Exploring Backgammon Basics: The Pip Count - Backgammon Blog

Exploring Backgammon Basics: The Pip Count

Exploring Backgammon Basics: The Pip Count

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Welcome to a journey into the world of backgammon's pip count! In this guide, we'll dive into this concept and explore how grasping it can transform you into a more adept backgammon player. The pip count refers to the total number of pips (or points) that a player needs to move their checkers to eventually bring them home and bear them off the board. At the onset of the game, both players begin with a pip count of 167. This number will naturally shift as the game progresses. Typically, the pip count will decrease, but under certain circumstances, if checkers are hit, it could rise beyond 167. Victory is claimed by the first player to achieve a pip count of zero.

Understanding the Pip Count

Mastery over calculating the pip count marks a pivotal skill in advancing from beginner to intermediate levels in backgammon. As you know, the essence of backgammon is a head-to-head race between opponents to successfully bear off all fifteen checkers. The player who completes this task first emerges triumphant. Having a grasp of the pip count allows you to gauge your standing in the race, enabling you to apply appropriate strategies and tactics to your moves. Additionally, understanding the pip count opens up the potential for utilizing the rule of 8 in making tactical choices. This rule considers a position's dynamics based on which side is ahead in the number of average rolls. While pip counts might seem overwhelming for newcomers due to the plethora of new concepts, acquiring this skill is crucial. Neglecting it puts you at a disadvantage when your opponent is adept at pip counting.

Defining the Pip Count

Imagine backgammon as an exhilarating race. The movement of your checkers in this race is from the board's highest point to the lowest. In the diagram below, observe the black checkers progressing from the 24-point down to the 1-point, also known as the Ace-point. In some ways, backgammon resembles a countdown game. The pip count acts as a countdown tracker, letting you discern which player takes the lead in the race.

Backgammon Pip-Count

Figure 1: Starting positions, Pip-Count and Home Board.

As the game begins, you're presented with fifteen checkers to move across the backgammon board's points. They follow standard starting positions, stacked on four specific points. If you sum up the points your checkers need to traverse from these initial positions to be borne off, you'll arrive at a total of 167 pips or points.

This is the setup Backgammon board, let’s pip count for the orange checkers:

  • There are 5 checkers on point 6. Which means 5×6.
  • There are 3 checkers on point 8. Which means 3×8.
  • There are 5 checkers on point 13. Which means 5×13.
  • There are 2 checkers on point 24. Which means 2×24.

When we sum it up: 5×6 + 3×8 + 5×13 + 2×24 = 167.

Each player starts the game with a pip count of 167.

Both you and your opponent kick off with the same number of pips. As your checkers progress, subtract the moved pips from the initial total. When a checker gets hit, it's sent to the bar. Upon re-entering, it contributes to the count, needing to navigate its way from the start again. Mid-game, it's common to encounter a count surpassing the starting 167.

The Art of Pip Counting

In the digital realm, online or electronic versions of the game will automatically compute the pip count for you, as displayed in the Figure 1. However, if you're enjoying a live backgammon game on a tangible backgammon board, you'll need to manually tally the pip count. Literally, you'll need to count the points your checkers have to traverse. Various techniques exist for this, which we'll delve into in future posts.

When you're comfortably ahead in the pip count, several options open up. You can propose a double to your opponent or strive to break contact with a high roll, racing your way to victory. Yet, it's important not to get hit when leading, as this risks relinquishing your valuable advantage. If you're trailing in the count, a back-game strategy might be favorable. This might demand patience as you strategically position your checkers, awaiting an opening to make a hit. Ultimately, your goal is to hit any exposed blot, leveling the playing field in the race.

Remember, swift comprehension of the pip count is a valuable asset. It grants you increased play options and heightens your enjoyment of the backgammon experience. In an upcoming Nextgammon post, we'll delve into techniques for performing the pip count. Stay tuned!