What is Backgammon?
Backgammon is a two-player board game that originated in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago. The board includes 30 pieces (called checkers) that are placed along a series of 24 triangular "points". The game's objective is to strategically move all 15 of your checkers onto your side of the board and then remove them one by one. The game uses dice and involves some luck, and has remained popular as a board game. Keep reading for more history, rules, and lingo.
Backgammon is one of the world's oldest games, having been played since before 2000 BCE. It was likely created in Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, and was popularized across Europe by the Romans during the height of their Empire.1 References to the game (called tables at the time) can be found in the artistic works of Hieronymous Bosch, Chaucer, and even Shakespeare. HJR Murray was the first person to call the game "Backgammon" in the 1600s, and since then, the rules have remained largely unchanged.
How To Play
The game begins with each player's checkers placed on certain triangles, or "points". The board is divided into four quadrants: your home board, your outer board, and your opponent's home and outer boards. Each quadrant has six points that alternate in color.
The objective of the game is to move all of your checkers onto your board (points one through six), and then "bear" each piece off of the board. The player rolls two dice to determine how many points they can move their pieces.
Once you have gotten all of your pieces onto your home board, you may begin "bearing off". The first person to bear off all their pieces wins the game.
Backgammon is a board game that requires only a few pieces of equipment. The necessary equipment for the game is the board, checkers, and two dice. Dice cups are often included in backgammon games to roll the dice "more fairly" but are not a requirement for gameplay.
Backgammon equipment should include:
- Dice cups (Optional)
The objective of backgammon is to get all of your pieces off of the board. To do this, you must first advance each checker onto your home board.
In addition to getting your pieces across the board, it is important to stop your opponent from doing the same.
Rules and Regulations
While the gameplay is straightforward, there are some "corner case" scenarios that are important to remember.
Here are the most important backgammon rules:
- You can only start to "bear off" once all of your checkers are onto your home board.
- Each player can only move their checkers onto a point that is not occupied by two or more of an opponent's pieces.
- If you roll doubles (such as two sixes), you get four moves instead of two.
Like chess, there is a wealth of backgammon strategy, and dedicated players devote time to learning different opening strategies and probabilities.
Here are the most important backgammon strategies you should know:
- Running: Getting all of your pieces to your home board as quickly as possible, regardless of what your opponent is doing
- Holding: Keeping several of your pieces on your opponent's board in an effort to make it harder for them to advance their own pieces
- Blitzing: Attacking lone pieces by moving your checkers onto them, which places them back on the bar
Here is the common lingo and slang in backgammon:
- Bar: The raised strip that separates the board into two halves.
- Blot: A single checker that is alone on a point. Blots can be removed and put onto the bar by your opponent placing their checkers on top of the blot
- Checkers: The game pieces
- Points: The 24 triangles that run around the lengths of the board. The checkers move along the points
Backgammon is popular worldwide, and Backgammon's World Federation ranks the top players in the world.
Here are the top backgammon players you should know:
- Ralf Jonas
- Allen Tish
- Mochy Mochzuki
- Michi Kageyama
- Victor Ashkenazi
- Matt Cohn-Geier
- Petko Kostadinov
There are Backgammon tournaments taking place all over the world. There are a few annual major tournaments as well.
Here are the most popular tournaments in Backgammon:
- Backgammon World Championships: Every year since 1979, the Backgammon World Championships have been held in Monte Carlo at the Loew Hotel. Before 1979, the world championships were contested in the Bahamas and in Las Vegas.
- Backgammon Youth World Championships: The Backgammon Youth World Championship takes place online every year
What happens if my checker lands on an opponent's blot?
If your opponent has a lone checker on a point, and you place your checker onto that point, your opponent's piece gets removed and placed on the bar, and they need to "restart" moving that piece all the way from your end of the board.
When should I use different strategies?
Running is useful when you have only a few more points to traverse before winning, while holding if useful when your opponent is trying to do the same to you. Blitzing is useful when your opponent has their pieces spread out. Another strategy, called priming, is useful when you need to slow down your opponent dramatically, and it includes making it impossible for them to move their pieces.
Where do the pieces start on the board for each game?
To start each game, each player has two pieces on their 24th point (the furthest point from their home board), five pieces on their thirteenth point, three on their eighth point, and five on their sixth point.
What is "bearing off", and how do you do it?
"Bearing off" means moving your pieces off the board from your home quadrant. To bear a piece off, you must roll exactly the number of the point on which that piece is placed. For example, if you have a checker on the first point, you can only bear it off if you roll a "one" on one of your dice.