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Backgammon setup and rules, more FAQ

Last updated on October 16, 2021

Beginner’s guides. How to play backgammon.

This Deluxe Backgammon post is another in our series for absolute beginners. In this instance, we look at frequently asked questions regarding the setup of the board and the rules of backgammon.

What are backgammon pieces called?

Backgammon playing pieces are most commonly called checkers. However, they can also be known as stones, men, counters, discs, pips or chips. Each player starts the game with 15 checkers setup in a specific format. The objective is for players to remove (bear off) all their checkers from the board before their opponent can do the same.

What are backgammon pips?

Pips are the total number of points that a player must move their checkers to bring them home and bear them off. At the start of each game, both players have a pip count of 167. This is 48 pips for the 2 checkers on the 24-point, plus 65 pips for the 5 checkers on the 13-point, plus 24 pips for the 3 checkers on the 8-point, plus 30 pips for the 5 checkers on the 6-point. Typically, the pip count drops as players move around the board. However, if checkers are hit, the pip count can rise above the starting count of 167.

Can backgammon be played alone?

The answer is, not really. Backgammon is a two-player game. You could switch sides of the board for each roll, but really you need an opponent to play. There are software programs that will allow you to play against a computer opponent or bot. Additionally, there are websites that allow you to play backgammon online against opponents from around the world.

Backgammon can you move backwards?

In standard backgammon, the checkers can only move in one direction, forward towards the player’s home board. One player will move their checkers in a clockwise direction, the other player moves in an anti-clockwise direction. Even most known variants of backgammon are played where the checkers move in a single direction.

How is backgammon setup?

In standard backgammon, the most commonly used setup is shown in the diagram below. Each player begins with fifteen checkers, two are placed on their 24-point, three on their 8-point, and five each on their 13-point and their 6-point. The two players move their chips in opposing directions, from the 24-point towards the 1-point. In addition, each player will have a pair of dice, a dice cup and they will share the doubling cube.

Can backgammon end in a tie or a draw?

No matter who has started the game, the first player to bear off all 15 checkers wins. It is impossible that both players get closed out on the bar, therefore there are no draws or stalemates in backgammon.

Backgammon how many pieces on a point?

The official backgammon tournament rules allow players to put all 15 checkers on a point. Placing many checkers on a single point is generally not a good idea as it limits flexibility. There are variants of backgammon that do place limits on the number of checkers on a single point. Old English backgammon is a variant that differs slightly to regular backgammon, where you may place a maximum of five checkers on a point.

Backgammon what is the Crawford rule?

The Crawford rule states that if one player reaches a score within one point of the match, neither player may offer a double in the following game. This one game without doubling is known as the Crawford game. Once the Crawford game has been played, if the match has not yet been decided, the doubling cube is active again. The Crawford rule is designed to make match play more equitable for the player in the lead. If a player is one point away from winning a match, that player’s opponent will always want to double as early as possible in order to close the gap.

Backgammon when to double?

Each backgammon game starts with a value of one point. The doubling cube is placed in the middle of the bar. At this stage, it is not controlled by either player. When a player feels they have the advantage in a game, that player can choose to offer a double before rolling the dice. This effectively doubles the value of the game. The opposing player can reject the offer, but concedes the game by doing so at the cost of one point. If the opposing player accepts the offer, the value of the game doubles from 1 to 2. A subsequent double would raise it from 2 to 4, or from 4 to 8, and so on.

Backgammon when to accept a double?

Your opponent will offer the cube when they believe they have an advantage in the game. This then poses the question, why should you take the cube if you are behind in the game? The answer is, if you drop the cube just because you are marginally behind, you lose more money than if you take the cube and win occasionally.

In fact, if you can win only 1 out of 4 games (25 per cent) you are better off taking the cube than dropping it. For example, in 4 games Player A doubles Player B in each game. If Player B drops all four doubles they will be down 4 points. If however, Player B accepts the doubles and they go on to lose three games, but wins the fourth game. They lose 2 points in each of the games they lose  (-6)  and wins 2 points in the game they win(+2). The net result is the same, –4 points. Therefore if you estimate your chance of winning is 25% or better it is worth accepting the double.

Backgammon when to slot?

Slotting is where a single checker is moved to a point with the intention of covering the blot on a subsequent turn. Sometimes slotting is forced when your roll leaves no choice but to expose a checker to direct attack. Other times, the move is deliberate. Either way, there are two approaches to consider, attack and defence. To attack, slot the point that will result in the most constructive position should you not be hit. If that isn’t possible, slot the point that will do you the least harm if you should be hit. To defend, use your knowledge of probability to slot the point least likely to be hit. Slotting is a useful tactic to help build primes.

