Backgammon Frequently Asked Questions

Thu, 29 May 2008 17:04

Backgammon Faq

Backgammon frequently asked questions.

"It's a game of skill and luck. When I win I can claim it's due to my good skill. When I lose I can claim it's due to my bad luck." -David Forthoffer

What is Backgammon?

One of the frequently asked questions about backgammon is about its origins. Backgammon's history goes back five millenniums ago. Although the game has evolved, the rules remain essentially the same. Modern backgammon depends on the roll of dice, thus, it is considered by many as a game of chance. However,  most backgammon players disagree -- they claim that like chess, backgammon is a strategy game where players use mathematical laws of chance and probability to determine winning tactics. In addition, one's imagination and strategic thinking are necessary elements in clinching a win from his opponents. The element of luck will always be involved, but winning is still largely dependent on the players' skill.

What is the game's objective?

The objective of a game of backgammon is to maneuver each of his 15 checkers across the board towards his own inner board. The objective seems simple and feeble to the uninitiated but this is not an easy job to do. Skill and cunning are necessary to succeed in this venture.

To win, a player needs to move his checkers to his inner board without being obstructed by his opponent. Unless a player is playing against someone with a short attention span, he'll have a hard time winning. A player wins when all his pieces have reached the inner board and taken off the board.

What equipment is needed to play?

One will need a backgammon lay-out or board, two sets of checkers or counters with fifteen "men" each in contrasting colors. Since the game is dependent on dice, two regular-sized pairs of standard dice marked with numbers 1 to 6 and a dice cup to use in rolling dice are required. Frequently asked questions during backgammon games usually involve pot size or the winnings. Well, to determine this, a big doubling cube is needed to hold the pot and to indicate the player who doubled.

How does a backgammon board look like?

Since the game is not as popular as chess or commercial as Monopoly, only a selected few can come up with an accurate description of a backgammon board. As it is, this question is an essential part of any backgammon site's frequently asked questions page. A backgammon board is made up of "points" which are basically 2 x 12 lines forming 24 triangles. Each point alternates in color and are assembled into four quadrants. The quadrants are composed of your inner and outer boards, and your opponents' inner and outer boards. Both pairs are separated midway by a bar upon which the big doubling cube is placed.

Each home board indicate the number of points. Standard opening positions are a couple of checkers each for 24-point, 5 checkers per 13-point and 6-point, and 3 checkers each 8-point. Points 7 to 12 and 8 to 13 are referred to as the outer boards while points 1 to 6 and 19 to 24 are the inner boards. The chosen color of the players indicate which side is theirs.

What is the doubling cube?

Similar to poker, backgammon games use pots to determine the stakes involved. However, unlike its casino cousin, backgammon decided to use a simpler method than computing chips. The doubling cube looks like standard dice, only it is much bigger and marked differently. Rather than the digits 1 to 6, a doubling cube is marked with the digits 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 on its sides. These digits stand for the stakes raised in backgammon games.

Which player starts first?

Usually the first asked in lists of frequently asked questions in backgammon manuals, this question is actually a no-brainer. Rather than fighting for turns, players leave the decision of who will start the game to dice rolls. Each will throw or roll the dice with the player getting the higher number named the starting player. However, in case of a tie, another round of dice rolls is required to break it. When players are ready to start, the starting player moves according to the results of his first two rolls.

How does a player move his checkers?

Of all the frequently asked questions about backgammon, this one is probably the most stressed. The checkers can only go forward, this means strictly no side ward or backward movements. The total number of the two rolled dice is the number of places a player can move his piece. A player has two options in moving strategically. He could opt to maneuver a piece with the total number or move two pieces separately using the individual numbers indicated on the dice.  For example, if a player rolls a 4 and a 6, he can bring a checker forward by 10 places, or set a checker forward by 4 places and another with 6.

What are the common backgammon terms?

Of course, appreciation for a game is not complete without understanding it. This is the rationale behind most players' desire to know the game's language. That said, anyone wishing to play backgammon without reading the frequently asked questions page first completely should head straight to this part. Almost all rules of the game are cleverly encapsulated in these terms.

First on the list is the double, it occurs when the same numbers appear on each of the dice. Since this happens rarely, the player who rolled the double is entitled to move four consecutive times. For example, if the player rolled two fives, he can move his pieces 20 times.  

Although a pass seems like a good idea when a player can't think of any move to save his game, passing turns is not allowed in backgammon. Backgammon rules (backgammon_rules.txt) dictate that players should play their pieces and their rolls as long as there is a legal way to do so. Even if the only legal move left is a poor one, a player must take it and play with the numbers he has.

Speaking of moves, a player with a piece atop the bar cannot make a move unless the piece is moved towards the opponent's inner board. To prevent this, a player must keep his pieces from becoming "blots" -- one checker on a point -- and being occupied by your opponent. If this happens, the player becomes a "hit" and the checker is moved atop the bar.

"Closed boards" should also be prevented because they could hurt a player's game very much. A player is not allowed to bring his man back into a game if a point corresponding to his thrown numbers are occupied by one more enemy piece. If each of the six points on his inner board is occupied by at least 2 checkers, the board is closed. It means that a player would not be able to take his turn at the dice because he have nowhere to land. He must wait for his opponent to open a point so he could bring back his piece.

Tactics and quick thinking are necessary elements of backgammon. A player is expected to use these in his attempt to "bear off" his pieces or win. A player wins when he had successfully bore all his pieces off the board. Of all the strategies a player can use to achieve this, he should avoid violating the "touch-move code." Although touch-moves are not regular rules in backgammon, it is dictated by moral decorum. Players are required to move the piece he had touched or stand by the move he had made. Players are free to change their moves any time but it defeats the purpose of the game. Backgammon is meant to be done at a quick pace, and any touch-moves and going back again slows the game down.   

What is the game without "gammon" and "backgammon?" A player has a gammon when he is able to bear off all pieces before his opponent is able to do so. Although this is good, the backgammon is better. A backgammon happens when a player is able to bear off all his pieces and managed to hit his opponent several times. With a backgammon, the winning player is awarded the triple win. Winning in backgammon is always a grand event since it is impossible for a stalemate to happen in backgammon.