Backgammon Techniques, Tips and Strategy

By Joe Andrews

The time has come to summarize some of the overall strategy and technique commentary of the past several months. When a game of Backgammon commences, the position is perfectly balanced and the rolls of the dice dictate the moves for each player. You may notice that I said "moves" and not "outcome". The skill level usually decides the outcome, barring a series of extremely lucky rolls for one player. 

Seasoned players do understand probabilities. If they leave "blots" (single checkers on given points), they are certainly aware of the risk of having the ”blot" hit by the opponent. This chart displays the odds against being hit by a specific roll of a single or double die: 

# Pips to Hit      Odds Against Said Hit 


a. 1 25 to 11  (Approx. 9 - 4)
b. 2 24 to 12  (2 - 1)
c. 3 23 to 13  (Approx. 3 - 2)
d. 4 22 to 14  (Approx. 7 - 5)
e. 5 21 to 15  (Approx. 7 - 5)
f. 6 20 to 16  (Approx. 9+ to 8+)

(Notes: 1)The "+" sign indicates slightly more than the number shown.)

(Note that the direct "6" is almost even money!)


Now we look at those rolls which require two dice.

g. 7 30 to 6    (5 - 1)
h.. 8 31 to 5     (Approx. 6+ to 1)
i. 9 32 to 4     ( 8 - 1)
j. 10 33 to 3     (11 - 1)
k. 11 34  to 2    (17 - 1)
l. 12 35 to 1      ---------

Of course, if you need a number from 1 to 6 to hit a blot, your odds are much
better, as you may catch that number on either of the two dice. Then there are combinations of two dice which will also accomplish the same. For example, if you
need to roll a six, you might catch a six on either die, or you might get the 1 - 5, 4- 2, or 3 - 3 combo. If you need a seven, you are limited to the combinations of 6 - 1, 5 - 2, or 4 - 3. The higher the number, the less tough the odds are to roll that number! Finally, if there are any occupied points between your attacking checker and the blot, this will greatly reduce the probabilities of nailing that blot.

Key points
When the game starts, you should strive to secure your inner board five point, or the five point on the opponent’s inner board (some experts refer to the latter as the "Anchor Point")Another strategic position is the Bar PointThese are the 18 or 7 points (the open points next to the Bar). The opening roll of double sixes is so powerful, as it allows you to occupy both Bar Points immediately, and gives you a huge advantage. Many players will offer the Doubling Cube on their next turn after rolling an early double six!

Prime time
If you are able to occupy four or more connected (sequential) points in your inner board (preferably not the 1 and 2 points), or four or more connected points in your outer board, you are said to have Prime. Of course, each point is preferably covered with only two of your checkers. This is especially true if your opponent has one or more checkers trapped behind your Prime. A five-point Prime makes life very difficult for the adversary, and a six- or seven-point Prime is absolutely stifling. It must be noted that Primes can also collapse if your timing is bad, or a series of unfortunate rolls force you to break your own Prime.

Pointing in too deep
Avoid placing your checkers on your inner-board deep (first and second) points. These checkers are now out of play, and have no offensive value at all. And your inner board is wide open to allow your opponent to re-enter easily if he does get hit. I have observed so many players lose games in which they had a whole bevy of checkers stacked (called "towers") on their inner-board deep points, and other checkers trapped behind massive enemy Primes. 

Pip, pip
We have already studied and reviewed the importance of Pip Count. This determines the numbers which you have to roll in order to bear off all of your checkers. In a running game, this is pretty basic stuff! It is a wide open race, and whoever rolls the big numbers, or high doubles, will usually coast home to victory. In a closed or positional game in which both sides are locked in a tight battle with a lot of hitting, Pip Count may not be the deciding factor. It's all about position here. The player who has a good Prime or a good Back game will have the edge over his opponent. And the Doubling Cube will usually prevent the opponent from stealing the win.