Ken Larsen's Backgammon Book

      

This is an attempt to simplify the strategies and tactics of the game of backgammon.

1.0 Strategies

1.1 Basic strategies

 

There are some strategies which are universal and should be considered throughout a game:

 

  1. Always strive to have a good distribution of your checkers (DIVERSITY).  Stacks are bad. 

  2. Always strive to have good linkage/connection/communication of all your checkers (LINK).  Huge gaps (more than 6 pips) between your rear and forward checkers are bad.  Think of wildebeest trying to cross a crocodile infested river.  Crocodiles attack isolated wildebeest.  Wildebeest should stay together.  Donít turn your rear checkers into isolated wildebeest.  On the other hand, attack isolated checkers of your opponent.  Be a crocodile to your opponent.

  3. Always be aware of where you and your opponent stand relative to 1 and 2.

  4. Strive to frustrate your opponentís efforts to attain 1 and 2.

  5. Continually rate you and your opponent as to ďthreat levelĒ.   Green would signify that youíre in control and seemingly cruising towards victory.  Red would indicate that youíre in dire straits and under attack.  Yellow would signify that a possible threat is imminent.

1.2 Early game strategy

 

Note that the opening position presents two weaknesses for each player as there are two stacks (midpoint and 6-point) and a huge gap between the rear checkers and the midpoint.  The strategy of the early game is to alleviate those problems:  get rear checkers moving and unstack the midpoint and 6-point.

 

For the opening moves and early responses to those moves see Stick Rice's web site, http://www.bgonline.org/

 

Foucs on making high home board points, getting your rear checkers moving, and interferring with your opponent.

 

In the early game you normally want to hit blots left on your 5 and 4 points, but not if your home board is worse.

1.3 End game strategy

If there's no more contact, focus on distribution to maximize the speed of your bear-in and bear-off.

If there is contact, focus on safety if you're ahead in the race.  Otherwise, try to recycle a checker to pick up a blot.

2.0 Tactics

2.1 Universal tactics

 

There are some tactics which are universal and should be considered throughout a game:

 

  1. Try to hit and make a home board point at the same time (HITPOINT).

  2. Make points in your home board (HOMEBOARD).

  3. You should frustrate your opponentís efforts to make points in his home board (BLITZ) and in your home board (ANCHORX).

  4. If your opponent has an anchor, you should induce him to break that anchor (LURE) Ö particularly if you have an advanced anchor and his home board has blots.

  5. Spread your spares (DIVERSITY,UNSTACK).

  6. Donít introduce any large gaps between your rear and forward checkers.  Keep them ďlinkedĒ (LINK,RUN).

  7. Correspondingly, you should strive to break your opponentís linkage (LINKX,LONE).

  8. You should frustrate your opponentís efforts to make a second anchor ... which would permit him to play a backgame (BACKGAMEX).

  9. Try to contain an opponentís lone rear checker (PRIME,SHIFT,SLOT).

  10. Avoid stripping outfield points (STRIPNOT).

  11. Donít drop blots on highly coveted points like your opponentís 4, 5, and 7 points (SPLITNOT).  You will be attacked there.

  12. If you're playing a match, consider the match score before moving your checkers (MATCHPLAY).

2.2 Tactics (alphabetical order)

 

Level indicates the type of player who understands the tactic.  1 = beginner, 2 = intermediate, and 3 = expert.

 

#

Tactic

Level Comments
1

5POINT

1 Basic concept.
2

ABREAK

3 Beginners and intermediates don't know when they should break an anchor.
3

ANCHOR

2 Beginners don't know when they should anchor and when they should attack.
4

ANCHORUP

2 This related to LINK,  It's like wildebeest crossing a crocodile infested river.  Stay together or get eaten.
5

ANCHORX

3 This is a simple and powerful tactic concept, but many people get it wrong.  They play too timidly and defensely.
6

AVOID6

3 Simple concept that is not a major error if you miss it.
7

AVOIDDIRECT

2 Don't leave direct shots. 
8

AVOIDGAPS

2 How to build your home board.
9

AVOIDHOT

2 Avoid slotting key points in your opponent's home board.  You will be attacked there.
10

AVOIDSTACKS

2 Don't place blots where spares from a stacked point can attack you.
11

BACKGAME

3 Many people don't know how to play a backgame.  It's complicated, and the need for it doesn't arise very often, but this skill needs to be added to your repertoire.
12

