Backgammon Wikipedia

Jan 17, 2020 | Reading time: 21 Minutes

1. Backgammon history

1.1     Backgammon origin

Backgammon is counted as one of the most ancient games. It is said to have originated before fifty centuries. It is believed that its inception took place in Iraq that was formerly known as Mesopotamia. This fact has been deduced based on the finding of ancient dice prepared from human bones in that region.

1.2     History

Backgammon uses a board with 24 points and 30 checkers (pieces of men). Senet and Mancala are games that use exactly the same board. Romans can take the credit of promoting this game through their own version that was known as Duodecim Scripta et Tabulate also called Tables. It was known as Tables from the 13th to 17th centuries. 

In order to get rid of the boredom of prolonged journeys, Emperor Claudius had got an exclusive board on the back of his chariot. Emperor Nero too was an ardent player who played for 10000 dollars of present times, in each and every game. It is an enigma as to what was the fate of his opponents who lost. There is a mention of this game in ancient literature like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and in Love’s Labor’s Lost of Shakespeare.

2. Backgammon definition

Backgammon is basically a board game that can be played by two people. They are supposed to place their pieces around 24 triangular points on the basis of the dice throw. The winner is the one who removes all the pieces from the board before the opponent.


Money Play

Match Play

Several variants like Ace-deuce, one-point matches, hyper-backgammon, tape, made, frugal, dice less backgammon, Jul bar, and backgammon are also available.

Some people even prefer to play chess or checkers on the flip side of the board.

3. Backgammon etymology

The etymology of Backgammon is still a matter of dispute. It is assumed to have come from Middle English Backgammon, where game means game and back is believed to have originated from the concept that the pieces go back at times.

4. Backgammon game rules

4.1    Board Layout

The board of Backgammon comprises of 24 triangles that alternate in color. These triangles are known as points. There are four quadrants and six triangles in each quadrant. These quadrants are known as home board and outer board for both the players. A ridge separates the home board from the outer board. It is referred to as the bar. From the home board, the points are given numbers. The outermost point is called the twenty-four point and this is one point for the opponent.

4.2 Player Rules

Every player is given 15 checkers of a single color. At the outset, the checkers are arranged as follows:

Two on twenty-four points of every player

Five on thirteen points of every player

Three on eight-point of every player

Five on six-point of every player

Each player has a dice and dice cup to shake the dice. Numerals 2,4,8,16,32 and 64 are given on the faces of a doubling cube and its use is to record the current claim of the game.

Both the dice should be rolled together. They should land on the right-hand side of the board. If the dice should not fall flat or lands on the checker or outside the board, both the dice should be rolled again.


The turn of the player is deemed to be complete only when he picks up the dice. In case the play is not considered to be complete or legal, the opponent can either accept the play or ask the player to make a valid move. The play is accepted if the opponent rolls his dice or proposes a double to start his turn.


A player’s roll is considered to be invalid when a player rolls the dice before the opponent has finished his turn.

4.3     Object of the Game  

The main object of the game is to get all the checkers inside your home board and then remove them. The one who removes all the checkers first is declared the winner.   

5. How to play backgammon?

5.1    Opening Moves and Important Terminologies

In the beginning, the dice is thrown by each of the players. The one who gets the higher number gets the first chance to move the checkers to the specific “points” or “pips”. If the dice shows the same numbers, the dice is thrown again until different numbers show up. The checkers have to be moved on the basis of the numbers on both the dice. Once the first roll is done, two dice are thrown and alternate turns are taken. The checkers can only move forward to a point that is lower-numbered. The rules are given below.


1. The checker has to be moved to an open point only. It should not have two or more checkers of the opponent.


2. The numbers that the dice shows imply the separate moves of the checkers. Let’s say for example: If the dice shows 4 and 2, the player can either move one checker six places to an open point or one checker 4 points and another checker 2 points if the points of the respective moves are open. For the single checker movement, the intermediate point of 4 or 2 places should also be open.


