Instructions to Play Backgammon

By Robert Vaux

Backgammon is one of the oldest games in the world, stretching back to the Egyptian and Persian Empires. It combines luck and strategy into ostensibly straightforward game play. Backgammon rules are easy to learn, but like all great games, they hide deceptive subtleties that only an expert can parse. Set-up takes just a couple of minutes and most games of backgammon can be played in less than 30 minutes.

Board and Pieces

The backgammon board consists of 24 triangular points divided into groups of six and arranged on either side of the board. The six points nearest the player and on his right are called his "home board" and the six points nearest him and on his left are called his "outer board." There is a wooden ridge dividing the two boards. Each player has 15 pieces arranged in a specific pattern on the board. The object is to get all of them across the board before the other player.


The pieces are arranged as follows: two go on the far right point of the opponent's home board; five go on the far left point of the opponent's outer board; three go on the player's outer board five spaces from the far left; and five go on the leftmost point of the player's home board. The opponent does the same thing with his pieces.

Order of Play

Each player rolls one die to determine who goes first. On his turn, the player rolls two dice and may move any of his pieces a number of points determined by the dice. For instance, if he rolled a one and a four, he could move one piece one space and another piece four spaces, or one piece one space and then four spaces. Double die rolls when. both dice show the same number count as double. Movement proceeds from right to left for pieces on the opponent's board and from left to right on the player's own board.

Obstacles and Hitting

No player may enter a point which contains two or more of the opposing player's pieces. If that point has only one of the opposing player's pieces, that piece is considered hit and is placed on the bar in the middle of the board. The opponent must then try to bring it back into play on his turn by rolling the dice and moving it a number of points down the first player's home board. If he cannot enter his piece in such a manner, he may not move during the turn.

Bearing Off

When the player has moved all 15 pieces to his home board, he can then start bearing off, that is moving the pieces off the board. He rolls the dice and may bear off one piece on each point corresponding to the roll. For instance, if he rolls a five and a one, he can bear off a piece sitting on the far right-hand point and on the point fifth furthest from the right. If he rolls a number higher than the furthest point containing pieces, he may move a piece off of the highest point. The first player to bear off all of his pieces wins.


Betting in backgammon is based on points. Each game is worth one point when it begins at whatever stakes the players agree. At the start of each player's turn, he may choose to double the points. The opposing player can either agree or forfeit the game. The doubling cube, the die with the numbers, is used to keep track of the bet. If a player loses and none of his pieces have been borne off, he loses double the amount shown on the doubling cube. If he loses and he still has a piece on the bar, he loses three times the amount shown on the doubling cube.

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