Basic Checker Play Strategy- Part 2

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This article is for beginner and intermediate players and covers the basic concepts of checker play.

TRY NOT TO STACK YOUR CHECKERS:

The more checkers you have on a single point, or on two points, the less flexibility you have to hit, make more points, or advance your checkers. So generally, try to avoid putting more and more checkers on the same point. Sometimes that means you will have to leave indirect, and even direct shots for your opponent, but often you are better off doing this than stacking your checkers, particularly early in the game before your opponent has too strong a board.

Take a look at Position 3. Black has a 5-2 to play. You could play completely safe and move two checkers to your 6 point, but you would then have 6 checkers on the 5 point. Not only that, but instead of 3 checkers on your 8 point, you would now only have 2 there and if you used one of those checkers to make a point later, you would have to leave a blot. By far, the best play is to bring one checker from your 13 point to your 8 point and move the checker from your 11 point to your 9 point.

By leaving a blot on your 9 point you could get hit, but only with a 6-2 or 5-3. Out of the 36 possible rolls, that is only 4, so the odds are low. Again, you could move that checker to your 6 point and leave no shot at all, but in the long run, because of your lack of flexibility, you will probably leave a direct shot later. A direct shot, by the way, is one that can be hit with a single die instead of a combination of both die (indirect shot), and the odds of getting hit on a direct shot are much higher. In this example, the indirect shot can be hit 4 out of 36 rolls, but a direct shot can get hit at least 11 out of 36 rolls. And this brings us to our next major point.

LEARN THE ODDS:

Backgammon is all odds. You can play by feel, and by look, and become a pretty decent player if you have excellent gaming skills, terrific insight, and a great memory. But if you really want to play well, you must learn the odds and know them. You need to know that there are 36 possible rolls and what the odds are of rolling an 8 or a 9 or a 12, etc. When you are thinking about leaving a shot, you need to know what percentage of the time you will get hit if you leave one shot vs. another.

You can spend a few years studying the game and working out these odds for yourself, or you can take advantage of excellent backgammon books and articles that will give you the basic information and theories that you need. Again, everything in backgammon boils down to numbers and odds, and there is no way to really play the checkers well without understanding these factors.

SCORE MATTERS:

When you are playing a match, the score of the match is always a major consideration, and it affects many of your checker plays drastically. For example, if you are playing a match to 5 and you are winning 4-1, you only need 1 point to win the match. If you only need one point, gammons do not matter to you at all. When gammons don’t matter you should only be thinking about what play is the best play to win the game. If you were losing 1-4, however, winning a gammon, particularly if the cube is turned, is very important for you. In that case, you would move your checkers not only to try to win the game, but you might well take some risks to increase your gammon chances. Conversely, if you are winning 4-1 you might well make some “defensive” plays that might not add to your winning chances at all, but might go a long way to protect you from losing gammons.

C0NSIDER THE CUBE:

When you are making checker plays, it is always important to consider where the cube is and how your checker play might affect your and your opponent’s cube decisions. There are many plays that you might make one way if the cube is in the center or on your opponent’s side of the board and another way if you are holding the cube.

LOOK AT ALL THE ALTERNATIVES BEFORE YOU MOVE:

In chess, if you make a move, it stands. In backgammon, you are allowed to move the checkers, look at it, and make a different move so long as you don’t pick up the dice. One of the biggest mistakes many players make is that they roll the dice, see what they think is a good play, and just make it. And as soon as they pick up their dice they realize there was a better play, probably on the other side of the board.

I know backgammon is not a fun game if you play too slowly and take forever to make every move, but there are many times when you simply must take the time to look at all the possible options before you move. It is not uncommon for even the best players in the world to take several minutes to consider alternatives on a particularly important and complicated checker play. With all their knowledge and experience and skill, it can take a pro several minutes to make one play, so clearly you should take some time to look at all the alternatives and consider all the variables when you are not sure.

There are many other concepts and general rules of thumb to apply to checker play for various scores, positions, and situations, and again, there are thousands of books and articles on these subjects. I have been playing backgammon 45 years and I am a professional player, and I still learn something new, or something that increases my knowledge, skill, and general approach every week. I do this not just because I want to improve my game, but I have found that learning about the game is, in itself, fun and interesting. I hope you do too, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions, would like more information, or are interested in on-line backgammon lessons.

