A backgammon game has 3 clear stages – the opening, mid-game, and bearing off. Since both players are starting off evenly, and there’s a limit to what combination of dice can be rolled, the first few moves are pretty much standardized.
There are three goals at the beginning of the game, which are kind of mutually exclusive, depending on what numbers you get versus your opponent’s. First is to control points 7 and 18. These are the points both players are more likely to land on if they’re open, so controlling them with 2 or more of your stones gives you a major advantage. Second is to build up blocks of points with 2 or more of your stones on them to trap your opponent “behind the lines”. Third is to get your farthest stones out of your opponent’s home field so that you can start bearing off.
With these three goals in mind, what you obviously want (and probably won’t get) on your first roll is double 6’s. Assuming that you’re playing red, move both stones from point 24 to 18, and 2 stones from 13 to 7. You now control the most important points on the board. Nice start.
Another good first roll is double 1’s. And this is where risk comes in.
You have 2 choices – move two stones from 6 to 5, then two from 8 to 7. This lets you control the 7 point, but leaves you vulnerable with a blot on 8. A safer option is two stones from 6 to 5, then one stone from 8 to 7 to 6. I’ll talk about this trade off later.
If your starting roll is 3 and 5, move one stone from 8 to 3, and one from 6 to 3. This creates a block on the 3 point. Similarly, you can move the same stones with starting rolls of 1-3, 2-4, or 4-6 to make blocks on the 5, 4 or 2 points, respectively.
If your starting roll is double 2’s, 3’s, 4’s or 5’s, you can use two stones each from the 6 point to make blocks at the 4, 3 or 2 point; and/or two stones from the 8 point, or two from the 13 point. Again, the disadvantage of taking two stones from the 8 point is that you leave a vulnerable blot behind.
Most of the other starting rolls are less desirable because you can’t make a new block with them, and they may leave you with one, two or three blots.
You can play it safe, such as with a 2-5. Move one stone from the 13 point to 8, then continue to the 6 point. Then, just keep playing safe this way, either making new blocks, or only moving stones on existing blocks. The downside of a safe game is that you become less flexible, unable to make new blocks as easily, and your opponent can escape past you faster.
Wow, that was a lot of writing, just for the first roll of the game. Woof.
To be continued.