Backgammon Rules of Thumb for Decision Making - Backgammon Blog

Backgammon Rules of Thumb for Decision Making

Backgammon Rules of Thumb for Decision Making

By Phil Simborg
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In the world of backgammon, decision-making can be a daunting task, especially when faced with complex situations and numerous variables. While analyzing every possibility is time-consuming and confusing, experienced players rely on a set of rules of thumb to guide their choices. These principles, accumulated through years of play and study, streamline decision-making and enhance gameplay. In this article, we'll explore some essential checker play and cube decision rules of thumb that can help you improve your backgammon skills.

Checker Play Rules of Thumb:

  • 1. Consider Key Questions: Before making a move, always ask yourself if you can hit, make a point, or safety your checkers.

  • 2. Minimize Risks with Duplication: When leaving blots, try to use duplication to reduce your opponent's hitting chances.

  • 3. Maximize Impact: Whenever possible, aim to both hit your opponent's checker and make a point in the same move.

  • 4. Target Multiple Checkers: Look for opportunities to hit two of your opponent's checkers with a single move.

  • 5. Build Primes: Prioritize creating a 6-prime, and if that's not feasible, aim for a 5 or 4 prime.

  • 6. Secure the 5-Point: In the early game, making your 5-point is often the correct play.

  • 7. Avoid Overstacking: Try not to stack too many checkers on the same point, as this can limit your mobility.

  • 8. Keep Checkers in Play: Prevent checkers from becoming idle or out of play as much as possible.

  • 9. Prefer Indirect Shots: Leave indirect shots for your opponent rather than direct shots whenever feasible.

  • 10. Balance Offense and Defense: Adjust your play style based on your position in the game—focus on offense when ahead and defense when behind.

  • 11. Cube-Aware Moves: Consider which move is less likely to get you doubled by your opponent.

  • 12. Race Considerations: The game's nature can change depending on your opponent's position; prioritize racing when they're on your 4-point or higher.

  • 13. Back Checker Splitting: In the early game, consider splitting your back checkers if your opponent has two checkers on their 8-point, but be more cautious if more checkers occupy that point.

  • 14. Matching Inner Board Points: When you have more inner board points than your opponent, lean towards a hitting game; the opposite is true when you have fewer points.

  • 15. Race Dynamics: If leading in the race, play safe and aim to run; if trailing, look for blocking and hitting opportunities.

  • 16. Slot the Prime Back: Generally, it's beneficial to slot the back of your prime and make points sequentially.

  • 17. Exploit Prime Edges: If your opponent is near the edge of your prime, consider hitting them.

  • 18. Early Ace Point Leads to Hitting Game: If you make your ace point early, lean towards a hitting game strategy.

  • 19. Peeling in Back Games: When bearing off against a 2-point back game, prioritize peeling checkers.

  • 20. Risk Management at Double Match Point: Be willing to take calculated risks at double match point when odds are in your favor.

  • 21. Importance of Advanced Anchors: In matches where saving gammons matters, establishing an advanced anchor takes precedence, and avoiding back games is crucial.

  • 22. Blitzing at Crucial Scores: If winning gammons is vital, consider blitzing and hitting to prevent your opponent from making an advanced anchor.

  • 23. Empathy for Opponent's Position: When uncertain about a move, put yourself in your opponent's shoes and consider their perspective.

  • 24. Maximize Wins and Gammons: When comparing moves, evaluate not only wins and losses but also potential gammons and backgammons.

  • 25. Cube Implications: Think about how your move might affect future cube decisions for both you and your opponent.

  • 26. Avoid Back Games: Strive to keep your opponent in back games while avoiding getting into them yourself.

  • 27. Early Risk Taking: Taking risks early in the game can prevent dire situations later on, where risks can be more devastating.

Cube Decision Rules of Thumb:

  • 1. Pre-game Cube Strategy: Consider your cube strategy, match equity, and take points based on the score before each game begins.

  • 2. Continuous Doubling Evaluation: Continually assess whether you should double before every roll.

  • 3. Key Doubling Factors: Evaluate the race, opportunity, and threats when contemplating a double.

  • 4. Woolsey's Law: If uncertain whether to double, imagine yourself in your opponent's shoes; if unsure whether it's a take or drop, then it's likely a double.

  • 5. Simborg's Law: Consider which decision causes your opponent the most pain when thinking about doubling.

  • 6. Predict Opponent's Reaction: If unsure about giving the cube, think about how your opponent might feel if they take or drop it.

  • 7. Beware of Being "Too Good": Always consider if you're in a position where you might be "too good" to double.

  • 8. Market Losers Calculation: When considering a double, assess how many market losers you have if you don't double to inform your decision.

  • 9. When in Doubt, Cube: If uncertain about giving the cube, err on the side of doubling to potentially exploit your opponent's mistakes.

  • 10. Activate Gammons in Back Games: In money games, double when your opponent is in a back game to activate gammons. In matches, this decision is more nuanced.

  • 11. Aggressive Doubling at 2-Away/2-Away: At 2-away/2-away, double as soon as you're slightly ahead, and don't hesitate if unsure.

  • 12. Taking Cubes at 2-Away/2-Away: Accept any cube at 2-away/2-away if you believe you can win at least 1/3 of the games, ignoring gammon and backgammon considerations.

  • 13. Post-Crawford Strategy: After the Crawford game, give the cube early if you're losing and need an even number of points to win the match. If you have an odd number, consider waiting but be mindful of gammon chances.

  • 14. Free Drop at Winning Score: If you're winning post-Crawford and your opponent needs an even number of points to win, consider a free drop, even if you're only slightly behind.

  • 15. Consider Opponent's Tendencies: Remember that you're playing against a human opponent, so factor in their cube-taking and cube-dropping tendencies when making cube decisions.


By internalizing and applying these checker play and cube decision rules of thumb, you can elevate your backgammon skills and make more informed and strategic decisions during your games. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player, these guidelines will help you navigate the complexities of backgammon with greater confidence and success.

About the Author
Phil Simborg
Phil Simborg
Phil Simborg: A Backgammon Pro with 30+ Years of Excellence, Teacher, Writer, Organizer, and a True Legend in the Game.
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