1. Learn the opening moves and responses
It would be a shame if you did not know the 31 simple moves at the beginning of the race
Reply charts such as Top 15 Opening Rolls can be extremely useful.
2. Learn a few reference positions
A small number of reference positions can go a very long way.
If you know that the above position is a borderline take for money then the cube action for these positions is easy:
Double / Pass
Double / Take
Double / Take
Double / Pass
3. Learn some racing and bearoff formulae
Non-contact races / bearoffs come up a lot in backgammon – if you know how to handle the cube correctly in them then you will be at a considerable advantage.
- Start with the Keith Count.
Black’s pip count = 52 Black’s adjustments: +4 (checkers on the ace) + 1 (checkers on the 2) +1 (checkers on the 3) +1 (gap on the 4). Black’s adjusted count: 52 + 7 = 59 White’s pip count = 63 White’s adjustments: +2 (checkers on the ace) White’s adjusted count: 63 + 2 = 65 Take criteria: 59 plus one seventh = 59 + 8 = 67 67 – 65 = 2 So Double/Take
- After mastering the Keith Count, move onto Trice’s Effective Pip Count.
Black’s Effective Pip Count = 7n + 1 = 50 White’s Effective Pip Count = 42 + 10 = 52 Double/Take
- Then master Matussek’s bear off paper.
Black’s Pip Count = 21 Black’s Adjustments = 0.4 X 3 + 0.8 X 2 + 2 X 3 + 4.5 = 13.3 Black’s EPC = 21 + 13.3 = 34.3 White’s Pip Count = 26 White’s Adjustments = 0.2 + 0.4 x 2 + 0.8 X 4 + 2 + 4.5 + 1 – 1 = 10.7 White’s EPC = 26 + 10.7 = 36.7 Double/Close Pass
4. Study basic match play concepts and learn Neil’s numbers
Tournament backgammon is different to money backgammon. A basic grasp of the different strategies at different scores in a match is needed to play well in tournaments.
Kit Woolsey’s article on 5-point matches is a must-read for any serious backgammon student. The score makes a big difference to correct cube strategy.
The position above is a no double/take at 0 – 0 in a match to 5. It is a double/take at 1 – 1 in a match to 5. It is a double/pass if Black is trailing 1 – 3 in a match to 5. Neil Kazaross invented a simple system for memorising match equities. Kit Woolsey describes it here. In the position below it is 0-0 in a match to 11 and Black holds an 8-cube.
White can pass the cube to be 8-0 down in a match to 11. Using Neil’s numbers we know that he will have 100 – ((8 X 5) + 50) = 10% winning chances if he does that. So White needs to have more than 10% winning chances to take the cube. For White to win Black needs to roll a non-double and White needs to roll a double. This happens 5/6 X 1/6 of the time or 5/36. 5/36 is greater than 10% so White should take this cube.
5. Learn from your mistakes
Modern backgammon software allows us to recognise and learn from our mistakes in a way that was impossible 30 years ago. Playing against a computer opponent and then reviewing the match for errors is an excellent way to improve.
Gnu Backgammon is very strong and is free or Extreme Gammon is very strong, is user-friendly and is reasonably priced.
Backgammon software shows us mistakes that we would otherwise have missed. It also allows us to make small changes to positions to understand our errors and to develop a better positional feel.
In the position above Black played 10/9* 6/1*. This is a mistake. Black should just have made the 5-point – 10/5 6/5.
In the position above a Black checker from the 8-point has been moved to the 6-point. Now playing 10/9* 6/1* is correct by a lot. This is primarily because Black now has a direct cover for the blot on the ace-point if White misses.
The position above represents a more subtle variation to our original position. Now White has more threatening structure and another blot. This makes attacking more pressing for Black and 10/9* 6/1* is the correct move.