Last Updated on March 3, 2020 by Jake
Backgammon has been a popular game for millennia. This entertaining game’s roots can be traced back 5000 years to Mesopotamia. While the rules of the games are quite simple, it takes skills and mastery to win consistently. Learning basic backgammon strategy is the best way to go when starting out. Before we dive into backgammon strategy, let us talk a little bit about the game.
Backgammon is a 2 player game where each player has to move their fifteen checkers across 24 points (triangles on the board) using the roll of two dice. The object of the game is to move all fifteen checkers off the backgammon board before the other player. Skills required to be a good backgammon player include strategy, tactics, counting on the fly, and probability analysis.
*Note* this article assumes basic knowledge of backgammon rules and how to play. The focus of this post is on backgammon strategy as opposed to the basics of the game.
The Five Most Important Backgammon Strategies
To be a good backgammon player, there are 5 backgammon strategies you must know. With this knowledge at hand, you can improve your game and increase your chances of winning drastically. Ignore these strategies, and you’ll be bested time and time again.
The Running Game
The objective here is to get all your checkers into your inner board (in backgammon, all your pieces need to be in your inner board before you can bear them off) and bear them off (this involves getting your pieces to the finish line and off the board) quickly.
This strategy is most effective if your pieces are at advantageous positions where the probability of your opponent sending your pieces to the bar is low. (When one or more of your pieces is sent to the bar, you must get them off the bar before you can move any other piece. This can be problematic as the pieces are sent all the way back to an opponent’s inner board corresponding to the numbers rolled. If no points are open, you lose a turn. If your opponent’s inner home has a made point on every point, you can be stuck at the bar for several moves.)
Also, if your opponent has fewer remaining pips, then a running game is a poor strategy. This strategy should be deployed once you have the upper hand and your opponent’s likelihood of hitting your blot and trapping you is low.
The Priming Game
This backgammon strategy involves building a wall that your opponent finds difficult to escape. For instance, if you build a wall of 4 points, your opponent must row a 5 or 6 to be able to advance beyond the wall.
Likewise, if you build a wall of 5 points, your opponent must row a 6 in order to advance beyond the wall. If you build a wall of 6 points, your opponent cannot advance pieces beyond the wall. As far as you maintain the prime, your opponent’s pieces behind the prime are essentially trapped.
This is particularly effective when you send your opponent’s pieces to the bar. Those pieces will be trapped behind the prime. If the prime is within your inner board, you can block an opponent piece from getting off the bar. You should build the prime between point 2 and 11 on your board. This strategy goes well with the blitz in ensuring you hold your opponent back for as long as possible. The blitz is discussed right below.
The blitz backgammon strategy involves sending your opponent’s pieces to the bar every time possible. This keeps your opponent from advancing as you quickly shuffle into your inner table as quickly as you can. If you build a prime, you can essentially trap your opponent.
Similarly, if you occupy all the points within your inner table, you essentially trap your opponent on the bar until a point becomes available as you bear off. When used correctly, you can prime your opponent into automatic defeat.
This strategy can be a risky one, especially when not deployed at an opportune time. For instance, if you don’t have a prime and your opponent has an anchor in your inner board, the blitz attack can fail, as your opponent can easily counter and send many of your pieces to the bar as well. You may end up losing the game.
The key to this strategy is an early roll. Also, when you sent an opponent’s piece to the bar, double quickly so the opposing player doesn’t counter and send your piece to the bar. Even when you have doubled, you will still need to move the pieces which can leave your pieces open. The best time to employ the blitz is when you have more points made in your board.
The Holding Game
This advantageous backgammon strategy can help you stop your opponent from bearing their checkers off. It also allows you to send their checker close to their inner board/finish line back to the bar. With this strategy, you maintain an anchor point in the opponent’s home board.
While it is best to move your most advanced checkers early in the game, it is a good idea to leave an anchor point in the opponent’s inner board. Your bar point also called the 20-point is the best place to hold an anchor. The holding game provides you with two distinct advantages.
Offensively, with an anchor point, you can hit your opponent as when their checkers are close to home. Even if your opponent hits you back, you have the advantage as your hits do more damage. This allows you to come out far ahead in pips.
Defensively, an anchor gives you a safe point to land when your checkers get sent to the bar. This prevents your opponent from priming you into automatic defeat.
The Back Game
The back game backgammon strategy takes the holding game even further by maintaining two anchor points in the opponent’s inner board. This strategy is very helpful if your opponent keeps sending you to the bar time after time.
It gives you a quick escape route and allows you to save the game especially when you are losing. Since you have two anchor points, you can also more efficiently hit your opponent’s pieces as they try to advance into the opponent’s inner board.
This strategy is not one to play from the start of the game. However, it may become necessary if you’re significantly behind and you need to hinder your opponent’s progress so you can recover and increase your chance of winning.
More Backgammon Strategies
The Two-Way Forward Game
This is the combination of both the prime and the blitz. With this tactic, you built a prime of just 3 or 4 points, and attack your opponent when you can. This strategy works by making it difficult for your opponent’s checkers to get off the bar even if they have an anchor.
This usually results in many wasted rolls for your opponent while you advance your pieces. The two-way forward game is quite advantageous when you manage to set it up because even if the dice roll goes badly for one strategy, it often goes well for the other strategy.
Prime Vs Prime Game
If your opponent has a prime which is 5 points long, you can get to the front of the prime if you roll a 6. If the prime is, however, 6 made points long you cannot escape. The only way out is if the opponent breaks the prime as they bear off.
With a prime vs prime game backgammon strategy, both plays have strong primes. With this, the player behind the pip count has the advantage, as the leader is likely to give up their prime first.
Some Backgammon Basics
If you are reading this article, then you already know the basics of the game and wish to learn some strategies to use. As such, we wouldn’t go through the introduction. However, here are some basics to keep in mind. I am pretty sure most of you are already conversant with the information below.
The 24 narrow triangles on the board are referred to as points. The points are numbered 1-12 on one side and the 13-24 on the other side. The player with the dark checkers moves clockwise while the player with the light checkers moves counterclockwise.
Once all a player’s checkers are on the home board, the player can start to bear off the checker (which means removing it from play and across the finish line). The home board is the quadrant which contains a player’s 1-point to 6-point. It’s usually the quadrant directly in front of the player. It is also called the inner board or inner table.
When a point is occupied by two or more checkers, it is called a made-point since the opponent can’t touch it. A made point in the opponent’s home boards called an anchor. Consecutive made-points is known as a prime.
For example, 4 consecutive made points are known as a 4-prime. If a single checker is sitting alone on a point, it’s called a blot. A blot is vulnerable since an opponent’s piece can hit it. When a blot is hit, the piece hit is placed on a bar.
The player with a piece on a bar must move it before, they can move any other pieces. The piece on the bar must start its journey on the opponent’s home board.
Although, a pair of dice is used to determine the number of moves each player has per turn, strategizing is what wins a game.
Backgammon Strategy – Wrap Up
These backgammon strategies work best with practice. With practice, you can master the use of backgammon strategy and know how to go about it. For instance, breaking a prime earlier than you need to can leave you at a disadvantage.
Similarly, employing the blitz game at the wrong time can lead to you losing. However, with mastery of these strategies comes mastery of backgammon. I hope this article helps you improve your gameplay tenfold.
Looking for other game room ideas? Check out our post of over 100 ideas for your game room next!