How to Play Backgammon

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Objectives and Rules
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The Object of the Game

The object of the game is to "bear off" all your checkers from the backgammon board before your opponent does. Each player can prevent the other from advancing. The object of the game is the same whether you play face-to-face or online.

Setting Up the Backgammon Board

There are 15 checkers of each color (a checker is a backgammon piece) of each color. You should also have four dice, and a doubling cube. The color of the dice usually matches the color of the checkers.

Spaces on the backgammon board are represented by narrow triangles, and are called points. To describe the points on the backgammon board, it is common to use a numbering system. each of the points is represented by a number; the first point in your home board is point # 1, and the last point, counting clockwise, is #24, which is in your opponent's home board.

The initial board is set up in follows:

  • Two checkers on point # 24,

  • Five checkers on point # 13,

  • Three checkers on point # 8,

  • Five checkers on point # 6.

Your opponent's checkers will be set up in a mirror image of yours.

Starting the Game

In order decide who throws first, each player throws one die. The dice must land inside the board to the right of the bar. The player who throws the highest number goes first, using the numbers thrown to make his first move. The direction of play is counterclockwise, moving from point # 24 to point # 1.

At the opening stage of the game, the value of the game is one point (equal to the basic stake, which is stated in monetary terms; that is, a dollar amount). Either of the players can offer to double the stake by turning the doubling cube, which starts out with the number 64 showing, to the side showing the number 2. The other player can either accept the double, or forfeit the game. The last person to accept a double may double next. Doubling can dramatically raise the stakes of the game.

The Play

Players take turn rolling the dice. A player may move his checkers based on the number rolled by the dice. Each die has a separate value, meaning that a player may move two different checkers in one roll, as long as each checker is moved exactly the number of points shown on a die.

Checkers can land on one of three types of "open" points:

  • An empty point,

  • A point occupied by the player's own checkers (one or more),

  • A point occupied by a single checker (a blot) owned by your opponent.

Landing on a blot, an unprotected checker, sends your opponent's man to the bar. When you land on a blot, the software will put your opponent's checker on the bar. The checker remains on the bar until its owner succeeds in returning it to the game, by rolling a number corresponding to an open point in the opponent's home board. If the player does not roll a number on either die which corresponds to an open space in the opponent's home board, the turn is forfeited.

If you roll doubles; meaning, both of the dice show the same number, you can move the equivalent of twice the roll. For example; if you roll a double three, you can move three points four times. You may move one checker three points four times, two checkers twice each, or any other combination. There is no limit to the number of checkers that may occupy a point, as long as they are all the same color. Your turn is over when you select done or when you click on the dice.

When all your checkers are in your home board, you can start bearing off. The first player to bear off all of his checkers wins the game. If you are hit while you are bearing off, you must reenter your checker from the bar into your opponent's home board, and move it back into your home board before you can resume bearing off. If you bear off all of your checkers before your opponent begins to bear off, you have "gammoned." A gammon earns you double the stake of the game.

If all of your checkers have been removed from the board and your opponent has not removed any and still has a checker in your home board, then the stakes are tripled. This is known as backgammon. Added to the doubling that may have been done using the doubling cube, gammons and backgammons can make a high-stakes game!

Winning Tips
  • Keep your checkers in pairs to protect them from hits.

  • Don't hit your opponent when there are two or more blots in your home board.

  • Stake out six points in a row to keep your opponent from progressing. Make sure not to leave any blots in the row of six. This is known as forming a "prime".

  • Set up protected points on your opponent's home board as potential safe places to land if you are hit. These are known as "anchors".

  • Start out with small stakes until you are sure of your backgammon strategy.


Types of Games

  • Single Play - In a single play game, you play one opponent, one game. Y you can win as little as the stake or as much as the limit.

  • Match Play - In a match play game, you play one opponent for a certain number of points, and the first player to have that number of points (or pass it) win a set prize. Winning more points not raise your win.

  • Hyperbackgammon - Hyperbackgammon is a special variant of backgammon. You play with just three checkers each, but the rules are the same. The strategies are different, and playing is fast and fun!
    Click here to learn more.
  • Open Table - In Open Table rooms, you can set your own game specifications, such as stake/limit and whether or not you want the option of doubling.

