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How to start a game of backgammon

Last updated on April 11, 2022

This Deluxe Backgammon post is another in our series for absolute beginners. In this instance, we look at how to start a game of backgammon. In particular, we examine the dice mechanics and how to move the checkers.


After you set up the backgammon board, you are ready to start the game. Both players should have their own pair of dice and a dice cup. For casual players or beginners, the dice cup is not really necessary. It is used to prevent cheating when rolling the dice. Ideally, the dice cup will include a ‘trip’ which will ensure that the dice roll is truly random. When rolling you place both dice in the dice cup, shake vigorously three or four times and then roll the dice into the right-hand side of the backgammon board. This convention holds even if you’re left-handed. You must re-roll both dice if either die fails to land in the right-hand side of the board. You must also re-roll if either die comes to rest on a checker, leans at an angle or gets stuck in the dice cup.

Backgammon setup.

To determine who goes first, each player rolls a single die. The person with the higher number goes first, using the number on their die and the number on their opponent’s die. If both players roll the same number, they must roll again until someone rolls a higher number.

Moving the checkers

Once you make a successful throw of the dice, you’re ready to start moving the checkers. The numbers on the dice indicate how many points, places or pips, you can move your checkers. The checkers always move from higher-numbered points to lower-numbered points according to the following rules:

  • You can only move a checker to an open point. An open point may have no checkers, only your checkers or one opposing checker. You can’t move to a point that’s occupied by two or more opposing pieces. There is no limit as to how many of your own checkers you can stack on a single point.
  • The numbers on the dice indicate separate moves. If you roll a 6 and a 2, you can move one checker six points and a second checker two points. Or, you can move one checker eight points forward, as long as the intermediate points (six or two points away) are open.
  • If you roll a double, the number on both dice is the same, you get to make four moves. For example, if you roll a double 6, you have four six-point moves at your disposal. You may move any combination of checkers to complete this requirement.

You must play both numbers of your roll if you are legally able to do so. If you can only play one number, you must do so. You must play the higher of the two if you can move either number, but not both. If you roll a double, you must play as many numbers as you can. Finally, if you can’t play either number, you forfeit your turn, and your opponent gets to roll again.

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Take a look at some of our other Playing Guides to help improve your game.

Backgammon rules are available on this link.

Backgammon cheat sheet.

The 5 best opening rolls in backgammon.

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