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How to Play Backgammon Online – A Beginner’s Guide
Like chess or poker, backgammon is a game that you can play online just as easily as you would in your own home. That means that if you already know the game, you’re ready to play online backgammon right now. If you’re new to the game, don’t worry: we’ll teach you how to play backgammon in this section.
Backgammon is a two-player game that’s played on a specialised board – one that you can often find on the reverse side of a checkers or draughts board. The board comprises 24 points – or triangles – of alternating light and dark colours. Those points are divided up into four quadrants of six points each.
Now that you’re familiar with the board, it’s time to set it up for your first backgammon game.
Players sit across from each other on opposite sides of the board. Each player begins the game with 15 checkers. The points are numbered from one through 24. The two players see the board as a mirror image of each other. Each has their own 1-12 points in order on their side of the board. The 13-24 points are on their opponent’s side, with 12 and 13 being across from each other. The first player’s 1-point is the second player’s 24-point, and vice versa.
Here is how each player sets up their checkers:
- Two checkers on the 24-point
- Five checkers on the 13-point
- Three checkers on the 8-point
- Five checkers on the 6-point
Throughout the game, players will move their checkers from the 24-point towards the 1-point. The quadrant that contains your 1-6 points is known as your home board.
The game uses two standard six-sided dice for moving your pieces, along with a special die known as the doubling cube. The doubling cube helps determine the stakes of each game.
To begin the game, each player will roll one die, with the player who rolls higher going first.
Typically, those rolls will also be used by the first player for movement on their first turn. If the two players roll the same number, they should re-roll until someone rolls a higher number. If players compete in multiple games over the course of a match, the winner from the last game goes first in the next. Players will alternate turns throughout the game.
Players must move their checkers based on the numbers on the dice. The main backgammon movement rules are:
- Players must move their checkers forward the exact number of points shown on each die, if possible. For instance, if you roll a 5 and a 2 (5-2), you must move one checker five points forward, and also move a checker 2 points forward.
- You may move the same checker for both dice. In the above example, that would mean you would move a checker 7 points forward. However, you must be able to make two legal moves to do this. In this example, you must be able to legally move your checker either 2 points and then 5 points, or vice versa.
- If you roll doubles, you must use each die twice, for a total of four moves. For instance, if you roll 3-3, you must make four moves of three points each.
- If you can only legally make a move with one die, you must use the higher number if possible. If you can use one die to make using the other die possible, you must do so. If you cannot use any more of your dice, your turn ends.
- You may always move a checker to an unoccupied point, or one with any number of your own checkers.
- If a point holds two or more of your opponent’s checkers, you may not move a checker to that point.
Hitting and Entering
You can move your checker to a point that contains exactly one of your opponent’s checkers. That lone checker is known as a blot. By moving to that point, you will hit their checker, and it will move to the bar at the centre of the board.
If you start your turn with any checkers on the bar, you must move them back onto the board before you can make any other moves. Checkers enter the board by moving to a legal point corresponding to one of your die roles. For instance, if you roll a one, you can enter a checker onto your opponent’s 1-point (your 24-point). A roll of two allows you to enter a checker on your opponent’s 2-point, and so on.
Your checkers can enter on the points you roll unless two or more of your opponent’s checkers are already there. If you cannot legally enter a checker using your die rolls, then your turn is over. If you can enter some but not all your checkers from the bar, then you must enter as many as you can, then end your turn. Any remaining numbers used after entering all your checkers from the bar must be used – if possible – to move one or more of your pieces.
Once all 15 of your checkers are in your home board – again, that’s the quadrant of the board containing your 1-6 points – you can begin bearing off. This is the term for removing your checkers from the game.
You can bear off a checker by rolling a number equal to the point which that checker is on. For instance, if you roll a five, you must remove one checker on your 5-point, or make a legal move with a checker on a higher point. In the example of rolling a five, for instance, you could move a checker from the 6-point to the 1-point.
If there are no checkers on the point you’ve rolled or any higher-numbered points, you must bear off a checker from the highest point where you have a checker.
You may only bear off if all your checkers in play are in your home board. If your opponent hits one of your checkers back to the bar, you must enter that checker and bring it all the way back to your home board before you can start bearing off again.
Bearing off is the ultimate goal of a game of backgammon. The first player to bear off all their checkers wins the game.
The doubling cube adds another layer of strategy to a game of backgammon. This die features six sides with the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. When you play backgammon for real money, you will play for a set stake per point. The doubling cube allows players to increase the number of points at stake in a game.
At the start of the game, the doubling cube is placed at the centre of the bar, with 64 face up. A player can propose doubling the stakes at the start of their own turn, before they roll the dice.
Your opponent now has two options. They may refuse the double, meaning they immediately concede the game and lose for the current stake. They might also accept, which continues the game at double the current stakes.
Once a player accepts a double, they take control of the doubling cube, with the number 2 face up. They now have the option of redoubling before they roll the dice to move on one of their turns. This follows the same rules as before. The opponent can either concede the game, losing two points, or accept the double, raising the stakes to four points, and take control of the die themselves.