Backgammon Glossary

The Backgammon Board
The backgammon board is the board on which the game is played; also called the backgammon table.

The 24 triangles on the board are called points. The term point can also refer to the score for winning one game.

The Inner/Home Board
The inner or home board is the section of the board from which the checkers are removed from the game.

The Outer Board
The outer board refers to the two quarters of the board which are neither side's home board.

The Bar
The bar is the bar which separates the two halves of the board, and it is also called the rail. This is where checkers wait to enter the board after being hit.

A backgammon piece is called a checker or a marker.

Position refers to the layout of the checkers on the backgammon board.

Pip Count
The pip count is the total number of points that a player still needs in order to bear off all his men. At the beginning of the game, each player has a pip count of 167.

To Make a Point
To make a point is to put two checkers on a point, giving you control over the point.

To Control a Point
To control a point is to have at least two checkers on a point so your opponent cannot land on it.

An Anchor
An anchor is a point controlled in the opponent's home board.

A Blot
When a single checker is on a point, vulnerable to being hit, it is a blot.

To Hit
To hit is to bump or knock off an opponent's blot by landing on it.

A Direct Hit
A direct hit is a hit using the number on one of the dice.

To Enter
Entering refers to coming into the opponent's home board from the bar.

To Bear In
To bear in is to move checkers to the home board.

To Bear Off
To bear off is to remove a checker from the board.

A Pip
The number on the die / the number of spaces the checker moves.

A Cocked Die
A die that lands badly is said to be "cocked" and both of the dice must be thrown again.

When the dice both show the same number, it is treated as four dice with that number.

Point on a Blot / Point on a Head
When you hit a blot with two checkers and make a point.

To Split
To split is to separate two checkers that had been on one point.

To Slot
To slot is to leave an unprotected checker (a blot) on a point.

A Builder
A builder is a single checker on a point which the owner intends to add another checker to.

A Prime
A prime is a situation ins which six sets of checkers are on consecutive points blocking the opponent's men who are behind the prime.

To Preclear
To vacate a high point in your home board before all your men are in your home board, in preparation for bearing off.

A gammon is a situation in which the losing player has not borne off any men by the time the winner has finished bearing off. In this case, the winner receives twice the value of the doubling cube.

It is called backgammon if the losing player has not borne off any men and still has one or more checkers in the winner's home board or on the bar when the winner has finished bearing off. In this case, the winner receives three times the value of the doubling cube.

The Cube
The cube, also called the doubling cube, is a cube with one of the following numbers on each of its six sides: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. The cube is used for one player to offer the other the option of doubling the stakes of the game.

To Own the Cube
The last player to accept the offer of doubling the stakes owns, or has control of, the cube.

To Take
To take is to accept an offer to double the stakes and get possession of the doubling cube.

To Pass
To pass is to turn down the offer to double the stakes and forfeit the game, also referred to as folding.

To Resign
To resign is to forfeit the game.

Crawford Rule
In match play, the first game in which one player is a single point from winning is called the Crawford game, and the Crawford rule states that during this game, no doubling is allowed. Game values can still be doubled or tripled in gammon or backgammon wins.

A Beaver
When a player immediately redoubles and retains ownership of the cube, it is called a beaver. His opponent may accept or refuse the redouble. This option is available in most, but not all online backgammon games.

A Back Game
When a player is behind in the race but has at least two anchors in his opponent's home board, he may play a back game strategy in which he hits a late shot and tries to contain his opponent's checker behind a prime.

Game Plan
There are three main game plans (strategies): run, block, and attack.

Running Strategy
A running strategy employs as little interaction with the opponent as possible.

Blocking Strategy
In a blocking strategy, the player attempts to build blockades.

Attacking Strategy
In an attacking strategy, the player hits and closes out the opponent by controlling the points in his home board.

A Holding Game
A holding game is a game played using a defensive, or blocking, strategy.

End Play
End play is the portion of the game when at least one of the players has started to bear off.

A Contact Position
A contact position is a point at which checkers are still engaged and still may hit or block each other.

A Pure Race
When all of the checkers are heading for home with no opponent checkers on the way and the players' goal is to move forward as quickly as possible, the game is referred to as a pure race.

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