The basic Backgammon rules

Backgammon is one of the oldest games known on earth, but not many people actually know what the backgammon rules are. Learn how to play backgammon and the key steps to start a game right here. 

backgammon board checkers

The main principle of the backgammon rules

Backgammon is basically a race game between two players. 

Each player has 15 checkers (or men) that he needs to bring home faster than his opponent.

The checkers move on a board composed of 24 triangles, also known as point.

backgammon board
Backgammon Board

The board is divided into 4 parts of 6 points.

One player moves his checkers clockwise, while the other plays counterclockwise.

The movement of the checkers is determined by the roll of 2 dice.

The number on the dice indicates the number of points a checker is allowed to advance. 

During the game, the players try to bring all their checkers into their home board and to bear them off, which means taking them out of the board. 

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Beginning of a game of Backgammon

At the beginning of every game, the checkers of both players are placed symmetrically on the board as you can see in the example below. 

backgammon board setup
Example of a Backgammon board setup

The white checkers will move clockwise to reach the top right part of the board (also called white inner board), while the black checkers move counter clockwise to reach the bottom right of the board (black inner board).

In no circumstances is a player allowed to move a checker backward.

The game starts with each player throwing one die. The player with the highest number on his die makes the first move (therefore, a game cannot start with a double).

The dice can be used to move the same checker or two different one.

From that point, the players are moving their checkers by playing one after the other.

The movement of the checkers obey some rules:

  • A checker can land or pass freely on a point with no other checker on it ; 
  • A player can have as many checkers as he wants on a specific point ;
  • If a player rolls a double, he has to play 4 times ; 
  • It is not possible for a checker to land, or pass on a point already occupied by two or more of his opponent checkers ;
  • A lone checker on a point is called “a blot” and can be hit by his opponent. 
  • If there is a way to play a roll it must be done even at the disadvantage of the player ;
  • When a checker is hit, it is put “on the bar” and will have to start back on its opponent’s inner board. 
  • A player cannot move any other checkers as long as he has one on the bar.

To re-enter in his opponent’s inner board, a player has to roll a number not covered by two or more of his opponent checkers.

You can consider every point in the inner board as a gate numbered from 1 to 6.

Backgammon board setup with a checker on the bar
Backgammon board setup with a checker on the bar

In this example, black has a checker on the bar and must roll a 1 or a 5 to re-enter, because the point 2, 3, 4 and 6 of his opponent’s inner board are occupied by at least 2 checkers. 

One of the main strategies on how to play backgammon well is thus to close all the points in your inner board and hit an opponent’s blot in order to keep him off the game. 

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The end of the game 

Once all your checkers are inside your inner board, the last part of the game is starting. This part is called the “bear off” and consists of taking out your checkers off the board as quickly as possible.

To do so, you have to take checkers out according to the numbers you are rolling.

Consider that your inner board is also composed of gates from 6 to 1 (1 being the point on the far right).

For every roll, you can take out the checker corresponding. 

If you have checkers on every gate and you roll 6-1, it means you can take one checker out from the 6th point and one checker out from the 1st point.

If you roll a 6 but don’t have any more checkers on this particular point, you can use this roll to take out a checker from the next highest point. 

But if you roll for example a 4 without any checkers on this point and still having some on the 6th and the 5th point, you cannot use this roll to bear off a checker and must move it to the 2nd or the 1st point. 

backgammon bearing off
End of the game : The bearing off

In this example, with a 5-2 roll, black can use the 5 to take out a checker from the 4th point because the 5th and the 6th point are empty.

With the same roll, white cannot use the 5 to bear off one checker because he still has 2 on the 6th point. White only possibility is to play the 5 by moving a checker from the 6th point to the 1st point (this is what is called a forced move).

The first player to remove all of his checkers is declared the winner and a new game can start.

You are now familiar with the basic backgammon rules ! There are still so many things to know about this fabulous game mixing pure skill and luck.

The best way to understand and enjoy the game is by practicing with a friend or play backgammon online on different websites.

Stay tuned on Backgammon Rules for more information about how to play backgammon, how to use the doubling cube, more strategic articles, online backgammon websites reviews and more.

May the dice be with you !

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1 Comment

  1. What do you mean: “It is not possible for a checker to land, OR PASS on a point already occupied by two or more of his opponent checkers” ???

    Of course you can pass over stacked checkers, otherwise you’d both very soon never be able to move!

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