Strategies for Backgammon: Opening Moves and Responses to Openings

Having the first move in backgammon provides an advantage because it allows you to dictate the game’s strategy rather than simply reacting to your opponent. When starting the game, it’s important to have two basic objectives in mind: to trap your opponent’s runners behind a blockade and to escape with your own two runners before they can be trapped.

To set up your backgammon board, place it in front of you and carefully consider each move on the board as it’s discussed. In this chapter, all moves will be for the White player since they always play the two dice thrown for the opening move and can never start with a double.

There are two main groups of opening moves in backgammon: aggressive moves designed to trap the opponent’s runners, and defensive moves designed to help you escape with your runners. Aggressive moves include point-making throws, 5-point builders, and outer board builders. Defensive moves include plain running moves and mixed run/block moves.

Move and make points

There are five opening point-making throws in backgammon, but three of them are so effective that they’re the most commonly used. These three throws are:


  • 6:1 – White moves 13-7, 8-7 to make the bar point.


  • 3:1 – White moves 8-5, 6-5 to make the 5 point.


  • 4:2 – White moves 8-4, 6-4 to make the 4 point.

With each of these moves, White begins building a blockade with the goal of trapping one or two of Black’s runners behind a 6-point prime.

There are two other point-making opening throws that you can try out on your board:

  • 5:3 – White moves 8-3, 6-3 to gain control of the 3 point.
  • 6:4 – White moves 8-2, 6-2 to gain control of the 2 point.

However, experienced players rarely use these moves. The two men placed on the 2 or 3 point are too far away from the main blockade that should be built around the 6 and 8 points. Black can easily jump over them to escape with their runners, and these two men aren’t a significant threat to Black. In fact, they could be better used further back in building the blockade.

About the 5 point builders move

The 5 point builders are a group of moves that involve taking a risk by leaving a blot on your 5 point and hoping that your opponent does not hit it. These moves aim to gain control of your vital 5 point.


There are two moves in this group: 5:3 or 6:2, which involves moving a man from point 13 to point 5, and 2:1, 4:1, or 5:1, which involves dropping a blot onto the 5 point and bringing down a builder onto your outer board to increase your chances of covering it on the next turn.


Leaving a blot on your 5 point may seem exposed, but only 15 out of the 36 dice permutations will enable your opponent to hit your blot. However, six of those 15 permutations are your opponent’s own vital point-making throws, such as 1:1, 2:2, 3:1, 4:2, etc. Your opponent will therefore be faced with the choice of breaking up your blockade or making their own.

During the early stages of the game, being hit is not dangerous when your opponent’s home board is open. It is important to take risks at the beginning of the game but not later on when your opponent’s board is almost closed and re-entry can cause great difficulty.

Bord Builders

These opening moves are called outer board builders, and they involve bringing down two builders from your 13 point and leaving two blots on your outer board to increase the chances of making points on your next turn. The risk of leaving blots on your outer board is relatively low since Black can only hit them with above-average throws. These moves are recommended if your opening throw is 5:2, 5:3, 4:3, or 3:2.


To illustrate, consider the 4:3 move shown in the diagram where White moves 13-9, 13-10. You can try out the other moves on your board by moving as follows:

  • 6:4 – 13-7, 13-9
  • 6:3 – 13-7, 13-10
  • 6:2 – 13-7, 13-11
  • 5:2 – 13-8, 13-11
  • 5:3 – 13-8, 13-10
  • 5:4 – 13-8, 13-9
  • 3:2 – 13-10, 13-11

It’s important to take risks like these in the early game when Black’s home board is open, but be cautious later on when his board is nearly closed, as re-entry can be difficult.

Running opening moves strategy

Running opening moves involve a strategy of running and escaping, rather than trying to trap the opponent. Good running moves include 6:5, 6:4, 6:3, 6:2, 5:4, and 5:3. By running to the opponent’s outer board, you have a reasonable chance of escaping, as Black may frequently miss the blot, and hitting it may waste a vital point-making move. Even smaller throws like 3:2, 4:3, and 2:1 can be used as running throws.


In the diagram, White uses the 6:2 throw to run 24-16. Other outer board running combinations can also be tried. Black will hesitate to leave a blot on his outer board or 5 point, as the chances of a hit are greatly enhanced. Additionally, you can threaten to capture one of Black’s vital points on your next turn. The same principles apply to other inner board running moves, such as 3:2 24-21, 24-22 and 2:1 24-22, 24-23.


