Last updated on January 8, 2021
Beginner’s guides. How to play backgammon.
This post is another in our series for beginners and newcomers. At Deluxe Backgammon we are a team of intermediate players who enjoy regular social games of backgammon. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, we regularly played in small groups in local cafes and pubs. Invariably, at some point, a small group of spectators would form to watch and talk about the game. Many people have some distant memory of the game, that they perhaps played on holidays in their youth. Others recall seeing the board with its rows of triangles sitting in the back of some dusty cupboard and wondered what the game was all about. One of the most common questions asked by those who have never played before is:
Is backgammon hard to learn?
In a word, no. The rules are relatively simple and can be taught to a new player within ten minutes. A couple of games is all it takes for these rules to be understood in a practical sense. The typical game of backgammon, ignoring the doubling cube, takes around fifteen minutes. This means an absolute beginner can learn the rules and experience three or four games in the space of an hour. It is even possible that the beginner could have won their first game during that hour.
Compared to chess, backgammon is much easier to learn. In chess, the objective of the game is to checkmate the king, which is easily understood. However, chess is the most complex board game of all as it involves different movements, tactics, and strategies. All of the pieces on a chess move in a different manner, adding to the complexity. In backgammon, all of a player’s checkers simply move in the same direction.
When it comes to learning the rules, backgammon is much easier than chess. In essence, backgammon is played by two players with 15 checkers each on a board consisting of 24 points. The checkers are moved according to rolls of the dice. Each player tries to bring their own checkers home and bear them off before their opponent does, hitting and blocking the opponent’s checkers along the way. Understanding the whole concept of backgammon at once is a little difficult, but still nowhere near as difficult as chess.
A first-time player can become a competent beginner in a matter of hours. Due to the element of luck, they also have a realistic chance of winning a game in that time frame. This is unlike chess, where a beginner will have no chance of competing against a better player. It’s the element of luck from the roll of the dice that gives the beginner a chance at winning. A PDF version of the rules is available on our Simple Rules page.
Once the rules are understood and a few games have been played the beginner should hopefully be drawn to the charms of the game. At this point, as well as playing backgammon, it is time to start understanding some of the underlying concepts of the game. If all the beginner wants to do is become a social player, they can learn the opening moves and the basic tactics and strategies of the game. This is all that is required to enjoy backgammon in a social setting.
If the beginner wants to improve their standard of play beyond a social level there is an entire range of skills and knowledge that need to be acquired. Understanding the importance of the five-points and the home board structure are critical concepts to understand. Pip counting, probability, cube play, priming and flexibility are also skills required to reach the intermediate level. There is a complete list Deluxe Backgammon playing guides that will teach you these skills and many more.