Backgammon: How to Play and Win Every Time

couple playing backgammon

Backgammon is one of the world’s oldest and most enjoyable board games, one that is played regularly by thousands of people each day. Here we will discuss the game of backgammon in great detail, including the rules of the game and how to play. We will also provide some basic tips and tricks that will allow you to win at a more consistent pace.

Rules of Backgammon and How to Play

Before you can start playing backgammon, it’s imperative that you first understand the board on which you will play. The backgammon board consists of 24 narrow triangles—triangles that are called points. The triangles alternate in color and are grouped into four sections of six triangles each. There are four types of sections or quadrants: the player’s (your) home board and outer board, and the opponent’s home board and outer board. The place where these 4 quadrants come together—in the middle of the board—is separated by a ridge called the “bar,” which, as you will see later, is not a good place to be.

The two players in backgammon sit facing each other on opposite sides of the board. Each player has a home board and an outer board to the right and left. These two quadrants face directly opposite your opponent’s home board and outer board.

Players move their checkers from the direction of their opponent’s home board, and the game is played in a horseshoe like direction, moving counterclockwise. The triangles are numbered 1-24 on most backgammon boards, with the 24th triangle being the furthest from player one, and with the 1st triangle being the right-most triangle on that player’s home court. Players move their pieces from opposite sides of the board, so one player’s 1st point is the other player’s 24th point, one player’s 2nd point being the opponent’s 23rd point, and so on.

When setting up the game of backgammon, both players must place their 15 checkers on the board, and each side will have checkers of different colors (usually white and red). Each player must place two checkers on their 24th point, 3 checkers on their 8 point, five checkers on their 13 point and five more checkers on their 6 point. Keep in mind that each player has their own numbering system so the checkers will not overlap.

When beginning the game, the player rolling the highest number will get the honor of going first. If both players roll the same number, they will roll again. The combined total of those rolls will count as the first moves for the player with the highest number. For example, if one player rolls a 6 and the other rolls a 3, then the player who rolled the 6 would go first and use the 6 and 3 as their first moves instead of rolling the dice again.

After the first roll, the players throw two dice and alternate turns. The roll of the dice indicates how many points or “pips” the player is to move his checkers. The checkers are always moved forward to a lower-numbered point.

A checker may be moved only to an open point on the board, one that is not occupied by two or more opposing checkers. The numbers on the two dice constitute separate moves. For instance, if a players rolls a 5 and a 3, he may move one checker five spaces to an open point and another checker 3 spaces to an open point, or he may move one checker a total of 8 spaces to an open point, but only if the intermediate point is also open (either 3 or 5 spaces from the starting point).

A player who rolls doubles plays the numbers shown on the dice twice. For example, a roll of 4 and 4 means the player has four 4’s to use, and he may move any combination of checkers he feels appropriate to complete this requirement.

Object of the Game

The object of the game in backgammon is to move all your checkers into your home board and bear them off. The first player to bear off all of their checkers wins the game.

About Bearing Off

Once a player has successfully moved all 15 of his checkers into his own home board, he may start bearing off. A player bears off a checker by rolling a number that corresponds to the point on which that checker resides, and then removing that checker from the board. Thus, rolling a 6 permits the player to remove a checker from the six point. If there is no checker on the point indicated by the roll, the player must make a legal move using a checker on a higher numbered point. If there are no checkers on any higher numbered points, the player is required to remove a checker from the highest point on which his checker resides. A player is under no obligation to bear off if he can make an otherwise legal move.

A player must have all of his active checkers in his home board in order to bear off. If a checker is hit during the bear off process, the player must bring that checker back to his home board before continuing to bear off. The first person to bear off all of their fifteen checkers wins.

Hitting and Entering in Backgammon

A point occupied by a single checker of any color is called a blot. If an opposing checker lands on the blot, the checker is hit and placed on the bar. Any time a player has one or more checkers on the bar, his first and foremost obligation is to enter those checkers into the opposing team’s home board. A checker is entered by moving it to an open point corresponding to one of the numbers on the rolled dice. For instance, if a player rolls a 3 and a 5, he may enter a checker onto either the opponent’s 3 point or 5 point, as long as that point is not occupied by two or more of the opponent’s checkers.

If neither of the points is open, the player loses his turn. If a player is able to enter some but not all of his checkers, he must enter as many as he can and then forfeit the remainder of his turn. After the last of the player’s checkers have been removed from the bar—or entered—any unused numbers on the dice must be played. This can be accomplished by moving a checker that was entered or another checker on the board.

Tips and Tricks for Winning at Backgammon

Now that you know some of the basics involved in backgammon, you may be ready to employ some of the basic tips and tricks that can give you an advantage in the game. Here are just a few of those strategies.

Keeping Your Checkers Safe and Secure

The best way to keep your checkers safe during a game of backgammon is to always keep more than one checker on a point whenever possible. Why do we say that? Because if you only have one checker on a point—a checker that is known as a “blot”—you become very vulnerable to being hit by your opponent’s checker. This can be bad news when it happens, because when one of your checkers gets hit, it will force you to go to the bar and you will have to use your next turn (or turns) to roll the dice in an attempt to reenter the board—in your opponent’s home board. This is why it is always advantageous to keep at least two checkers on a point, particularly early in the game, to avoid these types of hits and vulnerabilities.

The More Points You Occupy the Better

As you begin the process of moving your pieces into your home court, preparing to commence with the process of bearing them off, you should definitely attempt to occupy as many points as you can—with two or three checkers—rather than occupying just a few points with 5 or 6 checkers. Why is this important? By fulfilling this strategy, not only will you be opening up more potential moves for yourself with each successive roll, you will also be making it much more difficult for your opponent to move to an open point.

The Blitz Strategy

The Blitz Strategy in backgammon is much like it sounds: an all-out attack on your opponent’s vulnerable checkers. Rather than simply trying to move your checkers to your home board in preparation for bearing them off, you can attack your player’s blots—a single checker on a point—and send those checkers to the bar. The advantage to this strategy goes further than the simple loss of pips by your opponent, it also enables you to trap some of your opponent’s checkers on the bar—checkers that can only be removed and entered with a proper roll of the dice.

Play the Running Game

Finally, one of the most basic backgammon strategies you can employ during a game is known as the Running Game strategy. This strategy simply involves running your checkers towards your home board as swiftly as possible to avoid possible hits and pitfalls. Naturally—and as you might expect—if both players have it in mind to employ the Running Game strategy, the victor will almost always be the player with better rolls of the dice (lots of doubles, etc.). Because of this, you should only execute the Running Game if you start off the game with very favorable and advantageous rolls that place you well ahead of your opponent.

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