Number of players
Backgammon is a two-person game. However, more than two can play a variation known as a chouette.
A backgammon set includes a board, 15 white checkers, 15 black checkers, two pairs of dice, two dice cups for rolling the dice, and a doubling cube.
Setting up the board
To start the game, place your checkers in the positions shown in the diagram. Place the doubling cube in the center. It doesn’t matter who uses the white (light-colored) checkers and who uses the black (dark-colored) checkers.
The 24 triangles on the board are called points. The area in the middle of the board is called the bar.
Object of the game
The object of the game is to move all your checkers into your home board, and then remove them from the board before your opponent does. Removing your checkers is called “bearing off”.
Rolling the dice
To start the game, each player rolls one die. The player who rolls the highest number gets to move first, using the numbers that were just rolled. For example, if white rolled 3 and black rolled 1, white starts the game with the roll 3 and 1.
If both players roll the same number, re-roll.
On all turns after the opening roll, each player rolls their own dice. Use the dice cup to roll your dice. The dice must land in your right-hand side of the board. If a die does not land flat (for example, cocked on a checker or the edge of the board), both dice must be re-rolled. This is called a “cocked die”.
When you are finished moving your checkers, pick up your dice to formally end your turn. If the play you made is incomplete or illegal, your opponent may accept the play or require you to make a legal play. A play is deemed to have been accepted when your opponent rolls their dice or offers a double to start their turn. If you roll your dice before your opponent has picked up their dice, your roll is void.
Moving your checkers
On your turn, move your checkers the number of points indicated on the dice. In the diagram below, white can only move counter-clockwise toward their home board. Black moves in the opposite direction.
If your opponent has two or more checkers on a point, you can’t move to that point. We call that point a “made” point.
You must move the numbers on the two dice separately. For example, if you roll 4 and 2, you may move one checker 4 points and another checker 2 points. Or you may move one checker a total of 6 points but only if the intermediate landing point (either 4 or 2 points from the starting point) is also open.
You must play both dice, if possible. When only one die can be played, you must play that die. If either die can be played but not both, you must play the larger one. If you can’t make a move with your roll, you forfeit your turn.
If you roll doubles you move twice the amount shown on the dice. For example, if you roll double fours, you move four points, four times (not just twice).
If your opponent has only one checker on a point, you can land on that checker and send it to the bar. Simply pick up the checker and place it on the bar in the middle of the board. One lone checker on a point is called a blot.
In the diagram below, black has left a blot on point 10. If white rolls a 6, they can move the checker from point 4 to point 10 and send the black checker to the bar.
Your opponent will have to re-enter that checker before they can make any other move.
To re-enter a checker, roll the dice on your turn as usual. Then place your checker on a point in your opponent’s home board corresponding to the number on either die. For example, if you roll 6 and 2, you can place the checker on the 6 point or on the 2 point, if they are open.
If neither of the points is open, the player loses his turn. If a player is able to enter some but not all of his checkers, he must enter as many as he can and then forfeit the remainder of his turn. After the last of a player’s checkers has been entered, any unused numbers on the dice must be played, by moving either the checker that was entered or a different checker.
After you have moved all of your checkers into your home board, you can start to remove your checkers from the board. This is called bearing off.
To bear off, simply remove checkers from the board, corresponding to your dice roll. For example, if you roll 6 and 3, you can remove a checker from your 6 point and a checker from your 3 point.
If there is no checker on the point corresponding to the die, you must move a checker from a higher numbered point. If there are no checkers on higher-numbered points, remove a checker from the highest-numbered point that has checkers.
You don’t have to bear off a checker if you can make a legal move.
If your opponent hits one of your checkers when you are bearing off, you must bring that checker back to your home board before continuing to bear off.
If you bear off all your checkers before your opponent, you win.
Rather than play just one game, players usually play a match of several games. The winner is the first person to reach an agreed upon point total. For example, 17 point matches are common in tournaments.
The winner of the game receives one point, unless the stakes were doubled or re-doubled during the course of the game, or the loser was “gammoned” or “backgammoned”.
Doubling the stakes
– During the game either player may offer to double the stakes. To do this, pick up the doubling cube and turn it to the number “2”. You can only double at the start of your turn, before you roll the dice.
Your opponent may accept the double, or decline it. If they accept, you continue to play, but now the winner of the game will receive two points instead of just one. If they decline, the game is over and you win one point.
If your opponent accepts the double, your opponent “owns the cube”. That means that only they can offer the next re-double. If, at some point in the game, they re-double and you accept, you then own the cube. There is no limit to how many times the stakes can be re-doubled. In the highly unusual case that your re-doubles exceed 64, the maximum value displayed on the cube, keep track of the re-doubled value on a sheet of paper.
Gammons and backgammons
– Another way to score more than a single point when you win is if you gammon or backgammon your opponent.
If you bear off all your checkers before your opponent can bear off at least one checker, you have “gammoned” your opponent. A gammon scores double the cube value.
If you bear off all your checkers before your opponent can bear off at least one checker, and your opponent still has a checker in your home board or on the board, you have “backgammoned” your opponent. A backgammon usually scores triple the cube value. (Note: Some online sites score a backgammon as double the cube value, same as a gammon.)
– If both players roll the same number on the opening roll, the stakes are automatically doubled and the doubling cube is turned to “2”.
– After a player doubles the stakes, the other player may immediately re-double, and still keep posession of the cube.
– Under the Jacoby Rule, gammons and backgammons only count as 1 point if the cube is not doubled during the game.
– A rule that prohibits doubling for one game when a player is within one point of winning the match.
– This game variation allows more than two people to play. One player “in the box” plays against a team of two or more players. The team has a captain who has final say on where to move and when to double. If the team wins, the captain becomes the player in the box. If the team loses, the player in the box continues playing against the team and the team gets a new captain. If the team doubles, it does so as a unit. If the player in the box doubles, each team member may decide individually whether to accept or pass.