Lessons By Phil‎ > ‎

Tips for Beginners and Intermediates


(and it wouldn’t hurt the rest of you)

By Phil Simborg




  1. Backgammon is NOT a game of luck.  It is a game of odds.  The better you play the odds the more you will win.  Not every time, but the better player will win more often than the worse player.  And if a player is a lot better, he will win a lot more.  DO NOT focus on the dice and the luck of the game, and don’t just shake your head when you lose and think about your bad luck or his/her good luck.  That will distract you from thinking about what plays you made that may have given your opponent the opportunity to win with a little luck.
  2. You cannot learn the game just by playing and trying to figure it out.  If you really want to learn the game, you must get help.  You must read articles and books and get some coaching from better players and the bots (Extremegammon, GNUBG, or Snowie).  It would take even the smartest people in the world quite a while to figure out things the experts have learned over the years and written down for our benefit. 
  3. Always remember the single most overriding principle of backgammon:  every game is a race.  The first one to get the checkers around the board and off is the winner.  Even if the game ends with cube action, the person who dropped did so because he believed he couldn’t win that race.  Learn how to count the race (pips) and get into the habit of knowing where you stand at all times.  (You don’t always need exact counts, but it is critical to know if you are ahead or behind.)
  4. The doubling cube is a weapon.  It should be used to hurt your opponent.  If turning the cube does not cause some pain or anxiety to your opponent, you are either cubing too early or too late.  Don’t give it away too soon, because ownership of the cube, like ownership of a weapon, gives you power.  Wait too long, and you have nothing to swing at.
  5. Many beginners do not do much to improve their game.  They simply think it is fun to play, and why bother to turn it into “work” by studying and learning more.  What those of us who are addicted to backgammon have found is that the act of learning and improving is as enjoyable as playing.  The more you learn, the more confident you feel when you are playing; the more often you will win; and the more you will enjoy the game.  The best players in the world are constantly studying and learning, not just to improve their game, but because it’s fun.




  1. So you’ve gotten past the basics.  You know all the opening moves and you have somewhat of an understanding of the cube.  You know it’s good to make a 6-point prime.  Congratulations.  On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being all the knowledge you could possibly have, I am sorry to say you are probably only at about 3.  Keep this important quote in mind:  “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  If you don’t keep reading books, studying, and watching the pros, you will never learn about all the things you don’t know yet.  There is a lot more to this game than you can imagine.  I have been playing and studying the game over 50 years and I am always learning new things.
  2. Most experienced and advance players have a basic understanding of the cube, but they really don’t fully understand match equity and how to apply the math.  If you don’t know, by memorization, the match equity tables, and can’t figure out your “take point” at a given score, you can’t possibly make a truly informed decision about whether to give or take a cube.  You are only making an educated guess.  You have to know your take point and your opponent’s take point and the cost of gammons before you can truly make an”educated” decision on the cube.  You must understand doubling windows and market losers or again, you are just guessing blind.
  3. If you are an advanced player, you understand the importance of the race, but do you always know the exact pip count, or have a pretty good idea of the pip count?  Great players do.  If you want to take your game to a higher level you must always keep the pip count in mind and you must know how to apply more than just the pip count to cube decisions…you must know how to make adjustments for distribution, for cross-overs, and for the score.  There is more to the race than just pip count!
  4. If you are not using a bot (Extremegammon, Snowie, GNUBG, or Jellyfish) to check your plays and your skills, you are not really improving your game.  Virtually all top players are constantly studying positions and plays, and even practicing against a bot to check their skills and their thinking about various positions.
  5. Do you know what really separates the good players from the great players more than anything?  It’s attitude.  It’s that thing you can’t measure with a bot.  It’s the ability to stay focused over the board, and not focused on the dice…focused on making the best plays and decisions.  Focused on watching your opponent closely to see if you can find weaknesses in his game that you can exploit.  Focused on being conscious of the score, of the count, of what the right decisions are.  Focused on winning, regardless of how low the odds seem to be.  Focused on making the very best play, every time, no matter how little the play seems to matter at the time.  If you want to be a winner, act and think like one.  Don’t get all upset and emotional and sidetracked by bad rolls, or by an irritating opponent, or about distractions in the room.  Play to win, and give it all you have at all times.  And when you lose, if you played your best, it won’t feel like a defeat at all.  That attitude will not only improve your skills, it will improve your enjoyment of the game.  And that, more than anything, separates the good players from the great players....great players always have fun playing backgammon, and that should always be your No. 1 goal.
Note:  This article first appeared on www.backgammon.org   Visit that site for many great articles and information.

home:  http://www.simborgbackgammonlessons.com/