Backgammon relies on dice rolling, so if your opponent rolls sixes while you roll ones, you're probably going to lose no matter what you do. But because so many dice are rolled during a game of backgammon, the luck usually evens out, and whoever plays the better strategy is likely to win.
Here are the five basic backgammon strategies.
The Running Game
The running game is the simplest backgammon strategy and simply involves running your checkers towards your home board as swiftly as possible.
As you might expect, if both players play a running game, whoever rolls better will win the game. For this reason, you should commit to a running game only if you open with strong rolls.
Beginners who believe that higher rolls always win a game of backgammon are generally only familiar with the running game strategy.
The blitz is an all-out attack on your opponent's vulnerable checkers. Rather than simply running for home, or trying to build points along the board, the blitz strategy involves landing on your opponent's checkers whenever possible to send them to the bar. The advantage of this is not only setting your opponent back some number of pips, but you may also be able to trap some checkers on the bar if your opponent does not roll the right numbers to come back onto the board.
Keep in mind that attacking close to your home row doesn't lose your opponent very many pips, and if your attacking checker remains vulnerable, you are at risk to lose many pips yourself.
Priming is a strategy that involves making a "prime," or connected series of made points along the board. Many experts consider this the essential strategy when trying to learn how to win at backgammon.
By creating four made points in a row, you form a wall which your opponent cannot get past without rolling a five or six.
This wall not only delays your opponents but also provides an easy target for your other advancing checkers to find safe points.
Priming is most effective when combined with the blitz, which is referred to as the "two-way forward" attack. The blitz puts your opponent's checkers on the bar, and the prime makes sure that coming off of the bar is very difficult, resulting in many wasted dice rolls for your opponent.
The Holding Game
Moving away from your home board, the holding game relies on maintaining an anchor point in your opponent's home board. Although it is often wise to advance your furthest checkers early in the game to avoid being trapped, leaving an anchor point on the opponent's home board gives you two advantages.
Defensively, it gives you a safe place to land in case one of your checkers gets sent to the bar. This prevents an opponent from completely priming you into automated defeat.
Offensively, the holding game lets your anchor provide a reasonable threat to your opponent's advancing checkers. If you capture a checker in your opponent's home board, and then your opponent captures your checker in response, you still come out far ahead in pips.
The Back Game
The back game takes the holding game a step further and relies on maintaining multiple made points on your opponent's home board.
Obviously, since you only start with two checkers on your opponent's home board, you will only play the back game if your checkers are knocked onto the bar repeatedly. The back game is not an intentional strategy, so much as a way to salvage a game where you are being beaten up.
In addition to increasing the offensive threat of the holding game, the back game also inconveniences your opponent by taking up valuable home board real estate.