Last updated on October 17, 2023
In this Deluxe Backgammon post for beginners, we take a look at what is perhaps the most interesting opening roll in backgammon, the 6-4. The debate on the best way to play the 6-4 opening has continued for as long as the game has been played. There are three common plays. 24/14 is a running option, which leaves a blot, but takes advantage of the 10 pip roll. The 24/18, 13/9 move is a balanced play that looks to develop both sides of the board. The 8/2, 6/2 play secures a point deep within your home board. In this guide, we will take a closer look at each move, before looking at the computerised rollout results.
The 24/14 move takes the running option. It isn’t as good as the Lover’s Leap as it falls just short of the safety of the mid-point. The hope with this move is that the blot on the 14-point won’t get hit and you will move it to safety on the next roll. If this occurs, you have made a successful racing move and escaped one of your back checkers.
The problem with this play is that you might get hit. If you do, you will lose your racing advantage and have a checker on the bar. Re-entering shouldn’t be a problem, but you are forced to start from scratch. In addition, your opponent will have a builder on the 14-point ideally placed for securing a new point. The blot can be hit on 11 out of 36 rolls (31%), which means that 25 times out of 36 (69%) the blot will be missed. The 24/14 is a calculated risk because if your opponent fails to hit the blot, you will have a good running start.
The 24/18, 13/9 play creates a balanced structure with good coverage and development on both sides of the board. However, it does leave two blots, one within range of a direct hit. The 24/18 brings one of the back checkers forward to your opponent’s bar-point. The plan is to either secure this point on your next turn or run the checker to safety on the mid-point. The 13/9 moves a builder down from the mid-point to your outer board. The builder is in a good position to help secure a key point on the next roll.
The problem with the 24/18, 13/9 play is it offers many ways for your opponent to hit you. A roll 1 or 6 hits the blot on the opponent’s bar-point, and any roll totalling 8 hits the builder on the 9-point. Overall, your opponent has 27 ways out of 36 (75%) of hitting one of the blots. At first glance, it might look like a balanced play, but it is actually fraught with risk. If you are fortunate enough to be missed, it leaves you in a strong position. However, 75% is a significant number and you are going to get hit more often than not.
Historically, the 8/2, 6/2 move was seen to be a play for novices, beginners too scared to leave a blot. The reasoning was that the 2-point was too deep in the board to effectively block the opponent’s back checkers. It also seemed to be a waste of material as those two checkers are only able to move forward to the 1-point and are therefore virtually out of play. Furthermore, the gaps between the secure points on the 8 and 6 points are significant. It’s extremely difficult to build a prime that incorporates all of them. The general view was that although home board points are useful to own, the focus should be on securing the 5 and 4-points early in the game.
There are a couple of plus sides to this move. First of all, it is completely safe as it secures a point. Secondly, it is a home board point. Every point you accumulate in relation to your opponent strengthens your home board position. The only real downside of the play is the lack of flexibility for those two checkers during the rest of the game.
XG Mobile Backgammon rollouts show that there is very little between these three plays. However, the 24/14 running play comes out on top. Considering how advanced modern backgammon software is, it would be foolish to go against the rollouts. That said, the rollouts are close enough that it is worth experimenting with all three plays to determine which best suits your style of play. Then go with the play that feels the most comfortable. However, at the very least practice each play so that you are familiar with it in case you come up against an opponent using a different play than you normally use.
Backgammon opening theory at Wikipedia.