When Not to Split Runners in Backgammon

The term "splitting" in backgammon generally refers to taking one of two checkers on a point thus leaving a blot (or two) on the board. But the term is more popularly referred to splitting runners. Initially, your runners are those two back checkers on the opponent's ace-point from starting position. Since these two pieces are on the last point on the backgammon board and they have to run all the way around to reach the inner board, it's important to play them so that they would neither be trapped nor be sent back over and over again when they do split up. To prevent both of these scenarios, we should know when not to split runners in backgammon.

Now, this decision largely depends on whether or not your opponent has made points on their inner board or not. If the latter's the case, it's relatively okay to delay splitting runners in the early phase of the game. And if your opponent has made points on their inner board, there are common situations when staying put is the best way to go about it.

One of which is when your opponent has managed to make their two-point or three-point early on. In this scenario, do not split runners just yet. It's because your opponent would be looking to hit you if you do. Now, you might be tempted to separate because of the threat of being trapped. If that's so, keep in mind that this block is weak and that you can go over it with little difficulty in later rolls.

The larger threat here is that if you do split, get hit, and then, your opponent takes their five-point or four-point. Now, that's the worst case scenario that you'd want to avoid. It's for the simple reason that you could potentially be closed out and suffer trailing behind in more pips than you'd care to be lagging on.

Another circumstance of when not to split runners in backgammon is when you've succeeded in making points in your inner board. In this case, you have to be intent in closing it out and subsequently aim at hitting an opposing piece with your runners.

Remember that a closed board affords better chances of a gammon or backgammon win if you can trap an opposing piece behind it. So, with a little patience and determination, you might have the chance of winning a double game or a triple game as well.

Generally, two of the common scenarios of when not to split runners in backgammon is when your opponent has made either their two-point or three-point and when you're intending to close out your inner board. The reason behind the first situation is because your opponent would be keener on hitting rather closing you out. In that case, it's better to avoid the temptation to leave and aim for closing your own inner board with your rolls. And to serve the closed board purpose well, hold off on splitting runners because you'll need them to take an opposing piece out so you can run home safely to win the game.

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