How To Play Backgammon Board Game & Guide For Beginners

Basics

Backgammon is a game between two players on a specially constructed board. Each player controls a set of 15 identical pieces – called checkers or chips, which are differentiated from those of his or her opponent by a contrasting color.   

The set of chips belonging to each player, move around the board in pre-designated, opposing directions (clock-wise vs counter clock-wise), based on the rolls of a pair of dice.  

Board 

The board contains 24 narrow Isosceles triangles. The pointed tips of 12 triangles emerging from the top edge of the board, face the pointed tips of 12 triangles emerging from the bottom edge of the board – rather like the upper and lower sets of a shark’s teeth.   

Each triangle is called a point. The points function as spaces on the board, along which players’ pieces move, based on the roll of the dice. Points are notionally numbered from 1 to 24 as shown in the picture below.  
  
Physically, the board is vertically divided into two recessed, rectangular halves, by a ridge running down its center, called the bar. There is a raised frame around outer edges of both halves of the board, matching the height of the central ridge or bar.  

Notionally, the board is divided into four quadrants. On one side of the bar – players decide by mutual consent whether it’s the left half or the right half – the two quadrants facing each other are the ‘home boards’ of each player. The two quadrants facing each other on the other side of the bar are their respective ‘outer boards’.   

 Hence in the figure shown below, quadrant 1 and 4 are the home boards, while quadrant 2 and 3 are the outer boards, for players 1 and 2 respectively.  

Guide to setup Backgammon Board Game

Set-up Board

Player 1, playing with darker colored chips, starts with:   

  • 5 chips on point 6 in his or her home quadrant  
  • 3 chips on point 8 in his or her outer quadrant  
  • 5 chips on point 13 in player 2’s outer quadrant  
  • 2 chips on point 24 in player 2’s home quadrant  

Player 2 plays with light colored chips, the starting positions of which mirror those of player 1’s chips as shown in the figure below.   

Gameplay 

Broad Objective 

Each player must, through a combination of luck (roll of dice) and offensive and defensive tactics (scoring hits, setting up blocks, etc.), attempt to move all their chips, first to their own respective home quadrants, and then bear them off the board altogether, while attempting to prevent his or her opponent from achieving the same objective. The first player to bear all his or her chips off the board wins the game. 

Direction of Movement   

As shown below, player 1 attempts to move all his darker colored chips, distributed around the board, in a counter-clockwise direction, first to his home – the bottom, right-hand-side – quadrant, before bearing them off the board.   

While player 2 moves his lighter colored chips distributed around the board, in a clockwise direction, first to his home – the top, right-hand-side –quadrant, before bearing them off the board.     

Who Goes First?  

Both players roll a single dice each. The one rolling a higher number starts. The two numbers thus rolled (to decide who goes first) effectively becomes the first roll of the game. The player who starts, moves basis this very roll.  

Basis For Movement

Players take alternating turns to move their chips forward through the points, in the designated direction, based on the roll of the dice.   

A player’s chip cannot be moved to a point that is already occupied by two or more of his or her opponent’s chips. In such cases, the player needs to find an alternative move.   

Unlike many other board games, the numbers displayed by the two dice on each roll, are not taken cumulatively, but constitute separate moves.  

In other words, if a player rolls a 2 and a 4, he or she may move one chip four points ahead and another chip two points ahead, provided both destination points are open (not already occupied by two or more of the opponent’s chips).  

The player may of course choose to move one chip six points ahead, but it is still seen as two separate moves. The player may complete this moveprovided:   

  • The destination point (six points ahead) is open  
  • One or both of the intermediate points (two or four points ahead) are open.  

Note that even if one intermediate point (say two points ahead) is not open, the player can still move six points ahead by first choosing to move four points ahead (thereby circumventing the block), and then moving ahead the remaining two steps, unimpeded – and vice versa.   

However, the player may not move ahead six points even if it is open, if the both intermediate points (two and four points ahead) are not open (i.e. opponent has two or more chips on both intermediate points), since the player is blocked from making either of the two constituent moves adding up to six.   

Blocks

A player may deliberately set up block (multiple points in close proximity, with stacks of two or more chips) as a defensive tactic, impeding the progress of a certain number of his or her opponent’s chips.   

Hits And Re-Entries  

A player may deliberately attempt an offensive tactic by targeting a particular point on the board, occupied by a single chip – called a blot – belonging to his or her opponent. When the player lands on that point, he or she scores a hit against the opposing blot, sending it to the bar.    

The opponent must then roll the dice to bring the piece on the bar, back into play, starting from the point, farthest from its ultimate destination (home quadrant), before he or she can proceed to move any other pieces.   

If the player rolls a number on the dice that blocks the chip on the bar, from re-entry onto the board (due to the presence of a stack of two or more of the first player’s chips on the landing point) the opponent forfeits that turn and waits for the next turn to try again . 

Rolling Doubles  

A player rolling doubles effectively plays the numbers shown on the pair of dice twice over. So, a player who rolls two sixes for instance, get four turns of six each. He or she may use any combination of chips to complete the move to his or her maximum advantage.  

Bearing off 

Only once a player gets all of his or her chips into his or her home quadrant, can he or she begin to bear their chips of the board, and stack them in a special rack often provided on the side frame of the board. This too is determined by the roll of the dice. The player who bears all his or her chips off the board first, is declared the winner.    

Doubling in Backgammon

Doubling   

All backgammon sets come with a doubling cube which is usually used for gambling or in tournament play, involving multiple games, where winners are decided on the basis of the greatest number of games won.    

The doubling cube may be used at any time during the game. Enables players, who believe they are in a favorable position, to raise the stakes, to register between 2 and 64 game wins with just a single victory.   

The doubling cube bears the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64. The player shows by how much he or she is raising the stakes, by placing the cube in a manner that displays the appropriate number face-up.  

If the opponent refuses to accept the raised stakes, he or she forfeits the game. If the opponent accepts the raised stakes, he owns the cube and can re-double the stakes, should the tide subsequently turn, in his or her favor.   

Gammons and Backgammons  

At the end of the game, if the losing player has been unable to bear off even one of his chips, he or she is gammoned and loses two games (or twice the value of the doubling cube).   

Even worse, if the loser has not been able to bear off any of his chips and still has a chip left either on the bar or in the opponent’s home quadrant, he or she is backgammoned and loses three games (or thrice the value of the doubling cube).  

Optional Rules

Automatic Doubles  

If identical numbers are rolled on the first turn the doubling cube is automatically turned to two. The victor in that game ends up registering at least two wins.  

Beavers 

When a player redoubles immediately after accepting a double, while retaining the doubling cube. The opponent then has the option of accepting and continuing, or refusing and forfeiting, the game – as with a regular double.  

Backgammon Glossary/Jacoby Rule

Gammons and backgammons count as a single victory unless the doubling cube is brought into play. This encourages players to speed up a match by using the doubling cube every game.  

Go Play! Royal Chess Mall

Backgammon may appear unconventional and seems complicated to beginners, but once players get used to the rules and begin to understand and deploy more advanced moves, it becomes a more and more compelling game to play. Who knows – you could just be the next one to jump aboard the Backgammon Bandwagon!