Where backgammon originate?

The history of backgammon can be traced back approximately 5,000 years to its origins in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). The Royal Game of Ur from 2600 BCE may also be an ancestor or intermediate of modern-day table games like backgammon. Various other board games spanning from the 10th to 7th centuries BCE have been found throughout the Middle East, all of which may have been forerunners of backgammon.

Where did backgammon get its name?

The name “backgammon” is most likely derived from “back” and Middle English “gamen“, meaning “game” or “play”. The earlier documentation of the word was by the Oxford Dictionary in 1650. The ‘back’ reference could refer to the back game style of play because the checkers are sent ‘back’ when they are hit.

Which direction does backgammon go?

The checkers are always moved forward, to a lower-numbered point. The following rules apply: A checker may be moved only to an open point, one that is not occupied by two or more opposing checkers. The numbers on the two dice constitute separate moves. One player will be moving in a clockwise direction, the other player anti-clockwise.

Which is older chess or backgammon?

Chess is a strategic board game played between two players. Modern chess is believed to have emerged in Europe during the second half of the 15th century after evolving from a similar, but much older game of Indian origin. Backgammon, is much older, having originated in the Middle East approximately 5,000 years ago.

Backgammon who goes first?

To start the game both players each roll one die. In the case of a tie, both players must roll again. Therefore the opening move can never include a double. The player who rolls the higher number moves first. That player does not roll the dice again, they play the two numbers just rolled for their first turn.

Why backgammon is better than chess

Backgammon is a highly tactical game with a significant amount of strategic play. However,  it is easier to learn to play backgammon than it is to learn to play chess. Chess is more complex and generally, the better player will win. The element of luck in backgammon is the main variation from chess. Luck allows an absolute beginner to have a chance of beating a top player, this is simply not the case in chess. It is the luck factor that makes backgammon such an exciting game when compared to chess.

Why play backgammon?

Simply because it is great fun. When you ask anyone who plays backgammon why they play, their response will almost always be because the game is addictive. This is because backgammon has a lot of strategy and complexity, but also includes the element of luck. Backgammon also helps to helps improve cognitive skills as it requires critical thinking to play.

Backgammon is all luck

This statement is simply not true. There certainly is an element due to the randomness of the dice. However, in the long run, the more skilful player will definitely have a greater winning percentage. If you get two players of equal skill, then the result of any particular game will be purely down to luck. However, there is such a large range of skills in backgammon that finding two players perfectly matched in terms of skill is unlikely.

Can you play backgammon without the doubling cube?

Yes. Backgammon has been around for approximately 5,000 years and the doubling cube was only invented in the 1920s. Clearly, for much of its lifetime, backgammon has been played without the doubling cube. Many casual or social players enjoy backgammon without ever using the doubling cube. However, the doubling cube does add another exciting element to the game and it is worth exploring its use.

How to play backgammon like a professional?

There are a lot of skills to master before you can play backgammon like a professional. The keys skills are:

Learn the opening moves and the corresponding replies.

Understand the basic strategies and tactics.

Learn the basics of probability and how it is used in actual gameplay.

Know how to pip count.

Understand how and why the doubling cube is used during play.

Backgammon vs computer free

A variety of programs are available to practice and improve your game. Below are some of the programs we have used.

Backgammon Free (Android). This is an excellent Android app that allows you to play Backgammon anywhere, anytime against human or CPU players. Please read the review of Backgammon Free here.

XG Mobile Backgammon (Android). This is a cut-down version of the eXtreme Gammon software for the PC. It provides detailed analysis and varying levels of play against CPU players. Please read the review of XG Mobile Backgammon here.

Udemy online course: Learn How to Play Backgammon in No Time At All.

Is backgammon gambling?

Backgammon is an exciting strategy game for two players. It can be enjoyed simply as a game, but it is often played for money.  It is often associated with gambling, but a wager is not required to receive entertainment from the game.  When backgammon is played for money, the most common arrangement is to assign a monetary value to each point and to play to a certain score, or until either player opts out. The stakes are raised by gammons, backgammons, and the use of the doubling cube.

Backgammon for beginners

Backgammon is a really exciting game and can provide a lifetime of enjoyment. The game itself is relatively simple to learn, but it is also surprisingly complex. The backgammon setup and rules can be learnt in a very short period of time. In fact, within an hour or two an absolute novice will have learnt the basics of backgammon and may have even won their first game. Even though the game can be learnt that quickly there is an amazing amount of study and practise required to master the game.

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