This section provides basic information about how to play backgammon. See the Strategy section for more information, and the Glossary for definitions of terms. If you are interested in studying the game have a look at our backgammon lessons.
Backgammon Rules - Background
Checkers. Thirty round stones, fifteen each of two different colors, generally referred to as checkers.
Dice. Six-sided dice, numbered from 1 to 6. For convenience, two pairs of dice, one pair for each player, are generally used. Precision dice, specially machined for fair rolls, are preferred.
Dice cups. Used to shake and cast the dice. It is more convenient to have two dice cups.
Doubling cube. A six-sided die, marked with the numerals 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. This is used to keep track of the number of points at stake in each game, as well as to indicate which player last doubled. (Some doubling cubes are marked with the number 1 instead of 64.)
The board will appear as a mirror-image for the opponent. One player's 1-point will be to the left, while the other's will be to the right. The points are not actually numbered on most backgammon boards.
The checkers are always moved around the board from a player's outer board to his inner or home board. The "runners" (the two checkers on the players' 24-point) have to travel the full length of the track, while the other checkers have a shorter distance to go. A player's checkers move in opposite directions to that of his opponent; that is, each play moves his checkers from his own higher-numbered points to his lower-numbered points.
A checker may be moved only to an open point, one that is not occupied by two or more opposing checkers. A checker may move to a point if it is occupied by only one of the opponent's checkers. In this case, the opposing checker is hit and placed on the bar. See "Hitting and Entering" below.
To avoid leaving single checkers vulnerable a player can try to use his roll to make a point. A player makes a point (takes control of one of the triangles on the board) by positioning two or more of his checkers on it. He then "owns" that point, and his opponent cannot move a checker to that point nor touch down on it when taking the combined total of his dice with one checker. If a player makes of six points in a row on the board he has completed a prime. Creating a prime means that an opposing checker trapped behind the prime cannot move past, since it cannot be moved more than six spaces at a time the largest number on one die.
A player must use both numbers of a roll if it is legally possible to do so (or all four numbers of a double). When only one number can be played, the player must play that number. Or if either number can be played but not both, the larger number must be played. When neither number can be used, the player loses his turn. In the case of doubles, when all four numbers cannot be played, the player must play as many numbers as he can.
Re-entry is made on a point equivalent to the number of one of the dice cast, providing that the point is not owned by the opponent (occupied by two or more of the opponent's checkers). For example, if a player rolls 2 and 5, he may enter a checker onto either the opponent's two-point or five-point, so long as they are open. 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 a player's checkers has been entered, any unused numbers on the dice must be played, by moving either the checker that was entered or a different checker.
A player who has made all six points on his home board is said to have a closed board. If the opponent has any checkers on the bar, he will not be able to re-enter it since there is no vacant point in his adversary's home board. Therefore, he forfeits his rolls, and continues to do so until the other player has to open up a point in his home board, thus providing a point of entry.
A player may not bear off checkers while he has a checker on the bar, or outside his home board. Thus if, in the process of bearing off, a player leaves a blot and it is hit by his opponent, he must first re-enter the checker in his opponent's home board and bring it around the board and into his own home board before he can continue the bearing off process.
In bearing off, you remove checkers from the points corresponding to the numbers on the dice cast. However, you are not compelled to remove a checker. You may, if you can, move a checker inside your home board a number of spaces equivalent to the number of a die. If you roll a number higher than the highest point on which you have a checker, you may apply that number to your highest occupied point. Thus, if you roll 6-3 and your 6-point has already been cleared but you have checkers on your 5-point, you may use your 6 to remove a checker from your 5-point. The rules require that you use both numbers of your roll (all four numbers of a doublet) if possible. If you can make moves which do not involve bearing off, you are free to do so. Otherwise, you must bear off if that is your only legal play.
Each game starts at a stake of one point (a point is often equivalent to an agreed value, say $1). During the course of the game, a player who feels he has a sufficient advantage may propose doubling the stakes. The player does so by indicating the appropriate doubled figure with the doubling cube. Each face of the doubling cube bears a number to record progressive doubles and redoubles, starting with 2 and going on to 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. At the commencement of play, the doubling cube rests on the bar, between the two players, or at the side of the board. At any point during the game, a player who thinks he is sufficiently ahead may propose to double the stake (in the first instance by turning the cube to 2, and so on).
A player can double any time it is their turn and they have not yet rolled the dice. This even includes turns in which they don't get to roll because they have a checker on the bar and their opponent's board is closed. A player may double when he is on the bar even if his opponent has a closed board and he cannot enter. Though he does not roll the dice, since he cannot make a checker play, he still has the right to double.
