How to play Backgammon

Backgammon playing pieces are known variously as checkers, draughts, stones, men, counters, pawns, discs, pips, chips, or nips.

The objective is to remove (or ‘bear off’) all of one’s own checkers from the board before one’s opponent can do the same. The checkers are scattered initially, and may be blocked or hit by the opponent. As the playing time for each individual game is short, it is often played in matches, where victory is awarded to the first player to reach a certain number of points.

To start the game, each player rolls one die, and the player with the higher number moves first using the numbers shown on both dice. If the players roll the same number, they must roll again. Both dice must land completely flat on the right-hand side of the gameboard. The players then alternate turns, rolling two dice at the beginning of each round.

After rolling the dice, players must, if possible, move their checkers according to the number shown on each die. For example, if the player rolls a 6 and a 3 (notated as “6-3”), the player must move one checker six points forward, and another or the same checker three points forward. The same checker may be moved twice, as long as the two moves can be made separately and legally: six and then three, or three and then six. If a player rolls two of the same number, which are called ‘doubles’, that player must play each die twice. On any roll, a player must move according to the numbers on both dice if it is at all possible to do so. If one or both numbers do not allow a legal move, the player forfeits that portion of the roll and the turn ends. If moves can be made according to either one die or the other, but not both, the higher number must be used. If the move by one die is not legally possible, but such a move is made possible by the moving of the other die, that move is compulsory.

During a move, a checker may land on any point that is unoccupied or is occupied by one or more of the player’s own checkers. It may also land on a point occupied by exactly one opposing checker, or “blot”. In this case, the blot has been “hit”, and is placed in the middle of the board on the bar that divides the two sides of the playing surface. A checker may never land on a point occupied by two or more opposing checkers; thus, no point is ever occupied by checkers from both players simultaneously. There is no limit to the number of checkers that can occupy a point at any given time.

Checkers placed on the bar must re-enter the game through the opponent’s home board before any other move can be made. A roll of 1 allows the checker to enter on the 24-point (opponent’s 1), a roll of 2 on the 23-point (opponent’s 2), and so forth, up to a roll of 6 allowing entry on the 19-point (opponent’s 6). Checkers may not enter on a point occupied by two or more opposing checkers. Checkers can enter on unoccupied points, or on points occupied by a single opposing checker; in the latter case, the single checker is hit and placed on the bar. More than one checker can be on the bar at a time. A player may not move any other checkers until all checkers on the bar belonging to that player have re-entered the board. If a player has checkers on the bar, but rolls a combination that does not allow any of those checkers to re-enter, the player does not move. If the opponent’s home board is completely “closed” (i.e. all six points are each occupied by two or more checkers), there is no roll that will allow a player to enter a checker from the bar, and that player stops rolling and playing until at least one point becomes open (occupied by one or zero checkers) due to the opponent’s moves.

When all of a player’s checkers are in that player’s home board, that player may start removing them; this is called “bearing off”. A roll of 1 may be used to bear off a checker from the 1-point, a 2 from the 2-point, and so on. A die may not be used to bear off checkers from a lower-numbered point unless there are no checkers on any higher points. For example, if a player rolls a 6 and a 5, but has no checkers on the 6-point and two on the 5-point, then the 6 and the 5 must be used to bear off the two checkers from the 5-point. When bearing off, a player may also move a lower die roll before the higher even if that means the full value of the higher die is not fully utilized. For example, if a player has exactly one checker remaining on the 6-point, and rolls a 6 and a 1, the player may move the 6-point checker one place to the 5-point with the lower die roll of 1, and then bear that checker off the 5-point using the die roll of 6; this is sometimes useful tactically. As before, if there is a way to fully use the moves showing on the dice, by moving checkers within the home board and/or bearing them off, the player must do so.

If one player has not borne off any checkers by the time that player’s opponent has borne off all fifteen, then the player has lost a gammon, which counts for double a normal loss. If the losing player has not borne off any checkers and still has checkers on the bar or in the opponent’s home board, then the player has lost a backgammon, which counts for three times a normal loss

Cheating

Because this game utilizes dice, this is where most cheating will occur. Players can attempt to manipulate which numbers appear on top after they roll the dice. There are several techniques cheaters follow, including manipulating how the dice settle in the rolling cup, holding one die while only rolling one, or taking a look into the cup before rolling, to see how the dice are likely to fall.

There is a strong element of luck in this game, so it is not entirely unusual for someone to hit a particularly profitable streak. However, players should keep an eye out for cheating behaviour, such as encouragement to raise the stakes (so that they can collect more from you once they manipulate the game) and a suspiciously long series of critical shots. While there is a randomness to the game, keeping an eye out for suspect behaviour can help alert you to potential cheating.

Online

The game’s international popularity has made it a great candidate for online play. Like poker and blackjack, backgammon has taken the online casino world by storm and players can find many different sites offering the game online.