Basic rules of Backgammon

Backgammon is a fairly complex game that’s based both on strategy and skill. In order to understand the most basic skills and concepts, players need to understand what the game is, what equipment is needed, the role of different things on the board, specific terms and how checkers can be moved around the board. Below the most basic strategies are outlined to get players started off; more complex rules can be grasped later on but this is a great jumping off point for those ready to give Backgammon a try.

Note that these rules do apply to all Backgammon games, though if players are playing Backgammon online, certain rules like how to move Backgammon checkers may not be as essential to understand because auto-play options allow the software to complete some moves on the players’ behalf and will not allow them to make moves that are not allowed. This is one reason why playing Backgammon online is a great way to get started, because it only allows players to play by the correct rules of the game!

What is Backgammon?

Backgammon is a game that’s played by two players who each receive 15 checkers and must move around the board and have all of their checkers off the board in order to win. The main strategy and fun of the game comes from blocking and hitting opponents checkers so that they’re not able to win!

The Backgammon Board

There are 24 points on the Backgammon board which look like narrow triangles. The triangles are grouped into 4 quadrants of 6 triangles each and they are alternating in colors. The outermost point on each player’s board is the 24 point. The initial setup has players place 2 checkers on their 24 points, 5 on the 13 point, 3 on the 8 point, and 5 on the 6 point.

Starting a Game of Backgammon

Decide who goes first

in order to get started, players must roll the dice; whoever has the higher number goes first. Unlike in other games where the roll strictly determines which player starts in the game, in Backgammon, whatever was rolled on the dice is actually used by the player for their first turn. Each player in Backgammon actually uses their own dice cup.

Playing the numbers on the dice

players cannot pass on a turn in a game of Backgammon, they must always go. They must also play both numbers on a roll if it’s possible, even if it’s not a smart strategic move. If it’s only possible to play one number, then the larger one must be player.

Moving the checkers

there are specific rules about how the checkers can be moved. No checker can be moved to a point that has two or more opposing checkers, and the numbers on each of the two dice are for separate moves (i.e the number on one dice moves one checker, and the number on another moves a second one. The numbers cannot be combined to play a move together).

Getting to the home board

a player must get their checkers to the home board, and then must do what is called bearing off. This means removing checkers from the board entirely by rolling a number on the dice that corresponds to the point number where the checker is on the board. This part is not as strategic, and is more based on luck; while actually getting to the home board and blocking an opponent from doing so requires skill.  The home board of each player is on the opposite side, diagonal from where they started and there are 6 points where they need to get their checkers to.

Betting on the Game – The Doubling Cube

When playing in person or at an online Backgammon Room players often place bets and use what’s called a doubling cube. It’s a large die with the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 on each of the sides. It’s used to keep track of the stakes set for the game. A player has the opportunity before each of their turns to raise the stakes (doubling them), though the other player can refuse. 64 is considered the basic stakes with no doubling or changes. Players can double and redouble the stakes virtually as much as they want during a game, though not 2 turns in a row!

Backgammon Etiquette

There are some basic rules of etiquette used in Backgammon. Of course, in online Backgammon, not all of these apply since the software dictates how players can move, how they roll the dice etc.

A dice cup needs to be used to roll the dice

If players touch a checker they are not forced to move it as in other games (but if they move it, they can’t reverse their move)
As you learn all the rules of Backgammon, expect there to be some trial and error, you won’t get it all right away, but overtime you will master the basic rules and then become ready to learn the more in depth rules and strategies. Take advantage of the tutorials offered by many online Backgammon rules to help you along the way!