3. If a player throws the dice and the same number comes up on both the dice, he should play the number shown on the dice two times. It is known as “doubles”. This means that if 5 and 5 come up on the dice, the player has four fives to move the checkers. Any movement of the checkers is allowed to finish the moves.


4. Both the numbers that are shown on the dice have to be played if they are valid according to the rules of the moves. If only one number is playable, that number should be played. In such a case, the larger number has to be played. If none of the numbers can be played, the turn gets lost. In the case of doubles, the player should play the maximum valid moves if all four numbers are not playable.


A point that has one checker of each color is known as a “blot”. If the blot gets occupied by the opponent’s checker, the blot has to be moved onto the bar. This is referred to as “hitting”. If a player has one or more checkers placed on the bar, the priority for him is to move the checkers from the bar into the opposing home board. This is known as “entering”. In order to enter those checkers, they have to be moved on an open point according to one of the numbers shown on the dice.


As an example, if 3 and 5 are rolled on the dice, the checker can be entered in the opponent’s three points or five points. These moves are possible only if that point is vacant or not occupied by two or more checkers from the opponent.

If none of those points are open, the player’s turn is lost. In case some of the checkers are able to enter, the player should try to enter as many checkers as legally possible.

Once all the checkers of the player have entered, the numbers that have not been played should be played. The move can be either of the checkers that has already entered or another checker.


The player has to move the fifteen checkers into the home board and then start bearing off. Bearing off in simple terms is the process by which the checkers are removed from the board.

5.2      How to bear off the checkers?

A number that corresponds to the point on which the checker is placed has to be rolled if it has to be removed from the board. In other words, it means that in order to remove the checker from five points, a five should be rolled on the dice.

In case the roll indicates the number that has no checker on that point, the checker that is placed on a higher-numbered point should be moved according to the rules. There can be instances where there are no checkers on higher-numbered points. At such times, the player has to bear off a checker from the highest point on which one of the checkers is placed. There is no need to bear off if a legal move is possible on the board.


One of the requisites for bearing off is that all the active checkers should be in the home board of the player. When the bearing off process is going on, if the checker gets hit, the checker should be brought to the home board again. Then, the player can continue to bear off. It is mandatory to bear off all the checkers to win the game.

2.3       Proceeding through the game and doubling

The players play for an agreed stake per point. To begin with, every game has one point. As the game proceeds, the player who is doing considerably well in the game can double the stakes. This can be done in the beginning of his turn before the dice has been rolled.


The opponent can refuse the double. If he denies it, he has to pay one point. If he accepts the double, it means that he has to play for the higher stakes. The owner of the cube is the one who accepts the double. The next double has to be made by him.

If there is a double after double, it is known as redoubles. If a redouble is refused, the number of points that were at stake before the redouble have to be paid. If he accepts it, he owns the cube and the stakes are double than those of the previous stakes. The players can play as many redoubles as they want in a single game.


The game is over when one of the players has succeeded in bearing off all fifteen checkers. At this stage, if the person who has lost has managed to bear off one checker, the value that is shown on the doubling cube is lost by him. If there have been zero doubles in the game, it is considered to be one point. If the losing player has not succeeded in bearing off a single checker, he is said to be “gammoned”. Twice the value of the doubling cube is lost by him. In the worst scenario, the checkers are still on the bar or in the winner’s home board. Such a player is backgammon and thrice the value of the doubling cube is lost by him.

6. Backgammon doubling cube strategy

Amateurs are generally too scared of doubling cube. They avoid doubling and since they are not well versed with the doubling strategy, they make decisions to take it or drop it almost randomly. You ought to know cube play if you wish to win a game of backgammon. In case your opponent manages to win two points in each game, he would win the game.


Let’s see an example for understanding doubling cube strategy in depth.

Assume that it is your turn and your board has two checkers, one on 5 points and another on 2 point. Your opponent has a single checker left on the one point. Now in such a scenario, the game would be yours or you would lose it.

There is a total of 36 dice rolls possible. Out of these, 17 dice rolls would make you lose the game and 19 would make you the winner. Therefore, according to simple mathematics, you should go for a double.


