How To Play Backgammon
Backgammon is an amazing game of high skill and strategy. Most people probably remember seeing the backgammon board on the opposite side of a checker board when they were kids. However, in many parts of the world, backgammon is THE gambling game to play. But before you learn the proper strategy for play, understanding the backgammon rules will be most helpful.
Objective of Play:
The point of backgammon is to be the first player to move all of your pieces (checkers) past your opponent and then remove them from the board (the process of removal is called 'bearing off'). The starting position involves checkers spread across the board which places them in contact with your opponent, giving him/her possible opportunities to block men from moving.
The first thing to notice about the backgammon board and the basic setup is the fact that there are a total of 24 long triangles, also known as points. Basically, these points are considered to be connected across the edge of the board, forming a continuous track in the shape of a sideways U. Each of these points is numbered from 1 to 24, with twelve on each side of the board. The board is also divided into quadrants, with an inner table and outer table for each player.
The starting position involves each player having two pieces on their 24-point, three on their own 8-point, and five pieces each on their 13- and 6-points. Of course, players will be moving their checkers in opposite directions, from their 1-point to their 24-point. Also take note of the middle strip that divides the entire board vertically. This is known as the bar, and will become very important later.
To begin play, each person will roll a single die and the one with the highest number will move first. Normally, the two throws will be used for the first movement by the winner. In other words, player one throws a 5 and player two throws a 3. Player one wins and will move either a single checker eight places (or pips), or one piece 5 points and the other 3 points. The dice must be in a flat position on the board itself to be considered a valid roll, with each player rolling in the section to their right. From this point, turns will alternate.
It should also be noted that the rolls of the dice are distinct. In the example above, using the roll of 5-3, the player may move a single checker eight pips only if there is nothing blocking it from landing three and five pips away. In other words, the player must move 5 pips first and then 3 pips...or they must move 3 pips first and then the five pips. If the opponent is occupying spaces that are both 3 and 5 pips away, another checker must be moved.
Occupying Points & 'Pointing:'
You may occupy or land on any point that is currently unoccupied or one that is already occupied by one or more of your own checkers. You may also land on a point occupied by a single opposing checker. In doing so, this 'blot' will be sent to the bar and removed from the field of play temporarily. This is called a 'hit,' and the opposing piece will need to re-enter the board and begin traveling around from the beginning once again. Any point with two or more opposing pieces may not not be hit; they are said to have 'made the point,' and cannot be attacked. The same goes for yourself: if you have any points with a single checker, moving another piece to that point will allow you to make the point and end his vulnerability to attack from your opponent. This also means no point will ever be occupied by pieces from both players simultaneously.
If your checker has been hit and is sitting on the bar, it must be re-entered into the game. This is done through your opponent's home board, which is your 19 through 24 points. These points are also numbered 1 through 6, according to your opponents reckoning. Any move made after a player has a piece sent to the bar must involve an attempt to return to field of play. Players may not make any additional moves until ALL of their checkers held on the bar have been returned to play.
By rolling a 6, the checker held on the bar will re-enter the game on the 6-point of the opponent's home board. A roll of a 3 means the checker may re-enter on the 3-point of the opponent's home board. Whatever point corresponds to the roll of the dice must also either be unoccupied by the opponent or have a blot. If you were to hit a blot, that opposing checker would also be sent to the bar and your opponent will be forced to re-enter the piece in your home board before making any additional moves.
You may have noticed from the directions above that you will already occupy the 6-point of your home board with 5 checkers. The first primary goal of play is to move the rest of your fifteen men into safe positions within your home board. Once this is accomplished, you may begin the process of bearing off. Remember that the first player to bear of all their pieces wins the game
Which pieces are used to bear off will be determined by the roll of the dice, both individually and collectively. A roll of a 2 may be used to bear off a piece from the 2 point and the 2 point only. Of course, you may also choose to move a piece from the 6-point down to the 4-point with such a roll instead. A roll may not be used to bear a piece off from a lower numbered point (i.e. the roll of a 4 to bear off a piece from the 2-point) unless there are no checkers on any higher points. In other words, each roll must be used exactly, with nothing left over until all remaining pieces that could have been moved by that roll, have been moved.
There are also a lot of tactical decisions involved in bearing off. Sometimes, a player may choose to move the roll of a lower die before a higher roll. This may mean that the full value of the higher die is not used.
Gammons & Backgammons:
There are situations which may arise that add to the sweetness of a victory in the game of backgammon. For example, when one player has borne off all of their checkers before the opponent has gotten any of their checkers off, they have won a gammon, which doubles the stakes. If the opponent not only has not borne off any pieces, but also has a checker still on the bar or in the home board of the winning player, this results in a backgammon victory...and the stakes are tripled.
The Doubling Cube:
In serious gambling games of backgammon, there is another very important feature. This is known as the doubling cube. Basically, this is a six-sided die that starts every game off in the center of the bar. The die has the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64. Normally, the starting position involves putting this on 64 and then turning it to face away from both players.
This cube determines the stakes of the game. Each player, upon beginning one of their turns, may decide to increase the stakes by taking the doubling cube and saying, “I double,” turning the cube to the next highest value. If the cube has not yet been turned, this would mean 2, in which case the stakes of the game are now twice their original agreement. There is no limit to the number of times a game may be doubled.
The opponent has the option of either accepting or rejecting the double. If they accept, the cube is then turned to the appropriate level and placed closer toward the accepting (opposing) player's side of the board. The doubling player is now said to have lost control of the cube, since he may not make another doubling action until his opponent chooses to increase the stakes once more. Conversely, the doubled player may also choose to refuse the increased stakes. In this situation, they immediately lose the game, but for the original stake.