More on Opening Rolls in Backgammon


Backgammon Opening Rolls- Introduction

In this article we are going to look at three more backgammon opening rolls: 52, 54, 64

All of these rolls can be played in at least two ways and we will examine the pros and cons of the various plays.

Let’s remind ourselves of what we are trying to do in the backgammon opening rolls as part of the backgammon game strategy:

  • Make new points
  • Mobilize the back checker
  • Unstack the heavy points

Rolls with No Broad Agreement


52 is amongst the poorest of the opening rolls. Firstly let’s discount the beginner’s move 13/6. Whilst being safe, this move does nothing to improve black’s position and does not follow the objectives we have set ourselves.

With 52 there are really only two alternatives. The first move to consider is 13/8, 13/11, shown here:



This unstack the mid-point and brings a builder into play on the 11-pt. A builder on the 11-pt is not as useful as one on the 10-pt or 9-pt as it only bears directly on the 5-pt of the home board points. On the plus side it can only be hit by red with a 64.

The second alternative is to split the back men with 13/8, 24/22:



For years nobody played this move because they feared being wiped out by 55 or 33 from red. However, these are only two of the possible 36 rolls and for many of red’s other rolls the split works well by deterring him from freely placing builders in his outer board.
As with other moves we have examined, the building play 13/8, 13/11 tends to lead to more complex positions than 13/8, 24/22 which leads often leads to mutual high-anchor games.

The computers show a slight preference for 13/8, 24/22 but it is really a matter of personal preference.


With 54 there are three options. The first of these is now virtually never seen and that is the old-fashioned running play 24//15 shown here:



It’s not so much that this is a terrible play but the fact that the other two plays are that much better. So let’s look at the other two plays. Firstly, the building play 13/8, 13/9:



As with other building plays the theme here is to bring builders to make new home board points. Stacking another builder on the 8-pt is not ideal but you can only play what the dice give you. If left alone black will good numbers such as 41, 52, 43 etc to make new points next time.

The alternative is to play the 5 the same way but play the 4 to slot your opponent’s 5-pt by playing 13/8, 24/20



This is a bold attempt to fight for your opponent’s 5-pt. Red will hit the blot with most 1’s and 3’s, leaving his own blot if necessary. Such is the importance of the two 5-pts in the early backgammon game that both sides should take risks to establish them. For example, if red rolls 53 in response to the splitting play then his correct move is 13/5* and not 8/3, 6/3.

When the slotting play succeeds it normally gains more than the building play and perhaps this is why computers prefer the play but again it is a marginal choice and you should play the move that you are most comfortable with.


The arguments for two of the plays with 64 are more or less identical to the discussion we had in the second article when we covered the 62 and 63 backgammon opening rolls. The simplest play is to run with 24/14:



he argument for running with 64 is slightly stronger than that for 62 and 63. Black leaves only 11 hitting numbers and the blot, if not hit, is builder for more of the points in black’s outer board than is the case with 62 and 63.
One of the arguments against running that applies to 62, 63 and 64 is that next turn, if the blot is missed, black will have to take the time to move it to safety.

The second alternative is the split play 24/18, 13/9:



As with 62 and 63 this can lead to very complex games with lots of early hits and counter-hits. If you are the better player then this play is preferable to the running 64, which leads to relatively straightforward positions.

64 provides us with a third option, namely making the 2-pt with 8/2, 6/2:



Can it be wrong to make a home board point? The answer is maybe. Conventional wisdom says that the point made is too deep in the home board for so early in the game. Conventional wisdom also says that the 8-pt and the 2-pt can’t both be points in the same prime so why make the 2-pt when you already have the 8-pt?

A hundred years ago this would have been a popular play. Thirty years ago you would have been laughed at for making this play. When the first version of Jellyfish, the first neural net backgammon software, hit the market it made the 2-pt with 64 and several top players followed suit. Then along came Snowie and the early versions said run with 24/14. The later versions give the vote to 24/18, 13/9.
Which is the ‘best’ play? Nobody really knows and yet again it’s down to personal preference and the type of game you are comfortable with. Occasionally playing 8/2, 6/2 is no bad thing because many players don’t know the correct responses to what is a relatively unusual play.


All three of these rolls, 52, 54 and 64 give the choice to the player and none of the moves discussed here, perhaps with the exception of 54 played 24/15, should be discarded out of hand.

It is a matter of what you feel comfortable with and the type of game you are seeking to play, simple or complex.

Doubtless later versions of Snowie and GNU will change our views as computers become ever faster and more sophisticated. For the moment the choice is yours.

Chris Bray – April 2006

Further reading:

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