A Beginner’s Guide to Backgammon
By Phil Simborg
If you are new, or relatively new to Backgammon, I have some
thoughts I believe will save you a lot of anguish and pain over the next few
years. I wish I didn’t have to learn
these things the hard way myself!
is a game of luck and skill, but there is a lot more skill than you
think. The funny thing
about this game is that the worse you play, the “unluckier” you will seem
to be. The reason is that the more
bad plays you make, the more good, or “lucky” rolls you give your
opponent, and the fewer good rolls you will have on your next turn. So if you think you are a lot less lucky
than your opponents, there’s a really good chance that your opponents are
simply playing better.
is a lot more to learn than meets the eye. Backgammon is relatively simple to
learn. The rules and moves are far
less complex than Chess, Bridge, and many other popular games. Please trust me when I tell you that if
you are a beginner, there is a lot about Backgammon that falls into the
category of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I have been playing Backgammon for 45
years and studying it seriously for over 20, and I still often discover a
concept, theory, strategy, rule of thumb, or something important about an
aspect of the game that I did not know before. If you think this game is simple, you
are not truly understanding what is going on here.
cannot learn the game well simply by playing. Trial and error will give you some
knowledge and insights, but even if you were a genius and played for 10
years you probably would not discover, on your own, many of the concepts
that can be found in the many excellent books and articles already written. Save yourself a lot of time and
pain: buy Robertie or Magriel’s
basic books on backgammon, and then as you get better, graduate to more
advanced and specialized books and articles. Another excellent way to learn is from
lessons (which I and others give both live and on line) and from a
mentor. If you are lucky enough to
know some experienced players who are kind enough to coach you, it can
save you many hours of trying to find things out for yourself.
skills are important in Backgammon.
It is impossible to remember every right play for every position,
but it is possible to remember certain key concepts and positions that can
be called upon as “reference positions” to use when the same, or similar
situations arise. If you want to
play well, you simply must memorize the opening moves. You must memorize the proper percentages
for doubling and taking in a race.
You must learn, and memorize take points and match equities if you
play matches. Playing well requires
some study and concentration. If
that sounds like work to you, then you are not approaching the game
properly. One of the reasons good
players become good players is that they enjoy the learning process. It is fun and exciting to learn,
internalize, and remember something that you know will help you play
better and win more.
- If you
want to really enjoy the game and learn, look for different venues to play
in. Most beginners get stuck just
playing with one or two friends, or just with their family, or if they
play on line, on just one web site.
If you live in a big city, go on line (or contact me) and find out
where there are local, live games.
Even if you are not competitive for a while, play anyway, and watch
the top players in your area. Most
of them are very generous with their time and advice, and you’ll learn a
lot and really enjoy seeing how good players play this game. If you are lucky enough to be able to
get to a major tournament, go to it and enter the Novice Division, and
while you’re there, watch the pros as well. If you don’t live in a big city, go on
line and you’ll find many places to play free. (I happen to enjoy Play65 because there
are many tournaments, matches and single game opponents all hours of the
Note: Phil Simborg is a
professional living in Chicago
and has been giving lessons live and on line for over 20 years. He can be reached at email@example.com