Last updated on October 17, 2023
In this Deluxe Backgammon post for absolute beginners, we take a look at 3 simple tips that can immediately improve your game and give you a distinct advantage over other novice players. This is a quick fix and won’t help against intermediate or advanced players, they will simply have too many additional tricks up their sleeves. However, if you have just started playing backgammon and you would like an edge against other beginners, try these three tips. Remember, that backgammon is a game that takes years to master. There is much more to learn than just these 3 basic tips.
Skill versus luck
Backgammon is a game of skill, although luck plays a huge part in the game. Generally, the stronger player will win over a series of games. However, the element of luck means that an absolute beginner can beat a world-class player in any single game. It only takes a series of high doubles to take the game away from your opponent. As unlikely as rolling as it is to roll three double sixes in a row (0.013%), it does happen and when it does you hope that you are not on the receiving end.
As already stated, luck plays a huge part in backgammon. This adds to the excitement because you never know what is around the corner. Luck can be offset to a large degree by understanding the tactics, strategy and probability behind the game. This takes years of study and experience. This post is all about a quick fix, a simple way to boost your game to give yourself an edge against other beginners.
The one assumption that we make when putting together this post is that you know the rules of backgammon. If you don’t, we have a couple of links that can be used to learn or refresh your knowledge.
- A complete set of backgammon rules.
- A concise set of backgammon rules (single page with a PDF version).
At the end of the post, there are links to various playing guides that will help improve your play even further.
The objective of backgammon
Backgammon is a game whereby both players have the same number of checkers in identical positions on opposite sides of the board. The checkers can only move forward from the 24-point to the 1-point. A player wins by being the first to move all of their checkers into their home board and then bearing them off. In essence, backgammon is a race and that should always be a consideration when playing the game. This brings us to the first of our 3 beginner’s tips, racing.
A racing game simply involves moving the checkers around the board as quickly as possible. There is little concern for defensive or offensive plays. The ideal start for a racing game would be with a strong early roll, such as the Lover’s Leap (6-5). This roll followed by a double would probably push the player far enough ahead in the race to continue running. Remember, the game cannot be won without getting all of the checkers into your home board, so it is particularly important to escape your back checkers as soon as possible. A racing approach can quickly achieve this goal.
A racing game can be forced upon both players when contact is broken (when the opposing checkers have passed each other). The racing strategy is a style of game where the dice have a decisive say in the outcome, there is little in the way of skill. The player rolling the higher numbers (provided they make no critical errors) is almost always the winner.
Recklessly applying a racing strategy in every game will not guarantee victory, certainly not against experienced players. Racing relies heavily on luck and there is much more to backgammon than a streak of good fortune. It is a concept that underlies the game, but one that should not dictate every play. Moving forward with lucky rolls is one way of advancing in the race, but there is another which involves sending your opponent backwards. This is achieved by hitting blots and sending them back to the bar where they lose ground in the race and need to re-enter. This is the second, and perhaps most important, of our 3 beginner’s tips.
As you advance the checkers around the board, you should always be on the lookout for blots to hit. These are points occupied by only one of your opponent’s checkers. These checkers are vulnerable as they can be hit and sent to the bar. If your opponent has one or more checkers on the bar, their first obligation is to re-enter the checker(s). A checker is entered by moving it to an open point corresponding to one of the numbers on the rolled dice. If they cannot re-enter on an open point, they forfeit their turn.
When you hit an opposing checker you effectively send that piece back to the beginning of the race. This creates a significant edge, particularly if you hit a checker in your opponent’s home board, as these pieces have the longest distance to travel. This confers a massive advantage, which is multiplied if you can hit more than one checker.
The general rule of thumb in backgammon is to take every opportunity you can to hit your opponent’s checkers. Two things are achieved when you hit. First, you move your checker forward and second you move the opponent’s checker back. This equates to a significant racing advantage. There are times when hitting is not an ideal move. However, for the purposes of this post, use every opportunity to hit your opponent. If you can’t hit your opponent’s checkers, your next best option is to secure a point, which brings us to our 3rd and final tip.
A secure point is one that is occupied by two or more of your checkers. It provides several advantages. First, it provides a safe landing place for any of you checkers moving forward on subsequent rolls. Second, it provides a barrier against your opposing checkers as they are not able to land on the point. Third, a secure point can provide material to attack the opposing checkers as they advance.
A series of consecutive secure points is known as a prime. The longer the prime, the more effective it is in blocking the opposing checkers. The ideal prime, is a six-prime, which provides an impassable barrier as the opposing checkers are unable to leap over the obstacle. A six-prime is most effective when it occupies your entire home board. This is called a closed board because checkers on the bar are unable to re-enter and your opponent forfeits their turn.
If you can’t create a solid prime there are other key points that are worth securing. An advanced anchor is a secure point in your opponent’s board. An advanced anchor gives you a safe place to land if hit. It also reduces the chance of your opponent building a home board prime. The 5-point, bar-point and 4-point in your home board are also key points to secure and they assist with future prime building.
One key factor to consider when securing points is to ensure you don’t waste material by over-stacking points. A common beginner’s mistake is to create towers or ‘candlesticks’ with six or more checkers on a single point. It is generally best to limit the number of checkers on a single point to no more than 4, even if this means leaving a blot. In this way, you won’t waste material by stacking it all on one point and you create flexibility.
In general, these tips, in order of importance are, hitting, securing points and racing. Apply these tips to your game and you will enjoy short-term success against other beginners. This will give you time to refine your game by exploring our Deluxe Backgammon Playing Guides.
More tips for beginners.