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Don't Hold Back: Here's How To Win At Backgammon

Backgammon is a great game for players of all skill levels and provides potentially hours of entertainment every time you play. Yet, when you first start out, the rules and general play of a backgammon board can feel overwhelming, to say the least.

Luckily, after a few games, you should start to get the hang of things but, to keep your love for backgammon alive, you’ll want to start winning pretty soon after that. After all, no one likes to lose time and again, and whether you’re playing against a friend or your computer, winning is the best way to truly secure your backgammon love.

Of course, as with anything, the more you play backgammon, the better your skills will become. But, if you’re itching for a win and feel that it’s out of your reach, then there’s a risk that you won’t keep playing for long enough to guarantee one.

Instead, you may want to get proactive and discover exactly what it takes to win your next game. In this article, we consider just a few of the things that could increase your chances of backgammon success!

What is Backgammon?

Backgammon is a game of strategy and chance that can be played by either two people or two teams. With a history stretching back as far as the 17th century, Backgammon is a classic game setup that’s been played and enjoyed for centuries.

During a game, two players (or teams) will each have fifteen pieces which are typically referred to as ‘men’ or ‘checkers’. They must then move those pieces around the twenty-four ‘points’ on the board according to the roll of a dice. The aim of the game is to become the first player to ‘bear off’ or, in other words, the first person to remove all of their pieces. This goal can be achieved by moving checkers from the starting point – the ‘home board’ – to the inner board, where they can then be removed.

A doubling cube adds a unique element of play and risk to any backgammon game, by making it possible to increase the stakes of play at any time. This makes for incredibly interesting play and also requires players to be far more skillful in outstripping their opponent.

How to Play Backgammon

We’ve covered a little of how to play backgammon already, but, as with all games, there is slightly more to it than just knowing the basics. Generally speaking, a game of backgammon will go a little something like this –

Both players roll a dice. The player to roll the highest number plays first, and will play the numbers that they got from that first dice roll.

Chequers must be moved only to open points that aren’t occupied by two or more opposing checkers.

A player must use both numbers of a role if that’s legally possible. If either number can be played but not both, a player must play the larger one. When neither number can be used, the player loses their turn.

Once all of a player’s checkers are on their home board, they can ‘bear off’ by rolling a number that corresponds to the point on which the checker resides. If there is no checker on that point, the player can make a legal move with a checker on a higher-numbered point or must remove a checker from the highest point available.

A point occupied by a single checker is referred to as a ‘blot’. If an opposing checker lands on a blot, the blot is hit and placed in the central bar. If a player has a blot on the bar, they must enter that checker into the opposing home board according to the roll of the dice, so long as that point isn’t occupied by two or more of their opponent’s checkers. If neither of the rolled points is open, the player loses their turn.

You can make a prime with six consecutive made points. If you make a prime in front of one of your opponent’s checkers, they’ll be unable to get past you until you break one or more points of the prime.

A 5-point, or ‘golden point’ is the fifth point of your backgammon board, and is located on your home board. This is the most strategic point on your board, and securing it can give you a considerable advantage.

Backgammon is played for an agreed stake per point, and the game begins at one point. A player who feels they have the advantage can double the stakes before rolling the dice. If the other player refuses, they must concede and pay one point. If they accept, then they become the owner of the cube and may make the next double, which is known as a ‘redouble’. There’s no limit to the amount of redoubles possible in a game.

A gammon occurs when one player removes all of their checkers before their opponent has removed any. This doubles the value of the game. Backgammon occurs when one player removes all of their counters while their opponent still has checkers in their home area or on the bar.

How to Win at Backgammon

Once you know how to play backgammon, you’ll likely have one pressing question – how can you increase your chances of winning in a game that largely relies on rolls of the dice? This is a valid concern, and of course, you can’t completely guarantee that a game of backgammon will roll in your favor.

However, that’s by no means to say that you can’t still significantly increase your chances of success, regardless of your rolls. After all, the moves you make in light of any roll also play a huge part in your overall outcomes. This is why backgammon is a game of both luck and skill, and we’re going to help you with the skill part by considering just a few things that can improve your game as follows –

Know the rules

As with any game, the better you know the rules of backgammon, the better you’ll be able to use them to your advantage. As such, the first step to success is as simple as doing your homework. Of course, the more you play backgammon, the more that you’ll understand the rules anyway, so you could say that practice makes perfect here. Still, it’s always worth reading up, or practicing your game online against your computer before you go head-to-head with a real-life opponent.

Generally speaking, knowing how to play, as we’ve already discussed, will give you a pretty good base knowledge of the essential game rules. You’ll also want to be aware of rule irregularities such as –

Dice must be rolled together and land flat on the right-hand section of the board. A die must be rerolled if it lands outside of the right-hand section, or fails to land flat.

A turn is completed when the player picks up their dice. If a player rolls before their opponent has completed their turn, that roll is voided.

Old English backgammon allows no more than five checkers on a point, but general play means you can place checkers however you wish and can pile them up on a point.

You can play your numbers in any order as long as each number is played legally.

If an illegal move is noticed after your play has finished, but before your opponent’s turn, it’s up to your opponent whether or not you should fix it. If the move isn’t noticed until after your opponent's play, then the move cannot be changed.

