How to use eXtreme Gammon as an Effective Learning Tool
By Phil Simborg

(A Guide for Beginners and Intermediates)

 You can play backgammon for 25 years and not learn a darn thing. I know this is true, because that is precisely what I did! Then one day I found out, THE HARD WAY, how little I knew, and I began taking lessons, reading books, and working with the available software of the day (called Jellyfish). I found out that many of the moves I thought were correct were very wrong, and I learned why. I found out that my approach to the doubling cube was completely wrong, and I completely misunderstood how to value gammons and backgammons.

That was 26 years ago, and for the last 26 years I have constantly worked on improving my game, and though I am a respected player and teacher, I still have much room for improvement. But something very exciting happened to me about 3 years ago—I discovered eXtreme Gammon and finally had backgammon software that I could rely on for the right answers in a relatively short period of time. Prior to eXtreme Gammon I was often given the wrong information from computer programs, and to get reasonably good information took quite a long time to complete lengthy rollouts.

So now that we finally have a program that we can rely on, it would be a shame not to use it or not to use it properly. Unfortunately, even many people who have purchased the software are not using it fully or properly to help improve their game.

There are so many ways to use XG and so many areas that provide excellent information, it is well worth the time for any new user to read the help section and go through the index to learn the definition of terms. I know, again from personal experience, that most people don’t like to take the time to do this, so I will give you some ideas that should help you get started and on the right track.

There are five basic ways I use eXtreme Gammon to help my game: 

1)      I put specific positions into the program and analyze them to see what is the best checker play or cube decision;

2)      I play games or matches against eXtreme Gammon and have the program alert me when I make an error, and then I study the error to find out what the best play is and why;

3)      I play games and matches against friends on eXtreme Gammon and we either study all of our errors, or we set the program NOT to show the errors but we bet on each move to see who is right and then look at the answer;

4)      I import games that I play on various web sites and see how I played and study my mistakes;

5)      I use the “profile” section to see what areas of my game are most in need of further work and study as well as to check my progress.

In other articles, I will go into much more detail about specifically how I do each of the 5 things mentioned above, but I also want you to know that in addition to the above areas, there are many other learning tools in eXtreme Gammon that you can use to gain tremendous insights into this complex game.  For example, if you click on the “analyze” tab at the top of the page you will see several options.

Starting from the top the first four choices allow you to do cube and checker analysis of the current position on the board, and the next two items allow you to set the level of analysis depending on just how thorough and detailed you want your information to be. Of course, the more accurate the better, but accuracy does take more time. I generally set the level to “thorough” as I find it “extremely” accurate in a relatively short period of time. If there is a specific position that really interests me, I often go back and analyze just that position using XGRoller + or even ++.


The next tab down is called “dice distribution.” This is an amazing tool which tells me, very quickly, how the player on roll would play every possible roll, how good or bad each roll is, and what his equity (winning percentages) is after each roll if played properly. You can even extend this option to show every possible roll that your opponent could roll on the next roll in response and what the resulting equity would be.   This tool is particularly helpful in providing an understanding of “market losers,” and it helps you better understand the strength or weakness of a given position. By the way, a “market loser” is a sequence of your next roll and his next roll that would turn a position from a take to a drop. The major reason I would double my opponent, even though I believe he would take, is if I have too many market losers.  (How many is too many depends on the score and the specific position.)

The next tab down is “race formulas” and this applies primarily to positions where there is little or no chance of future contact…all of my checkers are past all of my opponent’s checkers. As you will see, there are several approaches that can be applied including: pip count, Trice, Thorp, Keith, and EPC. Each of these methods, or a combination of them, can be used to estimate winning chances in a race to a very high degree of accuracy. If you truly want to excel at backgammon, you must understand the pip count, as that is the basis for all formulas, and I recommend Trice and Keith for most intermediate players.


The next tab is the Match Equity table, and this table tells you what your odds are of winning the match at various scores. In order to understand this table you first need to “convert” your score to an “away score.”    You see, in backgammon what is important is not how many points you have scored, but how many points you and your opponent need to win the match.  For example, if you are playing a match to 7 and you have scored 3 points and your opponent has scored 2 points, you need 4 points to win the match and he needs 5 points to win the match. Therefore, you are “4-away” from winning and he is “5-away” from winning. I have even changed XG to show the “away score” so that I get in the habit of thinking about the game this way.

The way to change to the “away score” is to right click on the score and select “Show Away Score.”

In our example above, if I am leading 4away to 5away, according to the match equity table, my odds of winning the match are 57.73 percent.   Knowing the match equity helps us understand how the use of the doubling cube changes at various match scores and we can use our match equity to calculate or estimate or “take points” and “gammon values” at any match score.   It is important to know that at some scores we will give the cube much sooner or much later depending on our opponent’s take points and gammon risks, and if we are getting the cube, our decision to take or pass also changes with the score.

 I use the “cube information” tab quite a bit as this tab tells me the actual take points for any score as well as the value of gammons at each score. I prefer to check the “non gammon-adjusted” box as that gives me the basic information for every score without consideration for the specific position shown.

In other articles, I will go into more detail about my favorite settings, how to set up positions to analyze and how I analyze them, how to play against the program for practice, and importing games from various on-line game sites.

 Note: Phil Simborg is a professional backgammon player and one of the leading backgammon teachers in the world. Phil and his teaching partners have a web site which provides a position of the day with an analysis and other interesting information at