Backgammon is one of the oldest board games in the world with a history dating back at least 5,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. The game is considered to be one that involves both skill and luck. Luck comes into play because much of the game revolves around the rolling dice and the outcome on each die. However, typically the player with more skill in the game will be victorious as they will accumulate a better record over a series of many games based on their ability to pick the proper moves.
Backgammon requires two competitors and puts each player on one side of the board. In backgammon, there are 24 narrow triangles, 12 on each side, called points on every board. These points alternate in color. The points are then further divided into four quadrants. Each player has a “home board” and an “outer board” with a bar down the middle of the quadrants that separates each. The object of the game is for the player to get their 15 circular pieces, often called stones, from the outer board to their home board. The player can then clear the pieces from the board. The first person to clear all of their pieces is the winner of the game.
Each side of the backgammon board has 12 points with the full board creating a continuous track in the shape of a horseshoe. These points are numbered from 1 to 24. The 1-point will always be the ending point on each player’s side of the board. The player, given 15 stones, will begin the game with 2 stones on their 24-point, 3 on their 8-point, and 5 each on their 13-point and 6-point. Each player will then move their stones in opposite directions, from their 24-point towards their 1-point. Points 1 through 6 are called the home board while points 7 through 12 are called the outer board. The 13-point is commonly referred to as the midpoint, and the 7-point is commonly referred to as the bar point.
How To Play
At the start of the game, each player rolls one die, and the player with the higher number moves first using the numbers on each of the dice. If the players roll the same number, they must each roll again. The players will then take alternating turns and roll two dice at the beginning of each turn.
After rolling the dice, the players, if possible, must move their stones in accordance with the number shown on each die. This can be done in two different ways. If a player rolls a 4 and a 5, they can either move one stone 4 points and one stone 5 points, or they can move one stone 4 points and then that same stone another 5 points if possible. If a player rolls a double, then that player can move four times. So, a roll of a double 6 means the player can move 4 stones 6 points. The stones may land on any point on the board that is either unoccupied or occupied by one or more of their own stones. If the point is occupied by more than one opponent’s stone then the move would be considered invalid, and the player would have to forfeit that roll of the die. Thus, no point on the board is ever occupied by stones from opposing players.
If a point is occupied by just one stone of an opponent, this is called a “blot.” In this case, the opposing player can perform a “hit” which means that the opponent can remove the other player’s stone and take over that point. The other player’s stone will then be placed on the center bar. To remove a stone from the center bar, the player must move through their opponent’s home board. A roll of 1 lands the player on the 24-point, a 2 on the 23-point, etc.
Once all 15 starting pieces are in the player’s home board, they may begin the process of “bearing off.” Bearing off means removing their own pieces from the board. Players can begin bearing off according to the numbers rolled on their own turn. For example, if a player rolls a 5 and a 2, then the pieces on the 5 and the 2 points can start moving off of the board. If the player were to roll a 6 and a 5 but only had stones on points less than 4 left on the board, the player is required to remove the stones that are closest to points 6 and 5. The first player to bear off all 15 of their pieces wins the game.
The scoring in backgammon is typically done with a doubling cube. This cube is a marker with the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 on it. At the start of the game, the cub is placed on the midpoint of the bar with the number 64 showing. This is considered to be “centered on 1” and will stay that way until one player proposes for the game to be doubled at its current stakes. The opponent must then decide if they want to accept (“take”) or resign (“drop”). If they choose to drop, the game ends and a new one begins immediately. If the player chooses to take, then the cube is given to them with the opportunity to redouble the stakes later in the game. In games for money, a “beaver” action allows the player to immediately redouble the stakes while still retaining possession of the doubling cube.
If the winning player bears off all of their pieces before the losing player bears any off of the board, the losing player is considered to be “gammoned,” and the winning player receives double points. If the losing player has any pieces that are left either on the center bar or on the winner’s home board, then the losing player is considered to be “backgammoned” which allows the winning player to receive triple points.