Said to be the oldest game around today, Backgammon relies on strategy and a touch of luck. Counters, or ‘stones’, are placed on points of a board and the aim is to bear off by moving around the board and off before your opponent does so.
How many players can play Backgammon?
Backgammon is a game for two players, played on a board made up of twenty-four narrow triangles called points. Each player has 15 stones, and distributes them on the points shown in the diagram.
The triangles alternate in colour and are grouped into four quadrants of six triangles each. Each player has a home board and an outer board. These sections are separated from each other by a ridge down the middle of the board, called the bar.
How do you set up a Backgammon board?
The points are numbered for either player starting in that player’s home board. The outermost point is the twenty-four point, which is also the opponent’s one point. Each player has fifteen stones of their own colour. The board is initially set out as follows: two on each player’s twenty-four point, five on each player’s thirteen point, three on each player’s eight point, and five on each player’s six point.
Both players have their own pair of dice and their own cup, used for shaking. A doubling cube, with the numerals 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 on its faces, is used to keep track of the current stake of the game.
To win, you must be the first player to move all your stones into your own home board and then bear them off.
How to start
To start the game, each player throws a single die. If equal numbers come up, both players must roll again until they get different numbers. The player throwing the higher number now moves his stones according to the numbers showing on both dice. From then on, the players throw two dice and alternate turns.
Rolling the dice indicates how many points, or pips, the player is to move his stones. Stones are always moved forward, to a lower-numbered point. The following rules apply:
- A stone may be moved only to an open point, which is not occupied by two or more opposing stones.
- The numbers on the two dice constitute separate moves. For example, if a player rolls 4 and 2, they could move one stone five spaces to an open point and another stone three spaces to an open point, or they could move the one stone a total of eight spaces to an open point, but only if the intermediate point (either three or five spaces from the starting point) is also open.
- A player who rolls doubles plays the numbers shown on the dice twice. A roll of 1 and 1 means that the player has four ones to use, and they may move any combination of stones he feels appropriate to complete this requirement.
- A player must use both numbers of a roll if this is legally possible (or all four numbers of a double). When only one number can be played, the player must play that number. Or if either number can be played but not both, the player must play the larger one. When neither number can be used, the player loses their turn. In the case of doubles, when all four numbers cannot be played, the player must play as many numbers as he can.
A point occupied by a single stone of either colour is called a blot. If an opposing stone lands on a blot, the blot is hit and placed on the bar.
If a player has one or more stones on the bar, they must enter those stone(s) into the opposing home board. A stone is entered by moving it to an open point corresponding to one of the numbers on the rolled dice.
For example, if a player rolls 4 and 6, they may enter a stone onto either the opponent’s four point or six point, so long as the prospective point is not occupied by two or more of the opponent’s stones.
What happens if all points to land on are taken?
If neither of the points is available, the player loses their turn. If a player is able to enter some but not all of his stones, they must enter as many as they can and then forfeit the remainder of his turn.
After all of a player’s stones has been entered, any unused numbers on the dice must be played, by moving either the stone that was entered or a different stone.
Once a player has moved all of his fifteen stones into their home board, they can start bearing off. A player bears off a stone by rolling a number that corresponds to the point on which the stone resides, and then removing that stone from the board. Thus, rolling a 5 permits the player to remove a stone from the five point.
If there is no stone on the point indicated by the roll, the player must make a legal move using a stone on a higher-numbered point. If there are no stones on higher-numbered points, the player must remove a stone from the highest point on which one of his stones resides. A player does not have to bear off if they can make an otherwise legal move.
Can you continue to bear off even after being taken?
A player must have all of their active stones in their home board in order to bear off. If a stone is hit during the bear-off process, the player must bring that stone back to their home board before continuing to bear off. The first player to bear off all fifteen stones wins the game.
Doubling to stakes and scoring
Backgammon is played for an agreed stake per point. Each game starts at one point. During the course of the game, if a player feels they have a sufficient advantage, they can propose doubling the stakes. They may do this only at the start of his own turn and before he has rolled the dice.
If a player who is offered double refuses, they concede the game and pay one point. Otherwise, they must accept the double and play on for the new higher stakes. A player who accepts a double becomes the owner of the cube and only they may make the next double.
Is there a limit to redoubles in Backgammon?
Subsequent doubles in the same game are called redoubles. If a player refuses a redouble, they must pay the number of points that were at stake prior to the redouble. Otherwise, they become the new owner of the cube and the game continues at twice the previous stakes. There is no limit to the number of redoubles in a game.
At the end of the game, if the losing player has borne off at least one stone, he loses only the value showing on the doubling cube (one point, if there have been no doubles). However, if the loser has not borne off any of his stones, he is gammoned and loses twice the value of the doubling cube. Or, worse, if the loser has not borne off any of his stones and still has a stone on the bar or in the winner’s home board, he is backgammoned and loses three times the value of the doubling cube.
The optional rules of Backgammon
- Automatic doubles. If identical numbers are thrown on the first roll, the stakes are doubled. The doubling cube is turned to 2 and remains in the middle. Players usually agree to limit the number of automatic doubles to one per game.
- Beavers. When a player is doubled, he may immediately redouble (beaver) while retaining possession of the cube. The original doubler has the option of accepting or refusing as with a normal double.
- The Jacoby Rule. Gammons and backgammons count only as a single game if neither player has offered a double during the course of the game. This rule speeds up play by eliminating situations where a player avoids doubling so he can play on for a gammon.
- The dice must be rolled together and land flat on the surface of the right-hand section of the board. The player must reroll both dice if a die lands outside the right-hand board, or lands on a stone, or does not land flat.
- A turn is completed when the player picks up his dice. If the play is incomplete or otherwise illegal, the opponent has the option of accepting the play as made or of requiring the player to make a legal play. A play is deemed to have been accepted as made when the opponent rolls his dice or offers a double to start his own turn.
- If a player rolls before his opponent has completed his turn by picking up the dice, the player’s roll is voided. This rule is generally waived any time a play is forced or when there is no further contact between the opposing forces.