Forum Archive : Strategy--Backgames

Play for a backgame from the start?

From:   Alan Webb
Date:   14 December 1998
Subject:   Backgames
Google:   752r2q$rsm$

Can anyone help me with the following questions regarding backgames please?

1) Anybody know which are the 2 points to be made in your opponents home
   which statistically provide the maximum hit opportunities?
   (I previously thought it was the 1 and 2 points but Im not so sure now.)

2) Does the answer to (1) depend on the opponents experience/ability?
   f.i. A novice would more than likely attempt to move his/her pieces in
   a.s.a.p, whereas an experienced player might attempt to prime it in
   order to create "crunching".

3) Does the cube have an effect on the points used?
   (ie if doubled, higher points to avoid gammon)

4) Are there any top draw players who activily seek from outset to play a

I've only recently become aware of the power of such a tactic, and would
like to learn more about it. Thank you in advance for your reply(s)

Alan Webb

Kirk Rupnik  writes:

There are a number of articles regarding backgames archived
at .

Marc Gray listed a rough generalization of the relative strengths of

    What I think that you need to know is the linear ORDER of
    effectiveness of a backgame. It is, in my humble opinion, as follows:

    2-3 ...  the best
    1-3 ...  almost as good
    1-4 ...  very good
    2-4 ...  pretty good
    1-2 ...  weak
    3-4 ...  poor
    2-5 ...  poor

Following up with TC Hathaway:

    The problem with ace point backgames is your opponent can often leave
    men on the bar point and thus be unable to play sixes, and very possibly
    wreck your timing.  When it is a 1,2 backgame, this applies to fives as
    well.  The good part is, of course, he can't play behind you.
    But, generally speaking, you'll take whatever backgame you can get.
    Usually by the time you're committed to it, there's not much time or
    room for adjustment.
    BTW one of the nice things about "one-pointers" is backgames are much
    more playable:  you never have to drop & you have no gammon worries.

Of course a lot of times, you don't have a lot of choice what points you
CAN make when forced into a backgame.  You are correct in questioning
the success of a 1,2 backgame from the explaination above.

Backgames are all about timing.  Generally, the player defending against a
backgame will try to wreck his oppenent's timing by priming him.

If you occupy higher points in your oppenent's homeboard, and/or the points
are separated by 3 or more, then they tend to fall under the classification
of holding games as opposed to backgames.  In these situations, it is much
easier for the opponent to bear in without leaving blots.  Again, the
question assumes you have a lot of control what points you occupy, which is
rarely the case, unless you roll small doubles for instance.  At any rate,
assuming a backgame is unavoidable, stick with the strongest ones (2-3,

> Are there any top draw players who activily seek from outset to play a
> backgame?

I couldn't possibly imagine that they ever do.  It is much easier &
successful to win forwards than to try to send everything into a backgame,
as they tend to get very complicated (even given good timing) and their
overall winning percentage is relatively low.  And when you do lose, it's a
gammon or backgammon often with you holding the cube at 2 or more.  In
Robertie's Advanced Backgammon Vol. 1, he relates a backgame to a goal-line
stand (i.e. last ditch effort to save the game).  If you are constantly
putting yourself into that position willingly, you're going to a lose a LOT
of games.

Kirk (Grignard on FIBS)

Donald Kahn  writes:

> 2-3 ...  the best
> 1-3 ...  almost as good
> 1-4 ...  very good
> 2-4 ...  pretty good
> 1-2 ...  weak
> 3-4 ...  poor
> 2-5 ...  poor

Recording a mild difference of opinion.  I don't like 1-4 very much,
while 3-4 is a terror to come in against, if you have any stuff on
your 9 and/or 10 points.

Chuck Bower  writes:

I agree with Donald.  I also think it is shaky to rank backgames
and to give a qualitative assignment (...very good, poor,...).  It's
not that there necessarily isn't a ranking (if you define the conditions
well enough).  My feeling has something to do with the current state
of backgammon research--the robots.

     Now, even the ones that do generate unbiased (pseudo-)random numbers
don't like to play backgames.  It's kinda like putting a cat in a closed
paper bag.  It may pretend to like being there for a short time but
pretty quickly it goes into a frenzy trying to get out!

