In-depth: Backgammon – Home board and misc. tips

Backgammon is on of my favorite games so I thought I’d discuss a few pointers here. Backgammon is a beautiful game because while the rules are pretty simple and can be learned in a few minutes, it’s a very deep game with a lot of different things to learn and master. Let’s look at a few of those.

A strong home board

To me the two most important things to keep in mind while playing backgammon are: balance and a strong home board, which is the group of 6 points your opponent is trying to reach to make it off the board. No matter what type of game you’re currently in or what stage of the game you’re at a good strong home board is always an asset (the only exception is when contact is broken and you can’t possibly interact with your opponent’s pieces). Having a strong home board leads to many good things, but the three biggest ones are:

  • Your opponent will simply have a harder time getting his pieces in if you hit them. You start the game off with the 6-point, which isn’t a huge deal if opponent has to bring a piece in off the bar. He’s going to be able to use any number he rolls except a 6, and will only be stuck on the bar if he rolls 66 (1 in 36 chance). If you add the 5-point now things are a little tougher; he’ll be unable to come out on 55, 56, 65 and 66 (1 in 9 chance). If you now add a 3rd point, he’ll be stuck on the bar 25% of the time! And that’s only if he has one piece to bring in; put more men on the bar and it gets much tougher.
  • ┬áIf he does manage to get all his men off the bar, they and any other pieces he has in your home board will be harder to get out the stronger your home board is. If you have three points there opponent will need some specific numbers to get out. If your points are consecutive, like the 4-point through 6-point, it makes it that much more difficult. Opponent is going to have to get lucky and roll some big numbers (probably doubles) or try to work his way up to the front of your barricade, thereby giving you chances to rehit and extend your barrier further.
  • The corollary to all this is that having a strong board really cuts down on your opponents aggression. Since he knows what a pain it’s going to be for him if he has to deal with that strong board, he’s not going to take as many chances because he’ll be afraid of getting hit. More passive opponent = good for you. If you get 4 or 5 points in your opponents board he’s going to be playing very very safe, and that’s great for you.

Some misc. tips:

  • If you’re trying to decide between hitting and making a point, it’s usually (but not always) better to hit. Hitting gains you ground in the race, forces your opponent to waste a roll, and usually gives you a chance to make the point later.
  • Hitting two of your opponent’s pieces is a very powerful move and is almost always worth it, even when it looks risky.
  • All the points in your home board are important, but the 5-point is the most important of all. Make an effort to get it on both sides of the board, and don’t yield either one without a fight.
  • It’s usually better in the early game to not take the 1-point or 2-point because your position becomes a little too advanced and spread out, but once you’ve gotten the 5-point in your home board any additional points are huge.
  • Try to duplicate your opponent’s good rolls. For example, if he needs a 6 to escape a checker, slotting somewhere else on the board 6 spots from your opponent is a good play. Since 6 was already a good number for him, giving him something else useful to do with a 6 doesn’t hurt too much.
  • And the other side of the coin of course is to do just the opposite for yourself: try to give yourself as many good rolls as possible. If you need a 6 to escape don’t slot somewhere that you need a 6 to cover; make it 4 or 5 or some other number.
  • Making an advanced anchor (moving the two back men up to a further point) is a very good play that really gives you a big advantage; the farther up the better of course. If your opponent gets an advanced anchor you have to try to get one yourself to avoid getting stuck in a hopeless 1-point game, which is where opponent has escaped all his men and your back men are still in their original position.

That’s a good start for a list of things to watch out for while you’re playing. It’s hard to incorporate too many new things into your game at once, but keep these in mind and try to work them into your game slowly and they’ll be a big help. Thanks for reading!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “In-depth: Backgammon – Home board and misc. tips

  1. This almost makes me want to play Backgammon, but I know how I always just get frustrated playing against you. :P

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