Backgammon has an established opening theory, although it is less detailed than that of games like chess. The tree of positions expands rapidly because of the number of possible dice rolls and the moves available on each turn. Recent computer analysis has offered more insight on opening plays, but the midgame is reached quickly. After the opening, online backgammon players frequently rely on some established general strategies, combining and switching among them to adapt to the changing conditions of a game.
The most direct strategy is simply to avoid being hit, trapped, or held in a stand-off. A “running game” describes a strategy of moving as quickly as possible around the board, and is most successful when a player is already ahead in the race. When this fails, one may opt for a “holding game”, maintaining control of a point on one’s opponent’s side of the board, called an anchor. As the game progresses, this player may gain an advantage by hitting an opponent’s blot from the anchor, or by rolling large doubles that allow the checkers to escape into a running game.
The “priming game” involves building a wall of checkers, called a prime, covering a number of consecutive points. This obstructs opposing checkers that are behind the prime. A checker trapped behind a six-point prime may not escape until the prime is broken. A particularly successful priming effort may lead to a “blitz”, which is a strategy of covering the entire home board as quickly as possible while keeping one’s opponent on the bar. Because the opponent has difficulty re-entering from the bar or escaping, a player can quickly gain a running advantage and win the game.
A “backgame” is a strategy of placing two or more anchors in an opponent’s home board, while building a prime in one’s own board. The anchors obstruct the opponent’s checkers and create opportunities to hit them as they move home. The backgame is generally used only to salvage a game wherein a player is already significantly behind; using a backgame as an initial strategy is usually unsuccessful.
“Duplication” refers to the placement of checkers such that one’s opponent needs the same dice rolls to achieve different goals. For example, a player may position all of his blots in such a way that his opponent must roll a 2 in order to hit any of them, reducing the probability of being hit. “Diversification” refers to a complementary tactic of placing one’s own checkers in such a way that more numbers are useful.
Many positions require a measurement of a player’s standing in the race, for example, in making a doubling cube decision, or in determining whether to run home and begin bearing off. The minimum total of dice rolls needed to move a player’s checkers around and off the board is called the “pip count”. The difference between the two players’ pip counts is frequently used as a measure of the leader’s racing advantage. Players often use mental calculation techniques to determine pip counts in live play.
Strategies from Professional Players
I don’t care what you say, backgammon is not poker!
Try to block your competitor as early as possible without exiting your home board.
- Try to distribute your checkers in pairs.
- The preference should be to hit a checker on your competitor’s side
- Try to set up a prime. Prime means six points in a row and restricts your competitor to move out from behind the prime.
- Try to be exposed as little as possible to set a solid defense.
- Find out your ‘on-game strategy’ for blots. Try to hit the blots which you feel your competitor is going to cover.
- Double or redouble only when you are cocksure. Also remember declination of a double will award points to the competitor.
- Defend your blots correctly.
Rolls of six and four OR one and three OR three and five are ideal. These rolls may enable you to place two checkers together to block your competitor. Some people say that Double one(s) are the ideal roll because this will allow you to move from your eighth point to your bar point OR Sixth point to the fifth.
Try to set up defensive points on your outer board. These points are called anchors which will help you when you get hit. Experts advise when you are behind in the race, it’s better to leave anchors.
When you find your competitor is likely to bear off, try to move your checkers from the outer board at the earliest opportunity possible, or else your competitor will get triple points as bonus.