Backgammon - How To Play

Backgammon is a board game for two players played on a board which consists of 24 thin triangles (points) in alternating colors. Each player gets 15 checkers which are arranged in a specific format across the board and the aim of the game is for each player to move their pieces into their home board (side) and then completely remove the checkers from the board.

Backgammon is a game with a rich history, originating in Ancient Egypt. The game is a simple one to learn with a few basic rules and strategic moves which is enjoyed by young and old alike. Click for details on, history and backgammon terminology/glossary.

The Backgammon Board

The Backgammon board is usually made up of two sides which fold into a book form when closed. The board is opened up and the checkers are set up on the deeper side of the board to facilitate easy throwing of the dice. The board consists of 24 narrow triangles known as points, which alternate in color. The board consists of four sections or quadrants, each containing six points. The quadrant closest to the player on the right are referred to as his home board and the other two quadrants are the outer board. The home boards and outer boards are separated by a thin panel down the middle known as the bar.

The points each have their own numbers, beginning at the player’s home board. The outer point is number 24, which correlates with the opponent’s number 1. Each player has 15 checkers of a specific color and they are set up as follows:

• 2 on each point 24
• 5 on each point 13
• 3 on each point 8
• 5 on each point 6

Each player is also given their own set of dice and a dice cup used for shaking. Some players use a doubling cube with numbers 2,4,8,16,32 and 64 in order to track the stakes in the game.

The Object of Backgammon

The object of backgammon is for a player to move all of their checkers into their home board and then remove them. The first player to have removed (bear off) all their checkers from the board is the winner.

Start of Play

The game begins with each player throwing one die which determines which player goes first and what the first move is. If both players throw the same number, they continue rolling the die until different numbers come up. The player which threw the highest number plays his first move according to the numbers that appear on both dice. After the initial roll, the players each throw their own two dice in alternating turns.

The direction of the checkers is according to the arrows in the figure below. The white checkers move from point 24 through the two outer boards and onto the white home base. The opponent will move in the exact opposite direction towards their home base.

The player moves their checkers according to the numbers shown on the rolled dice. The checkers are always moved in the direction as indicated, from a higher point number to a lower point number.

Rules of Moving the Checkers

• Checkers are moved to an open point on the board only. An open point means any point not occupied by two or more opposing checkers. A player can move his pieces to any of the points on which his own checkers are placed.
• The rolled dice numbers can be used as separate entities or as one combined entity. If a player throws a three and a five he can move one checker 5 points and one checker 3 points to open spaces; or he can move one checker a total of eight points – but only if one of the dice numbers (five or three) is also open. The figure below shows to options for the white player to move a 3 and 5.

• If a player rolls a double, then they move the number shown on the dice twice. If a player throws 5 & 5 then they may move their checkers four times five moves. Any combination of these moves is acceptable, as long as they land on open points.
• Both of the numbers of the rolled dice must be used if possible. When only one number can be played, and not both, it must still be played. If either numbers, but not both, can be played, the larger number should be played. If neither numbers can be played out, the player misses a turn. If doubles are thrown and not all the numbers can be played out, then the player must move as many as he can.

Hitting and Entering

If a point is occupied by a single checker of either color, it is called a blot. A blot is a checker that is vulnerable of being hit. If an opposing checker lands on the blot, the checker is removed and placed on the bar. If a player is hit and ends up having checkers on the bar, their first obligation on their next move is to enter those pieces onto the opponent’s home board (i.e. start the checkers run from the beginning). A checker is entered by having it land on an open point in the opponent’s home board on a number corresponding to the rolled dice.

If a player throws four and six, then he can enter his checker on the four point, because it is open, but not the six as it is occupied by the opponent’s checkers.

If neither the four nor the six are open, then the player misses his turn. If a player can only enter some, but not all of his checkers on the bar, then he must enter as many as possible and forfeit the remainder of the throw. After the last of the checkers have been entered, any unused numbers of the dice must be played – either moving another checker on the board or the checker that was entered.

Bearing Off

In order to start bearing off the checkers from the board, a player must have ALL of their 15 checkers in their home board. This includes any checkers that may have been hit during the game and are stuck on the bar or in other quadrants of the board. A player bears off a checker by rolling the dice in their turn and removing the checkers which are situated on the point number corresponding to the dice number. Rolling a 3 allows the player to remove a checker from point 3 in their home board.

If there is no checker on the same point number as the dice, the player must move checkers from higher numbered points to lower points. If there are no checkers on the high number points, then a player has to bear off a checker from the highest possible point on which he has checkers. If other moves are an option, a player is not obligated to bear off.

If a player is hit during the bearing off process, the player needs to first enter the checker and move it back to the home board before continuing the bearing off process. The first player to bear off all their 15 checkers wins the game.

Playing for Stakes – Doubling

Generally, when playing for stakes, the game is played for an agreed stake per point. Each game starts on one point and as the game proceeds, a player who feels confident can suggest doubling the stakes. This can only be done at the start of his turn, before rolling the dice.

