to your opponent's 3 point. You minimize your chances of being gammoned and still have a chance in the race. And since sixes don't play for you, your board may hold up if you get an early shot. If you make the 3 point, your opponent could break his 9 point, forcing you out with sixes—a very unhappy prospect.
13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Diagram 2.
White to play 6-2.
Running a checker from your opponent's 3 point (22/14) is the play here. Again you minimize your chances of being gammoned and you still have a well-timed ace-point game. If you leave from the ace point, it's easy for your opponent to bear off without leaving a shot. Making your own ace point makes it difficult to win if you eventually hit a shot.

So what have we learned? You don't necessarily decrease your winning chances while trying to save gammons. Because your game depends on having a winning board, the time to give up a backgame is when your board is about to dissolve. But don't despair: as your understanding of timing improves, so will your results.

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