Backgammon Setup and Play

Backgammon is played on a board with checkers and dice by 2 opposing players. Each player starts in his outer board and must move all their checkers first into their home or inner board and then bear them off the board. The first player to remove all their checkers is the winner. Each player has a total of 15 checkers to remove and each players checkers are a different color than their opponents checkers.

Each player also has 2 six-sided dice and a cup from which the dice are rolled. (one does not roll the dice from the hand in backgammon). There is also a 6-sided doubling cube with the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 on the 6 sides, which is used to raise the odds when betting on the game.

The player moves their checkers in a U shaped direction from the right on their side to the left on their side, then from the left on their opponents side to the right on their opponents side. (as seen from the players point of view.) When all the checkers are in the players home board (on the opponents right side of the board), they may then begin to bear off or remove their checkers. To experienced backgammon players the direction of play is as follows: from your opponents home board to their outer board, to your outer board to your home board.

The backgammon board has 24 triangles marked on it called points and the board is divided into 4 quadrants with 6 points in each quadrant. The board is seperated in the middle by a bar that runs from top to bottom. The bar is used as the location for the doubling cube and as the location for backgammon checkers that have been “hit” by an opposing player and temporarily knocked out of the game. Once a checker is hit, it can only re-enter the game on a later roll and re-enters in the players outer board. (essentially that checker starts over again at the beginning as far back as possible.)

The initial setup is as follows. The players place 2 checkers each on the 24 point which is the point furthest to the right on the side the player is sitting on, 5 checkers on each player’s 13 point, 3 checkers on each player’s 8 point and 5 checkers on each player’s 6 point. By strict backgammon rules, each player starts by rolling one die and the player with the higher number moves first using the total from the 2 dice. If both players both roll the same number, they will roll again until one player rolls a higher number then the other player. After the starting roll, each player will then roll in turn, using their own pair of dice. (Basically, if the player is facing the board, the first point on the bottom right is the player’s 24 point , the next point to the left of the 24 point is the 23 point and so on down to the 13 point. The player’s 12 point is on the top left of the board in the direction the player is facing, the 11 point is on the right of the 12 point and so one down to the players 1 point on the players top right. This means your 1 point is your opponents 24 point and vice versa.)

The numbers rolled on the dice are considered 2 separate numbers and not just a total of the two. A player rolling a 5 and a 6, has the option of moving one checker 5 points and one checker 6 points or moving one checker 11 points. The checker(s) can be moved to an open point, to a point with the players own checker(s) on it or to a point with only one of the opponent’s checkers on it. The player may not move to a point with 2 or more of the opponents checkers on it but may jump over that point. If a player rolls doubles, they may move their checker(s) 4 times instead of twice. For example if a player rolls double 3’s, they may move one checker 12 points, 2 checkers 6 points or 4 checkers 3 points. When rolling double 3’s, a player may also move 2 checkers 3 points each and one checker 6 points or they mave move one checker 9 points and one checker 3 points. As you can see, there is alot of skill, strategy and imagination involved in backgammon moves.

A single checker on a point is known as a “blot”. If the opponent lands on the player’s blot, the blot is removed from the board and placed on the middle bar. Before any other checkers can be moved by the player who’s blot was removed, a blot on the bar must first be returned to the game on a later roll. The blot may be placed on any unoccupied point in the players outer board. If both numbers rolled or the total of both numbers rolled are occupied by 2 or more of the opponents checkers, the blot may not re-enter the game on that roll. If all 6 of the player’s outer points are occupied by 2 or more of the opponent’s checkers, the blot is frozen out and the player can’t even roll until a point is open or just has one of the opponent’s checkers on it.

Once one or both of the players has all of their checkers in their home or inner board, the game enters the “Bear Off” phase. When bearing off, the player must use the entire total of the dice, For example, if a player rolls a 2 and 3, the player may remove a checker from the 2 point and a checker from the 3 point, remove one checker from their 5 point or move one or two checkers within their inner board if they have none on the 2 or 3 or 5 point to bear off. As another example of rolling when bearing off, if you roll a five on a die and have no checkers on the 5 point but have a checker on the 6 point, you may move the checker five points to the 1 point. Finally, if all you have left is, for example, 2 checkers on the 2 point and 2 checkers on the 1 point and you roll double 6’s , you may bear off the 4 remaining checkers.