The opponent is allowed to refuse the offer to double, but in this case he concedes the game and pays the opponent the equivalent of one point. If he accepts the double, the game continues according to the higher stakes. The player who accepts the double becomes the owner of the cube, which means he is the only one allowed to propose the next doubling of stakes.

Subsequent doubles are called redoubles and if refused, the player must pay the number of points that were at stake before the redouble offer. If accepted again, the player becomes the owner of the cube and the game continues at the new higher stakes. There is no limit to how many redoubles are allowed in a game.

Gammons and Backgammons

At the end of play, if the losing player has removed at least one checker from the board, then he only loses the value shown on the doubling cube. However, in the case that the player has not removed any of his checkers he is ‘gammoned’. This means that the player loses twice the amount shown on the doubling cube. The worse case scenario is if the player loses while still having checkers either on the bar or in the winner’s home board – he is then ‘backgammoned’ and loses three times the amount shown on the doubling cube.

Miscellaneous Rules

• Some players adopt the rule that if identical numbers are thrown on the first roll, the stakes are automatically doubled. A limit on the amount of automatic doubles is usually agreed upon by the players.
• The Beaver Rule allows players who double, to immediately redouble while maintaining possession of the doubling cube. As with a normal double, the player has the option of accepting or rejecting the offer.
• The Jacoby Rule states that gammons and backgammons are only counted as a single game if there have been no doubles during play.
• The dice must always be rolled together and land flat, in the right hand section of the board. If a die lands outside of the right hand section, lands on a checker, or does not land flat, the player rerolls.
• If a player picks up his dice, it indicates that his turn is finished. If a player rolls before an opponent has picked up his dice and finished his turn, the player’s roll is not counted.

Backgammon Strategy

Backgammon is a game that involves both luck and skill. While your strategy is totally dependant on the roll of the dice, it is what a player does with these dice which counts. An experienced player will know how to move the checkers with specific rolls of dice in order to create as many points with two or more checkers.

By creating as many points with two or more checkers on, allows a player the confidence to move his checkers around the board with less risk of being hit. A player must always aim to have as many of their checkers covered as possible in order to minimize this risk. This is especially essential in the home board area if an opponent still has checkers on his back board.

There are generally two techniques when playing backgammon about how to approach the game and what to make one’s priority:

The first technique is when a player tries to get his two back checkers out of the opponent’s home board as quickly as possible. A smart (and lucky) player will be able to move these checkers off quickly and then have one less worry when attempting to move all his checkers towards the home board. The disadvantage of this strategy is that while a player is concentrating on getting the pieces out of the opponent’s home board, the opponent has increased chance of hitting them and gaining positions themselves.

One of the common forms of backgammon strategy is opening moves. It has been proven that successful and smart opening moves can help a player win a game and that repeat planned opening moves increase a player’s winning run. It is suggested that a list of the popular opening moves are memorized by players, or can be printed out and kept handy by new players.

Dice Combination Suggested Move

 Dice Combination Suggested Move 6/5 Move all the way across the board with a back checker 6/4 Move two checkers to point 2 Move all the way across with a back checker to point 14 Move a back checker to the opponent’s bar point (24/18) and bring a check down from the mid point 6/3 Move from point 24 to point 15 6/2 Move to point 16 Move to the bar to bring a checker down from the mid point 6/1 Create a bar point 5/4 Move a back checker (24/20) and bring a checker down (13/8) Bring two checkers down from the mid point (13/8; 13/9) 5/3 Create a point 3 5/2 Move a back checker two spaces (24/20) and bring one down (13/8) Bring two checkers down (13/8; 13/11) 5/1 Separate the back checkers and bring one down (24/23; 13/8) Create a point 5 (13/8; 6/5) 4/3 Move three off the back point (24/21) and bring four down from the mid point (13/9) 4/2 Create a point 4 4/1 Separate the back checkers and bring a checker down (24/23, 13/9) 3/2 Move three from the back point (24/21) and bring four down from the mid point (13/11) 3/1 Create a Point 5 2/1 Separate the back checkers (24/23) and move to point 5

Ultimately, every player will find the backgammon technique that best suits their needs. A player might have to adjust their technique or strategy in accordance with their opponent’s strategy. For example, if the opponent’s strategy is to hit as much as possible, then a player will have to take protective steps. The combination of luck and skill, experience and concentration will help a player create their own technique which will serve them for endless hours of backgammon play.

Summary

Backgammon is possibly the oldest board game but the fun and excitement surrounding the game have not abated over the years. Backgammon demands a combination of luck and skill, as well as a knowledge of classic moves which can be played in most situations. A specific approach to backgammon is required by the player in order to determine the type of game he will play.

As with most popular games, the online casino industry has also adopted backgammon in recent years and players now have the option of playing 24/7 on their computer screen. Online casinos offer free game options for those players who for some reason are yet to play real backgammon. Once these free games have been experienced, players can up their level of excitement and test their backgammon skills for money and any of the hundreds of online casinos offering this fabulous game.

Posted by Denise Marie