Now, the decision has to be taken by the opponent. He can either take or drop it.

6.1 When should he take?

Whenever the opponent has 25 percent or more chances to win, he should accept the double.



1. Not an ideal situation to double

In a trailing condition or in conditions when you are leading by a meager margin and have no market losers, you should not double.


2. Double/Take

Players who have an ordinary position in the game do not prefer to double. Another issue is that they are scared that their opponent would accept the double. Players should not be afraid of this. It is a possibility that you would lose the double but there are more possibilities that you would win. It is always prudent to win four points rather than two. There are gammon possibilities too.


3. Double/Drop

In case, your opponent goes for a double and you have less than 25% probability to win, you should not take it. It is a wise decision to sacrifice one point and proceed to the next. If you have a doubt on getting gammoned, you should take a drop rather than taking a risk. 


4. Too good to double

It sounds a good idea to own the cube if you have sufficient probability of winning the game. In such cases, you should wait for more points to come and then double. Do not plunge into doubling just because you are playing well.

6.2 How to Use a Doubling Cube

Let’s take a hypothetical situation. Imagine that you have four checkers on one point and it is your turn to throw the dice. The checkers of your opponent are on the six point and four points respectively. Now, if you have doubled already, you would not be able to double again. Most of the times, it happens that doubles would not be rolled. Now if you do not roll doubles, there are greater chances of your opponent to win the game. Your opponent would turn out to be victorious through any doubles of 3 or greater than that or rolls like 4-6, 5-6. This means that his winning chances are around 18%.

It is imperative that you do not double if you have a weak advantage. You should not sacrifice the cube, whatsoever, in such a condition.


As a matter of fact, the decision of doubling does not depend on the point count merely. It is about understanding that the game is in your favor and then going for doubling. Here, it can help you a lot to perceive the game from the opponent’s point of view. You have to think that if your opponent accepts your double, it might be his mistake when he pretty well knows that you are leading in the game. Anyhow, doubling the stakes would prove to be beneficial to you if you are in the lead.


The most uncomplicated doubles are when both the players are in non-contact game positions.


It is a thumb rule that the player who is 10% ahead in point count should go for doubling the stakes. As far as accepting the double is concerned, you can accept if you are lagging behind by 13%. This percentage is dependent on the length of the race. When the race is longer, fewer percentages are counted.


It is important to see how smoothly your checkers get borne off. Also, you should take into consideration the number of checkers that have already got removed from the board. Get rid of any gaps that can hamper your performance in the game. Take a scenario where you have no checkers on 3 point and your 6 point has checkers. If you get a 3 on the dice roll, it is not possible for you to remove any checkers. However, the move 6-3 is quite possible and you can subsequently use 3 too.


You have to be constantly vigilant that you do not have to use up your dice rolls on positioning the checkers. Each and every roll can considerably change your decision for the cube. You should double even if you are in a bad trailing position but somehow roll 6-6 or 5-5.


There are some exclusive scenarios in match situations. Doubling in those instances is not the same as it is in money play. In money play, every point is considered to be equal. Nevertheless, that is not the case in matches. Let’s have a look at some unique examples.



1.      Post-Crawford.

Crawford game is the very first game in the match played after both the players are at one point of winning. The player who is trailing should go for double when he gets the first chance. The aim should be to grab the maximum points and win the game.



2.      Overage

A Player who is trailing 3-0 or 3-1 in a match at the time when their opponent decides to double the stakes should accept the double. At the very next roll, you should opt for redoubling the stakes regardless of your game. The idea behind this is that you should put everything on the game and if you win, you win everything.


If you are leading in the game, you should be very watchful about doubling. Bet sensibly but not greedily.          



3.      Free Drop

If your opponent turns out to be the winner of Crawford game when the scores are 4-2, the score naturally becomes 4-3. In such a case when you are trailing behind and your opponent doubles, it is a good idea for you to drop the proposal. Whenever you feel that you would lose the game, you should drop

However, you should not drop if it would give your opponent an easy victory and reduce the number of matches for the win.



