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Backgammon: the holding game strategy

Last updated on May 11, 2024

The holding game strategy involves maintaining a secure point, high in your opponent’s home board or on your opponent’s bar point. The objective is to wait for an opportunity to strike a loose checker as your opponent crosses their outer board. Simultaneously, you will be trying to build a strong home board. This is in order to restrict your opponent’s re-entry when you do manage to hit. There are two main ways to win a holding game. Either by hitting your opponent’s blot from the secure point or by rolling large doubles that will allow you to break the point and escape. The large doubles option is only ideal if it puts you ahead in the race.

Holding game

The holding game strategy is usually the most effective strategy when you are behind in the race. This is most often a result of receiving low dice rolls during the opening stages of the game or from your opponent hitting checkers that were close to your home board.

This is different to the back game strategy where you have 2 or more anchors in your opponent’s home board (an anchor is a point occupied by 2 or more of your checkers in your opponent’s home board). It should be used when you are significantly behind as it greatly improves your chances.


Although the holding game strategy can be played from the bar point, the ideal position is actually your opponent’s 5-point. The bar point allows you to hit checkers coming into your opponent’s outer board. However, it doesn’t provide you with a safe landing point if one of your checkers is hit. Your opponent’s 5-point provides both advantages. It is deep enough to strike loose checkers in your opponent’s outer board. Additionally, it also provides a safe landing place if you are hit. The holding game strategy loses its effectiveness if your secure point is held lower in the board. For example, your opponents 4 or 3-points. This is because it’s difficult from that range to hit blots in the outer board with a direct hit. A direct hit is a roll of 1 to 6.

Backgammon holding game strategy. Link to Libra backgammon set.
The 5 points.

When using the holding game strategy, you should try to maximize contact, simply because your chances in a pure race are too slim. Your best chance to win these games is to hit an opponent’s checker and trap them in your home board. If you can hold them there long enough or hit another checker, you can recover from the deficit in the race. Try to transform the game into a complicated struggle with multiple holdings and a blot-hitting contest. If you are behind in the race, this is your best chance to win the game.

Outer board

An added crucial element of the holding game strategy is the opponent’s checker distribution in their outer board. If the only secure points the opponent has are the 8 and 13, at times they will leave a shot when they bring the checkers into the outer board. If your opponent has established more secure points in their outer board, your chances of hitting decline considerably.

At times, when waiting until the last minute and keeping your holding point in your opponent’s home board, you may hit one or more of your opponent’s checkers. If your home board is closed, your opponent could end up stuck on the bar while you remove all your checkers.


One of the dilemmas of the holding game strategy is to know when it is right to break contact completely. This transforms the game into a simple race. This will happen if you roll large doubles that would allow you to escape both of your holding checkers. Sometimes, if it is late in the game you may be forced to break contact. This happens if there are no other legal moves available. If it’s early in the game you may have the option of retaining your holding position. Then you can move some of the checkers from your outer board forward. This is where the dilemma occurs. Typically, you will be using the holding game strategy because you are behind in the race. If you are going to break contact you need to be sure that you will overcome the deficit and take the lead in the pip count.

Related content

Backgammon rules are available on this link.

Wikipedia backgammon entry.


  1. Steven Steven

    Where is the best place to position an anchor?

    • Jason Jason

      Hi Steven, advanced anchors are generally considered the best. Typically, these are on your opponent’s 5 or 4 points. These hold a secure point in your opponent’s home board and are less likely to be blocked by a prime than the 1, 2 or 3 points. The ideal advanced anchor would be on the opponent’s 5-point, this is known as the Golden Anchor. Thanks for commenting.

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