BACKGAMEX

3 Many people don't know how to thwart a backgame that their opponent may be developing.
13

BANANASPLIT

3 The need for this tactic is rare, but when that need arises, you must have the fortitude to try it.
14

BEARIN

2 Bear-in tactic:  Diversify checkers to accelerate bear-off.
15

BEAROFF

2 Bear-off tactic:  Leave a good diversification of checkers. 
16

BLITZ

2 Attack if you have the better home board.  There's no need to play safe when your opponent's home board is weak.
17

BLOCK

2 Useful tactic to hem in your opponent's rear checkers.
18

BLOTPLACEMENT

3 Place blots in front of stripped points.
19

BUDDY

2 This is another example of the wildebeest/crocodile story.
20

CLEARPOINT

3 Bearoff tactic when opponent occupies point(s) in your home board.
21

CRASH

3 Useful to help crash/collpase your opponent's home board.
22

DESPERATIONHIT

3 This is similar to BANANASPLIT.  You have to hit, because if you don't, you'll lose.
23

DISTRACT

3 A very counter-intuitive move, but it makes sense.
24

DIVERSITY

1 A very fundamental concept that must be continually practiced.
25

DOUBLE

   
26

DOUBLEHIT

3 This is similar to ANCHORX.  Keep your opponent from anchoring.
27

DROP

   
28

DUPLICATION

2 Most beginners don't understand this simple concept.
29

EARLYBLOT

3 Similar to RECYCLE.  You want to crash your opponent's home board before you do any more bear-in.
30

EDGE

1 Move up to the edge of a prime.
31

EVEN

1 Bear-in/bear-off tactic when your opponent can still hit you. 
32

FILLGAP

2 Fill a gap in your home board.  Pass on a hit, if necessary.
33

FORCEBLOT

3 A little trick to increase the liklihood that your opponent will leave a blot as he bears off.
34

GG

3 Gammon Go - example of where you play aggressively if winning a gammon wins you the match.
35

GOLD

3 This is actually an example of a gammon save tactic.
36

GS

3 Gammon Save example
37

HARD

2 Given a choice of two good moves, you pick the one which is harder to make in the future.
38

HITNOT

3 You pass on hitting, because you're ahead in the race. 
39

HITPOINT

1 You hit and make a point in your home board. 
40

HOMEBOARD

1 Make a home board point.
41

ISLANDS

2 Bear-in tactic when your opponent can still hit you.
42

JOKER

3 When you're way ahead and cruising to victory, protect yourself against joker rolls thrown by your opponent.
43

KILL

3 Clever tactic to accelerate the collapse of your opponent's home board.
44

LEAP

2 Leap a prime when you have the chance.  This is similar to HARD.
45

LINK

3 This is all about linkage/timing/communication ... a concept that is neglected by all but the best players.
46

LINKX

3 Destroy the linkage/timing/communication of your opponent.
47

LONE

2 Attack a lone rear checker.  This is my "wildebeest and crocodile" scenario.
48

LURE

3 Try to lure an opponent into breaking an anchor.
49

PICKPASS

1 Pick and pass.  This is one tactic that beginners routinely do but intermediates neglect.  Intermediates play aggressively too often.
50

PRIME

1 How to build and move a prime.
51

RACE

3 If you're ahead in the race, race.  Intermediates will often hit in such situations, because they tend to be overly aggressive.
52

RECYCLE

3 Try to recirculate a checker to pick up another blot.
53

RISK

3 When your opponent has a weak blot-filled home board, you have a green light to play loose and leave a few blots.  Do so to improve your diversity.
54

RUN

2 Break an anchor if your opponent has a weak home board and you have a timing/linkage problem.
55

SAFE

1 Play safe if you're ahead in the race.  The problem with beginners is that they strive to play safe with every move, but sometimes the beginner play is correct.
56

SAFESTRIP

3 If your opponent has stripped points and a weak home board, don't help him by leaving shots.
57

SENTRY

3 Keep a checker back to attack an opponent's checker when they leap to the outfield.
58

SHIFT

2 Shift points in your home board to keep an opponent under pressure.  This is useful if he has a blot elsewhere or he's about to cause you trouble elsewhere.
59