     I think for backgames we are stuck in the dark ages (lighten up!
I'm half joking) when we had to depend on the experience of mere mortals.
Robots can do thousands of rollouts overnight.  Humans are doing well
to play through 100 (and then they have to sleep!).  Also, human skills
(and attitudes and prejudices and...) change with time, so if a person's
feeling about a back game has some memory from a while back when s/he
wasn't as good of a player, or from one time where the cube was at 64
in a $10 chouette and s/he got some bad rolls, or whatever, then maybe
that feeling is ill-founded.

     I don't (nor does anyone) know the consensus opinion of strong
players as to the best and worst backgames.  I believe the 2-3 has been
highly regarded for a couple of decades.  The 1-3 is reasonably well-
liked.  I think the 1-5 is almost universally unpopular.  In between you
will probably get a LOT of varying opinions.

     IMO, the first key to backgame play is to learn how to defend against
one.  Next, learn how to play one (which is obviously not independent
from step 1).  Finally, the seasoned player learns how NOT to play one!
(Aside from playing with words, what I mean is:  since it is part of good
backgammon to maximize your equity, only go into backgames when they
are the best road to success.  Often a better [non-backgame] path
will be preferable.  Learn when backgames are the right choice.  Don't just
play backgames for the fun of it unless you are willing to suffer some
monetary bruises.)

Donald Kahn  writes:

A good post, thanks.  If I may be permitted a personal reminiscence:

My late father, who was a keen player (wasn't a h--- of lot else to do
as a Wall Street broker in the 30's) loved backgames.  When he would
play me (and he never taught me anything) - I would make a point if I
could, hit his blots, or stack.  He goes into a backgame and I don't
think I ever won a game from him.  (I suppose we last played when I
was 14).  Oh, what I would give to have him here now.  Of course, he
would be 100 years old, and probably not too keen to play anymore.

(I finally got around to learning to play a little around 1971.)

Any good player takes a backgame only as a last resort.  Too many
things can go wrong.  And when it loses, it loses a gammon.

Hbrennan  writes:

1-2 is a lot better than people give it credit for... if it is well
timed. the reason it isn't favored is that the opponent normally has a
prime built out to the eight point in front of it, and gets to a point
where sixes can't be played, helping the primer's timing, and then to a
point where fives and sixes can't be played, further helping the
primer's timing.

The 2-3 backgame is favoured because almost all rolls must be played
when the primer is coming in. when this isn't true, the primer has had
to leave a gap in the prime, which enhances the odds of leaving an early

A well timed 1-2 backgame is better than the others, all other things
being equal, but are much harder to keep well timed... in summary.

Bob Hoey  writes:

There is an infamous book on backgammon with the great title, Backgammon
for Blood, written by Bruce Becker.  Becker was not much of a player from
all I could tell and his advice in the  book is very bad.  One of his
favorite things was to play backgames.  When I read his book, some 20 years
ago, I tried to pursue backgames a lot and learned my lesson.  Backgames
are great, if you know when to seriously pursue them, but they are only a
way of cutting  your losses. To seek to play backgames as an aggressive
strategy is lunacy.

As for position, I prefer 2-4 as my favorite backgame position, followed by
2-3, 1 -3, 3-4,1-4 and 1-2 as the least desireable.

The key to backgames is timing.  Knowing when to move aggressively to
establish a backgame is the most critical skill in my opinion.  Too soon is
a bad thing and too late is disastrous.
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After an early blitz attempt  (Daniel Murphy, Apr 1997) 
But they're so much fun!  (Laury Chizlett+, Oct 2000) 
Checker problem  (David Montgomery+, May 1995) 
Defending against a backgame  (KL Gerber+, Jan 2003)  [Long message]
Defending against a backgame  (Michael J. Zehr, Jan 1995) 
How many men back?  (Brian Sheppard, July 1997) 
Play for a backgame from the start?  (Alan Webb+, Dec 1998) 
What is a backgame?  (Daniel Murphy, Apr 2001) 
When to double  (David Montgomery, May 1995) 
Which anchor is best?  (Kit Woolsey, July 1996) 
Which anchor to break  (Brian Sheppard, May 1997) 
Which anchors are best?  (sebalotek+, Jan 2012) 
Which anchors are best?  (Adam Stocks, Apr 2002) 
Which anchors are best?  (Mary Hickey, Mar 2001) 
Which anchors are best?  (Jerry Weaver+, Apr 1998) 
Which anchors are best?  (Chuck Bower, Jan 1997) 
Which anchors are best?  (Marc Gray, Nov 1995) 

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