This article is for beginner and intermediate players and covers the basic concepts of checker play.

TRY NOT TO STACK YOUR CHECKERS:

The more checkers you have on a single point, or on two points, the less flexibility you have to hit, make more points, or advance your checkers. So generally, try to avoid putting more and more checkers on the same point. Sometimes that means you will have to leave indirect, and even direct shots for your opponent, but often you are better off doing this than stacking your checkers, particularly early in the game before your opponent has too strong a board.

Take a look at Position 3. Black has a 5-2 to play. You could play completely safe and move two checkers to your 6 point, but you would then have 6 checkers on the 5 point. Not only that, but instead of 3 checkers on your 8 point, you would now only have 2 there and if you used one of those checkers to make a point later, you would have to leave a blot. By far, the best play is to bring one checker from your 13 point to your 8 point and move the checker from your 11 point to your 9 point.

By leaving a blot on your 9 point you could get hit, but only with a 6-2 or 5-3. Out of the 36 possible rolls, that is only 4, so the odds are low. Again, you could move that checker to your 6 point and leave no shot at all, but in the long run, because of your lack of flexibility, you will probably leave a direct shot later. A direct shot, by the way, is one that can be hit with a single die instead of a combination of both die (indirect shot), and the odds of getting hit on a direct shot are much higher. In this example, the indirect shot can be hit 4 out of 36 rolls, but a direct shot can get hit at least 11 out of 36 rolls. And this brings us to our next major point.
LEARN THE ODDS:

Backgammon is all odds. You can play by feel, and by look, and become a pretty decent player if you have excellent gaming skills, terrific insight, and a great memory. But if you really want to play well, you must learn the odds and know them. You need to know that there are 36 possible rolls and what the odds are of rolling an 8 or a 9 or a 12, etc. When you are thinking about leaving a shot, you need to know what percentage of the time you will get hit if you leave one shot vs. another.

You can spend a few years studying the game and working out these odds for yourself, or you can take advantage of excellent backgammon books and articles that will give you the basic information and theories that you need. Again, everything in backgammon boils down to numbers and odds, and there is no way to really play the checkers well without understanding these factors.
SCORE MATTERS:

When you are playing a match, the score of the match is always a major consideration, and it affects many of your checker plays drastically. For example, if you are playing a match to 5 and you are winning 4-1, you only need 1 point to win the match. If you only need one point, gammons do not matter to you at all. When gammons don’t matter you should only be thinking about what play is the best play to win the game. If you were losing 1-4, however, winning a gammon, particularly if the cube is turned, is very important for you. In that case, you would move your checkers not only to try to win the game, but you might well take some risks to increase your gammon chances. Conversely, if you are winning 4-1 you might well make some “defensive” plays that might not add to your winning chances at all, but might go a long way to protect you from losing gammons.
C0NSIDER THE CUBE:

When you are making checker plays, it is always important to consider where the cube is and how your checker play might affect your and your opponent’s cube decisions. There are many plays that you might make one way if the cube is in the center or on your opponent’s side of the board and another way if you are holding the cube.

LOOK AT ALL THE ALTERNATIVES BEFORE YOU MOVE:
In chess, if you make a move, it stands. In backgammon, you are allowed to move the checkers, look at it, and make a different move so long as you don’t pick up the dice. One of the biggest mistakes many players make is that they roll the dice, see what they think is a good play, and just make it. And as soon as they pick up their dice they realize there was a better play, probably on the other side of the board.

I know backgammon is not a fun game if you play too slowly and take forever to make every move, but there are many times when you simply must take the time to look at all the possible options before you move. It is not uncommon for even the best players in the world to take several minutes to consider alternatives on a particularly important and complicated checker play. With all their knowledge and experience and skill, it can take a pro several minutes to make one play, so clearly you should take some time to look at all the alternatives and consider all the variables when you are not sure.

There are many other concepts and general rules of thumb to apply to checker play for various scores, positions, and situations, and again, there are thousands of books and articles on these subjects. I have been playing backgammon 45 years and I am a professional player, and I still learn something new, or something that increases my knowledge, skill, and general approach every week. I do this not just because I want to improve my game, but I have found that learning about the game is, in itself, fun and interesting. I hope you do too, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions, would like more information, or are interested in on-line backgammon lessons.

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