Forum Archive : Strategy--Backgames

Defending against a backgame

From:   KL Gerber
Date:   21 January 2003
Subject:   Playing someone who loves the backgame

I don't know what the term is for someone who plays for the backgame.
In any case, I have several qeustions about playing against such a

I have played a few matches against these people.  They intentionally
leave blots and then seem to be pretty well equipped (from lots of
practice) to execute this strategy.

My impression is that this is a suicidal strategy (in the long run),
but that it works when the backgamer is playing against someone who
hasn't seen this gambit too much.

In trying to understand my losses to these people, I have hypothesized
the following counter-stategies.  Could someone please tell me if this
is right?...

(1) Don't be fooled into turning the cube too early.  After just a few
turns, the backgamer already has four or five guys back, and it is
tempting to double.  I guess that you want to keep the cube to double
him out later when you know whether his timing is good or not.

(2) Don't let him make two points (god forbid three points).  That is,
if he has one point and one blot on your inner board, don't send a
fourth man back.  It seems like this would defuse his strategy and
leave him modeerately behind in the race.

Am I way off base here?  Or do I just need to get better at bearing in
against two points?


Douglas Zare  writes:

Against a good player, yes, it is terrible to aim for a backgame from the
start. I love playing people for money who do that. In match play, there
are some times when it is appropriate not to avoid backgames as much, but
in money play they don't win enough, and they get gammoned too much when
they lose.

There are many possible correct times to double a backgame in or out. You
definitely need to avoid doubling too early, but the possibility that the
backgame may be badly timed may be enough to warrant a double, and
sometimes a big pass.

> (2) Don't let him make two points (god forbid three points).  That is,
> if he has one point and one blot on your inner board, don't send a
> fourth man back.  It seems like this would defuse his strategy and
> leave him modeerately behind in the race.

There is a balance between the threat to win the game forwards and to win
the game backwards. Don't blindly hit every blot, and don't be too
concerned about safetying your own, but these may be useful when trying to
avoid losses from your opponent winning forwards.

The backgame side _really_ doesn't want to see you construct a solid prime
in front the anchors unless the prime is about to dissolve anyway, or the
backgame player will get to be stuck on the bar until it breaks. Against
such a prime, a backgame typically self-destructs.

There are other notions such as "timing" that people have said a lot
about. Many more things have been said about timing than correct things,
so draw your own conclusions, but it is not too important whether the
backgame player has a strong forward structure, and it is very important
for the backgame player to have a point (better with spares) such as the
midpoint at certain stages of the game, even though it might not look like
the midpoint is doing anything, while a strong board may look threatening.

> Am I way off base here?  Or do I just need to get better at bearing in
> against two points?

You will always leave a ton of shots against two anchors, or even against
a single anchor. You need to know when you can take a redouble, and how to
make sure your opponent's board has the maximum chance or crunching before
you get hit. Then your opponent will be fighting to save the gammon, not
to win.

Douglas Zare

Michael Sullivan  writes:

Bearing off against two points is very difficult.  There are just a ton
of rolls that leave shots, and when you leave one, it's better than 50%
to be hit.  That said, I don't think the backgamer actually has the
advantage, because when a two point backgame loses, it's often a gammon.

That said, it's definitely a mistake to send back a fourth checker when
the opponent has an anchor and a blot in your board, unless it's clearly
the safest, most productive play in all other respects (and/or you have
3-4 builders bearing on your board so you're likely to point before a
second anchor is established.

If you have to send back a fourth checker, probably consider hitting
blots in your board even when you can't cover to make getting that
second anchor more difficult.

On the cube -- I would think the best thing might be to turn the cube
early, before a good anchor is established.

Maybe you're not being agressive enough about building your board to
keep the opponent from establishing a strong backgame?  I know I have a
lot of trouble playing the backgame when I find I need to.  Often, my
opponent makes it hard for me to establish the right kind of position,
and I end up scrambling to save gammon with little chance of victory.
So I wonder if you're taking enough chances to create builders.


J Peplow  writes:

Also when going again someone who has a decent backgame in progress, if his
timing looks pretty good, and I there are a couple of openings in his board
(and you are pretty secure in keeping at least his a couple of his checkers
trapped), it's not a bad idea to leave a blot to get hit yourself. That can
delay his timing a little bit and hopefully his board will start to break
before you expose your bearing off blots.

Jason Darling  writes:

I'll throw in my two pence worth ....

I used to be an avid backgamer myself, started writing a pretty technical
reply then thought ' hmmm i'll just let you know the things that give
backgamers nightmares so that you can try them out against your next
backgamer' Simple advice that will work.....

(1) Don't let the guy have two points or more ... attack attack attack in
your home. Hit lose, hit twice, hit twice and leave two blots in your home
- push the boat out especially if you have builders to hand and his board
is weak. Experiment with ruthless agression!

