The Game of Backgammon
Backgammon is one of the oldest board games in existence. It is played all over the world for both entertainment purposes and gambling. Because backgammon involves rolling dice, there's an element of chance involved, but it's largely considered a game of skill with strategy playing a significant role.
The history of backgammon is very interesting, although the precise origins of the game as we know it today are essentially unknown. There are records indicating a number of variations of the game played in many parts of the world, even dating back as far as ancient civilizations. Despite being around for so long, backgammon remains very popular to this day.
There are many backgammon clubs and societies in existence, and a number of these organize large tournaments that draw a multitude of competitors. There are even national and international competitions, some of which involve serious prize money. It's possible to play online against other players as well. Below we explain the rules of backgammon, including the use of the doubling cube for gambling purposes. We also touch on the subject of game strategy.
Rules of Backgammon
Backgammon is for two players on a board that consists of 24 triangles known as points. The triangles alternate in color (any two colors, but traditionally black and white), and the board is divided into four quadrants each containing six triangles. The points are considered to be effectively connected in a continuous track around the board. Players move their checkers in alternate directions around the track.
The players each have fifteen checkers of their own color, and these are all placed on the board (in a set pattern) at the start of the game. The object of the game is to move all of your checkers off the board (known as bearing off) by getting them to the end of the track before your opponent does so.
The game starts with both players rolling one die each. Whoever rolls the highest number moves first using both numbers shown. If the players both roll the same number, they roll again. After the first player has made his move, the other player rolls and makes a move. Play then alternates between the two players.
A move involves moving checkers according to the numbers shown on each dice. If, for example, a player rolls a 4 and a 5, they can move a checker four spaces forward and another checker five spaces forward. They may move the same checker twice, providing each move is valid. If a double is rolled, then a total of four moves are allowed. If a double five is rolled, for example, then four separate five space moves can be made. Players must move if they can, but if they are unable to make a move, then the turn goes to their opponent.
Players can move checkers to a point that's unoccupied, occupied by one or more of their own checkers, or occupied by only one of their opponent's checkers. They may not move a checker to a point that's occupied by more than one of their opponent's checkers. If a player moves their checker to a point occupied by only one of their opponent's checkers, then the opponent's checker is removed and placed on the bar (in the middle of the board) and must enter the board again from the start of the track.
Once a player has all of their checkers positioned in the final six points of the track, they can start to bear them off. A roll of 1 can be used to bear off a checker that's on the final point, a roll of 2 can be used to bear off a checker that is one point from the final point, and so on. Once a player has borne off all of their checkers in this way, they are declared the winner.
If a player wins and their opponent hasn't borne off any of their own checkers, then they have won a gammon that counts for double points (or double stakes if wagering on the game). If a player wins and their opponent hasn't borne off any of their own checkers and has one or more checkers on the bar, then they have won a backgammon, which counts for triple points or triple stakes.
The Doubling Cube
The doubling cube is used to add an extra dimension to backgammon when the game is being wagered on. It's like a die (although it's not rolled) and has the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 on it. At the beginning of a match, the cube is placed on the bar of the board with 64 showing. At this point, it's said to be "centered on 1".
At any point while the cube is centered, either player may, before they take their roll, propose to their opponent that the game be played for double the current stakes. The opponent can accept (known as taking) or refuse (known as dropping). If the player refuses, he resigns the game at this point. If the opponent takes, the stakes for that game double. The opponent takes the doubling cube and places it on his side of the board with the number 2 showing.
The player with the doubling cube can then, if he chooses at any subsequent point during the game, propose that the stakes be redoubled. Again, the opposing player can choose to take or drop. Whenever a player drops, he resigns the game at this point. Whenever a player takes, he gets the doubling cube (adjusting it show the relevant number). Only he has the right to propose a further redoubling. There's no limit on the amount of redoubles allowed during a game.
A number of different basic backgammon strategies are widely accepted as standard tactics. These include the running game strategy, the aim of which is simply to bring all your checkers into your inner board and bear them off as quickly as possible, and the holding game strategy, a more defensive tactic.
To be successful at backgammon, you really need to have a decent understanding of the various strategies. It's well worth putting in time and effort to learn all the tactics you can use and how to implement them. There are many books on the subject, and you can find most of what you need on the internet.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015