Last updated on November 26, 2023
In this Deluxe Backgammon post for beginners, we are going to explore the options for the 5-2 opening move. It is an intriguing opening, because the roll of the 5 is almost forced. The 5 can’t be played from the 24 or 6-points as they are both blocked. Playing the 5 from the 8-point and slotting the 3-point is a high-risk, low-value move. The only reasonable move for the 5 is the 13/8. The question is what to do with the 2? There are three viable options, we will take a look at each of these in turn.
The three most popular ways to play the 5-2 opening roll are:
24/22, 13/8, splitting your back checkers and unloading the mid-point.
13/11, 13/8, unloading two checkers from the mid-point, including leaving a builder on the 11-point.
13/8, 6/4, unloading the mid-point and slotting the 4-point.
We will take a look at the pros and cons of each of these moves in turn.
This is the most recent addition to the options, having only emerged once computerised analysis was widely available. Historically, the big concern was having your opponent reply with a double 5. This would mean both the back checkers would be hit and covered. That would leave you with two checkers on the bar, trying to enter into a home board with three secure points. The reality is there is only a 1/36 chance of your opponent rolling double 5, so it is only about 3% of the time that you would find yourself in serious trouble with this option. If the split back checkers survive, there is a chance to secure an advanced anchor on a subsequent move. The other concern with this play is that 13/8, does little to improve the structure
The other concern with the splitting play is that it puts the back checkers exactly two pips apart. This is the same distance apart as your checkers on the 8-point and 6-point. This means that some of your good rolls are going to be duplicated. For example, how do you play a 3-1 on a subsequent roll. Do you secure your 5-point or the 21-point? It creates a dilemma, because you can only do one, but not the other.
Before backgammon software was available for analysis this was universally accepted as the best way to play the 5-2. The 5 moves a checker from the mid-point to the 8-point, which as discussed earlier is the only reasonable option for the 5. It then moves another checker down from the mid-point to the 11-point, which is in place as a reasonably safe builder. The checker on the 11-point is only exposed to a 6-4 combination and is well placed as a builder to secure the bar-point or the 5-point on a subsequent roll.
This play is all about slotting the 4-point. It leaves plenty of material on the 8 and 6-points to secure the 4-point on a subsequent roll. The big question is whether or not the 4-point is worth the risk. It is certainly not as important as the 5-point. If the 4-point is secured on a future roll, it leaves a disjointed structure, with secure points on the 8, 6 & 4 points. Securing the bar-points or the 5-point would create a much more useful structure without any gaps. This is why this is likely to be the least popular option of the three.
XG Mobile Backgammon rollouts surprisingly show that the once feared 24/22, 13/8 play comes out on top. The 13/11, 13/8 option comes out second best with the 13/8, 6/4 slotting play a distant third.
Backgammon opening theory at Wikipedia.