(2) Absolutely do not let the guy get spare checkers on top of any of the
points he owns in your home if he succeeds in his quest for the double
anchor. So basically, don't hit him anymore in the outfield!

(3) He'll try stunts like hitting you and leaving blots in his home once he
has two points so that his timing is preserved. Be smart, do what i call
'anti duplication' ie if u leave a blot, make sure that same number to hit
is the number he needs to slot a blot in his home. (This will take
practice). Also, if he is trying this stunt, make sure he has to hit you
from one of his anchors earlyish in the game ... this leads on to ...

(4) Don't be 'prime obsessive' as i call it, sure a prime looks great, but
with sufficient timing the backgamer will just be laughing, after all you
have to bring that prime in eventually and probably leave a double shot and
bingo, you're toast. Get clever, if you've not hit him too much, have some
kind of prime but leave a shot right at the back of it so that when he
rolls a 6 for instance, he's FORCED to break one of his anchors and hit you
early. (Btw this is one reason why it's important that he has no spares on
his double anchor and important not to hit him too much! )  Get back in and
see what dice u have. You may just skip past the man who just hit you and
find that next time you bear in you're merely facing him with 3 checkers in
your home -  Result!, murder him! Or... u might get just the right dice to
start attacking his lone man in your home. You may even get really clever
and come round and do the same thing again. But at the end of the day, just
make sure he doesn't get those spares on top of the double anchor. Get
adventurous - btw people who tried to prime me when i had sufficient timing
always struggled to win the game. Sure have some kind of prime but
experiment with breaking it .. experiment with letting him out (trap plays)
on big numbers with the aim of murdering him next roll. Above all ..
experiment with letting him HIT YOU EARLY from one of his anchors whilst
you have a good primish structure and he has no board.

(5) For special occasions only ... and this is real hardcore ... but
thought it worth a mention ... look at what he's doing to you if he's
getting that game together and do the same to him. Once you have control of
a game (ie he's playing a backgame) you can basically do what u like if u
understand what's going on. I've even turned games around from being a
defender to being a backgamer and back again. Understand the timing thing -
this is crucial. Once u have that, you'll find these guys easy to take
massive amounts of points from.

(6) A small point that will prolly be most used to u from reading your post
- and again have no technical name for this so use the phrase 'pile em high
and pile em cheap'. In other words when you bearoff, look at what numbers
in your home will leave him shots and make sure you're never going to run
out of them. So don't be obsessed with rolling in your prime from the back
to make it look pretty - just pile em in nice and high making sure you're
not going to leave a shot doing so , so that when you bearoff you'll have
so many off by the time he gets that shot he can't win anyhow.

(7) Get clever, being a good backgamer involves massive amounts of dice
calculations ... so make sure you do what i call 'anti duplication'. Can't
stress enough the timing thing and forcing him to come out on sixes, so
don't get greedy hitting him ... let him run out of timing ... laugh as he
rolls 55 or something and his board hits the wall ... hold your nerve ...
have faith in your game.

Well that wasn't a very organised reply but i promise u if u play enough
you'll see what i mean. There is much more i could say about backgames but
that should be enough (with practice) for you to start making them regret
their ploy :-)


SilverFox  writes:

There is just one more defense against a backgame that I haven't seen
mentioned much that I thought I'd offer up.

I've had excellent success in blitzing someone trying for a backgame.  You
don't have to stop hitting the blots... Just refocus which blots you're
hitting.  If your opp already has three checkers back, instead of hitting a
fourth blot he may have in his outfield (which is better for a race you are
already well ahead in), hit him loose in your inner board and try to  make
inner board points.  I hit loose liberally in my inner board against
someone intentionally trying for a backgame.  One of two things will
happen: A) I get away with in and make a couple of innerboard points (which
usually causes the person to seriously rethink his backgame "hit me all you
want" strategy) or B) I don't get away with it and I end up in a fairly
even race position that usually degenerates into a mutual holding game.

Hank Youngerman  writes:

My strategies come down to this:

1) Don't double early.  He loves the backgame and will take way too
2) When in doubt, hit,  Timing schmining.  What you want is not to
   keep him from being behind in the race, you want him to crunch.  If
   you can get a solid 5-prime in front of him, hit eveything in sight.
   Make him play his 4's and 5's to kill his board.  Every buried checker
   is gold.
3) Remember there's gammons (and backgammons) in them thar hills.
   Smack away.
4) Don't worry about the third anchor unless his timing is great.
   Kent Goulding wrote "Eight or nine checkers do not a welcomming
   committee make."
5) Most importantly, let him know how lucky you were every time you
   win, and you you doubled was too early.  Make sure he knows that he's
   got you.
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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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