Backgammon for Absolute Beginners

Whether you are wandering through the ancient souk in Marrakech, or flicking through online games to load onto your PC, you can be pretty certain you will come across the ancient game of backgammon.

Topics Addressed

  • Who's first?
  • Mind the spikes...
  • Board layout
  • Pip counting
  • Steer clear of the bar
  • Bearing off
  • The winner

With a history tracing back some 30 centuries, backgammon has an almost eternal appeal for young and old, with its allure being in its simplicity. 

Who's first?

The main object of this two-player game is to remove your pieces before your opponent removes his. Game play starts with the roll of two dice to see who goes first, and then it's eyes down, and on with the game! 

Mind the spikes...

Backgammon rules take only 10 minutes to learn. Each player rolls a pair of dice and moves his counters around the board. The board itself contains a symmetrical layout of 24 spikes, or points along which players place their pieces, or stones. 

Board layout

One player takes charge of the white stones, his opponent controls the red. Red's points are numbered from 1 to 24, with point number 1 on his nearside right and point number 24 directly opposite. White's board is numbered from 1 to 24 with point number 1 on his nearside left with point number 24 directly opposite. Points 19 to 24 are special points known as home, where each player moves his stones before bearing them off from the board. The red player starts with two counters on point number 1, five on point numbers 12 and 19 and three on point number 17. White's stones reflect a mirror image of white's stone layout. 

Pip counting

After determining who plays first, the game opens with a roll of the dice pair. Each player moves their pieces a number of points corresponding to the spots or pips on the dice. Players can move two pieces according to the two numbers on the dice, or one piece totaling the pips of the dice. For example, throwing a three and a six, the player could move one stone three points, and another six. Alternatively, he could move one stone forward nine points. A double roll provides a player with a bonus roll of the dice. 

Steer clear of the bar

Play proceeds with each player bringing his stones into his own home base as quickly as possible. As there's not much challenge in this, an added rule called blotting enables a player to bump an opponent's stone off the board for a period of time. If the red player's dice count enables him to land on a space occupied by one white stone, then that white stone becomes a blot and must then move onto the central bar. The player who has been blotted cannot continue until he returns the blot to the board. This is done by rolling a dice that brings the blot back to a starting point which is unoccupied by an opponent's stone. Of course, if that point is only occupied by one stone, then that stone in turn is bumped to the bar. Oh yes, this can be the source of much merriment! 

Bearing off

With all pieces residing in home base, the players then proceed to bear off their stones. This involves rolling dice with spots greater than the current location of each stone.  For example a player with a stone on point number 18 needs a roll of five or more to move off the board. A roll of four or less simply moves it closer to the edge of the board, towards the 24 point. 

The winner

The player who removes his 15 stones before his opponent is the winner. If you're skilled enough to bear off all of your pieces before your opponent has removed any of his, then this game is called a gammon, and it counts for double points. Removing all of your pieces while your opponent still has pieces left on the bar is called a backgammon, and the winner receives four times the initial game stake. 

And that's it! A simple game to learn, but a game that in all likelihood will take you a lifetime to master. Fancy a roll? 

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