Last updated on January 9, 2021
Beginner’s guides. How to play backgammon.
This Deluxe Backgammon post is another in our series for beginners and newcomers. In this instance we are looking at the styles of play we have noted during our many playing sessions. Many of these are styles adopted by beginners and they rigidly stick them throughout the game. The key to successful play is to have a basic plan, such as to build a six-prime, but to have the flexibility to change your style of play as the game evolves.
The backgammon blitz is a thrilling and spectacular style of play. There is no faster way to win a game than a successfully executed blitz. It also can result in a win by a large margin, sometimes by a gammon or even a backgammon. Normally, you would play a blitz style when you have had the opportunity to hit several of your opponent’s pieces early in the game. If these checkers fail to re-enter you have time to reinforce your home board by securing points or to hit another loose checker.
This style of play is generally seen in advanced players. To start with the purist will plan to secure both 5-points, slotting if needed, control all four quadrants and build a home board prime. At this point they would hope to hit and trap a checker, leading to an easy win. However, if the game plan doesn’t work out and a blot got hit, the purist will adapt their strategy and adopt a back game strategy, hoping to turn things around later. The key to the purist style is adopting different strategies according to the changing situations in the game.
This style of play is more common in intermediate and advanced players. The player tries to build a six-prime, ideally in their home board. Then they aim to hit a loose checker and trap it behind the wall. Priming is a strategy that all good players should have at their disposal. However, timing can become an issue and you may be forced to break your prime before you are ready. Flexibility is the key to playing the priming game, you must understand when this style of play should be abandoned and another strategy adopted.
The safe player
This style of play is extremely common in beginners. The safe player will never risk leaving a blot. They are very reluctant to split and they tend to crawl around the board with a series of unconnected points. The obsession with security carries over to another point, stacking. Frequently on our Deluxe Backgammon social evenings, we observe players with a collection of ‘candlesticks’ around the board. Sometimes we see stacks ten checkers high. These are secure, but they waste material because these checkers could be used to secure points elsewhere. Eventually, these stacks are passed and the safe player falls behind in the race unless the luck of the dice falls in their favour. The safe style of player needs to learn how to play without the element of fear.
This style of play has a very basic strategy, which is to simply run. This is a strategy that might be adopted by absolute beginners who don’t understand the other key strategies of backgammon. In this style of play, the player brings their back checkers forward as soon as possible and races them around the board. In this strategy, you are only going win if you are lucky and the dice roll your way. Intermediate and advanced players will only adopt this style after a series of high rolls. This style is totally dependent on luck.
The back game
This is another style of play often associated with beginners. The back gamer is playing with fear. Their objective is to maintain two or more anchors in your opponent’s home board and wait for an opportunity for a late hit. It can be really fun to play a back game and pull off a win from a seemingly hopeless position. However, it is not a starting strategy that should be adopted by choice. There is a big risk that comes with playing a back game strategy. When you don’t get that shot, or if you miss it, you can often get gammoned or even backgammoned. As backgammon is essentially a race, this should never be a strategy of choice.
This is a style of play adopted purely at the end of the game with the checkers all in the home board. The gapper is terrified of leaving gaps in the home board when bearing off, even if contact has been broken and there is no danger of a hit. The gapper doesn’t want to leave an empty point in case they roll exactly that number on their next roll. In general, bear off as many checkers as you can on each roll. However, special considerations should be made for the last two checkers. This is another style of play regularly seen in beginners and intermediate players.