As long as players continue to accept, there is no limit on how many redoubles can happen. While the doubling cube only shows numbers up to 64, further doubles can raise the stakes to 128 points, 256 points, and beyond.
While the doubling cube is used when playing online backgammon for money, it is also important in tournament play. You may play a match to a certain number of points, with the doubling cube increasing the number of points at stake in a game.
The stakes of a game can increase beyond those of the doubling cube in certain situations. If a player loses without bearing off any of their own checkers, that is known as a gammon, and the player loses twice the value of the doubling cube. If a player loses without bearing off any checkers and still has at least one checker on the bar or in the other player’s home back, they suffer a backgammon, and lose triple the points on the doubling cube instead.
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The Most Popular Online Backgammon Variants
While the rules we described above apply to standard backgammon, there are several popular backgammon variants played around the world. These rules can be as simple as altering the starting position, or they can completely change how your checkers move around the board.
While there are many variations, a few stand out as particularly popular. Here’s a look at a few of the major variants, some of which you might run into at some of our top backgammon sites.
In Acey-Deucey, players start the game with none of their checkers on the board. To get started, you must bear your checkers on, much as you would when entering pieces from the bar. In addition, if you roll a 1-2, you may select any doubles move you like besides making your 1 and 2 moves. You also take an extra turn if you roll 1-2 or doubles.
Hypergammon is a simplified version of backgammon in which each side starts with just three checkers with a long way to go before bearing off. These pieces start on the 22-point, the 23-point, and the 24-point. Blots are common in Hypergammon, and strategy remains highly complex despite the limited number of checkers in play.
Nard is an ancient variant of backgammon that uses most of the same rules as the modern game. However, the starting position for the checkers differs significantly from the one used today. Most rules recovered from ancient manuscripts do not include special rules for doubles, meaning they are typically treated as normal rolls.
Tapa is a popular variant in some countries, including Syria (where it is known as Mahbousseh), Bulgaria, and Greece. It is often played as part of a series that includes standard backgammon and other variants. In Tapa, players start with all their checkers on the 24-point. You cannot hit an opponent’s single checker in this variant. Instead, if you land on a single piece, you pin that checker. A pinned checker cannot move, and the player being pinned cannot land another checker on that point.
Top Strategies to Win at Backgammon
Players around the world love backgammon for its perfect blend of luck and strategy. While the dice might determine the winner of a single game, only sound strategy can help you win in the long run. Here’s a look at a few strategies and tactics that can help you win more money playing at the best backgammon sites.
As the name implies, the running game is a strategy that attempts to turn a game into a race. When using this strategy, a player will move their checkers as quickly as possible without paying much attention to protecting their pieces or hitting the opponent unless it won’t slow down their progress.
A running game often develops when both players have advanced their checkers to points where they are again in safe groups, and future captures or blocks are unlikely. With little attack and defence possible, both players will race to the finish instead. Optimal moves are important, but the player who gets the better rolls will probably win the race.
When a player uses a blitz strategy, they’re trying to lock down their opponent while also getting as far ahead as possible. In a successful blitz attack, you will fill all six points in your home board, then hit at least one of your opponent’s checkers to the bar, making it impossible for them to enter their pieces until you start bearing off.
A blitz can easily lead to gammons or even backgammons, which can mean big wins when combined with timely use of the doubling cube. However, it’s easy to get overextended, and if your opponent starts to fill points in his own home board, you can end up paying for your risky play when your own checkers get trapped on the bar.
If you fall behind in the race, a holding strategy may be your best bet for getting back in the game. In this strategy, you’ll want to establish an anchor – a safe point where you have multiple checkers – in or near your opponent’s home board.
By doing this, you can establish a point from which you can attack any single checkers that venture near your anchor. This can slow down your opponent until you can get a timely hit or roll a high double, either of which can get you right back in the game.
The back game strategy is another attempt to recover from a poor position. In this strategy, you want to establish two anchors in your opponent’s home board. Ideally, these anchors should be on the lowest points possible, such as 1 and 3 or 2 and 3.
This is most effective as a late game strategy when most of your checkers are advanced, but you have a few back to establish your anchors. If your advanced checkers can occupy your home board, you can both look for an opportunity to hit an advancing opponent’s checker, then make it difficult for them to enter that piece from the bar.
The History of Backgammon
While the precise origins of backgammon have been lost to time, similar race games date back to around 3000 BC. Games like the Royal Game of Ur and others have been played in the Middle East for thousands of years. Ancient Romans played a game known as Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum, which was very similar to modern backgammon. Persian texts talk about backgammon around the year 600 AD.
Once a somewhat obscure game, backgammon gained popularity throughout the 20th century. Today, backgammon is popular throughout the Middle East and around the world. Millions of enthusiasts play backgammon for free among friends and family. Gambling on backgammon is also common, and an extensive international competitive scene has developed. Tim Holland won the first Backgammon World Championship in 1967, and competitors from around the world vie for the title every year in Monte Carlo.
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