Backgammon Variations

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To those who play backgammon game on an occasional basis it may seem that there is no rhyme or reason to each individual game as it develops from the starting position. This is far from the truth of the matter. In the same way that different opening moves and strategies in chess lead to very different types of game, so the same is true of backgammon.

To use a chess analogy there are eight basic types of backgammon middle game (Different Backgammon Variations):

1. Running Game (or Race)
2. High Anchor
3. Mutual Holding Game
4. Low Anchor
5. Blitz
6. Prime versus Prime
7. Back Game
8. Scramble

There is the occasional game that is either a hybrid of some of the above or doesn’t fit into any of the categories but the eight categories account for 98% of all games. In addition to understanding the eight basic types an expert player must also have a good knowledge of the resultant end games.

It is important not only to understand backgammon strategies and how to steer a game into one of these particular types but also, having achieved this, to know how to play each positional type and the doubling strategies associated with it.
This last point is particularly key as the understanding of the correct doubling strategies will net you far more points than the understanding of how to move the men. In this article we will define each type and in subsequent articles look at the basic strategies for each.

Running Game

Of the eight by far the easiest is the running game and the easiest example of this is where both sides start by rolling 65 twice and run both their back checkers out to their mid-points – shown below. After this there will be no further contact between the two armies and the winner will be the side that rolls the highest numbers on the dice – This is a pure race .

We will discuss in subsequent articles the many formulas that are available to help you to evaluate your chances in racing positions and build a winning backgammon strategy.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

High Anchor Backgammon Game

A high anchor game is one where you have moved your back checkers at least as far as your mid-point whilst your opponent still holds either your 4pt, 5pt or bar point. An example of this is shown in the position below.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

Mutual Holding

A mutual holding Backgammon game is one where both sides have a high anchor (a high anchor is one of three points, your opponent’s 4pt, 5pt or bar point). This position occurs after the sequence: Red 43: 24/20, 13/10; Black 66: 24/18(2), 13/7(2); Red 43: 24/20, 13/10.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

Low Anchor

A low anchor game can occur in many different ways but is characterized by one player holding his opponent’s 1,2 or 3 point whilst the opponent has escaped his back checkers. The position below is a typical low anchor game where black has escaped his back checkers and red is trapped on black’s ace point.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

Blitz
The backgammon blitz is the most volatile of all the backgammon game types. A blitz is characterized by one player desperately trying to get an anchor in his opponent’s home board whilst his opponent does everything he can to prevent it. The position below is typical of the early stages of a blitz where red has split his checkers with a 52 played 13/8, 24/22 and black has replied with 55, played 8/3(2)*, 6/1(2)* putting two red checkers on the bar.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

Prime vs. Prime

Prime against prime are characterized by both players having one or more of his opponent’s checkers trapped behind a blockade of 4, 5 or 6 points. Prime vs. prime games require finely honed judgment and are amongst the most difficult of all game types to play. In a blitz, once you have embarked upon it, most of the moves are clear, in a prime v. prime each individual move will require much more thought of the right backgammon strategy.

The position shown below is a typical prime vs. prime with both players having two checkers trapped behind 5-point primes.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

Back Game in

What is a back game? It is when you hold two or more points in your opponent’s home board, usually as a result of lots of blots being hit. Now an excellent piece of advice is to AVOID back games at all costs ! When they go well they are wonderful, but if you lose, then you are likely to lose either a gammon or a backgammon.

The position below shows a typical back game where red is playing the back game by holding black’s 1-pt and 2-pt. As we shall see in future articles which two points you hold in your opponent’s home board are critical to the likely success, or not, of your back game.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

In fact this position is taken from one of the most famous back games ever played between Walter Cooke (black) and Jesse Sammis (red). By the time the backgammon game ended the doubling cube was on 32!! That story will be told another day.

Scramble Backgammon Game

Last but not least comes the Scramble. This type of position normally occurs after one player has been hit whilst bearing off and is then trying to ‘scramble’ the hit checker back to the safety of his home board. Such a position is shown below where black is trying to scramble home his checker on red’s bar-point.

backgammon variations
backgammon variations

Summary

The vast majority of backgammon games will evolve into one of these eight game types and backgammon variations. Many games progress from one type to another, for example, a back game often evolves into a scramble, or a blitz may evolve into a low anchor or high anchor game.

We will study each game type in some depth in subsequent articles.