Backgammon Strategy – The Endgame

Familiarizing yourself with the correct principles of play in various backgammon endgame situations is important, as there are numerous mistakes that can be made during this phase of the game.

Backgammon Strategy: Dealing with a Closed Board and an Opponent Checker on the Bar.


White is in a favorable position and should take advantage of it. If White possesses the cube, the first move should be to double Black as there is no chance for a gammon. It’s best not to risk making an error. Assuming Black has the cube, a wrong move can be fatal. For instance, if White rolls 5:4, it may appear like a safe throw, but the wrong move can expose a blot to Black. The challenge is to make a move that allows White to play high doubles, such as 6:6 or 5:5 without exposing any blot. To determine the correct move, set up the situation on your own board and work it out. A correct move is 13-4, whereas moves like 13-8 or 10-6 would be incorrect as they would expose a blot to Black. Additionally, move 10-1 would also be wrong, as it would not allow for playing 6:6 or 5:5 without exposing a blot.


Memorizing the safe and dangerous patterns of men on the board is the simplest way to check your end play once all your men are in the home board. A safe pattern is shown in the diagram where 6:6, 5:5, or 6:5 can be played without risk.


The diagram depicts another safe pattern where 6:6, 5:5, or 6:5 can be played without any risk. It is essential to note that in both diagrams, the sum of men on the 6 and 5 points is an even number. If the number of men on these points is odd, it could lead to trouble.



The diagrams demonstrate two dangerous patterns of men on the board. Attempting to play 6:6 or 5:5 in either diagram, or even a 6:5 in the case of the second diagram, would lead to exposing a blot every time.


In contrast, the diagram presents a safe pattern where any dice combination can be played without any risk. It is crucial to note that the total number of men on the 6 and 5 points must add up to an even number. When an opponent is waiting on the bar, the correct move is to first move the three surplus men down to the lower points. Then, as you start to break your home board, always begin from the highest point, taking off and moving down to avoid creating gaps between the men. In the diagram, the correct move is to play 6:4 by removing the man on 6 and moving the other man to 2.


There is one exception to the rule of breaking your board from the highest point, and that is when you throw 5:1 in a certain situation, as shown in the diagram. You have two options:

  1. Move 6-1, 6-5, or
  2. Remove one man from the 5 point and move the other 5-4.

However, both options have drawbacks, and option 1 is worse than option 2. With option 1, you will expose a blot on your next turn if you throw any of the 21 adverse dice combinations, such as 6:6, 6:5, 6:4, 6:3, 6:2, 6:1, 5:6, 5:5, 5:4, 5:3, 5:2, 5:1, 4:6, 4:5, 4:4, 3:6, 3:5, 2:6, 2:5, 1:6, or 1:5.

With option 2, you will only expose a blot on your next turn if you throw any of the 9 adverse dice combinations, such as 6:6, 6:1, 5:5, 5:1, 4:4, 4:1, 1:6, 1:5, or 1:4.


The diagram shows a risky pattern where having three men on your highest point can be dangerous. It’s best to avoid this situation if possible, as moves like 6:5, 6:4, 5:6, 5:4, and others would all result in leaving a blot exposed. Even if you’ve already borne off five men, getting hit could lead to losing the game.


The diagram showcases a common mistake made by inexperienced backgammon players. It’s possible that you ended up in this situation due to a wrong move a couple of moves ago, and you had to expose a blot. Luckily, Black couldn’t re-enter his man after throwing 3:4. Now, you throw 5:1 and remove the man on point 5 with happiness. However, how can you play the 1 without exposing a blot again? Unfortunately, there’s no safe way to play it, and a blot must be exposed. It’s better to put the man you took off point 5 back and start again. Keep in mind that there’s no rule in backgammon that requires you to play the higher die before the lower one. Therefore, this time, play the 1 first by moving the man from point 5 to point 4, and then play the 5 to remove the same man from the board. By doing this, you won’t expose a blot. It’s a straightforward concept once you understand it, but it’s easy to forget in the heat of the moment.

Opponent holds your one point


Having an opponent on your one point is, in many ways, the opposite of having them on the bar. The reason being that your opponent is so far behind in the game that they will stay on your one point for as long as possible, hoping to hit a blot and reverse the situation. However, exposing a blot in this situation is dangerous as it gives your opponent the opportunity to hit and turn the game around. This is especially true if two blots are exposed, as shown in the diagram, which is the most dreaded situation. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid getting into this position and to try to place your surplus men on your highest points rather than bearing off from the lowest points, which is the strategy used when the opponent is on the bar.


In the given diagram, all your men are stacked on the highest points. This allows you to make high throws by removing men from the top points, and low throws by moving from higher to lower points. Your objective is to make safe moves, with the hope that your opponent will soon be compelled to remove one of their problematic men by throwing a 6 that has nowhere else to go on the board. If such an opportunity presents itself, do not rush to remove your men from the board. Instead, build a secure position by stacking them on the lower points, as illustrated in the following diagram.