SLOT

2 Slot key point(s) to gamble to contain an opponent's rear checker(s).
60

STAYBACK

2 Stay far back with your rear checkers if you're way behind in the race.  Focus on building your home board.
61

STRIPNOT

3 Avoid stripping points.  A board with all stripped points is very vulnerable.  Blots will soon be left.
62

TEMPO

2 Desperation move:  Hit loose to throw your opponent off balance.
63

TRAP

3 Desperation move:  Break a stripped home board point to recycle a checker to hit one of his home board blots.  This is similar to BANANASPLIT.
64

UNBLOCK

3 Move checkers to where they are not blocked by 6s.
65

UNSTACK

1 It's bad to have too many spares on a point.  Move spares off such points.
66

WIDENET

3 "A wide net catches more fish".  If your opponent has crashed his home board, you can spread your checkers with impunity.

 

 

3.0 Basic Questions

  

#

Question

Yes

No
1 Does your opponent have blot(s) that you can hit? This is the first question that you should answer.  This doesn't mean that you should hit them, but you should begin by asking this question.  

2

Are you ahead in the race?

Your basic game plan is to run.  However, as you run you must be careful and not get hit by your opponent.  The strategies to employ are:

  1. Race (RACE).

  2. Consider doubling if your lead is ample.

  3. Keep good linkage between your rear and forward checkers (ABREAK,ANCHORUP)

  4. Hit him in your home board to keep him from anchoring (ANCHORX,DOUBLEHIT).

  5. You may choose to not hit him to avoid sending more checkers to your home board (BACKGAMEX,CRASH).   Donít help him develop a backgame!

  6. Donít introduce new blots (HITNOT,SAFE).

  7. You may recycle checkers to cause his home board to collapse (EARLYBLOT).

  8. Block double 6s and double 5s by his rear checkers.  Those could put him into the race lead.

  9. Watch out for joker rolls by your opponent (JOKER).

  10. Use distribution to give yourself many options as you race for home (BEARIN,BEAROFF,DIVERSITY,EVEN).

  11. Play safe (AVOIDDIRECT).

  12. If there is still contact, establish landing points for your checkers to safely land on (5POINT,FILLGAP,ISLANDS).

  13. Minimize your chances of having to leave a future blot (CLEARPOINT).

You likely will have to hit opponent blot(s) to be able to win.  Strategies to employ are: 

  1. Consider dropping a double if youíre far enough behind and donít have any anchors.

  2. Diversify your checkers to maximize your chances to hit (BUDDY,DISTRACT,DIVERSITY,SENTRY,WIDENET)

  3. Stay back (STAYBACK).

  4. Establish an anchor (ANCHOR).

  5. Build your home board. You will need a strong home board to contain your opponent (5POINT, AVOID6, AVOIDGAPS).

  6. If you have to leave blots, be careful (AVOIDHOT,AVOIDSTACKS).

  7. Consider falling further behind by playing a backgame (BACKGAME).  For this to succeed, youíll need two anchors and great timing.

  8. Avoid crashing your home board.  Recycle checkers to preserve good timing.

  9. Block large doubles by your opponent (BLOCK).

  10. If necessary, take extreme measures to contain your opponent (BANANASPLIT,DESPERATIONHIT).

  11. You should consider deliberating leaving a blot to force your opponent to play a number he would not otherwise be able to play (FORCEBLOT).

  12. Leave a blot that your opponent will be forced to hit - so that you can pick up a blot in his home board (TRAP).

  13. If your opponent has all outfield stripped points (no spares), donít volunteer any blots (SAFESTRIP).

3 Do you have to leave blots? Use duplication (DUPLICATE).

Place blots in front of opponent's stripped points or blots (BLOTPLACEMENT,LURE).

Hit an opponent's blots (TEMPO,PICKPASS,DOUBLEHIT,BANANASPLIT).
 
4 Does your opponent have lone rear blots and no anchor? Attack those lone rear blots.  Keep them from anchoring (ANCHORX).  This can often be more important than moving up to the edge of a prime on the other side of the board. 

Note 1:  If your opponent has an anchor, attacking carries much less weight.

Note 2:  If your opponent has one anchor and is poised to make a second anchor, try to thwart that.  An opponent with two anchors can cause you a lot of trouble.