Mixed run open block

Mixed run block openers involve starting a running move in the opponent’s home board with one runner, and dropping a blot onto the player’s outer board to enhance the chances of making one of the blocking points on the next turn.


In the diagram, White uses 4:3 to play 24-20, 13-10. This type of opening move makes it difficult for Black to play his normal tactics. By placing a man on 20, you threaten to cover it from 24 on your next turn and gain control of a point vital to Black. The man on 20 also makes it difficult for Black to drop a blot onto his outer board, and your blot on 10 equally makes it dangerous for Black to move a blot to 4, 5, 7, and 9. This mixed run/block type of opener can be done with many dice combinations, such as 5:4, 3:2, 2:1, and they all reduce the options open to Black when he responds to the opening move.

Responses variants to the opening move

As the responder in backgammon, you have fewer options than the opener, who chose the initial move. However, if you get a double, such as two 6s, you can make safe points and potentially double the opponent. In this article, we will focus on the different doubles and how to play them as the responder.


In the first scenario, the black player opened with 3:2 and made two moves. You responded with double 6, which is a great roll. You moved two checkers from point 24 to point 18 and two checkers from point 13 to point 7, creating a blockade and preparing to escape. Some players always double when they get a double 6, but if they do it to you, you should accept and take advantage of their clustering men.


In the second scenario, you got double 5, which is the worst double to start with. You can only move two checkers from point 13 to point 8 and then from point 8 to point 3, making the 3 point. However, the black player split their back checkers on the opening move, making your roll more devastating. You should hit their blot on point 3 with two checkers from point 8 and hit their other blot on point 1 with two checkers from point 6, removing two of their men and closing three entry points. If they fail to re-enter two men on their next roll, you should double them and they should pay up.


If you get double 4, you have several options depending on your strategy. You can run by moving two checkers from point 24 to point 20 and then to point 16. You can block the opponent’s runners by moving two checkers from point 13 to point 9 and then to point 5, making your 5 point. Or you can play a mixed run/block game by moving two checkers from point 24 to point 20 and two checkers from point 13 to point 9. Experiment with these moves on your own board.


If you get double 3, you have another great double for blocking. Although you can run by moving two checkers to the black bar point, it’s better to make your 5 point and hit the opponent’s blot if they haven’t split their runners.


If they have, you should hit their blot on point 6 with two checkers and make your 5 point by moving two checkers from point 8 to point 5, reducing their chances of re-entry. This move is not strong enough to double them yet, unless you have already removed two of their men.


If you get double 2, it’s too valuable to waste on running. You can make your 9 point by moving two checkers from point 13 to point 9, but it’s better to make your 4 point by moving two checkers from point 6 to point 4 and two checkers to your 11 point by moving from point 13 to point 11.


If you get double 1, you only have two moves to consider. If the opponent hasn’t split their runners, you should move two checkers from point 8 to point 7 and two checkers from point 6 to point 5 to control the three most important points. If they have, you should cover your 5 point by moving one checker from point 8 to point 5 and the other from point 6 to point 5.


Here are the principles for selecting your response to the opening move:

  1. If your opponent’s move doesn’t put you at a disadvantage, play your moves as if you were the one making the opening move.
  2. In general, prioritize making important point-making throws such as 1:1, 2:2, 3:3, 4:4, 6:6, 3:1, 4:2, and 6:1 in order to trap your opponent’s runners.
  3. If your opponent has split their runners but still has both of them in your inner board, it’s risky to try and make a vital point by dropping a blot onto 5 or 7 as it will likely be hit.
  4. If your opponent is threatening to escape or gain control of your vital 4, 5, and 7 points by placing a blot on them, seriously consider hitting them and driving them back.
  5. Don’t waste your move hitting your opponent’s blots on your 1, 2, or 3 points as there are usually better ways to play your move at this stage of the game.
  6. If your opponent has moved into their inner or outer board and is threatening to block your runners, hit them and break up the blockade, but not at the expense of making your 5 or 7 point.
  7. If there’s nothing constructive to do with your throw and you can hit two of your opponent’s men in one move, do so, even if it means leaving a blot in your home board.
  8. If you’re forced to leave a blot in a vulnerable position, choose a position where, if it’s not hit, it will allow you to gain a vital point if you can cover it on your next turn.

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