How to Play Backgammon
Backgammon is one of the oldest and most revered board games in the world. It has been played in most regions of the world for a good portion of history. The game has several antecedents in the ancient Middle East. Backgammon is probably second only to chess in terms of prestige and popularity.
Backgammon is a game of skill and a game of chance. For this reason, backgammon boards are favorites of gamblers worldwide. Many serious players enjoy placing a wager on the outcome of a match. Side bets are not uncommon. This is one of the reasons for the game's enduring popularity.
The Origins of Backgammon Board Games
The ancient Egyptians played games that may have evolved into the game we know as Backgammon. Senet, the first known board game, is similar to the backgammon board game in several ways.
The Royal Game of Ur, a Mesopotamian board game found in an excavation of a royal tomb at Ur, is even more similar to backgammon. Many scholars believe the "royal game" was a direct descendant of backgammon. This game was played as early as 2600 B.C.
A Persian game that influenced the development of backgammon has been dated even earlier, perhaps as far as as 3000 B.C. The name of this game is unknown, though it was found in the "Burnt City" excavation of Iran.
A Roman game with many elements of backgammon dates to the 2nd century A.D. This game translates to the "game of twelve lines".
Six centuries later, an emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire was playing a game named Tabula. This game used a board almost entirely like a backgammon table. It also required the players to move one's players off the board.
In Tabula, one extra die was used, but the game would be recognized by backgammon players today.
The Persian game, Nard, is dated to the 6th century. This game is a direct descendant of backgammon. It is the game which Europeans brought back to Europe in the generations immediately preceding the Crusades. With a few minor changes, Nard would become known as backgammon.
The game was originally known in 11th century France as "le jeux de tables". This game became a favorite of gamblers, which led to its being outlawed in France in the middle 13th century.
The prohibition didn't work. Backgammon has been a favorite of gamblers ever since.
Edmund Hoyle, created of Hoyle playing cards, wrote an important treatise on backgammon in 1743. The game has changed little since that time. Though backgammon seemed to lose popularity in the supposedly more high-minded 19th century, when the game of chess achieved supreme status.
Backgammon began to regain popular status from the middle of the 20th century forward. It now has international governing bodies, a tournament circuit and world championship.
Backgammon is a favorite with amateur gamblers. Throughout the generations, the game has maintained a link to gambling. Some players on the backgammon professional circuit have gone on to become famous professional poker players.
The Premise of the Backgammon Game
Backgammon is a game for two people. It is considered both a board game and a table game. Table games are games which use rows of tables, which are usually traversed by some kind of checkers, token or playing piece.
Backgammon is also a race. Each players begins with 15 checkers. These are placed at standard locations on the board. The player's race one another to move their checkers through the tables.
When the circuit is finished, the checker is moved off the board. The first player to move all their pieces off of the board wins.
A backgammon board is a series of tables. These tables are called "points", because each table ends in a point. Each side of the board has 12 points on it, with a total of 24 points on the board.
These points are given a numerical value, which help players keep up with the game setup and game progress. Note that the players move in opposite directions, so that point values are opposite for each players. To avoid confusion, some players prefer to number the points one through twenty four, with no deviation between players.
Points are considered to form a horseshoe pattern across the board. Checkers must travel from one point to another along this horseshoe pattern, so the checkers move from one side of the board many times in one game, in a progressive pattern from towards one end of the board.
Placement of the Checkers in Backgammon Games
Backgammon games begin with placement of the checkers on the same points. Five checkers are placed on the 13 point and five more are placed on the 6 point. Three checkers are placed on the 8 point and the final two checkers are placed on the 24 point.
The opponent places his or her checkers in the same positions on the other side of the game board.
The Home Board and Outer Board
Points one through six are called a player's "home board". Points seven through twelves are considered that player's "outer board".
From the perspective of the same player, points thirteen through eighteen are considered the opponent's "outer board". Points nineteen through twenty-four are considered the opponent's "home board".
Plays begins with each player rolling a die. The one who rolls higher goes first. These numbers on this first die roll are use by that player to move his or her checkers. With each successive turn, the player whose turn it is simply rolls both dice.
The player must move checkers according to the number on the dice. The number on each die is considered to dictate its own half turn. The number values are not added together for movement. Therefore, if a player rolls a 4 and a 3, then that player must move one checker 4 points forward and another checker 3 points forward. The total point value cannot be divided up another way among a total of 7.
In this example, the player may move one particular checker 3 points, then move that same checker 4 more points. These are considered two separate moves. Therefore, a player may not move the checker 7 points forward at once.
If a player can move any of his checkers forward, then that player must do so. Only if a player cannot move any checker forward due to blocking or lack of checkers in an end game scenario, does that player not have to take the movement stipulated by the numbers on the dice.
