A “running game” is a situation in backgammon where both players have successfully advanced their checkers to secure positions on the board, reducing the chances of hitting an exposed checker or blocking an opponent’s movement. In a running game, the outcome is highly dependent on the roll of the dice, making it a game where luck plays a significant role. Typically, the player who rolls higher numbers (assuming they make no errors in their moves) will have a better chance of winning. To play a successful running game, it’s important to open up your board, strategically position your checkers, and carefully consider each move. To help illustrate these strategies, we’ve provided an example running game for you to study and learn from.
In this example backgammon game, White has started off by making a 5 point blockade with the intention of preventing Black’s progress.
However, Black manages to escape with a 6-5 roll, leaving White with a spare checker on each point.
White’s subsequent roll of 5-1 allows him to move to points 17, 19, and 20, increasing his chances of making another blocking point on his next turn.
Black’s position worsens as he fails to make any progress in building a blockade, and White’s home board begins to hem in Black’s remaining checker. With a roll of 6-3, Black decides to run to safety, moving his checker from point 24 to point 15.
The current situation in the game of backgammon is unfavorable for White. Despite his promising blockade strategy, it is rendered useless unless he manages to hit a blot and force it back into his home board. With this in mind, White prays for a 3 and rolls the dice, but unfortunately gets a 6:6. However, he is able to make a classic move by moving two men from point 1 to point 7, and two men from point 12 to point 18, effectively creating both bar points. This move sets up the current situation depicted in the diagram.
On the other hand, the situation is not favorable for Black. Although his blot on point 15 has survived, the chances of getting it to safety are not very high. If White manages to hit the blot on the next turn, he will have a significant advantage in the game, possibly allowing him to double Black or even gammon him.
Black understands that his best strategy is to aim for a safe running game in order to minimize his chances of losing the match. He throws the dice and is relieved to get a roll of 5:3. He uses this opportunity to make his 10 point by moving two of his men from points 15 and 13 to point 10. This move is crucial as it creates a safe landing point for his men as they come home from the 13 point, which is a much-needed advantage for Black.
After Black’s move, it is now White’s turn to roll the dice. He rolls a 2 and a 1, and decides to move his checkers accordingly. He moves one checker from point 19 to point 21, and another checker from point 20 to point 21, effectively making his 4 point.
In the game of backgammon, Black moves his men by rolling 2:1 and playing 13-10, creating a particular situation on the board. White, who had a promising blockade earlier, throws 2:1 and moves his men to make the 4 point. Black’s move has made it challenging for White to hit a blot, rendering his blockade almost useless. White now faces a decision on whether to run or stay and risk a shot from Black.
Since it is not clear who is in the lead, White decides to count the position accurately. In backgammon, counting the position represents the number of points one would need to move their men into the home board and bear them all off, assuming no wasted motion. Each man on the home and outer boards counts the point he is on, while for men on the opponent’s board, the count starts at 13 for their 12 point and goes up to 24 for their 1 point.
The count of the position for both Black and White is necessary to determine who is ahead and to make a strategic move accordingly.
In the game of backgammon, players need to keep track of their score and the number of pieces they have on the board. White and Black are currently playing, and White has two men on each of the 21, 20, 19, and 18 points, three men on the 17 point, and two men on the 12 and 7 points. This adds up to a total count of 130 for White. On the other hand, Black has five men on the 6 point, three men on the 8 and 10 points, and four men on the 12 point, giving him a total count of 136.
White realizes that he is only six points ahead of Black, which is a narrow lead in backgammon. Normally, he would like to have an 8 to 10% lead before considering making a run for it. However, in this situation, White doesn’t have much choice. If he stays where he is, there’s little chance of Black exposing a blot. After deducting the value of his current throw from his count, White finds that he will have a lead of 22 points once he makes his move, which represents almost three turns. Therefore, he decides to make a run for it and moves his two men from the 7 to the 15 point.