Note 3:  If you have a severe linkage problem, solve that first. 
 
5 Does your opponent have an advanced anchor? Be hestitant to double.

Consider luring him into breaking that anchor (LURE).

Block 6s or 5s from that anchor (BLOCK).
 
6 Do you have the better home board? Play aggressively (BLITZ).

If your opponent has blots in his home board, take risks.  Leave indirect shots in your outfield to attain a better distribution.  That will give you greater flexibilty on your next roll.
Play conservatively (ANCHOR).

Make homeboard points (HOMEBOARD) with particular emphasis on filling gaps (FILLGAP).  This is exceedingly important.
7 Do you have checkers stuck behind an opponent's prime? Try to leap the prime (LEAP).

Try to move up to the edge of the prime (EDGE).

Consider inviting hits to get more checkers sent back to establish two anchors and play a backgame stategy (BACKGAME,PURE).
 
8 Does your opponent have checkers behind a prime of yours? Try to get his home board to crash (EARLYBLOT,KILL,RECYCLE,SLOWDOWN).

Attack checkers that your opponent places at the edge of your prime (PRIMEX).

 
9 Do you have a choice of a couple of good plays? Consider making the play that is statistically harder to make (HARD).  
10 Will you likely lose the game no matter what happens? Swallow your pride and strive to avoid being gammoned or backgammoned (ANCHOR,SAFE,GS).  
11 Has your opponent collapsed his home board? You have a green light.  You don't have to worry about leaving blots, because if they're hit, you'll have no trouble getting back in.  If you're behind in the race, stay back and spread your rearmost checkers to increase the likelihood of hitting your opponent.  (WIDENET) You have a yellow or red light.  You have to play conservatively. 

  

4.0 Match Play considerations

Score

Explanation

Strategy and Tactics
GG (Gammon Go)

You can benefit from a gammon, but your opponent cannot (because he is only one point ahead from winning the match).  You should take more chances than normal to win a gammon, and you have nothing additional to lose if you lose a gammon.

Favor blitzing (BLITZ) plays over conservative plays (GOLD).

 

GS (Gammon Save) Youíre one point away from winning a match.  Your opponent is further away.  He can benefit from winning a gammon. 

1. You must play safer to avoid losing a gammon.  Favor making a high anchor (GOLD) over a blitzing tactic (BLITZ).

2. Maintain a good compact position/good linkage.

3. Focus on just winning the game. 

4. Donít take risks to try to win a gammon as you donít need to win a gammon.

5. There are times when you should abandon contact with your opponent and just try to run for home to avoid losing a gammon (GS).

DMP (Double Match point)

Each player is just one point away from winning the match.  Gammon wins and gammon losses donít matter.  You just need to win the game. 

1. Blitzing plays (BLITZ) carry less value, as they lead to overextended positions if they fail. 

2. Backgames (BACKGAME) carry more value, because when they fail a gammon loss is using suffered.  You donít need to worry about that.

3. Try to crunch your opponentís home board.



5.0 Double Cube Basics

5.1 Doubling advice from the pros

Read Kit Woolsey's article on the 5-point match.  It explains cube and checker play at various scores in a 5-point match.

View Masayuki "Mochy" Mochizuki 3 videos from the 2011 Nordic Open:

Cube strategy 1 of 3  (6:12)
Cube strategy 2 of 3  (7:12)
Cube strategy 3 of 3  (7:35)

Mochy is the consensus # 1 player in the world.

5.2 Ken's thoughts on doubling

5.2.1 Should you double?

Yes No
  1. If you're the trailer and it's post-Crawford, double at your first opportunity.  You have nothing to lose.
  2. Your opponent has no anchor and you have the better home board.  (example)
  3. Your opponent has crashed his home board.
  4. It's near the end of the game and your opponent needs doubles or a joker roll to win. (example)
  5. Your opponent has a lone rear checker and you have a quadruple shot at it.  (example)
  1. If the race is even, and your opponent has an advanced anchor.
  2. You stand a good chance to win a gammon and you could benefit score-wise from a gammon-win.
  3. You have crashed your home board.


5.2.2 Should you accept a double?
Yes No
  1. The race is even and you have an anchor.
  2. You have the better home board.
  1. It's near the end of the game and you need one or more large doubles or a joker roller to win.
  2. You have crashed your home board.

 

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