Last updated on November 1, 2023
In this Deluxe Backgammon post for beginners, we take a look at the 6-5 opening roll. If you read any modern guides on the backgammon opening moves, you will see that there is only one recommended way to play the 6-5 roll. In this guide, we will try and explain the logic behind the 6-5 opening move.
So, who thought that backgammon could be romantic? The “Lover’s Leap” refers to the 6-5 opening roll, where a checker is moved from the 24-point to the mid-point. The checker effectively ‘leaps’ over the opponent’s 6 and 8-points, initiating the start of a racing or running strategy. This is the only realistic option for the 6-5 opening roll. It also remains an option early in the game until the bar-point is secured. It is the only ‘named’ opening move in backgammon. However, nobody seems to know where the name originated.
Since doubles are not possible in the opening move, a 6-5 roll has the highest pip count that can be played at the beginning of the game. The checker is advanced 11 pips, which is 4 above the average opening roll of 7. This roughly equates to a half roll advantage according to the rule of 8.
There has been some debate over the years regarding the lover’s leap. Many players believed that the running play looked too much like a beginner’s move and wanted a more constructive way to play the roll. They experimented with alternatives, such as 24/18, 13/8, but computer rollouts have confirmed that the lover’s leap is the best opening for a 6-5. The other opening plays for an opening roll of 6-5 have a strong risk of getting a checker hit.
If you can’t secure a point then a balanced play involves creating a builder. The 6-5 brings down a builder to the mid-point, which sets up a developing move for subsequent plays. One advantage the lover’s leap has over the other candidate opening plays for a 6-5 is that it is really safe. There is no other safe alternative given this opening roll in backgammon. The strategic logic is backed up by computerised rollouts.
Firstly, the first player to safely escape one of their back checkers has established a significant lead. Running a checker from the opponent’s one point halfway across the board to the mid-point significantly lowers your pip count. That’s the number of pips that it takes to get all of your checkers off the board. Depending on the opening reply the lover’s leap can place you in a considerable lead against your opponent.
Some players may consider this move to be over-stacking the mid-point. However, if you are going to stack checkers on a point, there is no better place than the mid-point. Checkers on the mid-point can be used as builders to secure points in your outer board and also provide ammunition to attack your opponent’s back checkers if they try to escape. The mid-point is a safe spot where you can congregate your builders and safely land your back checker when it escapes.
The lone checker on the 24-point shouldn’t be an immediate point of concern. If your opponent hits without covering, they will leave a blot and risk getting hit in return. Since, you will be able to re-enter on any roll, except for 6-6, they risk losing a lot of ground, more so if they are hit on return. However, escaping the back checker should be a priority during the early stages of the game. If your opponent starts to build a prime then you run the risk of the rear-checker being trapped or closed out.
Making a lover’s leap starts a running strategy that will be best served by a series of high dice rolls. The rule of 8 can be used to track your lead. Moving the checker on the 24-point needs to be high on the list of priorities. This is because it is easier to escape a single checker rather than a pair stuck behind a prime. Simultaneously you can be developing your outer board with builders from the mid-point. If your opponent does decide to hit the blot on the 24-point early in the game you can easily re-enter since your opponent has relatively few home board points.
To the beginner, the lover’s leap might look daring as it leaves a checker exposed on the 24-point. However, as we have discovered it is actually a logical opening move for the 6-5 roll. You are advancing a back checker to the safe mid-point, which adds builders to develop your inner and outer boards. The lone checker on the 24-point is relatively safe early in the game as it is a high-risk target for your opponent. The absence of significant threats from your opponent and the racing lead that the lover’s leap provides are enough reasons to make this backgammon play the only choice for the 6-5 opening roll.
Wikipedia entry on backgammon opening theory.