Learning to Play Backgammon

Backgammon Rules – an Overview

Firstly, the Ins and Outs of backgammon:

The game starts with each player rolling one die. Whoever rolls the higher number goes first, using both numbers. If the starting roll results in both dice showing the same number, called “doubles,” the players roll again. The first player moves one or more stones the number of points indicated by each die. A player can move one stone twice or two stones once each. The points passed over along the way do not matter, but the stone must end its count and land on either an unoccupied point or on a point occupied only by a player’s own stones. There is no limit on the number of a player’s stones that can occupy any one point.

The other player than rolls both dice and moves stones to match the numbers shown. Players alternate rolling the dice and moving stones. One difference from the first-move rules is that a player can land a stone on a point occupied by a single stone of the opposing player and knock it off the board. That stone is placed on the “bar,” the ridge running across the middle of the board between the two players. Any player who has one or more stones on the “bar” cannot move any other stones until all the stones on the “bar” have been moved onto the player’s home board with a die roll that allows a valid landing point in the player’s inner board. The other difference from the first-move rules is that “doubles” can now be used – the player rolling such a combination gets to move stones four instances of the number rather than two.

A player cannot refuse to move, even if the result places the player’s stones in an inferior position. If a player has no legal moves based on the die numbers, that player’s turn is over — there are no re-rolls. However, if only one of the rolled numbers allows a legal move, the player may use that number and then end their turn. If a die roll results in two numbers either of which can be used, but not both, the higher number must be used.

Starting a Backgammon Game

Setting up and Bearing Off
Backgammon is a game that will continue to challenge and mystify you from the moment you first play and understand the game properly. Getting started is easy, but we have include below a few steps and bits of information to consider to make sure your first game is enjoyed to the full.

The Backgammon Board

Today’s backgammon board has twenty-four long pointed triangles of alternating colours, twelve to a side. The two players sit on opposite sides of the length of the board. The first triangle at each player’s right is called the 24-point and is the start of each player’s circuit around the board – the colour of the 24-point matches the player’s stone colour, either dark or light.

Though not actually marked so, the triangles are numbered sequentially downward all the way to the left, then across the opposite side of the board and all the way to the right. The last triangle at the top right across the board from each player is called the 1-point. Obviously, each player’s 1-point is the other player’s 24-point. Each player’s quadrant that contains points 19-24 is called their inner or homeboard; the quadrants that contain points 7-13 are called the outer boards.

Setting Up the Board

To set up the board, each players places their stones on various triangles along the route: two on their 24-point, five on their 13-point, three on their 8-point and five on their 6-point. The result will be a symmetrical layout of opposing stones.

Bearing Off

Once all of the stones of a player have reached the other player’s home board, that player uses the die roll to “bear off” the stones. Exact rolls must be used, though a higher number can be used to bear off stones at a lower point if no stones occupy higher points. For example, if all the stones left to bear off require a three or less, a rolled five could be used to bear off any of those stones.

The first player to bear off all fifteen stones wins the game and gains one point in match play. If the losing player has not borne off any stones, the winner is given what’s called a gammon and is awarded two points in match play. If, in addition, the losing player still has stones in their inner board, the winner gets a backgammon and is awarded three points in match play. If players are playing for money, losses are, respectively, doubled and tripled over the original bet.

Learning to Play

There are plenty of great resources available on the Internet to help you learn how to play backgammon. There are also some great backgammon books available, which are often handier, as you can keep them alongside you when you are actually playing a game.

Backgammon Videos

There are lots of DVDs available to walk you throught the rules and tactics. But another great resource for learning to play backgammon is of course YouTube. Do a quick search and you will soon come across a range of videos to help you learn to play. But don’t worry if you don’t get the whole idea straight away – backgammon is a game with many depths and hidden complexities. It’s a game about logic, and always full of drama – that’s what makes backgammon such fun and so popular.