Last updated on March 29, 2023
In this Deluxe Backgammon post for beginners, we are going to take a closer look at the 2-1 opening move. This probably has to be the least popular opening move for beginners. At only 3 pips, it is almost certain that you will be behind in the race after your opponent’s opening reply. In addition, with the most popular moves, 24/23, 13/11 and 13/11, 6/5, it leaves two blots on the board that can be vulnerable to hits.
The two most popular plays for the 2-1 opening are:
In both of the plays, the 2 is used to bring a checker from the mid-point to the 11-point. The builder can be used to potentially secure the bar or 5-point on the next turn. This checker also improves the coverage of the outer board if your opponent tries to run with one of their back checkers on reply. The blot on the 11-point is reasonably safe as it can only be hit with a 6-4 (6% chance).
We will take a look at the pros and cons of each of these moves in turn.
The goal of this play is to create developments on both sides of the board simultaneously. Escaping your back checkers is a critical aspect of the game and the best way to do this is to split them. Splitting your back checkers increases your chances of securing an advanced anchor on a subsequent roll. It also improves the coverage of the opponent’s outer board making it more difficult for them to bring in builders. The split checkers may look vulnerable, but your opponent stands to lose a lot of ground if they are hit without securing the point. A hit would send them back 20+ pips in the race. They are far more likely to wait until they secure some home board points. This is why splitting is best done early in the game.
However, waiting too long to split can mean getting caught on the 24-point behind a strong home board prime. The builder on the 11-point will be used to secure points on subsequent rolls or as a deterrent if your opponent splits their back checkers. Of the two plays, this is considered the move with the lowest risk.
The slotting play is the more aggressive of the two moves. The goal is to secure the 5-point on the next roll assuming the blot isn’t hit. The 5-point can be secured on the next move in 28 out of 36 (78%) possible rolls. However, your opponent wants that point just as much as you do and will hit the blot at every opportunity. Any roll of 4 (direct or indirect) will allow your opponent to hit. A total of 4 occurs on 15 out of 36 (42%) rolls.
If your blot is hit, it will be sent back 20 pips, setting you back in the race. It’s an aggressive play, but well worth it if you secure the 5-point. The slot also unstacks the 6-point which distributes material where it can be more useful. The builder on the 11-point will be used to secure points on subsequent rolls or as a deterrent if your opponent splits their back checkers. The blot on the 11-point can only be hit with a 6-4 roll. However, the 4 is would almost certainly be used to hit the blot on the 5-point.
Players have argued for centuries over the best way to play the 2-1 opening move. However, XG Mobile Backgammon rollouts show that the aggressive slotting play, 13/11, 6/5, is the better play by a narrow margin. It is still worth experimenting with both plays to determine which best suits your style of play. In addition, experimenting with different plays will expose you to new positions that you otherwise wouldn’t experience, this helps when you come up against an opponent with unorthodox moves.
Backgammon Galore, opening moves.