How To Play Backgammon: Master The Basics

Charise Rohm Nulsen / July 29, 2020

Backgammon is a fun game that is at least 5,000 years old. It originates back to the time of Mesopotamia when dice were made of human bone! The Royal Game of Ur may be an ancestor game that predates backgammon as we know it. Backgammon is a game that has an object of moving your checkers around the board to ultimately move your checkers off the board which is all accomplished by rolling the dice.

What is Backgammon?

Backgammon is one of the oldest games in history. Its origins date back to 3000 BC. Backgammon is extremely popular all around the world, especially as an online game which can be played with two players or with one player facing a computer program. It is a game based both in strategy and luck, and as is the case for most games, the more you play, the better you get.

The object of the game is to move all of your checkers off the board. This is known as “bearing off.” The process of bearing the checkers off can only begin when a player has all of their pieces on their home board. The home board is also known as the board on the right side when player 1 is looking at it. If a player doesn’t roll the number needed to bear off a checker, then the number must be used for a checker at a higher point that can accommodate a move with that number. 

Backgammon Setup

Backgammon is a two player game. It is played upon a board with four quadrants. Each quadrant is made up of six points. Each point can be considered a space within game play, and there will be a total of twenty-four spaces or points. Each player receives fifteen checkers and they are set up on the board as mirror images of each other. Each player has a different color set of checkers, as well as their own set of two dice and a dice rolling cup. There is also a doubling cube with the numbers two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and sixty-four on it. The doubling cube keeps track of the stakes of the round. At the start of the game, the doubling cube should be placed on the bar in the middle of the board with the number sixty-four facing up.

How do you set up the checkers in backgammon?

The points are numbered one through twenty-four with the bottom right point being number one and the top right point being number twenty-four. If you are looking at a backgammon board with player 1 being on the bottom and player 2 being on the top, starting with the pips all the way on the left, there would be five player 1 checkers on the top left most pip and five player 2 checkers on the pip underneath it. The same mirror image would occur in an opposing fashion would three checkers on the top and bottom of the fifth pips from the left on the outer board. On the home board, the top pip on the furthest left would have five checkers belonging to player 2 with five checkers belonging to player 1 below it. On the pips on the furthest right side of the home board, player 1 would have two checkers on the top, and player 2 would have 2 checkers on the bottoms.

Who goes first in backgammon?

Each player rolls one die, and the player with the higher number gets to go first. In the first play, the player that had the higher number will roll both dice. The number that is rolled on each die represents the number of spaces a checker can move. In each play after that, each player rolls their own two dice. One player can only move their checkers clockwise, and the other player can only move counterclockwise. Both players' pieces move along a horseshoe path formation. A player cannot pass on a play and always must play as much of a roll as possible.

Rules of Backgammon

Players take turns rolling and moving their checkers. A player can only move their checkers to a point or space that is not already occupied by two or more of the opponent’s checkers. These points are also known as pips. A player can use the number on each die to dictate two different checker moves or they can also decide to use both dice numbers for a single checker’s move. Players must always move both numbers rolled if it is possible.

If a player moves their checker to a space that is occupied by only one of the opponent’s checkers, this is called hitting a blot. Then the opponent’s checker is removed from the point and placed on the bar in the middle of the game board which is also the bar that separates the home board on the right from the outer board on the left. If a player’s checker is blocked from returning to the board on a roll, the player’s turn ends, and they will attempt the same process on their next turn. There is a strategy known as “hit and run” or “pick and pass” when you hit an opponent’s checker. In this case, you are allowed to move your hitter to safety in another point.

When a player has a checker on the middle bar, they cannot return to regular game play until the checker on the bar is moved back to the playing board. That checker can only be returned to the board via the point that would be considered the farthest point on the board for that player. Then that player can return to normal game play.

Sometimes, a player will roll what is considered doubles. Doubles occur when the dice have matching numbers. This means the rolling player will get to move four times in a row. The doubling cube is different from simply rolling doubles. The doubling cube is a specific game piece that can be used at any point in the game to increase the stakes. Before a player begins their next turn by rolling the dice, they can propose to increase the current stakes of the game. It is up to the opponent to accept or take the increased stakes. 

How do you win in backgammon?

A player wins the current stake when it is the end of the game and one player has borne off all of their checkers. In this scenario, the opponent also needs to have borned off at least one checker. If the opponent has not borne off any checkers, the consequence is that the opponent loses a gammon and loses double whatever the current stake is. If the scenario is that the opponent has not borne off any checkers and still has at least one checker on the bar, then that player loses a backgammon and triple whatever the current stakes are.

Similar to playing chess, backgammon is a game that involves a lot of fun yet calculated thought and strategy. You can play a game of backgammon online against a computer program to get a feel for the rules and strategies before playing against another human player. Backgammon is an enjoyable game for any player able to learn a game with detailed rules and strategy options.


Guest Blogger for Coolmath Games

Charise Rohm Nulsen