Backgammon Strategy Guide
The basic idea of backgammon is to get your checkers around the board and then bear them off before your opponent does the same. Granted, the dice can mean a lot of variation in how far and how fast you will be able to move those checkers. Even still, luck will generally even out between both players and the one with the better backgammon strategy and plan of attack will usually come out ahead more often than not. Here are some of the most common types of backgammon strategies to consider.
Opening Game Strategy:
There has been a tremendous amount of study and research into the correct way to play an opening move in the game of backgammon. These ideas and theories can be found and you certainly might want to either use a generally accepted list or memorize these opening moves.
Of course, such tables, lists and charts are really only worthwhile for the first move or two. After this there are too many additional variables that make it much more difficult to predict with certainty which specific move will be the best. Instead, it is a good idea to know several general strategies and methods for play. Backgammon tends to be a very lively and fluid game, so sometimes you may find yourself pursuing one strategy only to be dealt a major setback and are forced into changing and begin pursuing a different strategy (for example, you are in a running game and then have two of your pieces sent to the bar, causing you switch to a back or holding game strategy).
Running Game Strategy:
This is the most basic strategy employed in the game of backgammon and it makes a lot of sense. The theory here is that the game is essentially a race, so move all your checkers as fast and as far as possible, hoping to run faster than your opponent and avoid being dealt setbacks such as having your pieces hit and sent to the bar.
The best time to pursue such a strategy is when you hold a clear edge in the number of pips needed to bearing off all your pieces. If all of your pieces have cleared contact with your opponent, so much the better. Always evaluate your position as compared to your opponent before committing to such a strategy.
Holding Game Strategy:
The holding game is a very tactical plan based on the position. What you will do here is build a point within your opponent’s home or inner board and then maintain that point until you are able to hit one or several of his blots. While you are holding this point, you are also working to build your forward position, perhaps with the hope of eventually hitting your opponent's blot and then being able to trap that piece behind a blockade.
This type of strategy may be used when you are trailing in the pip count race. Just be careful and have a solid understanding of when to accept and refuse a double, because many smart players will try to defend against this type of positional play by offering an early double.
Priming Game Strategy:
This strategy is often used in conjunction with the holding game described above. In addition to maintaining an anchor in your opponent's home board, you are trying to build a solid wall of points in your forward position to trap any of their remaining checkers.
The best possible prime consists of 6 points in a row. With such a position, any of the opposing pieces which are trapped behind it, will be unable to escape until the blockade (or prime) is broken. Obviously, once your prime is developed, the objective then becomes hitting any blot left by your opponent in order to trap their piece(s).
The Prime vs Prime Game:
One of the most exciting and challenging types of games to play in backgammon is that of a prime versus prime struggle. Just as the name would suggest, both players have managed to develop some type of prime blockade and have either trapped or have the potential to trap their opponent. If you have developed a 4-point long prime and your opponent has a 5-point long prime, they are probably in a slightly better position than you.
In such struggles, it is important to give yourself the most number of chances to escape. That usually means moving your blocked piece right next to the beginning of the opposing prime. If you are going up against a 4-point prime, you can escape by rolling a 5 or a 6. However, if you are still one spot away from the front, you will only be able to escape by rolling a 6 (or a 1 and then a 5 or 6).
One of the strangest features about such a game is the fact that the player behind in the pip count is probably favored to win. The reason is because that player will be able to maintain their prime for a longer time. This gives them a better chance to not only free any of their trapped pieces, but also to box the opposing checker in even further and then comfortably 'roll up' the prime and easily bear off.
The Blitz Game Strategy:
Although it is not really clear as to whether this is a strategy or more of a tactic, the blitz is definitely fun to watch...and play, if you can pull it off. Essentially, this is an attacking game, where your goal is to hit blot after blot, keeping your opponent on the bar as much as possible. At the same time, this prevents your challenger from moving and you concentrate on moving your pieces into your home board, hoping to eventually develop a full prime in this area.
This types of games tend to lead to players taking pretty big risks. This includes leaving your own blots exposed in order to make more forward points or to hit your opponent. When pursuing this, you need to be totally committed to seeing it through. Just be warned, if the attack fails and the opponent makes an anchor in your home board (at which point they will likely be playing a back game, see below) or because you end up having too many of your own pieces sent to the bar, you have a better than average chance of losing the game.
The best time to use a blitz strategy is when you start out the game (perhaps within the first two rolls) sending one or more opposing pieces to the bar. Then, they are not able to immediately return to the field of play, giving you the advantage of several free moves. This should probably not be tried when the challenger has at least as many points made in their inner board as you. Also understand when to double versus when to play on in the hope of winning a straight gammon (or even a backgammon), which successful blitz attacks do often lead to.
A Two-Way Forward Strategy:
This is a combination strategy where you have some elements of both the blitz game and the prime game. You would usually have developed the start of a prime, perhaps with 3 or 4 points and then have the chance to actually attack or blitz your challenger, sending their piece(s) to the bar. The idea here is to continue attacking while also extending your prime (slowly) to form a better blockade. These types of games are very powerful since if one plan doesn't work out you can usually continue with the other type of game.
Playing A Back Game Strategy:
This is probably the most interesting and challenging type of backgammon strategy. It is usually a last resort, since the chance for success is often pretty slim. In such a plan, you will hold two or more points in your opponent’s inner board. The goal is to basically extend the game and hope to get a shot at hitting an opposing blot late in the game...and then hope you can contain that piece on the bar or in your own home board. Usually, this strategy is greatly influenced by the dice roll.
Criteria for having a decent chance at winning with a back game include establishing two anchors (ideally the 1-3, 2-3, or 2-4 points), having at least 10 of your own pieces forward enough to contain any blots hit, and are far enough behind in the race to be able to wait until your opponent is forced to roll in such a way as to expose a single or double shot. Unsuccessful back games will usually result in gammon losses (sometimes even backgammon losses).
Once again, this is not really the type of strategy you should set out to employ from the beginning of the game. It more or less something that one is forced into as a last result. It is, ultimately, a losing strategy although you may get lucky every once in a while.