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Bearing Off in Backgammon – The Race


Backgammon is often seen as a race between the competing players and therefore it is vital to learn when to double at the point when all contact has been broken.

We can begin with the Pip Count, which is basically the amount of pips a player needs to roll (with the dice) in order to bear-off all of the remaining checkers from the backgammon board. For each side, the pip count on the starting position is 167.

You can work out the pip count by multiplying the amount of checkers on each point by the value of the point and then calculating the total. If you take a look at the above diagram, the black's count is as follows: (2x24) + (5x13) + (3x8) + (5x6) = 48 + 65 + 24 + 30 = 167.

Some definitions are needed if you want to make sense of a basic racing formula.

Leader's Pip Count: This is the amount of pips a leader is required to have so he can bear off all of his checkers.

Trailers Pip Count: This is the amount of pips a trailer is required to have so he can bear off all of his checkers.

The race formula is therefore relatively straightforward plus it also quite effective.

Imagine that the leader's pip count is 'L' and the trailers pip count is 'T'.

When the value of 'T' becomes 8% higher than 'L' then it is essential that the leader doubles.

When the value of 'T' becomes 8% higher than 'L' then it is essential that the leader re-doubles.

When the value of 'T' becomes 12% higher than 'L' then it is essential that the trailer passes the double or re-doubles.

This diagram shows a straightforward example:

Black happens to be on roll with a 100 Pip Count and the Pip Count for red is 110. This is the same as saying that L is equal to 100 and that T is equal to 110.

Due to the fact that T is 10% greater than L, it means that black should either double or re-double. Because T is still less than 12% greater than L, red (the trailer) should then accept the double.

This standard formula applies to most straightforward races but there are numerous other more complex formulae for races which take into account additional elements such as distributional factors.

Bear – Offs

A term used to describe the removal of checkers from the board is known as bearing-off (bear-offs) and this action is fairly easy to understand. Where there are no contact positions, the right play is to remove a checker from the points which correspond exactly to the numbers rolled on the dice. Therefore with a 54 you need to remove a checker from the 5 and from the 4.

You must take a checker from the next highest point if you happen to roll a number which is greater than the highest occupied point. In other words, if you only have checkers placed on the 1-pt, 2-pt and 3-pt, you will need to remove a checker from the 3-pt with any 6, 5, 4 or 3.

The tougher plays occur when your rival possess one or two anchors in your home board, or if he still has checkers on the bar. Your main objective then is to make sure that you don't leave any shots. A basic course of action is as follows:

  • Start by getting rid of the highest points.
  • Try to stay even with an equal amount of checkers on the highest occupied point and if possible, on the two highest points combined.
  • Try to avoid having stacked checkers on one point.
  • Also try to avoid leaving any gaps (which is basically a point which has no checkers on, between two points that do have checkers on).

One other thing to remember is that there is no particular order on how you can make your moves:

In this Diagram you can see that red has a checker on the bar and the black is on roll. If black plays 5/off with his 6 then any 1 will leave a blot for the red to aim for. With this in mind, the backgammon rules state that black can play 5/4 and then 4/off without leaving any shots.

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