One of the most powerful and useful skills in backgammon games is pip counting. Knowing how to calculate, the number of points (pips) your checkers need to go through until they are all gathered in their home board, ready to start the bearoff stage, gives you the ability to evaluate your strength in the game, helps you plan your next moves and make rational cube decisions.
The problem with acquiring this kind of skill is that it involves some arithmetic; a fact that intimidates many players, who identify a huge paradox between 'having fun' and any sort of mathematical equations. Well, understandable as this feeling may be, practicing at least one pip counting method is essential when playing against strong backgammon players.
There are many pip counting methods you can choose from; some developed by professional players and theoreticians, other are partial, providing an estimate instead of an accurate number. If you try searching the internet you will come across a lot of "homemade" techniques, published in backgammon forums and private blogs that have not been widely circulated and tested, but may be simpler to learn.
The pip counting methods assemblage, presented below, brings samples of the different styles, ruling the counting pips kingdom:
The comparison method is commonly used in online backgammon for money games, due to the shortage of time. It helps players evaluate their board position, by comparing it to their opponent's position. The method does not give the total number of pips, however it states who is ahead in the game multiplying the difference between the number of occupied points of both players and the difference between the number of checkers located on both home boards.
The blocks method is a fast and simple technique for counting pips for a block of checkers. There are a few numbers to memorize and a very simple equation to calculate. The details you should learn by heart refer to the pip count value of common blocks or primes, all starting at 1-point:
a block of 10 checkers=30;
a block of 8 checkers=20;
a block of 6 checkers=12.
In order to calculate the actual pip-count, you must add to the relevant block's pip-count, to the sum of pips between 1-point and the block's starting point multiplied by the number of checkers in the block; for example, if a block of 6 starts at point number 7, the equation should be: 12+ ( 6*6)=48pips.
Center Block Point Method
The center block point is the simplest and therefore the most abundant technique for counting pips for a block of checkers. Determine the middle point of you block and multiply it by the number of checkers composing the block; for instance, if your block contains 10 checkers, stretched on 5 points, beginning at point 7, then your center point would be 9, which then should be multiplied by 10.
Half Crossover Pip Count
The half crossover pip count method is an accurate, though complex, technique, easy to implement for those who have some sort of mathematical sense. The method was invented by Douglas Zare, a professional backgammon player and theoretician (Ph.D. in theoretical mathematics); you can find a detailed explanation of the method in his article: The Half-Crossover Pip Count.
Effective Pip Count
The EPC method, also named, the Trice method, after its inventor, Walter Trice. The method provides precise results, but it requires a little effort studying it. If you like a good challenge, which can be highly benefitial for you, read Trace's article, Effective Pip Count.
Tip: The pip count of two opposite checkers, located exactly one in front of the other (for example, on 7-point and 18-point), will always be equal to 25.