End Game Strategies for Backgammon

The end-game phase of backgammon is crunch time when all of the hard work pays off and players stop being bogged off and begin to bear checkers off. This is the phase where the game turns into a race, but there is still a good chance that checkers will be hit.

The end-game and bearing off phases are similar to when a golfer gets on the green. A strong approach putt is crucial to making sure he doesn't bogey the hole. Here's what you need to know as you prepare your end-game strategy:

Timing Your Moves is Critical

Your opponent is rolling the dice and you are nearly even in the race. It will take both of you about three rolls to get all of your checkers into your inner boards to safety. So what should you do?

If you have two checkers in your opponent's 11-point, hang tight there until you can move those checkers safely or hit your opponent. Try to move so that your opponent has to break his outer board point first.

If you're ahead by a half roll, turn the game into a straight race. If you're behind in that same situation, try to hit your opponent to gain the lead.

In a straight race, get all of your checkers to the outer board before you move more to your inner board.

Since you cannot start bearing men off until you have all of your checkers in your inner board, get your checkers into your inner board as quickly as possible in a straight race, even if it means stacking them on your 6-point. This makes maximum use of double 6s, 5s and 6-5s after you get all of your checkers into your inner board.

If you can get your checkers in evenly without sacrificing speed, do it. Use the same strategy in getting your checkers into your inner board as you use for bearing checkers off, both when you are interlocked and in a straight race.

Bearing Off

Bearing off is the last phase of a game and it starts when a player has all of his checkers in his inner board. If the players are no longer interlocked, the game is now a race to bear checkers off quickly.

If players are still interlocked, safety is a top priority in bearing off. Many games are won or lost during this phase of the game when a player surges from behind to win.

Bearing Off when Interlocked

When your opponent has a prime, it is extremely important to make the right moves. You also need to be careful when your opponent has a speed board in which all of his checkers are on his 1-, 2 and 3-points except the ones you have trapped. Since he will bear his checkers off quickly when he escapes, you probably need to bear at least a few checkers off before he gets away . but you need to avoid being hit.

Vacate the Highest Point First

When bearing off while interlocked, vacate your 6-point first, then your 5-point and so on. If you create an open point between your men when bearing off, you're more likely to leave a shot.

When bearing off with opponent in your inner board or on the bar, avoid leaving odd number of checkers on highest two points.

If you have an odd number of checkers on your highest points, you are likely to leave a blot. Large rolls like 6-6, 5-5 and 6-5 can leave a blot and be disastrous in that situation.

Bearing Off when Not Interlocked

When bearing off and not interlocked, always bear a checker off in preference to moving a checker within the inner board. It's much more important to bear checkers off than to maintain a uniform distribution. Always bear two or more checkers off when you can.

When only a few rolls remain in a game, double if your opponent needs at least as many rolls as you do to bear off.

When there are six or fewer rolls left for you to bear the rest of your checkers off, count the number of rolls required for you and your opponent to bear your remaining checkers off. Account for differences in distribution and double if your opponent needs at least as many rolls as you to bear off.

Decline your opponents double if you need at least 0.5 roll more than him to bear off. Also decline if you need at least as many rolls to bear off with just one or two rolls left.

Within only a few rolls left in a game, giving the doubling cube to your opponent isn't nearly as significant as earlier in the game. Late in the game, it's not likely your opponent will gain enough ground to double you out. So you can double late in the game with only a small lead.

Double with more than a 50 percent chance of winning when only one roll is left in the game.

When there is only one roll left in a game, giving the doubling cube up by doubling has no significance. Thus you don't need the typical 63 percent chance of winning to consider doubling. Double if you have more than a 50 percent chance of winning, thus allowing you to win more points in the long run.

When bearing off, leave one checker on a high point rather than two on lower points.

You're more likely to bear a checker off from a high point than two checkers from lower points, unless they're on the 1-point and either the 2- or 3-point. Thus, bear a checker off leaving one on a high point if necessary, rather than move a checker forward in your inner board to leave two checkers on lower points. It's also better to leave two checkers split on two points rather than to have them on the same point.