In this Deluxe Backgammon post for beginners, we are going to explore the options for the 5-1 opening move. It isn’t one of the favoured opening moves, as it doesn’t allow you to secure a new point. Realistically, there are only a couple of ways to play this roll. There is a running option, but with a total of only six, it doesn’t do much for the pip count. The other two options involve splitting or slotting. We will examine each of these options in turn.
The three most popular ways to play the 5-1 opening roll are:
24/18, running with one of the back checkers and slotting the bar point.
13/8, 6/5, slotting the 5-point and bringing a checker down from the mid-point.
24/23, 13/8, splitting the back checkers and moving a checker down off from the mid-point.
We will take a look at the pros and cons of each of these moves in turn.
This play employs a running and slotting approach. It splits the back checkers and moves a checker to the bar-point. The running advantage is not particularly significant as it only moves forward six pips. The advantage really lies in being able to secure the bar-point on a subsequent roll, which would create an advanced anchor. However, the downside is that your opponent will hit on any roll of 1 or 6. The bar is a key point on the board and your opponent will be keen to secure it. If it is hit, there isn’t a huge amount of ground lost as it is only six pips and re-entry is assured on all rolls bar a 6-6. The loss is really just in terms of time lost in building a strong position, this is why this roll is the least favoured of the options in consideration.
This is the high-risk play, slotting the important 5-point. If the play comes off and the 5-point is secured on a subsequent roll the risk will have paid off handsomely. However, the 5-point is valuable to your opponent and they will attempt to hit the blot at any opportunity, sending the checkers back 20 pips in the race. If it is hit, re-entry is assured on all rolls except for a 6-6. The movement of the checker down from the mid-point adds little to the structure of the board as it doesn’t create a new builder. Another advantage of this move is that it unstacks the 6-point. However, the focus on this move is all on slotting the 5-point. It is generally considered a good strategy to move a checker to a position where it will do the most good if the gamble succeeds.
This splitting move is the safest of the three plays. The blots on the 23 and 24-points are not really in danger. It is not really worth your opponent hitting them unless they can hit both or hit and cover. Hitting loose is just too dangerous, as they risk being hit on re-entry and losing a huge amount of ground in the race. However, re-entry is likely to be easy as well if they were hit. Early, in the game, there is only the six-point blocking re-entry. Splitting the back checkers doubles the coverage of the home board and the outer board. They are also nicely poised to secure an advanced anchor on the opponent’s 4 and 5-points with a roll of 3-2 or 4-3. Bringing the checker down from the mid-point unstacks the 13-point and moves more material into the outer board.
The XG Mobile Backgammon rollouts show that the 24/23, 13/8 is the best of the three plays. The 13/8, 6/5 slotting play is a close second. The 24/18 is a distant third place, so far behind it is barely worth considering. However, it is worth experimenting with the first two options to find the move that best suits your style of play.
Backgammon opening theory at Wikipedia.