Backgammon Strategy

    It's a game believed to be twice as old as Stonehenge, with roots going all the way back to Mesopotamia, yet is still one of the most fun and challenging two-player board games to play online today. Backgammon strategy has developed over that time thanks to a set of clearly defined rules which, though easy enough to pick up and learn, can take a lifetime to master.

    Become a Backgammon Pro!

    Just because backgammon has depth doesn't mean it's difficult to learn to play well! With just a little understanding of a few key concepts, you can develop good Backgammon strategy and learn to beat the opposition wherever you play.

    And the great thing about Backgammon strategy is that it will work whether you're online or sat around a physical board – online Backgammon strategy is the same as regular Backgammon strategy, so the skills you pick up playing either version will serve you well.

    What Makes Good Backgammon Strategy?

    Backgammon is a fascinating mixture of skill and luck. Like any luck-based game, part of developing a winning mentality is understanding what it is you can control, and what you can't.

    If lady luck turns against you, the best thing you can do is suck it up and take it on the chin. You should never let an unlucky roll lead you to believe you're a terrible player, just as you shouldn't get carried away when you get a little lucky yourself!

    But what about the skill element? What is it that good players do that makes their Backgammon strategy pay off more often than not? Let's take a quick look.

    Playing the Probabilities

    As with any dice game, understanding basic probabilities will give you an immediate edge. Backgammon strategy often involves making decisions of risk vs. reward, and knowing the chances of rolling various different numbers with two dice helps you weigh up those decisions using more information.

    Let's take the most basic example as an illustration: how many different ways are there to score 12 using two dice? Of course, there's only one way, and that's if both dice roll a 6. The chances of scoring 6, meanwhile, are far greater: 1+5, 2+4, 3+3, 4+2, 5+1, or simply a 6 on either die.

    This example shows how the probabilities of rolling different numbers can vary wildly.

    Exposure and Vulnerability

    Any piece left alone on a point by itself may be taken, if the opponent lands exactly on that point. This leads to some tricky decisions when you are forced to leave yourself exposed during a game. Using some basic probabilities such as those discussed above, the aim is to make the choice that leaves you less vulnerable.

    Offence vs. Defence

    Aggression is a key factor, but it's not the be-all and end-all. Taking their vulnerable pieces will cause your opponent a potentially huge setback, and could swing the game in your favour. Yet there are also occasions when taking your opponent's piece may not be the wisest move.

    Passing up great defensive opportunities in favour of an aggressive offence may be a foolhardy move – always weigh up all your options instead of immediately opting for aggression.

    The Doubling Cube

    The doubling cube is a way for players who gain the upper hand to press home their advantage, as well as a potential route to bigger winnings for canny or lucky players who pull off a comeback!

    A player who takes control of the doubling cube and opts to double the stakes may win the game there and then if their opponent declines, but as with any gamble it's never a sure thing. Just because you're looking behind at the time doesn't mean a lucky roll – or strong Backgammon strategy – can't turn the tide for an even bigger win.

    Blocks, Primes & Blitzes

    As we know, a piece left alone on a point is vulnerable to being taken. The flipside of that is that any point that has more than one piece on it becomes 'blocked' and cannot be landed upon by your opponent. By creating runs of blocked points, it's possible to create roadblocks that make it very difficult for pieces to reach their home board.

    Two ways blocked points can be particularly effective in developing your online Backgammon strategy:

    • a run of 6 blocked points is known as a 'prime' and, given that the highest single number that can be thrown is a 6, a formation of this type creates an impassable obstacle for your opponent.
    • if you manage to create a prime within your own home board (a 'blitz'), filling every point with multiple pieces, any piece you take will be unable to be reintroduced to the board. As a result, you will enjoy multiple turns in a row until one of your home board points becomes available to be landed on once more.

    The Endgame

    Some Backgammon games award more points for a win while your opponent hasn't yet managed to remove a piece (a 'gammon'), and still more if your opponent has a piece still on your side of the board (a 'backgammon'). This can make the endgame very interesting, even if one player is far in the lead against the other.

    Let's say your opponent has already removed half of their pieces, while you are still waiting to place your taken piece back on their home board. You might take an opportunity to place your piece on the board and make a break for your home board, in an effort to avoid a gammon and a greater loss.

    Alternatively, you may try to wait until an opponent's piece becomes vulnerable during the bearing off process – a common occurrence as pieces are removed – and take their piece as you place your own back on the board. If that move works you would likely have a strong chance of avoiding a gammon, as well as a chance of even winning the game!

    Of course, this is just a quick guide and plenty more Backgammon strategy is available online in much greater depth. It may seem complex at first, but much of this great game can be picked up intuitively, or through experience.

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