How To Play Backgammon Link to heading

A guide on the rules and strategy of backgammon


Introduction Link to heading

Backgammon is a board game with a history spanning more than two thousand years.

Experienced players understand the probabilities of each roll and will choose moves that improve their chances of success, while also being conscious of the rolls and moves their opponent may follow up with.

For a visual explanation of the rules see this video.

Diagram Link to heading

The arrows indicate the checker movement direction of each player.

The dice indicate the roll needed to bear a checker off of the board.


Setup Link to heading

Place 15 checkers for each player on the board as shown above.

Rolling Link to heading

Each player rolls one die to determine who goes first. If the rolls are equal, both players re-roll their single die. The player with the higher roll goes first, without re-rolling. The roll given by each player’s single die determines the first player’s roll. On subsequent turns players roll two dice.

Movement Link to heading

After rolling, checkers may be moved the corresponding value shown on both dice. Both dice values may be used to move a single checker, or two checkers may be moved independently.

If both dice show the same value, the number of moves available is doubled to four total moves. For example, if 2-2 is rolled, it is legal to move a single checker eight spaces or two checkers four spaces each.

When moving a single checker using more than one of the available roll values, the checker must be able to legally make each individual move along the way. For example, if 3-3 is rolled and a single checker is moved from space 2 to 14, the checker must be able to legally move to space 5, 8, 11 and 14.

Checkers may only be moved to spaces that either have no opponent checkers occupying them, or only one opponent checker. If two or more opponent checkers occupy a space, you may not move to it.

If you can not use all two or four of your available moves, you must make as many moves as legally possible before ending your turn. If you can only use part of your dice roll to move, but more than one move is available, you must use the higher value of your dice roll to move.

Hitting Link to heading

If a checker is moved to a space occupied by one opponent checker, the opponent’s checker is “hit” and moved to the bar. The bar is the part of the frame that divides the board in half.

Bearing off Link to heading

The spaces ranging from 6 to 1 (from your view) make up your “home board”. Once all 15 checkers have been moved within your home board you may then bear your checkers off of the board.

An exact roll of the dice matching the space number may be used to bear a checker off. A larger roll than the space number may be used to bear off of the board when there are no checkers in the higher spaces. For instance, if no checkers are located in space number 6, and 6-6 is rolled, you may bear up to four checkers off from space number 5 (and so on to space 4, if space 5 is also empty).

Strategy Link to heading

Prioritize the following:

Defend against opponent “hits” by not placing single checkers on vulnerable spaces.

Create blockades called “primes” by placing at least two checkers on consecutive spaces.

Move checkers outside of your home board rather than those already inside your home board.

Doubling cube Link to heading

The doubling cube is a relatively recent addition to backgammon, being introduced in the 1920s. When playing a match worth more than one point, on a players turn before rolling the dice they may choose to offer the doubling cube to their opponent. If their opponent accepts, the value of the current game is doubled, making a normal win worth two points, a gammon worth four points, and a backgammon worth six points. The player now in possession of the doubling cube may then offer a double of their own at the start of their turn.

A “normal win” refers to a win where the player that lost has borne at least one checker off of the board. If the player that lost has not borne any checkers off, the win is referred to as a “gammon”. If the player that lost, in addition to not having borne any checkers off, has a checker within the home board of the winning player or on the bar, the win is referred to as a “backgammon”.

If you are new to playing backgammon, it is recommended to play matches worth one point. Single point matches are easier for beginners to play and understand because they do not use the doubling cube.

-Trevor Slocum 2024/02/01