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Backgammon rules – FAQ

Last updated on April 11, 2022

In this Deluxe Backgammon post, we list the ten most common questions we are asked about the rules of play. We usually play in local cafes or pubs, invariably, someone will stop by and watch a game and comment. They are nearly always remembering the game from their youth and ask questions to refresh their memory.

What equipment do I need to play?

1. A backgammon board.

2. Thirty checkers in two different colours, fifteen of the same colour for each player.

3. A pair of dice numbered from 1 to 6. Ideally, for convenience, two pairs of dice (one pair for each player).

4. A dice cup, for rolling the dice. Ideally, it is better to have two dice cups.

5. A doubling cube for keeping track of the stakes of the game.

How do you set up the board?

The screenshot below shows the setup when you are playing white and your checkers move counter-clockwise around the board. The brown checkers move in the opposite direction. Both players bear off to the right, you at the lower-right, your opponent at the upper-right.

Manopolous walnut burl backgammon set.

Who goes first?

To decide who goes first, each player rolls one die. In the case of a tie, both players roll again. The player who rolls the higher number goes first. That player does not roll the dice again, they play the two numbers just rolled on the dice. Note that the player who goes first never has doubles on their first move because ties on the dice rolls are always rerolled.

What is the mid-point?

The mid-point is the name of the point on your opponent’s side of the board where you have a stack of five checkers at the start of the game. As per the screenshot below, it is also known as the 13-point. This is because the checkers on that point are 13 points away from being borne off. The opponent’s mid-point is your 12-point.

Backgammon FAQ. Link to backgammon set up.
Setup.

What is the ace-point?

The ace-point is another name for the 1-point, the last point the checkers can occupy before bearing them off. The screenshot above shows the ace-point for the black checkers labelled with the number 1. At the start of play, your two back checkers begin on the opponent’s ace-point.

Can you have more than five checkers on a point?

The simple answer is yes. You can place as many checkers as you wish on a single point. It is perfectly legal to stack all fifteen of your checkers on a single point, although it won’t help flexible play. There was a version of backgammon popular in England which allowed no more than five checkers on a point. This was known as Old English backgammon, but these are not standard rules.

What does it mean to secure a point?

To make or secure a point you need to move two or more checkers together onto the same point. That point is now secure and your opponent may not land on the point as long as two or more of your checkers remain. A series of points, side by side, is known as a prime. The ideal prime is a 6-prime which creates an impassable barrier to your opponent’s checkers.

Backgammon FAQ. Link to Libra backgammon set.
Six Prime.

What is the home board?

The home and outer boards are separated from each other by a ridge down the centre of the board called the bar. Your home board is the last quadrant that you move your checkers to before bearing them off. The opponent’s home board is where you enter your checkers after they have been hit. In the diagram below, the black home board is in the bottom right-hand corner. The white home board is in the top right-hand corner. The black outer board is on the bottom left. The white outer board is on the top left.

Backgammon FAQ. Link to backgammon set up.

If I don’t like the dice roll, can I skip my turn?

No, you must play your roll in its, entirety, if there is any legal way to do so. If you can’t play all of your numbers, you must play as many as you can. For example, if you roll 5-5 and can only play three of your four 5’s, that is what you must do. Additionally, you must play both numbers of a roll if possible. Sometimes this means having to make a move you don’t like so that both numbers can be played. Finally, if you can only play one number, but not both, then you must play the higher one.

What is a closed board?

A player who forms a 6-prime in their home board is said to have created a closed board. If an opposing checker is sitting on the bar it will be unable to re-enter into the closed board. The checker will be unable to re-enter until one or more of the points in the closed board are opened.

Do you have to roll the exact number to bear off in backgammon?

No. The rules regarding bearing off are:

  • You can bear off a checker by rolling a number that corresponds to the point on which that checker occupies. When you roll a 4, for example, you can bear off a checker from the 4-point.
  • If there is no checker on the point indicated by the roll, you must make a legal move using a checker on a higher-numbered point. When there are no checkers on higher-numbered points, you must remove a checker from the highest point occupied by one of your pieces.
  • If you can make a legal move, you don’t have to bear off.
  • If one of your checkers is hit as you’re bearing off, you must re-enter that checker and move it back into the home board before you can resume bearing off.

Related content

Backgammon Beginners – FAQ.

Backgammon – more FAQ.

Simple backgammon rules – one page PDF

Detailed backgammon rules

Howstuffworks: bearing off.

8 Comments

  1. Bill Bill

    Finding the rules concerning the infinite possibilities concerning bearing off has been difficult. I am bearing off and have 2 checkers on the six spot and other checkers on the 4 and 3 spot and roll a 4 and 5. My opponent has checkers in my inner table on the 1 spot. Am I required to move the highest checker which would be the one on the 6 spot to the open 2 spot thereby leaving 2 checkers open for my opponent to hit.

    • Jason Jason

      Hi Bill, my interpretation of the rules and your scenario follows. It is impossible to move the 5 as the ace point is blocked. However, you can bear-off from the 4 point. Assuming you have three or more checkers on the 4 point, this would be a safe move. I set up this scenario on XG Mobile and it confirmed the move was legitimate. I hope this helps. Thanks for commenting. Jason

  2. Rob Rob

    Can you move checkers in your home point or do they become fixed where they are until you can start bearing off?

    • Jason Jason

      Yes, you can move the checkers in your home board. It makes good sense to do so, as you can secure points that form a blockade for your opponent’s checkers. The ideal blockade is a 6-prime, which completely closes your home board. Remember, you cannot bear off any checkers until you have all 15 in your home board. Thanks for commenting.

  3. advid advid

    …is there a difference in bearing of between UK and USA ?
    J

    • Jason Jason

      No, the bearing off rules are consistent globally. Of course in social play, people are always able to introduce ‘local’ rules. However, at the club and tournament level, the standard bearing off rules will always apply. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Richard Arundel Richard Arundel

    If we have 2 sets of precision dice, should we have to use the same one set of dice which costs more time to pick up? Otherwise the opponents would be prepared with the dice already in the shakers.

    • Jason Jason

      Hi Richard, it is normal to use two sets of precision dice, one set per player. It certainly does make play faster than sharing one set. Thanks for commenting, Jason

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