Last updated on October 17, 2023
In this post for beginners, we will take a look at one of the decisions forced upon players in the early stages of the game. In backgammon, faced with the choice between securing a point and hitting, what is the best option? We will take a look at a couple of examples. In this scenario, Black has opened with a 6-3 and escaped a back checker to the 10-point. White replied with a 5-1, splitting the back checkers and moving a builder down from the mid-point to safety on the 8-point. Next, Black rolled 5-3 and secured the 3-point. Now we will examine how White should play next with two different rolls, a 3-1 & a 3-2, both giving options of securing a point or hitting. Pip count, White 150, Black 161.
A lot of players strictly prioritise play in the following order, hitting, securing key points, splitting and creating builders. Generally, hitting is considered to be the correct option. However, in this post, we will examine two different rolls, one of which, the better play is to secure a point rather than hit. This will demonstrate that sometimes a developmental play is better than an aggressive one.
Factors to consider
Home board strength
If your home board is strong, as determined by the number of secured points, then hitting is the best option. This is because your opponent loses pips in the race and may have difficulty entering from the bar. If your home board is weak and you have the choice between securing a key point or hitting, then the former is usually the best option. The strength of the opponent’s home board also affects decision making. If it is strong, securing an anchor may be a better option than hitting.
Position in the race
If you are trailing significantly in the race, then hitting is definitely the best option. This will cut down your opponent’s lead and give you the opportunity to close the gap. This is especially the case when you can hit on your opponent’s side of the board because this sends them a long way back in the race. Hitting your opponent’s checker’s when they are in your home board can sometimes be a mistake. This is because it will only send them a handful of pips back in the race. If your home board is weak, it can often be better to secure a key home board point than to hit.
Escaping the back checkers is essential in backgammon because you cannot win without bringing them forward. Additionally, the heavily stacked mid and 6-points have excess material that needs to be distributed elsewhere on the board to improve flexibility. If you can escape a back checker or form an advanced anchor it can often add more strategic value than hitting loose in your home board. Likewise, securing a point using checkers from the mid and 6-points can offer more long-term value than an early hit. This is particularly the case if you can secure the bar-point or the important 5-point. However, keep in mind that you would only unstack if you can secure a point. Hitting would always be preferred to slotting or bringing down builders.
If we take these factors into consideration for a roll of 3-1, it becomes clear that White should secure the 5-point rather than hit. There are several reasons for making this play. First, White’s home board is weak, the only secure point is the heavily stacked 6-point. This means that Black would have little trouble returning from the bar. A roll of 6-6 (3% chance) is the only one that would prevent re-entry. The race is also relatively even with Black only ahead 11 pips. Hitting would bring White closer in the race, but again, Black should easily re-enter, so there isn’t much to gain. All of these factors suggest that securing the 5-point is the best play. White has a weak home board and securing the 5-point certainly strengthens it, providing the basis for a later home board prime. It also unstacks the heavily laden 6-point, improving distribution.
The 3-2 requires a slightly different consideration. There are two clear options. First, White could move 24/21, 23/21 to create an anchor. Alternatively, White could hit with 13/10*, 23/21. Now the choice is between making an anchor or hitting. The question is, which is more important? While it is always useful to have an anchor, at this point in time, the Black home board is relatively weak with only two secure points. There is also not much material in Black’s outer board to secure more home board points. This suggests that although the split back checkers are ideally positioned to secure an anchor with a 3-2 roll it is not critical at this point in time.
However, hitting provides some immediate benefits. The 13/10*, 23/21, sends a Black checker back 10 pips in the race. It also strips the heavily stacked mid-point and leaves a useful builder in White’s outer board. The builder on the 10-point is relatively safe from being hit on the next roll. The only way it can be hit is if the opponent re-enters from the bar rolling a total of 10, a 5-5, 6-4 or 4-6 (8%). The 23/21 move still leaves the split back checkers nicely placed to secure an anchor on a subsequent roll.
In both of these backgammon scenarios, the choice between securing a point and hitting is not always obvious. It is always worth taking your time when deciding on the correct play. The first move that comes to mind is likely to be one that suits your style of play because you are comfortable with the play. However, it may not be the correct move for the position in play. Sometimes it is necessary to make a play that takes you out of your comfort zone. It is a useful tip for beginners, to take the time to consider the moves available for every checker on the board.
How Stuff Works: Backgammon hitting.
Beginner’s guide. How to play backgammon.