Much like Chess, there are many ways to approach Backgammon. Strategies can change significantly as a game progresses, depending upon whether one is ahead or behind. As a starting point, it is common is to break the game into stages: Opening, Middle Game and End Game. Developing plans for each stage can help a player improve rapidly.
A pair of dice can be rolled in just 36 combinations, six of which are doubles, which can not be used to open a game, The other 30 are divided into 15 unique pairings that mirror each other (1-2, 2-1 or 4-5, 5-4, etc.). Opening moves can be used for splitting, slotting, building or running, some with greater likelihood of success later on that than others. For example, running should only be attempted with high rolls such as 6-4 or 6-5, not with low one such as 2-1 or 3-2.
Anyone starting out in Backgammon should learn the most common opening moves for each unique pairing; the opening rolls largely determine what strategies are available for the subsequent stages.
With a roll of 2-1, for example, slotting a piece from the 13-point to the 11-point (13/11) and the 6-point to the 5-point (6/5) is quite common. Alternatively, splitting is possible, moving 24/23 and 13/11. Likewise, the following opening moves are standard:
3-1: 8/5, 6/5. 4-1: 24/23, 13/9 or 13/9, 6/5.
5-1: 24/23, 13/8 or 13/8, 6/5. 6-1: 13/7, 8/7.
3-2: 24/21, 13/11 or 13/10, 13/11. 4-2: 8/4, 6/4.
5-2: 13/11, 13/8. 6-2: 24/18, 13/11.
4-3: 13/10, 13/9 or 24/20, 13/10. 5-3: 8/3, 6/3.
6-3: 24/18, 13/10 or 24/15 (run). 5-4: 24/20, 13/8 or 13/9, 13/8.
6-4: 24/14 (run) or 24/18, 13/9. 6-5: 24/13 (run).
Once both players have made their opening moves, the action concentrates on fulfilling two major goals: trapping the opponent’s runners (blocking) and escaping one’s back runners before become trapped (running). Barricades are built by occupying adjacent points, making it difficult or impossible for runners to jump over. Holding six consecutive points, for example, creates an impassable barrier, referred to as a “prime.”
Making points, especially on the Home Board, reduces the opponent’s options. When Home Board points are occupied, it becomes hard for the opponent’s pieces to reenter from the Bar. In order of importance, the most valuable points to occupy early with spare pieces (builders) are the 5-point, 4-point and Bar-point (7-point).
Regarding the two back runners, the best time to split them is early in the game before the opponent can close any Home Board points. Taking chances early, leaving blots exposed, is usually worth the risk to create builders, gain a flexible position and “anchor,” holding one or more points in the opponent’s Home Board to block runners. Again, the 5-point is especially important; an anchor there makes it very difficult for the opponent to create a prime, so fight for it.
All 15 pieces must reach the Home Board before any can be borne off. If an advanced anchor has been established (4-point, 5-point), the focus should be on moving pieces safely to their destination. Sometimes it is possible to create a prime in the Home Board and use the back runners to bump off a vulnerable blot, thus making it impossible for the piece to renter while the back runners race home.
Another good end game strategy is to concentrate on the opponent’s trapped back runners, keeping them bottled up while bearing off pieces ahead of them. Bear off from the deepest points, using smaller numbers to adjust and balance the barricade, careful not to expose any blots, even if it means opening a point.
If the runners are trapped deep, on the 1-point or 2-point, offering the doubling cube may bring a quick surrender. But that’s not always desirable, of course. A gammon or backgammon may be possible if the action continues, so as the game progresses towards its conclusion, thinking about the score can take precedence over moving the pieces.