backgammon strategy

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This section provides information to help both new and accomplished players improve their game by learning more about using strategy when moving your checkers or making doubling decisions.

Backgammon Basic Strategy

Backgammon is a race to see who bears off all of his checkers first. However, to play backgammon well requires strategy and an understanding of the components of a winning game plan. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when trying to determine the best strategy for a particular backgammon situation.


Anchoring is establishing a defensive point (anchor) in your enemy's home board. This gives you a landing spot to come in on should you get hit and prevents your opponent from making his home board. Early in the game try to establish anchors on the higher points (20,21). If you become significantly behind in the race, the lower points (22,23,24) have more value as your strategy is to build your home board and wait for a shot. If you have two anchors try to keep them on adjacent points. A technique that is often used to bring checkers in to act as anchors is re-circulating. Re-circulating refers to intentionally allowing a blot to be hit for the purpose of gaining time to preserve other valuable points.

 Blocking and Priming 

Try to build points without gaps between them (a blockade) directly in front of the enemy checkers in your home board to prevent their escape. Six points in a row is called a prime. A prime makes it impossible for your opponent to escape for as long as you can maintain that structure. Six points in a row in the players home board is called a "closed board" since any opposing checkers on the bar cannot legally re-entered and are close or shut out of the game until the controlling player uncovers on the six points. Consider shifting points (giving up one point in order to make an adjacent point) if it helps to create a blockade.


Communication is a distribution of checkers so that they kept within six pips of one another. This ensures that a checker will be nearby if a man needs to be covered or if a runner needs a point to rest at.


Distribution is how evenly your checkers are divided among the points occupied. It is usually better to have 3 checkers each on two different points rather than 4 checkers one and 2 on the other. You should rarely have six checkers on a point and almost never have any more. A player with even distribution will have more flexibility to use his rolls to his advantage than a player that has five or six checkers stacked up on a single point.


Diversification is the spreading out of a player's checkers to increase the number of good rolls on a subsequent turn.


Duplication refers to a technique for reducing the number of good rolls for the opponent. A player places his checkers so that two of the opponent's desired moves in different parts of the board both require the same die value. For example: When a player must leave two blots exposed to direct shots, it is best to place them the same number of pips away from their respective attacking points. When the opponent has a checker on the bar and a player must leave a blot exposed to a direct shot, it is best to leave a shot that uses the same die value as one the opponent needs to enter his checker.


It is sometimes good strategy to leave blots early in the game so that they can be used to establish a strong offense or defense. These blots are often called slots. Slots are a single checkers that are left exposed on a point the player wishes to make, with the intention of covering the blot on the next turn. However, if you are in a weaker position consider consolidating. Consolidating refers to reducing your number of blots.


Try to hit checkers that are the most advanced or checkers that your opponent would like to cover to establish an important point. Attack only when it is advantageous to do so. For example, if you already have two enemy checkers on the bar, it is more critical to make another point in your home board than to hit a third checker. Also refrain from hitting if it makes you more vulnerable than your opponent. If possible hit and cover, rather than hit loose, in order to avoid leaving the player's own blots in danger of a return hit. Also keep the power of the potential for hitting in mind. Keeping checkers within hitting distance of a point held by only two of the opponent's checkers will "freeze the opponents builders" by restricting these checkers from being active builders. Similarly, if it is not advantageous to hit your opponents blot you can alternatively apply pressure by using a checker so that it directly bears on the opponent's blot, forcing the opponent to cover the blot, move it, rather than use his turn to make a point.

Opening Rolls

The standard moves for doublet opening rolls are shown, as listed in Paul Magriel's Backgammon. Bear in mind that variations may have to be used, depending on your opponent's opening move. In standard backgammon, a player can never start with doublets, so these recommendations refer to the second player's turn.


66 Close your opponent's bar point and your own bar point by playing 24/18(2), 13/7(2).
55 Move two checkers from your midpoint to the 3 point by playing 13/3(2).
44 Close the 20 point and the 9 point by playing 24/20(2), 13/9(2).
33 Close the 21 point and the 5 point by playing 24/21(2), 8/5(2). The twenty-one point has a strategic value similar to the twenty point.
22 Close the 20 point by playing 24/20(2). Another strong play would be to close the 11 and 4 points by playing 13/11(2), 6/4(2).
11 Close your bar point and 5 point by playing 8/7(2), 6/5(2).


