Last updated on October 16, 2021
Beginner’s guide. How to play backgammon.
A cheat sheet is a concise set of notes used for quick reference. The Deluxe Backgammon team has put together this simple cheat sheet with the basic information that a beginner should be aiming to learn as they study the game. It wouldn’t be appropriate to use this cheat sheet during a game as this is information that good players would be expected to know. Memorising this information is part of the game of backgammon and referring to this document during play would give an unfair advantage.
Above we see the layout of the board at the start of the game. This will allow you to set up the backgammon board. This image, or a similar one, is likely to be included with the set of rules that came with the backgammon set. It would be perfectly acceptable to refer to this image to set the board up at the start of the game. The layout and numbering are shown from the perspective of the black checkers. The black checkers will move in an anti-clockwise direction towards the black home board. In other words, from the higher numbers to the low. The table 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.
The remainder of the cheat sheet shouldn’t be referred to during play. You can download a PDF version here:
One of the key concepts you need to understand in backgammon is how to play the opening moves. There is a detailed post on how to play the opening moves in the Deluxe Backgammon playing guides section of the website. As doubles are excluded from the opening dice rolls, there are 15 possible combinations of dice rolls at the start of the game. For 5 of these rolls, there are clearly defined moves that are agreed on by all experts and computer analysis. Those rolls are highlighted in green on the cheat sheet. These rolls should always be executed as shown on the cheat sheet.
For the other 10 rolls, there is some flexibility according to your style of play. However, the most common moves according to the experts and computer analysis are shown on the cheat sheet. Take some time to explore these rolls and memorise those moves most suited to your style of play.
In the opening roll, there is no option to hit an opposing checker so we are trying to achieve one of three objectives.
- Secure a point within your home board. A secure point gives your checkers a safe place to land. In addition, a secure point also acts as a blockade to your opponent’s checkers.
- Unstack your heavy points. Having 5 checkers on a point is a very inefficient use of resources. In your opening move and subsequent rolls, it makes sense to redistribute your resources where they can be better utilised.
- Free your back checkers. The two back checkers have the furthest distance to travel and must make it to your home board before any checkers can be borne off. Therefore, it makes sense to start them on the journey as early as possible by splitting them.
Understanding, probability is a crucial skill in backgammon. There are some detailed posts on probability for beginners and intermediates in the playing guides section of the website. The numbers on the cheat sheet can be used to determine the likelihood of making a specific roll. This can then be used to plan your attack or defence. For example, the highlighted numbers show the risk of leaving a blot within striking range of a direct hit (6 or less). It is clear that it is much safer leaving a blot one point from an opponent’s checker than six points. Further down the table, it shows the likelihood of rolling and hitting specific indirect rolls.