The chance of you exposing a blot before Black is compelled to move out is now very unlikely. You have enough time to remove your men and secure a win once Black begins to bear off. Therefore, in the meantime, prioritize safe moves.

You have your opponent’s one point


The diagram depicts a situation where your opponent’s desire to gammon you has led him to make a risky move. After throwing 4:4, he decides to remove four men from his 4 point. However, this leaves a dangerous gap in his ranks that may force him to expose a blot.

You then throw 6:3. To take advantage of the gap on his 4 point, you move the 6 by playing 13-7 to complete a prime. Placing a man on 21 increases your chances of hitting a black blot if your opponent exposes one. If your opponent throws 6:4, he must leave a blot on B6. Thanks to your move, you now have a greater chance of hitting and winning the game.


The diagram depicts a situation where an opponent’s greed for a gammon or backgammon has resulted in opening gaps between their men, increasing the likelihood of exposing a blot. In this scenario, you throw a 6:1 and should not panic and attempt to save yourself with a single man. Instead, play the 6 into your home-board and split your back men with the 1 so that they occupy the 1 and 2 points. On your opponent’s next turn, only specific throws can save them from exposing a blot, while all others will force them to expose one or more blots. The ideal throw would be 2:4, which would require them to expose three blots. If you can hit two of them, you will likely win the game, while hitting one will save you from a gammon.


White’s position in the diagram is not favorable as the opponent has played cautiously and there is a high risk of being backgammoned. However, there is a slight advantage as the opponent has an odd number of three men on the two point, which makes it highly likely that he will leave at least one blot on his next turn. To mitigate the risk, it is recommended to run with one man to have a chance of getting the last man out of the opponent’s home board and save the backgammon. Additionally, having two men on the one point allows the opponent to avoid playing a 1, so moving one man out forces the opponent to play a 1 and exposes more blots on re-entry. For instance, if the opponent rolls 4:1 and one man has not been moved out, the opponent removes the 4 and skips playing the 1. But if one man has been moved out and the opponent rolls 4:1, he removes one man with the 4 and is forced to take off with the 1, which exposes two blots upon re-entry.

Opponent Employing a Back Game Strategy


The diagram depicts an ideal back game scenario for your opponent, who is holding your 1 and 3 points with an extra man on the 3 point. Their plan is to slowly move their surplus man around the board while waiting for you to expose a blot. If you throw 5:3, you have two safe options: moving with the two men on the 9 point or the two men on the 7 point. Your initial instinct may be to move the two farthest men to avoid creating a gap in your formation that could increase your chances of exposing a blot. However, in a back game situation, this concern is less important. Instead, your focus should be on forcing your opponent to destroy their back game position as early as possible, ideally before you have to expose a blot to them.

Upon examining the diagram, you will notice that if you move from the 9 point, your opponent will be able to play any 6 by escaping with their extra man on the 3 point, leaving their back game position intact. But if you play the 5:3 from the 7 point, your opponent will be forced to move a man from the 1 point to play their sixes. This is precisely what you want. As soon as they do this, their back game position will be destroyed, and you should be able to quickly hit their blot and cover your man on the 1 point. In a back game situation, prioritize moves that increase the likelihood of forcing your opponent to destroy their own position, rather than solely playing for maximum safety.

The Race to Bear Off

The current stage of the game is not too challenging and mainly involves mechanical moves, as long as you follow some basic guidelines:

1.Take a man off the board instead of moving it within the board.


2. The second rule is also quite simple to follow. When you need to move a man, choose the move that fills up an empty point on the board. In the diagram, we have Black and White, each with five men on their 6 and 5 points. Let’s assume they both make the same moves.


In the diagram, Black played 4:4 correctly by filling in two vacant points, while White made a mistake by moving four men off his 6 point in the hope of winning by emptying his top points before Black. This strategy backfired as any throw with a 1 will now allow Black to bear off a man from the board, while White will have to move within his board and fall behind by one man in the race.


In the given diagram, the dice roll is 2:1. As before, Black makes the correct move by filling in two empty points, while White has made an incorrect move.


The rules for the bearing off race are straightforward except for one particular situation. In the diagram, you (as White) are losing the race. Your recent throw was 6:1, but following the standard rules by moving one man from 5 and filling in a vacant point with 2-1 will only delay your inevitable loss. Your opponent will be off the board in three turns, giving you only two more throws to remove all your remaining men from the board. Unless you roll a lucky double, you will lose. Therefore, the best move for you is to choose the option that maximizes the chance of bearing off four men in a single turn if you do get a double.
Instead of following the standard move with the 6:1 by removing one man from the 5-point and moving 2-1 to fill a vacant point, you should remove one man from the 5-point and move 5-4. This move increases your chances of getting four men off the board with 6:6, 5:5, and 4:4. If you had played the standard move, only 6:6 and 5:5 would have allowed you to get four men off the board. Although this move only increases your chances of winning by about 3%, consistently making these types of moves can lead to increased success in the long run. By taking advantage of marginal advantages, you can improve your chances of winning and become a player who wins more frequently than they lose.

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