How To Play Backgammon

Of all of the board games played today, Backgammon is one of the oldest. Its origins predate Chess and the forerunners of Backgammon may even predate Go. Today Backgammon is played throughout the world and can be enjoyed by players of most all ages.
In its most common form, Backgammon is a two player games where the object is for a player to remove all of her or his pieces before the opponent can. A normal game of Backgammon usually takes less than 30 minutes to play.  To play Backgammon, you will need the following:

  • A Backgammon board (or table): While players who enjoy Backgammon will often wish to obtain a dedicated Backgammon board, it is quite common to find Backgammon boards on the reverse side of mass-produced checker boards.

  • 15 pieces (or checkers) per player: These can be any convenient marker.
  • A pair of dice: While many players prefer to have a pair of dice per player, a single pair of six-sided dice is all that is needed.
  • A doubling cube (optional): A doubling cube is a six-sided die (the singular form of dice) that is marked 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 (or 2 to the power of 1 through 6). The doubling cube is used if the players are playing for stakes. Playing for stakes can simply be a way to speed up play, increase the intensity of play in match play or be used when Backgammon is being played as a gambling game.
  • An opponent: Backgammon is a two player game. And while nothing can compare to playing Backgammon with a friend who is sitting across from you, there are several good computer programs (both commercial and freeware) that will allow you to play against your computer. There are also several sites on the Internet that will allow you to play against other players throughout the world.
  • The rules of Backgammon

    1. Setup: A Backgammon board has two sides, with each side lined with twelve long triangles called points. The points are numbered relative to the players, with the point numbered 1 being in the lower right-hand side of the board and the point numbered 24 being the point in the upper right-hand corner. This means that point 1 for one player is the point 24 for the other. Points 1 through 6 are often called the inner board or the home board, while points 7 through 12 are known as the outer board.

    The board is split by a vertical bar that separates the inner and outer boards. This area is where captured pieces are kept until they are released back into play. The playing pieces are set on the board in the following manner for each player:

    • Two (2) pieces on point 24.
    • Three (3) pieces on point 8.
    • Five (5) pieces on points 6.
    • Five (5) pieces on point 13.

    This will give a total of thirty (30) pieces on the board at the beginning of the game. To start the game, each player rolls a die and the player with the higher value showing goes first (in the case of a tie, simply re-roll).

  • Moving: The object of the game is to move all of your pieces to your inner board so that you can remove them from play (this is called to "bear off" a piece). Therefore, movement is in a counter-clockwise direction (from point 24 to point 1). Each turn you roll two (2) dice and move your pieces according to the values shown. Each die must be used to move a single piece the complete number of points shown on the die (in other words, you cannot 'break-up' a single die). Once one of the dice has been used, you may move either the same piece or a different piece with the other die. For example, let's say you rolled a four (4) and a six (6). You could then move:
    • A single piece four (4) points and then move that same piece six (6) points for a total of ten (10) points.
    • One piece four (4) points and then move a different piece six (6) points.

    If you roll doubles, treat it as if you had four dice with the same value. For example, if you rolled a pair of threes (3) you could move:

    • Four (4) different pieces three (3) points each.
    • A single piece four (4) times, three (3) points at a time.
    • Two pieces twice, three (3) points at a time.
    • A single piece twice, three (3) points at a time and then move two other pieces three (3) points each.
    • A single piece three (3) times three points at a time and then a different piece three (3) points.

    There are a few limits as to how and where you can move:

    • You most always move from a higher-numbered point  to a lower-numbered point (i.e. you could move from point 12 to point 9 but you could not move from point 9 to point 12).
    • You may only move to open points. An open point is one that is:
      • Unoccupied (empty)
      • Contains only your pieces
      • Contains only one of your opponent's pieces (called a blot). Landing on a space that contains a blot is called "hitting" the piece. When this happens, your opponent's piece is captured and put on the bar.

    You may only move if you do not have any captured pieces on the bar. If you do have captured pieces on the bar, they must be put back into play before you can move.

    • To put a piece back into play, you use one or more of your dice to move a captured piece onto the point with the same number that is showing on the die in your opponent's inner board.
    • For example, if you have two pieces captured and roll a two (2) and a five (5), you may take piece from the bar and place it on your opponent's point two (2), which would be your point twenty-three (23), and the other captured piece on your opponent's point five (5), which would be your point twenty (20).
    • The same rules apply for removing pieces from the bar as apply for moving a piece onto a point (it must be empty, have only your own pieces or contain only one of your opponent's pieces).

    Once you have finished moving, your opponent then takes his turn. If there are no legal moves for you make, you forfeit the unused portion of your turn.

  • Winning: Once all of your pieces are in your inner board, you may begin to remove them from the game (or to 'bear off' a piece). To bear off a piece is just like getting a captured piece off of the bar, only in reverse. You use the value showing on a die to determine from which point a piece will be removed from the game. If you cannot use all of your dice, you may move a piece from a higher point to a lower point instead. As with moving, if you cannot make a legal move you forfeit the rest of your turn. Whoever gets all of her pieces off the board first is the winner.
  • The Doubling Cube: Backgammon has several variations and ways to play. One of the more common involves the use of a doubling cube. This special die can be used to show how high the stakes have been raised in a game. This is useful if several games are to be played in a row (i.e. match play) or in the case of backgammon being played as a gambling game. The rules for doubling differ based on the variation played but the most common ruling is that a player who feels that his position is strong enough (or wishes to bluff the other player) may elect at the beginning of his turn (before he rolls the dice) to double the stakes. If the opponent refuses, she forfeits the game and loses one point. If the opponent accepts the double, the stakes are doubled and she becomes the owner of the cube (allowing her to make the next double if and when she wishes). Even though the doubling cube only shows a maximum value of sixty-four (64), there is no limit to how high the doubling may go.
  • Back and gammon: When playing for stakes, it is not uncommon to find the following rules:
    • If the losing player got at least one piece off the board, he loses only the current value of the stakes.
    • If the losing player did not get any pieces off the board, but has all of her pieces in her inner board, she loses twice the current value of the stakes. This is called being gammoned.
    • If the losing player did not get any pieces off the board, and does not have all of his pieces in his inner board, he loses three times the current value of the stakes. This is called being backgammoned.

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