A player who is offered a double may refuse, in which case he concedes the game and pays one point. Otherwise, he must accept the double and play on for the new higher stake. A player who accepts a double becomes the owner of the cube, the cube is placed on his side of the board, and only he may make the next double.
Subsequent doubles in the same game are called redoubles. If a player refuses a redouble, he must pay the number of points that were at stake prior to the redouble. Otherwise, he becomes the new owner of the cube and the game continues at twice the previous stake. There is no limit to the number of times a double may be offered in one game. The only restriction is that a player may not redouble until his opponent (who owns the cube) has redoubled.
At the end of the game the first player to bear off all of his checkers wins the total amount of the stakes indicating by the doubling cube. A gammon win doubles the stake of the cube and a backgammon win triples the stake of the cube.
The Jacoby Rule. Gammons and backgammons count only as a single game if neither player has offered a double during the course of the game. This rule speeds up play by eliminating situations where a player avoids doubling so he can play on for a gammon. The Jacoby rule is primarily used in money games
The Crawford Rule. If you are playing an n-point match and your opponent is ahead of you, if he gets to n-1 points according to the Crawford Rule you are not allowed to use the doubling cube in the following game.
The Holland Rule. In post-Crawford games the trailer can only double after both sides have played two rolls. It makes the free drop more valuable to the leader. The Holland rule is rarely used.
Raccoon/Beaver Rules. There is an optional rule that says that if one player thinks he is the favorite after accepting a double, he may immediately turn the cube to 4 without forfeiting his option to double again later. This is called a beaver. Some people play with another rule that says if the opponent still believes he is the favorite after the first player's beaver, he may immediately turn the cube another notch to 8. This is called a raccoon. With immediate redoubles (beavers/raccoons), the cube does not change hands. Only a regular double transfers ownership of the cube. All the animal redoubles must be made immediately after the initial double has been accepted. There can be no intervening dice rolls or checker moves.
Matches are played to a specified number of points. The first player to accumulate the required points wins the match. Points are awarded in the usual manner: one for a single ame, two for a gammon, and three for a backgammon. The doubling cube is used, so the winner receives the value of the game multiplied by the final value of the doubling cube. Thus if a player wins a gammon with the cube on 4, he wins 8 points. If the players were playing a 7-point match, the match would be over in one game.
Matches are normally played using the Crawford rule. The Crawford rule states that if one player reaches a score one point short of the match, neither player may offer a double in the immediately following game. This one game without doubling is called the Crawford game. After the Crawford game, if the match has not yet been decided, the doubling cube is available again. Automatic doubles, beavers, and the Jacoby rule are not used in match play.
There is no bonus for winning more than the required number of points. When playing a match to a certain number of points, the winner is the first player who wins that number of points. It doesn't matter if he wins more than that number, or how many points his opponent has scored. The sole goal is to win the match, and the final score is immaterial.
The following description contains the basic rules for chouettes. There are a lot of variations to these rules. Newcomers to a club scene are advised to take some time to learn the local customs before playing.
Order of Play. To start, each player throws one die and in the event of a tie there is a reroll. The player rolling highest becomes the box. The box plays against all other participants (joined together as a team). The second highest roller becomes the captain of the team. The captain rolls the dice and makes the plays for the team.
Breaks . Players can leave or join a chouette at any time. A new player starts at the bottom of the rotation.
Consultation. In some chouettes, the team may consult freely as to how rolls should be played. In others, consultation is prohibited. A popular compromise permits consultation only after the cube has been turned.
Partner for the Box. Chouettes of eight or more players often permit the box to take a partner. The partnership is offered in rotation, starting with the captain and moving on down the line. If no one offers to be the box's partner, a partner may be chosen by lot from among the team members other than the captain.
Winning. When the box wins a game, he collects from each member of the team. Then the captain goes to the back of the line and the next player on the team becomes the captain. When the team wins, the box pays off to each team member. Then he goes to the back of the line and the captain becomes the new box.
Single Cube Chouettes. In a single-cube game, the only decision that the members of the team make individually concerns takes. If the box doubles, each team member can decide on his own whether to play on or drop out. Those who drop out each pay off to the box and no longer participate as team advisers. If the captain drops out while there are others on the team who wish to play on, the captaincy is assumed by one of these players and the previous captain drops to the bottom of the rotation.
Multiple Cube Chouettes. Most chouettes today use multiple cubes. Each member of the team has his own doubling cube. The box can double the individual team members, and each team member can decide whether and when to double the box. With multiple cubes in play, it is possible for the box to win against some players while losing against others. So the question arises, when does a player get to keep the box? The usual rule is that a player retains the box if he defeats the captain.
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last modified: 2005-04-27