Basic Checker Play Strategy

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

There are two basic elements of backgammon: checker play and cube play. In this article I hope to provide you with the very basic elements of checker play.

BACKGAMMON IS A RACE:

The first, and most important thing to always keep in mind, is that the game of backgammon is primarily a race. The winner of the game is the first one to get his checkers around the board and off, so no matter what the position, every move should be made with this final objective in mind. Even if the game ends because of the doubling cube, it ends because one player has a distinct advantage in the ability to get his checkers off first.
So with this in mind, if you want to play backgammon well, you must always be conscious of the race. The way to tell who is winning the race and by how much is simply by counting pips. If you have a checker on the 24 point, that checker will need to move 24 pips to get around the board and off. By adding up the number of pips for each checker, you get a total count for yourself, and you do the same for your opponent to get his count.

Now, I know this sounds laborious, but if you play on line, the count is shown for you in most situations, and if you play live, most of the time you do not need to count the pips exactly, just have a general understanding of who is winning and who is behind. This “general understanding” is something you will learn, in time, if you stay conscious of the race. One thing I can tell you for sure: every really good backgammon player is always very much aware of the pip count, and the top players usually know the exact count.

Just as important as knowing the pip count is knowing what to do about it. Put simply, if you are fortunate enough to be winning the race, your basic checker play strategy should be to continue racing. Make plays that are most likely to advance your checkers in a manner that is least likely to leave shots; get your checkers into your inner board, and bear them off.

If you are behind in the race, your strategy is different. You want to block your opponent from moving forward and force positions that are likely to leave shots. If you are far behind in the race you can’t rely on rolling a lot of doubles to catch up to and beat your opponent…you are much more likely to win if you hit a shot. So you not only want to hit a shot, you want to have a strong inner board and good position to trap your opponent after you’ve hit that shot.

So lesson one is clear: always be conscious of the race and adjust your checker play accordingly.

EARLY GAME PLAY:

Thanks to backgammon programs and the experts, we now know, without a doubt, how to play every opening move. The best opening moves are published in many books, articles, and web sites, and I simply recommend you memorize them. If you are lucky enough to get the best opening roll, 3-1, and you make your 5 point, you will immediately have a 10% advantage over your opponent. But if you play the move incorrectly and make the 2nd best play, instead of a 10% advantage for you, your opponent will have a 1% advantage. You will win 11% fewer games just because of one mistake on the very first roll of the game! The same is true of every opening roll, and even the 2nd roll responses…if you don’t make what has been proven to be the best play, you will win less often.

In the early game you have basically three options to consider on every play:

  1. Can I hit my opponent?
  2. Can I make a point?
  3. Can I safety my checkers?

The interesting thing is that generally, you should be looking at these three options in that order. We are often faced with the dilemma of being able to hit or make a point, and what this lesson tells us is that generally, in the early game, it is better to hit than make a point. Why? Because the more checkers our opponent has to bring around the farther he is in the race and the less likely he is to win the race.

We are also often faced with the choice of making different points—how do we know which one is better? The first thing to keep in mind is to learn that our 5-point is the “golden point.” Generally speaking, if you have a chance to make your 5-point, it is probably right to do it.

Take a look at position 1 below, and you are Black and have a 6-1 to play:

checker-strategy-1

With the 6-1 you could make your 7-point (Bar Point) or your 5-point (Golden Point). As I stated early, it is generally best to make your 5-point, and this situation is no exception. I am sure that many players would make their 7-point here, but the 5 point is best for many reasons. First, it eliminates the blot on the 11-point, but more importantly, it uses one of the 5 checkers on the 6 point and puts it to good use, and even more important, the 5-point is simply a critical point in terms of holding White’s checkers back and in terms of allowing Black to bring his checkers into his inner board safely. Remember, you can’t bear off any checkers until you get them into your inner board, so one of your major goals is to make those points so that you can bring more checkers in safely.

After the 5-point, the next most important point to make is your 7-point, and after that, your 4-point. These are key points that will tend to slow your opponent down the most and give you safe places to bring your checkers to as you bring them around the board.

MAKE YOUR POINTS IN ORDER:

It is not always possible to keep your points together—a lot of what you can and cannot do depends on the luck of the dice and how your opponent has moved his checkers. But generally speaking, when you have the choice of making points, try to keep them together, or in bunches. Your ability to keep your opponent from running is greatly enhanced when your points are together. When they are not together your opponent can make a point in between your points and use that as a holding point or “launching” point to run in the future. Even if he can’t make the point, he can roll numbers that allow him to jump past the points you have made. If your points are together, it is much more difficult for your opponent to escape.

For example, in Position 2 below Black has a 6-4 to play and can make his 7 point or his 2 point. If you make the 2 point, all White has to do is step up to your 3, 4, or 5-point and escape fairly easily, but if you make your 7-point, you have instantly blocked White’s 6’s, which is his best running number, and you have given yourself a nice, safe landing place for your checkers to come around. So clearly it is best to make the 7 point, and one of the main reasons this is best is that you already have your 6 and 8 point made, and the more you can keep your points together the better.

There are more

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

There are two basic elements of backgammon: checker play and cube play. In this article I hope to provide you with the very basic elements of checker play.

BACKGAMMON IS A RACE:

The first, and most important thing to always keep in mind, is that the game of backgammon is primarily a race. The winner of the game is the first one to get his checkers around the board and off, so no matter what the position, every move should be made with this final objective in mind. Even if the game ends because of the doubling cube, it ends because one player has a distinct advantage in the ability to get his checkers off first.
So with this in mind, if you want to play backgammon well, you must always be conscious of the race. The way to tell who is winning the race and by how much is simply by counting pips. If you have a checker on the 24 point, that checker will need to move 24 pips to get around the board and off. By adding up the number of pips for each checker, you get a total count for yourself, and you do the same for your opponent to get his count.

Now, I know this sounds laborious, but if you play on line, the count is shown for you in most situations, and if you play live, most of the time you do not need to count the pips exactly, just have a general understanding of who is winning and who is behind. This “general understanding” is something you will learn, in time, if you stay conscious of the race. One thing I can tell you for sure: every really good backgammon player is always very much aware of the pip count, and the top players usually know the exact count.

Just as important as knowing the pip count is knowing what to do about it. Put simply, if you are fortunate enough to be winning the race, your basic checker play strategy should be to continue racing. Make plays that are most likely to advance your checkers in a manner that is least likely to leave shots; get your checkers into your inner board, and bear them off.

If you are behind in the race, your strategy is different. You want to block your opponent from moving forward and force positions that are likely to leave shots. If you are far behind in the race you can’t rely on rolling a lot of doubles to catch up to and beat your opponent…you are much more likely to win if you hit a shot. So you not only want to hit a shot, you want to have a strong inner board and good position to trap your opponent after you’ve hit that shot.

So lesson one is clear: always be conscious of the race and adjust your checker play accordingly.

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