Learning Backgammon


I have been teaching beginner and intermediate students for about 20 years, and I have found that the best way to learn the game is not just by playing, although that is essential, but by breaking down the game into key segments and studying and learning those one at a time. The game is simply too varied, too confusing, and there’s just too much to learn for a newer player to take in, absorb, and remember everything.

Even if you are an Open player, I think it would be helpful to break your game down into these segments and see where you could use some further Backgammon study to improve your game.

In my backgammon lessons for beginners, I always try to concentrate on one or two areas at a time so that we can thoroughly discuss and learn that aspect of the game before moving on. Of course, we are always reviewing, and old lessons come up all the time over the board, and we reinforce them.

I also use the list to help assess strengths and weakness and that allows my students and I to determine where to spend our time in future lessons.

Following is a list of my breakdown of those areas and the lessons, pretty much in the order we attack them:

  1. Backgammon Opening Moves—you simply have to learn and memorize the best moves.
  2. Backgammon odds—the basic odds of the game including odds of hitting, odds of making points, odds of winning, and why it is important to understand those odds.
  3. Pip Counting—the importance of the race and learning how to count pips.
  4. Early Checker play—the second and third moves, and basic checker strategy.
  5. Duplication—when it applies and how to use it.
  6. The Doubling Cube for money games—we start with money games because the take point and cost of gammons is always the same and it’s the easiest to learn.
  7. The Doubling Cube for match play—we get into match equity and take points, but I also believe that for beginner and intermediates, there are strategies that don’t use the pure mathematic approach that will work better at that level.
  8. Rules of thumb—simply memorizing and understanding some basic rules of thumb of the game that I have compiled over the years.
  9. DMP and 2-away/2-away cube and checker play strategy
  10. Crawford and post Crawford cube and checker play strategy
  11. Giving the Cube—basic thought process and strategies when thinking about giving the cube
  12. Taking the Cube—basic thought process and strategies when thinking about taking the cube.
  13. Bearing your checkers in to your inner board.
  14. Bearing checkers off
  15. Playing back games.
  16. Defending back games.
  17. Playing holding games
  18. Defending holding games.
  19. Going for gammons and backgammons
  20. Preventing gammons and backgammons
  21. Prime vs. Prime games
  22. Using the bots—how to best use Snowie as a learning tool
  23. Key reference positions and key numbers—some positions and numbers you simply need to have in your memory bank that will help you make better decisions over the board.
  24. Playing your opponent—how to adjust your game for the different skill levels and individual traits of your opponents.
  25. Tournament play—strategies and ideas to help do better at tournaments.
  26. Money play and chouette play—strategies that apply specifically for money play.

(Note: Phil Simborg teaching backgammon on line at Gammon Empire and Play 65. He is a top-ranked professional and can be contacted at psimborg@sbcglobal.net).

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