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Backgammon: the back game strategy

Last updated on June 15, 2020

Beginners series. How to play backgammon.

The back game is not a strategy of choice. It is forced upon players because they have been hit on multiple occasions and are behind in the race. The objective is to maintain two or more anchors in your opponent’s home board and wait for an opportunity for a late hit. The ideal number of anchors is two, anymore is a waste of material. Playing this tactic from the start would be risky. This is because if it fails there is a strong likelihood of losing by a gammon (double the stake). This is a strategy designed to salvage a game when you have fallen behind. Your other checkers should be sufficiently advanced so as to block your opponent’s checker when it returns from the bar. You really need two anchors to make it a back game. If you only have one anchor it’s a holding game.

Risk

It can be really fun to play a back game and pull off a win from a seemingly hopeless position. However, it is not a starting strategy that should be adopted by choice. There is a big risk that comes with playing a back game strategy. When you don’t get that shot, or if you miss it, you often get gammoned or even occasionally backgammoned. Experienced players will not adopt this strategy by choice, it is always thrust upon them. However, some players intentionally hold back to play this backgammon strategy because they love this gambit so much. The thrill and satisfaction of winning using a back game strategy can be addictive, but it can also lead to significant margins of defeat.

Split anchors

When your anchors are several spaces apart, rather than being side-by-side in a prime, it is called a split back game. In this situation, it is easier for your opponent to bring his checkers home. Ideally the split position should be avoided if possible. The ideal back game would be to have your anchors side by side as deep two-prime. However, always remember that the back game should be avoided at all costs. All of the other backgammon strategies are preferable to the back game. However, if you are forced into the back game strategy, commit to it and fight to the end. A surprise victory from a back game strategy can be extremely satisfying.

Split anchors.

Another major problem with back games is that if you are playing an experienced opponent, they can often manipulate the game to keep you from maintaining proper timing. If you lose timing, what usually happens is that the checkers in your home board “crunch” to your lower points. When that happens, even if you hit a shot later, your opponent can still easily re-enter from the bar, leaping your checkers. Then they can race back around the board to win. Additionally, if your home board checkers are crunched on the lower points you can be forced to abandon an anchor on a high roll. For example, if all of your home board checkers are on the lower three points. A roll of 4 or higher, could be force you to move a checker from your anchors.

Home board

The best backgammon strategy for playing a good back game, having established a couple of anchors deep in your opponent’s home board, is to build a very strong home board yourself. Ideally, 5 or 4-point prime on the higher points of your home board. This means that when you do get that opportunity to hit, it really counts. However, timing is everything. The strategy simply won’t work if you don’t get the timing right. If you are forced to ruin your home board with throws that you don’t want while your two anchors are trapped in your opponent’s home board, then hitting your opponent will be a hollow victory because they will be able to re-enter easily and take advantage of their lead in the race.

Prime anchors.

Deep anchors

If you are playing a back game strategy, the deeper your anchors are in your opponents board, the greater chance you have of success. Ideally, your anchors are going to be on two of the first three points. The deeper your anchors, the more likely you are to have a chance of hitting. The downside with deep anchors is that you are more likely to lose by a gammon as the checkers are so far from home. If the anchors are more advanced, such as the four or five points, you will have fewer opportunities to hit, but are more likely to avoid a gammon.

In a back game there is generally no need to keep more than two checkers on an anchor. Afterall, you only need two checkers to secure a point. Any extra checkers would be better used as builders elsewhere on the field. Therefore, if you have more than two checkers on an anchor, try to escape the extra ones at the earliest opportunity to a position where they are more useful.  

Backgammon rules are available on this link.

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