How to Win at Backgammon

Published: 10/06/2012

It is easy to get caught up in the micro-decisions of the game of Backgammon—when to hit or jump, whether to anchor or run, and how best to split or slot. It should never be forgotten that these smaller choices are subordinate to the one overriding question, “How can this game be won?” And oddly enough, there are just three ways to win.

Race to Win – Use big rolls to move pieces to the Home Board as quickly as possible, forcing the opponent to do the same or else be left behind.

Attack to Win – Hit the opponent’s blots at every opportunity. Aggressively split and offer blots to entice the opponent to do the same. Fill the Bar with pieces, disrupting any strategy the opponent may have had and putting him/her on constant defense.

Prime to Win – Occupy points. Build barricades. Trap runners. Make it impossible for the opponent to move freely. Use position and location to dominate the board.

Whether gaining an insurmountable lead in the race, staging a relentlessly strong attack, or imprisoning the opponent’s pieces in an inescapable position, there are also a handful of tried and true tactics that can be used to build a substantial advantage. The following five factors can be critical in executing a winning game plan.

Hitting – Think of which pieces are most valuable to your opponent and try to hit them. Typically these will be the most advanced pieces or ones needing cover to establish a key point. Attack for advantage, not just because it’s possible. When the Bar is already occupied by two or more of the opponent’s pieces, there is no reason to add another one. Concentrate on running or blocking instead. Similarly, don’t fall into traps. If a hit might lead to a vulnerable position or disrupt a strategy, don’t be seduced. Beginners almost always hit an exposed blot, while more advanced players use discretion. The Backgammon adage is “when in doubt, hit” not “hit whenever.”

Distribution – Be aware of how evenly pieces are divided among the points that are occupied. A player with even distribution is positioned to take greater advantage of dice rolls than a less flexible one. Having three pieces on each of two points is preferable to four pieces on one point and two on another. Try to avoid situations with six pieces on a single point and only in rare instances should more than six pieces share the same point.

Blocking & Priming – When consecutive points without gaps between them can be built in front of the opponent’s back runners, the Home Board becomes a prison as well as a trap for vulnerable blots. No piece can leap over a prime (a sequence of six occupied points). To get to that blockade position as soon as possible, use builders early in the game to establish the critical points—the 5-point, 4-point and Bar-point (7-point).

Anchoring – Holding a defensive point (anchor) within the Opponent’s Home Board provides a landing spot for reentering pieces from the Bar. At the same time, it blocks the opponent’s pieces from easily making it home. Early in the game, the most desirable anchors are the 20-point and the 21-point. Later in the game, especially if one has fallen behind in the race, the 23-point and the 24-point have greater strategic value. If two anchors can be established, it is best to have them on adjacent points.

Exposure – Beginners are often afraid to leave pieces exposed, which limits their opportunities to establish a strong offense or defense. For example, building a solid prime frequently requires exposing one or more pieces. Also, early in the game, leaving shots for an opponent can force him/her to abandon a strategy or provide a way to set up an advanced anchor; later in the game, as the Opponent’s Home Board position strengthens, reentry will become more difficult. Controlling points in the Opponent’s Home Board allows bolder play. But don’t go overboard. Limit the number of blots to four or fewer. And when significantly ahead in the race, restrict exposure to stay in the lead.

Published on: 10/06/2012

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