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How To Play Backgammon

Learn to play this challenging, engrossing game with these steps.

Instructions

  • Step 1: The backgammon board is made of 24 triangles, or points – 12 to side. A wooden bar runs down the middle, splitting the board in half. For white, the six points to the right of the bar are called the home board, while the six points to the left are the outer board. For black, the opposite is true.
  • Step 2: White's points are numbered one through 24, clockwise, starting with the point on their side furthest to their right. The black player's points are numbered one through 24, running counter-clockwise.
  • Step 3: Each player has 15 checkers. To start the game, each player has two checkers on point 24 (the no. 1 point on your opponent's home board), five checkers on point 13, three checkers on point eight, and five checkers on point six. Place the doubling cube in the middle with the 64 showing.
  • TIP: If the board is set up correctly, the starting positions should exactly mirror each other.
  • Step 4: In backgammon, the object is to move all your checkers from the highest-numbered points to the lowest numbered points on the home board, and finally remove them from the board.
  • Step 5: To determine which player moves first, each rolls a single die, with the higher roll starting things off. Each player, in their turn, then rolls two dice. If a four and a six are rolled, the player should move one checker four points, and a second checker six points.
  • Step 6: A player may also choose to move a single checker both distances – in this case four, then six points. This is only legal if the intermediate point (four or six spaces from the beginning) was also open.
  • TIP: To be a legal move, a checker must land on an open point. An open point is considered to be either empty, to have only checkers of the player moving, or only have a single opposing checker already on it.
  • Step 7: If a player rolls doubles, then they are entitled to four moves that are each the face value of one of the die they rolled. For instance, if each die comes up five, one checker could move 20 points, four checkers five points each, or two checkers could move 10 points.
  • Step 8: A point occupied by a single opposing checker is called a blot. If you land one of your checkers on the blot, that checker is removed from the board and placed on the bar until it can re-enter.
  • Step 9: It may happen that you can only make one or none of your allotted moves – for example, if none of the would-be landing points are open. In this case, make any possible move, then forfeit the rest of your turn.
  • Step 10: A player who has a checker on the bar must re-enter it at the beginning of their board before they can make any other moves. They can get their checkers off the bar by rolling a number that is open on the opponent's home board. If no move is open, the player has to skip that turn.
  • Step 11: If, at any point in the game, one player feels they have an advantage, they can double the stakes of the game, which is typically played for one point. If the other player refuses to double the stakes, that player forfeits the game.
  • TIP: Double the stakes by turning the doubling cube to its next highest value and passing it to your opponent. After the first double of a game, only the player who last accepted a double can offer the next double.
  • Step 12: Once a player has all 15 of their checkers on their home board, they may begin removing them from the board, a process known as bearing off. A checker may be borne off if a roll of the dice produces a number equal to the number of spaces that checker is from the edge of the board.
  • Step 13: You may roll a number of a point containing no checkers. If this is the case, make another legal move from a higher point. If no move exists, a checker from a lower point may be borne off instead.
  • TIP: If an opponent blots and one of the player's pieces ends up on the bar, the player must take it off the bar before continuing to bear off.
  • Step 14: Once one player has borne off all their checkers, the game is over. If the other player has also removed some of their checkers, the loser only loses the value shown on the doubling cube.
  • Step 15: If, at the end of a game, the losing player has not borne off any checkers, they lose double the value on the doubling cube. This is known as being gammoned.
  • Step 16: If, at the end of a game, the losing player has not borne off any checkers, and still has some checkers on the bar or on their opponent's home board, they have been backgammoned and lose three times the amount shown on the doubling cube.
  • Step 17: A typical backgammon match lasts to seven points. If the first match ended normally, the score is one-zero. If one player was gammoned, or if the stakes were raised, it is two-zero, and if a backgammon happened, or the stakes were raised twice, it is three-zero. Play continues until one person has won seven points.
  • FACT: Games similar to backgammon have been found in ancient Persian ruins, dating from before 3,000 B.C.E.

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