A Beginner's Guide to Backgammon
by Phil Simborg, 1997
Phil Simborg
If you are new, or relatively new to backgammon, I have some thoughts I believe will save you a lot of anguish and pain over the next few years. I wish I didn't have to learn these things the hard way myself!

  1. Backgammon is a game of luck and skill, but there is a lot more skill than you think. The funny thing about this game is that the worse you play, the unluckier you will seem to be. The reason is that the more bad plays you make, the more good, or lucky rolls you give your opponent, and the fewer good rolls you will have on your next turn. So if you think you are a lot less lucky in backgammon than your opponents, there's a really good chance that your opponents are simply playing better.

  2. There is a lot more to learn than meets the eye. Backgammon is relatively simple to learn. The moves and rules of backgammon are far less complex than Chess, Bridge, and many other popular games. Please trust me when I tell you that if you are a beginner, there is a lot about backgammon that falls into the category of "you don't know what you don't know." I have been playing backgammon for 45 years and studying it seriously for over 20, and I still often discover a concept, theory, strategy, rule of thumb, or something important about an aspect of the game that I did not know before. If you think this game is simple, you are not truly understanding what is going on here

  3. You cannot learn the game well simply by playing. Trial and error will give you some knowledge and insights, but even if you were a genius and played for 10 years you probably would not discover, on your own, many of the concepts that can be found in the many excellent books and articles already written. Save yourself a lot of time and pain: buy Robertie or Magriel's basic books on backgammon, and then as you get better, graduate to more advanced and specialized books and articles. Another excellent way to learn is from lessons (which I and others give both live and on line) and from a mentor. If you are lucky enough to know some experienced players who are kind enough to coach you, it can save you many hours of trying to find things out for yourself.

  4. Memory skills are important in backgammon. It is impossible to remember every right play for every position, but it is possible to remember certain key concepts and positions that can be called upon as reference positions to use when the same, or similar situations arise. If you want to play well, you simply must memorize the opening moves. You must memorize the proper percentages for doubling and taking in a race. You must learn, and memorize take points and match equities if you play matches. Playing well requires some study and concentration. If that sounds like work to you, then you are not approaching the game properly. One of the reasons good players become good players is that they enjoy the learning process. It is fun and exciting to learn, internalize, and remember something that you know will help you play better and win more.

  5. If you want to really enjoy the game and learn, look for different venues to play in. Most beginners get stuck just playing with one or two friends, or just with their family, or if they play on line, on just one web site. If you live in a big city, go on line (or contact me) and find out where there are local, live backgammon clubs. Even if you are not competitive for a while, play anyway, and watch the top players in your area. Most of them are very generous with their time and advice, and you'll learn a lot and really enjoy seeing how good players play this game. If you are lucky enough to be able to get to a major tournament, go to it and enter the Novice Division, and while you're there, watch the pros as well. If you don't live in a big city, go on line and you'll find many places to play free.

Phil Simborg is a fulltime backgammon player and teacher.
You can contact Phil at: or visit his
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