A player may land a checker on a point already occupied by another of that player's checkers.
The player may not land a checker on a point occupied by two or more of an opponent's checkers.
In other words, a player may land a checker on a point that is unoccupied, occupied by a friendly checker, or occupied by only one of an opponent's checkers.
When a player rolls double numbers on the dice, that player must move four checkers instead of two. For example, if a player rolls 2 threes, that player must move 4 checkers three points apiece. This might prove difficult or inconvenient in certain instances, though it might also speed checkers along at twice the pace.
A player can move the same checker along in successive moves in this case, as one would with a standard dice roll.
To Hit a Blot
A lone checker on a point is called a "blot".
When a blot is landed on by an opponent's checker, the opponent is said to have "hit" the blot. The blot is taken off the board and placed on the center of the board, in the dividing line between the home boards and the outer boards. This line is called the "bar".
It is best to avoid having blots, if necessary. Most players seek to keep two checkers on a point together. This protects the checkers from being hit, as well as blocks the opponent's checkers from being moved along the point. This is a large part of backgammon strategy.
The Former Blot Reenters Play
On the next turn, the checker removed to the bar returns to play. All checkers on the bar must be returned to play before that player's other checkers can be moved.
The checker starts in the opponent's home field. A die is rolled to see where it reenters play. A one places it in the 24 point. A two places the checker on the 23 point. This logic follows for the other numbers rolled on the die, all the way for the 19 point on a roll of six.
Checkers in the Home Board
The idea is for a player to move all of his or her checkers to the home board. When this is done, that player may begin removing checkers from the game board. All fifteen checkers must be in the player's home board before any one checker can be removed from the backgammon table.
Removal of checkers requires precise rolls of the dice. Therefore, a checker on the 3rd point is removed from the board only with the roll of a 3. Of course, in this case, if a 1 or 2 is rolled, that checker can be moved forward to the appropriate point.
It is best to have one's checkers spread throughout the home board. In this way, virtually any roll of the dice allows a player to remove a checker from the playing surface.
A higher roll can remove a checker from the playing surface, but only if that roll cannot move another checker on the board.
For example, if a player rolls a 5, and there are no checkers at the five or six points, then that 5 can be used to remove a checker at the four point. Leftover point values are lost, and can not be used to remove other checkers.
Losing a Gammon
In one circumstance, a player can be said to have lost a gammon.
If the winner removes all of the checkers from the home board before his or her opponent can remove even one checker from the playing surface, the losing player is said to have "lost a gammon". This only matters in match play.
Backgammon is a relatively quick moving game. Therefore, most competitive backgammon is played with the match system. Players play a set number of matches to determine who ultimately wins. The outcome is one single match does not determine who moves on.
When one player loses a gammon, that player has effectively lost two matches instead of one.
Losing a Backgammon
This is a case not unlike losing a gammon, but with one or two other stipulations.
One, the player has not only not removed at least one checker from the board, but also has one or more checkers in the bar.
Two, the player has not only not removed at least one checker from the board, but also has one or more checkers in the opponent's home board.
If either of these stipulations are met, then the player has lost a backgammon. This is worth three loses in match play, instead of simply one.
The Doubling Cube
Another common device used for speeding up match play is the "doubling cube". This is an oddly marked die. Instead of the standard 1 through 6 numbering, it has doubled values. The numbers are 2 and its doubled values: 2. 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64.
In match play, when one of the players believes he or she has an advantage, that player displays the doubling cube on the table. That player moves the doubling cube to 2.
This is basically a wager on the outcome of the game. If the opponent wants to continue, then the game is considered to be worth two matches. If the opponent does not want to make this wager, then the match is immediately over and the player using the doubling cube is said to have won the match.
Also, if the second player accepts the challenge, then that player can decide to up the stakes. That player has the option to turn the doubling cube over to the next raise in value, to the four. This effectively challenges the other player to stake four matches on the outcome of this single match.
Once again, that player must accept the challenge or forfeit the match. In this case, forfeiture is equivalent to losing two matches at once.
The player who makes the most recent challenge with the doubling cube cannot make the next challenge. Otherwise, the doubling cube challenge can be made over and over. It is quite seldom players reach the 64 match plateau.
Other Versions of Backgammon
Backgammon was enjoyed centuries ago by people from widely different regional and cultural backgrounds. For that reason, there a many variations of the game. The European version is considered the international standard and the game which professionals play.
The World Backgammon Championship
From 1979 onwards, there has been one unified World Backgammon Championship. This title has been played in Monte Carlo since that year. Thousands of players enter the event, paying larger entry fees every year. The winner is considered that years backgammon world champion and receives a sizable winning cash prize.
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