Last updated on April 16, 2021
Beginner’s guide. How to play backgammon.
At Deluxe Backgammon we find that nothing compares to the excitement and action of live backgammon. We enjoy board games of all types, including chess, go and draughts. However, there is no game that balances the thrills, twists and exhilaration quite like backgammon. And it just keeps getting better. The more we study and practice, the more we enjoy playing. This is probably because we win more often.
Similar to chess, backgammon is a game of great depth. You can learn to play backgammon in minutes, but it can take a lifetime to master the intricate strategies of the game. It’s the element of luck with the variations of the dice rolls that makes the game so captivating.
For anyone unfamiliar with backgammon, it is a dice and checkers game. It involves strategy, tactics and luck. Players take turns rolling two dice and use the results of their rolls to race the checkers around the board. Along the way, they can capture their opponent’s checker and defend their own. You can find a complete explanation of the rules and the setup in the Playing Guides section of this website.
Although backgammon is just a game, it actually can teach us a few valuable life lessons about how to respond to conditions outside of our control. The table below assumes that the board is open for every possible throw. If part of the throw is blocked by an intervening point being held by opposing checkers, the chance of being hit is less.
Positioning for luck
When a novice backgammon player observes an advanced player or CPU opponent, it often looks as if the experienced player is getting incredibly lucky. This is particularly the case when you are playing a computer opponent, when the CPU always seems to get the exact roll required, seemingly every time. Part of this is perception. When we get a lucky roll, we put this down to good play and when our opponent gets a good roll, we perceive that as luck.
Sometimes, the advanced player really is just having a lucky run, but more often their run of luck is actually a result of their careful strategy. Advanced players know how to position checkers to maximize their opportunities and they are willing to make sacrifices for better positions. Advanced players can’t manipulate the dice, but they can set themselves up so that the widest possible variety of dice rolls will help them. As they play a game of backgammon, they select the moves that will create the most opportunities for future dice rolls. It is this carefully considered positioning and the resultant opportunities that arise that makes them appear lucky.
A lot of other areas of our lives work in the same way. There will always be factors outside of our control, things that come down to luck. What we can control though, is how many opportunities we can create to be lucky.
For example, perseverance is something we can control and this will create opportunities. Think back to the last time you saw a sportsperson seemingly emerge from obscurity. As an unknown, they win a trophy and it appears like they are an overnight success. What you didn’t see was the thousands of hours of perseverance and practice that created countless opportunities to fail and therefore improve their game.
On the receiving end
Sometimes you make all of the correct plays and still lose a game because of outrageous luck from your opponent. It’s the uncertainty and randomness of the dice that makes backgammon so exciting and unpredictable. On some days, the bad luck seems never-ending. In these times you forget your own similar runs of luck in the past. Over the long run, if you persevere, it will even out. It’s important to recognise what these instances are, they are a setback, not failures on your behalf.
Setbacks occur in both backgammon and in life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing anything wrong. Sometimes, luck just isn’t in your favour. It’s important to understand that you are not always at fault. In backgammon, just as in life, you should analyse your position and assess if the setback is due to your mistake, or whether you acted correctly and just didn’t have luck on your side. The same point plays out in reverse. Sometimes you win a game of backgammon due to a lucky roll even when your opponent was playing better. And, sometimes in life, you succeed even when you’ve performed below par. It’s just as important to understand when your success is the result of good strategy and when it’s just plain dumb luck.
Focus on long-term results, not short-term failures
Another important lesson we can learn from backgammon is to stay focused on long-term results. In the short-term, a string of lucky rolls by your opponent can turn a game against you. Don’t focus on a single game, focus on the match. In backgammon, sometimes a first-time player can win a game against an advanced player, purely on the basis of luck. However, that first-time player is extremely unlikely to win three games in a row against an advanced player. Extend that to an 11-point match, it’s virtually impossible for the first-time player to win.
Luck, in the short-term, can create a lot of uncertainty. However, in the long-run, pure luck tends to even out. It’s important to see luck for what it is and not to let it shake your confidence. If you know that you have a solid strategy, push through until your luck evens out. Success typically comes from long-term perseverance, rather than a single lucky event. This applies equally to backgammon as it does to the game of life.
Backgammon rules are available on this link.
Rules of thumb. Overall, these rules will help to simplify your decision-making process.