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Backgammon. Splitting vs slotting?

Last updated on April 11, 2022

We have written a couple of previous articles regarding the basic tactical concepts of splitting and slotting. In this Deluxe Backgammon post for beginners, we will take a look at why you might choose one of these tactics over the other. It is a question that will often be faced by new players. If you are new to the game, learning which option to exercise is very important in helping you to become a better player. Read below, and learn about backgammon splitting and slotting.

Splitting is a play that separates two checkers which are secure on a point and leaves them as blots. This is usually referring to the back checkers on the opponent’s 1-point.  It is important to split them to prevent them from being trapped behind a prime or to help form an advanced anchor. Without splitting the only way to secure an advanced anchor is to roll a suitable double.

A split can be further defined as either a major or minor split. A major split is when one of the back checkers moves from the 1-point to the opponent’s 4 or 5-points. A minor split is when one of the back checkers moves from the 1-point to the opponent’s 2 or 3-points. A split is best done early in the game when the opponents home board is less developed. It makes it easier to return from the bar if hit. Once your opponent has secured a couple of key points it becomes much more difficult to re-enter.

Splitting example, 5-4

In this example, the opening roll of 5-4 is played 24/20, 13/8. The back checkers are split with the 24/20 move and an extra builder is moved from the mid-point with the 13/8 move. This is a balanced play, developing both sides of the board simultaneously. If your opponent does not hit, you have a good chance of securing the five-point on the next turn. If they do hit without covering, they risk being hit back on re-entry.

This is the best point to hold as an advanced anchor. It makes it difficult for your opponent to create a strong prime and the anchored checkers can attack the outer board. It also allows you to play aggressively knowing that you always have a place to re-enter your hit checkers. The downside of this play is that your opponent will desperately want to hold this position too, so they will undoubtedly attack any blot on this point.

Link to simple list of backgammon opening moves. Splitting example.
5-4

Slotting involves placing a single checker on a point that you wish to secure by covering the blot on a subsequent roll. However, slotting is a risky backgammon tactic because it leaves a blot that is vulnerable to being hit. That said, it is the fastest way to secure key points on the board. There are times when slotting is quite safe. For example, when your opponent has checkers on the bar or when the point you slot is out of range from attack. Slotting becomes a high risk when you slot within the range of a direct hit (1 – 6).

Advanced anchor

Which option to choose will depend on the situation in the game. Early in the game, both players will be keen to secure the 5-points on either side of the board. The 5-point on the far side of the board creates an advanced anchor, which provides both offensive and defensive options. It also makes it easier to escape the back checkers and prevents your opponent from creating an effective prime. Splitting is the tactic best suited to securing an advanced anchor.

Slotting provides the best opportunity to secure your five-point. It is an aggressive play that has a couple of desirable features. Hopefully, your slot is not hit and you can secure it on the next roll, which secures a key point. Additionally, you unstack your six-point. It is a high-risk move. If the blot is hit, your checker is sent to the bar and you will be well behind in the race. However, early in the game, the opponent’s home board will be quite weak, so you should be able to enter easily and reassess your strategy. Slotting is a useful tactic to help build primes.

Slotting example, 2-1

In this example, the opening roll of 2-1 is played 13/11, 6/5. This brings a builder down from the mid-point to the 11-point, where it is relatively safe. Then the 5-point is slotted using the 1. To a beginner, leaving a blot on your five-point may look very exposed. However, in actual fact, of the 36 combinations of the dice roll, only 15 of them will allow your opponent to hit the five-point. This is only a 42% chance, which means if you are missed, there is a 78% chance of securing the 5-point on your next roll. It is an aggressive play with an element of risk. However, there are a few reasons why you would consider this move as an opening move.

Link to backgammon opening moves. Slotting example.
2-1

The five-point is a home board point. Each additional home board point you hold strengthens your position. This is because your opponent has fewer ways to enter when they get hit. The player with the stronger home board is able to play more aggressively, giving a distinct advantage.

Understanding the concepts of splitting and slotting in backgammon is crucial to becoming a better player.

Five-points

The 5-points on either side of the board are the most important pieces of real estate in the game. It can be used as a landing point for any checkers that are hit. It starts building a prime alongside the six-point. Lastly, a spare checker on your five-point can be used to attack enemy blots or build more home-board points. Owning the five-point also prevents your opponent from securing an advanced anchor there. If they secure your five-point, it is extremely difficult for you to prime them.

Slotting on the opening reply is only advised if both back checkers are still on your 1 point or if only one opposing checker remains in your home board. If this is the case, the five-point is often worth the risk. However, if the back checkers are split and remain in your home board, the blot is much more vulnerable and slotting is not recommended.

Splitting and slotting in backgammon offer different tactical options and risks. Both have their uses, and deciding which one to use will depend on the state of the game and your preferences. Don’t fall into the trap of using only one of these tactics, as it limits the flexibility of your play. The advantage of understanding both is that you will get to adopt the tactic that best fits the state of play. Visit our playing guides section where you can learn more about splitting and slotting in backgammon.

An interesting article from The Gammon Press, Split or Slot?

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