The Most Common Fallacies

The Most Common Fallacies in Backgammon—For all Levels of Play

By Phil Simborg





  1. You can learn the game by playing.  NOT TRUE.  You can learn how to move the checkers around the board, and you can learn the rules, but if you want to truly learn the game you must study.  You will not figure out the best opening rolls, cube strategy, and overall checker strategy on your own.  The game is simply more complicated than it looks, and if you want to learn how to play well, you have to read books and articles or get lessons and help.
  2. The game is mostly luck.  NOT TRUE.  The game is odds, and in the short run, there is luck.  The better you play, the better your odds.  The better you play, the better you roll.  If you play well, there are simply more good rolls you can get and fewer bad rolls, and when you play poorly, you give your opponent more rolls that are good for him and fewer rolls that are bad for him.


Intermediate Players:


  1. You don’t need to count the pips…you can estimate.  NOT TRUE.  Even the best players in the world often stop to get an exact count on the race.  The race is CRITICAL in almost all cube and checker decisions, and looking at the board, particularly for less-experienced players, can be deceptive.  You need to know if you are winning or losing and by how much.  It’s hard work and time consuming to count pips, but the more you do it the faster and easier it becomes.
  2. It is better to take the win than to risk it going for gammons.  One of the most common mistakes intermediate players make is turning the cube when they should play on for a gammon.  Understanding when it is right to play on and when it is not takes practice, study, and skill, but unless you think carefully about gammon possibilities you are missing out on one of the major factors of the game.
  3. When in doubt, don’t double.  Truth is, it’s JUST THE OPPOSITE.  If you are thinking about doubling, you should FIRST put yourself in your opponent’s shoes and try to decide if he/she should take or drop.  If you are not sure if he should take or drop, that is often THE BEST TIME TO DOUBLE.  Only by doubling do you give your opponent a chance to make the mistake of either taking or dropping when he shouldn’t, and even if he makes the right decision, it might well have been a double. 
  4. When you can hit, hit!  Not always true at all.  Hitting is often a good thing to do, but far too many players go for hits, single hits or double hits when there are better plays.  Top players like to play what is called a “pure” game when possible.  Pure games are games that make points in a row.  6 in a row, or a 6-prime, is the golden position we all strive for, but short of that, 5 and 4 primes are also powerful, and top players will often pass up the opportunity to hit or switch points to keep primes together.
  5. Try to get into back games.  Back games should be a last resort, but because they are fun to play and win, many players start out way too soon trying to establish a back game, and many players try to continue to stay in a back game far too long.  Even excellent, well-timed back games simply get gammoned too often.  In the long run, you will do much better trying to avoid back games.


Advanced Players.


  1. If you have played long enough and have enough experience, you have learned most of the major strategies of the game.  FALSE.  The best players in the world are learning more about the game every day.  They study positions, theory, and strategy all the time.  (I have been playing 45 years and have studied the game seriously for the past 20, and  I learn new concepts and strategies all the time.)
  2. You don’t have to study and memorize match equity tables and take point--if you are good, you can estimate.  FALSE.  If you really want to excel at backgammon, the difference between a take or a drop could easily be just a couple of percentage points, and if you don’t do the math, you are giving equity away to those players who do.
  3. The computer programs are not to be completely trusted.  Yes, they do make mistakes, but most of the time they are right, and they are probably better than all but a few of the best players in the world.  Just because we know they do make some mistakes, and have some kinds of positions they don’t get completely right, do not discount the value of ExtremeGammon, Snowie, GNUBG, and Jellyfish.  They are great teachers and learning tools, and if you really want to sharpen your game, you will use them a lot.
  4. If you are playing a worse player, you should make a lot of changes in your game to take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses.  False!  Well, at least not entirely true.  If you double very early hoping to get a drop, you are in far worse shape if you guess wrong than if you guess right.  And if you intentionally make the wrong checkers plays to try to manipulate the game into something too complicated for your opponent to understand, by definition, each bad play costs you equity.  Most of the time, you are far better off making the right checker and cube decisions.  If your opponent is truly worse than you, his mistakes will show themselves more than enough to give you the edge.