Monday, February 14, 2011

Learning Backgammon: Breaking Down the Game

by Phil Simborg, 2007

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 study to improve your game.

In my lessons, 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:

Opening moves. You simply have to learn and memorize the best moves.

Your style of play, running or blocking, will be dictated by board developments that cannot be anticipated on the first roll. Therefore: Play this roll toward points which have strength in either game, specifically your own 5 point or its neighbors. In order, try to ...

  • Make your 5, 7, or 4 point, or
  • Split from your 6 to your 5 point, play the other die off of your opponent's 12, or
  • Leap to your 5 point from your opponent's 12, or
  • Open up off of your opponent's 12

 A set of opening moves that would meet with current expert approval is generated by the following rules. You should follow the first piece of advice you can.
  • Make 3, 4, 5 or 7. [31 42 53 61]
  • Run with 24/13. [65]
  • Split off 24 with a 1 or 6; play the other move from 13. [21 41 51 62 63 64]
  • Build by playing both rolls off 13 [32 43 52 54]
With 52, it is probably better to play 24/22 13/8, but I couldn't find a way to recommend that without needing more rules. :-)

 1 | 
 2 | S
 3 | M B
 4 | S M B 
 5 | S B L B
 6 | M L S S R
     1 2 3 4 5 6

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.

Pip counting. The importance of the race and learning how to count pips.

Early checker play. The second and third moves, and basic checker strategy.

Duplication. When it applies and how to use it.

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.

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.

Rules of thumb. Simply memorizing and understanding some basic rules of thumb of the game that I have compiled over the years.

DMP and 2-away/2-away. Cube and checker play strategy.

Crawford and post Crawford. Cube and checker play strategy.

Giving the cube. Basic thought process and strategies when thinking about giving the cube.

Taking the cube. Basic thought process and strategies when thinking about taking the cube.

Bearing your checkers into your inner board.

Bearing checkers off.

Playing back games.

Defending back games.

Playing holding games.

Defending holding games.

Going for gammons and backgammons.

Preventing gammons and backgammons.

Prime-vs-prime games.

Market losers. How they affect cube decisions.

Communication. Keeping your checkers in range of each other.

Off-balance hitting. Hitting at times that may seem counter-intuitive.

Using the bots. How to best use Snowie as a learning tool.

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.

Playing your opponent. How to adjust your game for the different skill levels and individual traits of your opponents.

Tournament play. Strategies and ideas to help do better at tournaments.

Money play and chouette play. Strategies that apply specifically for money play.
The 10 Commandments of Backgammon

  1. Thou shalt have no other games before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee an image of me being a simple, accidental or tiresome game. For I let punishment for thy sins come unto thee in thy third or fourth tournament of them that hate me, and shewing mercy in thousands of tournaments of them that love me, and keep my commandments.  
  3. Thou shalt not misuse thy cube, for the dice will not hold him guiltless who doubleth early.  
  4. Remember the tournament day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou read thy theory, and play for money, but the seventh day is the tournament day. Then shalt thou play not for money, but for honour and rating.  
  5. Honour thy club and thy federation, that thy days of playing upon the land be many.  
  6. Thou shalt not roll 5-2.  
  7. Thou shalt not break thy prime.  
  8. Thou shalt not steal pips.  
  9. Thou shalt not play with false dice - "Dave's Rule"  
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy opponent's board. Thou shalt not covet thy opponent's prime, nor his advanced anchor, nor his rolls of the dice, nor any thing that is thy opponent's.