Black, on the other hand, has been forced to play a running game after his opening move, and he finds himself falling behind White. He knows that if he doesn’t throw big dice on his next turn, White is likely to double him. This is why it’s important to understand the correct methods of movement in a running game stage, where most games end up in a race for the home board once contact is broken off.
- To succeed in backgammon, every move must be used wisely. The first goal is to move all of your men into your home board as quickly as possible, with the ultimate aim of placing them on the 6 point. This may result in a large pileup on that point, but it will allow you to start bearing off men sooner than if you move them deeper into your home board.
- If you roll high numbers, avoid using them to move men from your outer board to lower points in your home board if you have more distant men that need to be brought in first. Use high rolls to bring in those more distant men instead.
- If you still have men on your opponent’s outer board, bring them down to your own outer board first. This will make it easier to move them into your home board with just one die roll, rather than two.
- Whenever possible, use your moves to make a man change boards, either from your opponent’s outer board to your outer board, or from your outer board to your inner board. Avoid moving within the same board unless absolutely necessary.
- As you move your men into your home board, try to place them on open points (if it doesn’t waste part of your move) to make it easier to bear them off when the time comes.
- Once all of your men are in your home board, focus on bearing them off one at a time rather than moving them around within the board. This will help you clear your board faster and ultimately win the game.
The game resumes with Black throwing 6:4 and making moves 13-7, 13-9, bringing the count to White, 114 and Black, 126. White is leading by 12 points and doubles Black, which is acceptable as long as Black is not more than 15% behind. The game proceeds with both players making strategic moves to bring their men into their home boards and make use of every point.
White throws 2:1 but wishes he had not doubled as he moves his men accordingly.
Black throws 2:2 and changes boards with his two most distant men, making moves 13-11, and moves two men 8-6.
White throws 6:4 and brings down his last two men from point 12 to 16 and 18.
Black throws 6:5 and correctly brings in his two most distant men by moving 11-5, 11-6.
However, White makes an error when he throws 6:5 and decides to fill in vacant points on his home board instead of bringing in his two most distant men, moving 16-23, and 16-22. This mistake may cost him the game if his next two throws are low ones.
Black throws 5:5 and moves his most distant men by playing three men 10-5, and one man 9-4.
White throws 3:2 and makes another error by moving 17-20, 18-20 in his desire not to collect too many men on his 6 point. His correct play would have been to move both men on 17 to 20 and 19 to minimize waste movement.
Black throws 6:5 and avoids the error of moving both men onto 2 and instead fills in two vacant points by playing 7-1, 8-3. The game continues with both players making strategic moves to bear off their men and win the game.
Once again, the game must be paused momentarily to discuss the judgment of the position during the end game. At this point, the point count method of evaluating the position becomes irrelevant. For example, if White had only one man remaining on the 6 point, his point count would be 6. However, if Black had five men remaining on his 1 point, his point count would only be 5. In the end game, it is not the point count that matters, but rather the number of turns required to remove all the men from the board, assuming that two men are removed with each throw of the dice.
At this stage, Black has four men off the board, and White has two men off, leaving Black with eleven men on the board and White with thirteen. Black would require 5 1/2 turns to remove all his men, while White would need 6 1/2 turns. If Black had been two turns ahead, he would have doubled immediately, but because of the gaps in the middle of the board, he decides to wait and see the outcome of the next throw.
Black throws 6:1 and removes men from the 6 and 1 points. White throws 5:1, moves one man from the 6 point to the one point, and then removes the same man off the board. Black now has nine men remaining on the board, while White has 12.
After the next throw, with a bit of luck, Black will be four men ahead of White. So he offers White a re-double to 4 to force him to resign. Being ahead, Black does not want to take the risk of White throwing some high doubles to catch up. However, White declines the double since it is not wise to accept doubles when high doubles are required to win. With White rejecting the double, the game comes to an end.