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Backgammon: the holding game strategy

Last updated on June 22, 2020

Beginners series. How to play backgammon.

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). It should be used when you are significantly behind as it greatly improves your chances.

5-point

Although, the holding game strategy can be played from the bar point, the ideal position is actually your opponents 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 are 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.

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 or 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 wind up stuck on the bar while you remove all your checkers.

Dilemma

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.

Backgammon rules are available on this link.

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