It’s also important to note that, as well as the basic rules of play that we’ve already covered, there are some optional rules that you might want to get your head around, as they’re now in widespread use. They are –

Automatic doubles: The stakes are automatically doubled if identical numbers are rolled on the first throw.

Beavers: When a player is doubled, they may immediately redouble and still retain possession of the cube. The original doubler can accept or continue with their original double.

The Jacoby rule: Gammons and backgammons count only as a single game if neither player has offered a double during the game.

Rules that relate to your opponent's play, including the ability to undo illegal moves, and make a prime, are especially useful to bear in mind, as these will strengthen your play by weakening the position of your opponent. By playing within the rules at all times, you can also lessen the opportunities that you afford your opponent to trip you up in the same ways, making it far more likely that you’ll be victorious in the end.

Know the Best Opening Moves

As is the case with many other games, your first move makes a huge difference to your chances of winning a backgammon game, especially if you secure the highest roll and take a turn before your opponent. After all, the whole board will then be yours, so it’s important to set yourself up for success. It’s also worth noting that there are no blots during an opening move, so you’ll largely want to focus on securing points and strengthening your position.

Of course, luck plays a big part here too. Sometimes, you won’t be able to make the best possible opening move for the simple fact that your dice roll doesn’t allow you to. However, if the dice roll is in your favor then you’ll want to utilize some of the top opening moves for success, which include –

Creating a prime: To create a prime, you need either a 3-1, 4-2, or 6-1 dice roll, each of which is going to help you to block your opponent’s play. The 3-1 is the most favorable prime outcome, as it allows you to secure the 5-point, which is arguably the best beginning play of all.

The lover’s leap: The lover’s leap requires a 6-5 dice roll and involves moving a piece from your 24th point to your 13th point. This move places you at a considerable advantage, and it places your checkers on a point that’s known as the ‘safe mid-point’. Admittedly, it does leave the remaining checker on your 24th point open to being hit, but many would argue that it’s a risk worth taking.


Strategy can’t eliminate the element of risk in backgammon, but it does mean that you’ll be able to approach those risks with a more informed, successful play overall. Luckily, there are plenty of backgammon strategies to learn and keep in mind when you’re playing, and they can all help you in different ways. Again, practice is key here, so setting aside some time to test out each strategy through online games like the ones here at 247 Backgammon will be a huge help. Generally speaking, though, the strategies you’ll want to keep in mind include –

The running game: Generally considered to be the simplest strategy in backgammon, the running game involves running your checkers to your home board as quickly as possible so that you can bear off. Unfortunately, if both players opt for the running game, then this strategy will once again fall to luck for the person with the best rolls.

The blitz: By comparison, the blitz is a strategy that focuses on competitive play. Namely, this involves actively attacking your opponent’s vulnerable checkers rather than working to build points or run home. This can slow your opponent’s game, though be wary that you may also end up leaving your checkers vulnerable to attack, without any real guarantee of success.

Priming: We’ve already discussed the value of priming with your first move, but this strategy can prove effective at every stage in the game. That’s because making at least four points in a row can slow your opponent’s game and provide safe points for your other checkers. It’s also possible to pair priming with blitzing in a ‘two-way forward attack’ that strengthens your position, while actively weakening that of your opponent.

The holding game: The holding game involves moving away from your home board to instead secure an anchor point on your opponent’s home board. This gives you a safe place to land checkers that end up on the bar and also poses a threat to your opponent's checkers without much risk to you.

The back game: Like the holding game, the back game relies on securing points on your opponent’s home board but focuses on multiple points, rather than a single one. You’ll only want to play this strategy if your checkers are continually knocked onto the bar, but this can be an effective way to salvage a bad game by inconveniencing your opponent.

It’s also possible to double strategically by making sure that you’re neither too far ahead, or too far behind at the time of doubling. This makes it more likely that your opponent will agree to the double. If you follow this move with one of these other strategies, it may well see you securing a more impressive win later on.

Know how to Weaken Your Opponent

As we loosely discussed throughout those strategies, the degree of offensive vs. competitive play is really a matter of personal preference, and an all-out offensive isn’t always the best way to win the game. That said, whatever your strategy, knowing some forms of play that will weaken your opponent can ultimately help you. Some of the best ways to achieve this goal include –

Holding the 20-point: The 20-point is your opponent’s 5-point, and may also be referred to as ‘the golden anchor’. By holding the golden anchor, you make it much harder for your opponent to build an effective prime. This position also gives you somewhere to send checkers that end up on the bar. However, it’s important that you break the 20-point at the right time for this tactic to be effective.

Hitting your opponent’s blots: It’s worth playing defensively in at least some instances where your opponent has a blot (only one checker on a point), as this makes it harder for your opponent to advance.

Block your opponent: It may seem simple, but it’s also worth blocking your opponent by placing two or more checkers on strategic points around the board. This prevents your opponent from hitting your blots and makes those points unavailable to them.

Practice Makes Perfect With 247 Backgammon

247 Backgammon provides instant access to online backgammon games that can be played against your computer, as well as against a random opponent or friend. This is the ideal place to start perfecting your game, with unlimited practice against a digital foe, before you finally get stuck in with a proper tournament. Each of our games is also available with three different difficulty levels, meaning that you can advance your skills, and continue to secure the wins that see your backgammon game coming out on top at last. Whether you’re a total beginner or an experienced player, don’t hesitate to get started with 247 Backgammon today.


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