21 The slotting play 13/11, 6/5 and the splitting play 24/23, 13/11, the two most common plays, seem to be about equal. Nothing else is a serious contender.
31 8/5, 6/5 is obviously the only play.
32 The splitting play 24/21, 13/11 came out a bit better than building with 13/10, 13/11.
41 The splitting play 24/23, 13/9 has come out clearly superior to the slotting play 13/9, 6/5. Probably the reason is that with the builder on the 9 point there are so many good pointing numbers next turn anyway that you don't need the 5 point slotted.
42 8/4, 6/4 of course.
43 The building play of 13/10, 13/9 and the common splitting play of 24/20, 13/10 were just about tied. The alternative split of 24/21, 13/9 was only a little behind.
51 The splitting play 24/23, 13/8 has come out a bit better than the slotting play 13/8, 6/5. A third less common alternative, 24/18, came out clearly worse.
52 The normal play for years has been 13/11, 13/8. However the newer splitting play, 24/22, 13/8, (shunned because of the crushing 5-5 threat) has come out a bit better. The slotting play of 13/8, 6/4 (which used to be my choice) did not survive the rollouts -- it was clearly inferior.
53 The simple 8/3, 6/3 is clearly best. The once common 13/10, 13/8 has been found vastly inferior.
54 Splitting with 24/20, 13/8 and building with 13/9, 13/8 come out quite close (that builder on the 9 point is powerful), with the split generally a tiny bit better. 24/15 is weaker still.
61 The obvious 13/7, 8/7 is correct. Magriel's experiment of 13/7, 6/5 is awful.
62 The splitting play of 24/18, 13/11 comes out fairly clearly superior. Running with 24/16 is 2nd, but the run isn't far enough. Slotting with 13/5 (a common choice several years ago) was definitely in third place.
63 The splitting 24/18, 13/10 comes out best, but the running play of 24/15 is not too far behind.
64 Both running with 24/14 and splitting with 24/18, 13/9 are about equal. However the once laughed-at 8/2, 6/2 has reared its head as a serious contender and comes out about equal with the other choices nice play to try if you get familiar with it, since your opponent probably won't be.
65 The simple 24/13 is clearly better than any other possibilities.

Backgammon Equity Strategy 

Equity refers to the expected value of a backgammon position. It is the sum of the values of the possible outcomes from a given position multiplied by its probability of occurrence. There are three common types of equity.

 Cubeless Equity 

Cubeless equity is the value of a position compared to the value of winning a single game, without regard to the effect of the doubling cube. This is a value between -3 and +3 and is equal to P(player wins) - P(player loses) + P(player wins gammon) - P(player loses gammon) + P(player wins backgammon) - P(player loses backgammon).

 Cube Equity 

Cube equity is used in money play when a doubling cube is in use. It is the value of a players position relative to the current stake being played for. Cube equity does not consider the value of the cube. It is based upon cube ownership as it relates to the potential for future doubles.

 Settlement Equity 

Settlement Equity is the value of a player's position in a money game and the factor of the initial stake that would change hands in lieu of finishing the game. Settlement equity is equal to cube equity times the current value of the doubling cube.

 Match Equity 

Match Equity refers to the value of a position in the context of the current match score.

Backgammon Vigorish Strategy

A number of small additional factors affect the total equity of a position. These considerations are called are referred to as Vigorish or Vig. There are three main types of vigorish.

 Gammon Vigorish 

Gammon Vigorish is the additional equity resulting from the possibility of a gammon.

 Recube Vigorish 

Recube Vig refers to the value of cube ownership to the player being offered a double.

 Free Drop Vigorish 

Free drop vig occurs in match play, in the game after the Crawford game (the game in which the Crawford rule came into effect). It refers to the slight advantage the leader has when the trailer is two points away from victory. The leader can enjoy a free drop advantage because he has the option of refusing when the trailer offers a double without reducing the number of games the trailing player needs to win the match.

Backgammon Volatility Strategy

Another factor that must be kept in mind when determining equity is the volatility or changeability of the equity of a position. A position of high volatility is one that is likely to see a large change in equity as a result of the player's or the opponent's next roll.

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last modified: 2005-04-27