Lessons By Phil

Learning Backgammon—Breaking Down the Game

By Phil Simborg





I have been teaching beginner and intermediate students for about 20 years, and I have found that the best way to learn the game is not just by playing, although that is essential, but by breaking down the game into key segments and studying those one at a time.  The game is simply too varied, too confusing, and there’s just too much to learn to absorb, and remember everything.


Even if you are a highly experienced player, it is helpful to break your game down into these segments and see where you could use improvement.


In my lessons, I always try to concentrate on one or two areas at a time so that we can thoroughly learn that aspect of the game before moving on.  Of course, we are always reviewing, and old lessons come up all the time over the board, and we reinforce them.


I also use this list to help assess strengths and weakness and that allows my students and I to determine where to spend our lessons time.  When I give a lesson, I always start with a lesson plan, excellent sample positions that illustrate the concepts, and some reference positions and rules of thumb the student can rely on for the rest of his life.


Following is a list of my breakdown of those areas and the lessons, pretty much in the order we attack them:


  1. Opening Moves—you simply have to learn and memorize the best moves
  2. Backgammon odds—the basic odds of the game including odds of hitting, odds of making points, odds of winning, and why it is important to understand those odds
  3. Pip Counting—the importance of the race and learning how to count pips
  4. Early Checker play—the second and third moves, and basic checker strategy
  5. Duplication—when it applies and how to use it.
  6. The Doubling Cube for money games—we start with money games because the take point and cost of gammons is always the same and it’s the easiest to learn.
  7. The Doubling Cube for match play—we get into match equity and take points, but I also believe that for beginner and intermediates, there are strategies that don’t use the pure mathematic approach that will work better at that level
  8. Rules of thumb—simply memorizing and understanding some basic rules of thumb of the game that I have compiled over the years
  9. DMP and 2-away/2-away cube and checker play strategy
  10. Crawford and post Crawford cube and checker play strategy
  11. Giving the Cube—basic thought process and strategies when thinking about giving the cube
  12. Taking the Cube—basic thought process and strategies when thinking about taking the cube
  13. Bearing your checkers in to your inner board
  14. Bearing checkers off
  15. Playing back games
  16. Defending back games
  17. Playing holding games
  18. Defending holding games
  19. Going for gammons and backgammons
  20. Preventing gammons and backgammons
  21. Prime vs. Prime games
  22. Market Losers…how they affect cube decisions
  23. Communication—keeping your checkers in range of each other
  24. Off-balance hitting…hitting at times that may seem counter-intuitive
  25. Using the bots—how to best use Extremegammon as a learning tool
  26. Key reference positions and key numbers—some positions and numbers you simply need to have in your memory bank that will help you make better decisions over the board
  27. Playing your opponent—how to adjust your game for the different skill levels and individual traits of your opponents
  28. Tournament play—strategies and ideas to help do better at tournaments
  29. Money play and chouette play—strategies that apply specifically for money play
  30. Applying ROT and MCV theory
  31. Applying Robertie’s Law of Market Losers
  32. Applying Simborg’s Law
  33. Applying Woolsey’s Law
  34. When to go for the gammon and when to cash
  35. Shortcuts to remember take points and price of gammons

In addition to studying the individual parts of the game, we also study process and methodology.  There is a process to follow that helps ensure that cube decisions are more accurate.  There is a method to determine which checker play is better than the rest.  There is a general approach to winning that should be applied to all game and match situations.  Incorporating checker and cube tactics into the bigger picture (strategy) is required to truly master the game of backgammon.