4.      2-away/2-away

A specific scenario in which either player is 2 points away from winning the match is known as 2-away/2-away. According to theoretical knowledge, it is prudent to double whenever you are leading. The reason for this is that the cube loses its value if it is given up by both players.

7. How to figure out the probability of winning the match?

According to your score, you can decide the chances that you have for winning the game. Take an example as follows. Suppose you are trailing 2-0 and the match is of 3 points. If you have to win such a match, 2 games should be won by you. In case, you succeed in winning the first game and there is no gammon, it is obvious that you would opt for doubling the stakes in the beginning of the next game.


Take another situation. In case you are playing a Crawford match and trailing 2-1, you have more chances to win the game. There is 10% chance that you would win a gammon in the game. In 40% of the cases, you would win without a gammon. Wrong doubling decisions make you lose the game more often than not.

8. Alternative Rules

1.      Automatic doubles

The stakes have to be doubled in case same numbers are thrown on the first roll. The doubling cube is changed to 2 and placed in the middle. It is a common observation that the automatic doubles are limited to one per game.


2.      Beavers

When a player doubles, the opponent has the privilege to redouble instantly. He even owns the cube. The player who had doubled can either accept the proposal or refuse it just like a normal double. Tournament plays do not allow beavers.


3.      The Jacoby Rule

Gammons, as well as backgammons, are counted as one game in case none of the players have doubled the stakes. According to this rule, the game gets finished quickly and there are no situations in which a player has to avoid doubling to play for a gammon.


4.      Raccoon

When a player immediately goes for a redoubled after accepting a beaver, it is known as “raccoon”. In some games, raccoons are banned.


5.      Aardvark

The person who has beavered can turn the cube again in case the other player raccoons. This is known as an aardvark.

9. How to win backgammon?

1.            The Running Game

According to this strategy, the players focus on placing their checkers in the home board as quickly as possible. However, this strategy only works if you roll higher numbers. It works wonders for amateurs who are not familiar with other winning tips of the game.



2.            The Blitz

Players can follow the blitz strategy according to which the opponent’s checkers are sent to the bar by landing on them. Instead of rolling higher numbers and moving towards the home board, players attack the opponent’s checkers that can be easily moved to the bar.


However, the player should keep in mind that his own checkers do not get vulnerable in an attempt to attack the opponent’s checkers.



3.            Priming

This strategy involves the creation of four made points in a row. By doing so, you build a wall that cannot be overcome by the opponent if he does not roll higher numbers like 5 or 6. As a result, your checkers can be safe and your opponent cannot move further till he rolls better.


Priming can be used along with blitz strategy. If these two strategies are used together, it is known as “two-way forward” attack. As a result of this combination, the opponent has to face many useless dice rolls and this can be an important winning move.



4.            The Holding Game

Based on the holding game strategy, an anchor point is held intact in the home board of the opponent. It is prudent to move the checkers that are farthest so that you do not get trapped. It helps you defensively as well as offensively. By playing the game through this method, you can ensure that you are not primed into a defeat by the opponent. Moreover, you can keep the opponent fearful about advancing his checkers.



5.            The Back Game

The back game strategy comes handy when your checkers are sent to the bar again and again. It depends on the maintenance of multiple made points in the home board of your opponent. It is a good way to save the game and keep it in your favor.

10. Backgammon Clubs and Social Play

Backgammon fans have established clubs so that people can play the game in social gatherings and events. The game is immensely famous over the World Wide Web because of which people have got more interested in playing it.


Three or more than three players can take part in one game of backgammon in order to make money and gamble through a backgammon silhouette. Several doubling cubes are allowed in Coquette play.

Tournaments are also held by backgammon clubs. Players from various places gather at the venue and a huge audience witnesses this match. The winners from such tournaments are likely to take home a handsome amount as prize money.

11. Backgammon Legality

According to the verdict in the court three years back by Judge Stephen S. Walker, Backgammon was given the tag of “game of skill” and not of chance. It is therefore not illegal to play backgammon in casinos. 

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