Backgammon is one of the oldest and most popular games in history. It is a simple game that requires strategy and luck and its rules may seem complex at first but it easy to understand. In this section we shall be explaining the backgammon rules players would need in order to play backgammon. Backgammon rules were made official in the 18th century when the Guttenberg press came into existence. Although the main rules were written and officially stamped there are some rules that have changed over time such as the rule of the ‘doubling cube’. Backgammon is a game played between two opponents alone and players are attracted to this game due to its competitiveness, fast pace and strategic play. With the development of online gaming, backgammon has also become a popular online game where players get the chance to play free backgammon or play with various other players around the world from the comfort of their own home. Either way, the rules of backgammon remain the same for all types of backgammon game play.
For starters it is important to note the setup of a backgammon game. Backgammon boards nowadays are located on the back side of the chess board. The wooden box in which the checker pieces and dice are found, opens up to reveal the chess board on one side and the backgammon board on the inner side. The backgammon board is comprised of twenty four triangular symbols which are referred to as ‘points’. These will indicate the moves in which the checker pieces will need to move on. These triangles alternate in two different colours. Depending on the backgammon board these colours may differ. In Figure 1, these points alternate between blue and red. There are two quadrants within the board where one side is referred to as a home board and the other is referred to as an outer board. The division between these two sides is called the bar. The home boards are referred as so because these are the positions where the players have to place their checker pieces in order to win the game. Each opponent will be given fifteen checker pieces to play with and all these pieces are positioned in a particular order at the beginning of the round. The series of pieces mirror each other so that the setup is the same for both opponents. As seen in Figure 1 the colours being used for the checker chips are black and white. Some other backgammon games include the colours red and white. Either way the white is the most common colour in backgammon. Looking at the picture, the top right hand part of the board is the White’s home Board while the bottom right is the Black’s home board. The left hand side boards are the Outer Boards. This means that each opponent would need to move all their chips to the corresponding house board depending on the colour they are playing with. The triangular points are numbered so as to place the pieces in the correct order at the initial part of each round. This means that one opponents twenty fourth point is the other opponent’s first point as the houses are on the opposite side for each opponent. The initial arrangement is as follows: two checker pieces are placed on each opponent’s twenty fourth point, five checker pieces are placed on each opponent’s thirteenth point, three checker pieces are places on the each opponent’s eighth point and finally the last five checker pieces are placed on each opponent’s sixth point. More often than not, there is one pair of dice to play with but there are other backgammon games which comprise of two pairs of dice; one pair for each player. A doubling cube which was only introduced in the 20th century is also sometimes used in order to keep track of the stakes of the game if it is given a gambling edge. This dice comprises of the doubling numbers of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64.
Before the game has begun, the two opponents take it in turn to roll one of the dice in order to determine who will be the first to begin their game play. The player who rolls the highest number on the dice will be the first to begin. Should both players roll the same number, then they will continue rolling the dice until two different numbers have been rolled. Once the first player has been determined, then the game play of backgammon will commence. The objective is to roll the dice with each turn and move the checker pieces to the relevant home board. In this case the black checker pieces would need to move clockwise to their home board and the white pieces would need to move anti-clockwise to their home board. However there are specific rules to take into consideration when the player begins making their moves:
a) checker piece may only be moved into an open point on the board. If one is occupied by two or more of the opponent’s pieces, then the player would need to roll an exact number to by-pass the blocked point. Figure 2 gives an example of such blocked points.
b) Each dice amount corresponds to a single movement. In this example as shown in Figure 3, the first player has rolled a six and a one on the dice. The player would need to move either one chip seven points or one piece by six points and the other by one point. As seen here the player has opted to move one white piece from the thirteenth point six points and another piece from the eighth point one point. It is important to remember that none of the pieces should be left single as there is a chance for the opponent to block that one piece
c) Should a player roll the dice and the numbers show a double number as shown in Figure 4, then the player may play a total of four times as each number of the dice is doubled . In this case, the player has rolled two twos allowing a total of eight moves (2 x 2 + 2 x 2). The player may then either move four different checker pieces two points, two pieces four points, one piece eight points and so on and so forth (the number of pieces moved makes no difference as long as eight moves are used).
d) A player must play and use both the numbers rolled on each dice whenever possible. This means that even if a player rolls two doubles, then the player would need to still make his / her four moves. If a player’s pieces are blocked and only one number can be used to move, then the player would need to play the larger of the two numbers on the dice. If a player finds that they are unable to make any moves according to the dice, then the player loses their turn.
e) The dice have to be rolled on the flat surface of the board. Should a dice roll onto a checker piece, the dice must be rolled again as it is considered as a disqualified roll.
f) Each player must wait until the opponent’s moves have been completed before rolling the dice. Should the play roll before the moves have been made, then the numbers of the dice are considered void and the player must roll again.
As mentioned earlier, it is important that a player does not leave and of their pieces single on the board as they may be ‘hit’ by their opponent. An example of such a play is shown in Figures 5 & 6:
A single checker piece of any colour is referred to as a ‘blot’. As shown in Figure 5 the white opponent has landed on the black blot based on the number rolled by the dice. As soon as this happens the backgammon rules state the hit piece must immediately be positioned on the centre bar of the backgammon board. This blot will remain there until the player whose piece has been hit rolls a right number on the dice to free it and begin this piece’s game play from the beginning of the board; i.e. from the first point. If the player rolls the dice and the points are blocked by the opponent, the player loses their turn until a right amount on the dice is rolled. After this, it is a matter of luck and time for each player to move all their pieces into the relevant home boards.
In Figure 7 the player with the white pieces needs to roll fours or fives in order to place the pieces on the house board in order to begin the ‘bearing off’. A player’s strategy will ensure that their opponent finds it difficult to get through to the home board. Therefore it is important that players are conciuos of what their opopnents moves are going to be. Once the player has managed to get all their chips on the house board, this is when ‘bearing off’ begins. According to the backgammon rules, players would need to then roll numbers on the dice that will allow players to by pass their twenty fourth point. In the case of the white pieces in Figure 8, the player would need to be rolling five or more in order to get rid of their pieces. In the case of the pieces located on the twenty fourth point they would need to roll a one in order to move the pieces on the board and so on and so forth. The first player to bear off all their fifteen chips wins in backgammon.
In the case where a Backgammon game has included a gambling element, then the ‘doubling cube’ comes into effect. As mentioned earlier, this dice comprises of doubled numbers from 2 to 64. At the beginning of the game, the two players have agreed on a stake. If one of the players feels that they have an advantage as the game play progresses, they are to propose a doubling of the stakes. The opponent in this case may either refuse or accept the double play. The player who accepts the doubling of the stakes becomes the cube owner and this player alone may make the next double.