Backgammon Rules and Tactics

Does backgammon seem confusing to you? Are the other players "steamrolling" over you every time you play? Well, don't worry - we're here to help! Backgammon Rules and Tactics large

The rules of Backgammon are really not that hard to comprehend although they may take some practice and getting used to in able to actually win a successful game. The objective is quite simple; get all your men (pieces) off the board. How you set on accomplishing this however will depend on a few important things with Strategy and Chance (the roll of the dice) being the foremost decisive factors on who gets to win the game.

Foremost, you have to know how to play the game (at least at the basic level). There are truckloads of tutorial documents as well as videos on how to learn to play Backgammon and going through some of this would definitely be a great idea. Strategy and tactics is something you master or progress with as you keep playing the game just like mastering a certain skill in any given profession. However, there are certain shortcuts shared to us by those who have already attained a mastery of the game in an advanced or expert level.

Let’s take a look first on the very basic principles of taking your men off the board then how applying the basic strategies or rules of thumb can give you the needed advantage over the one playing across you.

Core Objective

Just like the game of Chess, the pieces of the game have to begin in a given set position... just like The Light vs. the Dark set up across each other ready for battle. The board is also divided in 2 with the bar in the middle. Each half has a set of 6 triangular lines facing each other with a total of 24 in all. Each side has a total of 15 pieces each. Taking the board as a whole, you will have 4 quadrants starting from the upper left, upper right, lower right, and lower left.

This is also how your pieces travel in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction depending on the side, and the resulting number acquired by throwing the dice. The objective is to migrate all of your pieces (again, depending on which side) to the lower left or right quadrant. Once achieved, each roll of the dice must take all of your pieces one by one off the board in which case you win when there is none left.

Rolling the Dice

The standard game uses a couple of dice which when thrown will produce 2 sets of numbers. The game starts with each opponent throwing a single die. The one with the highest number takes the first round. By referring to the image of the opening board position, you will see that you have 2, 5, 3, and 5 pieces per quadrant respectively in a clockwise direction (Those of you who play the game are no doubt familiar with this). Rolling the dice will give you 2 sets of numbers that you can use each on any of your pieces that are on top of a stack or alone by itself. You move your piece via the triangles the given number of times.

However, you cannot land on a triangle occupied by the enemy and containing 2 pieces or more. Should you land on one that has only one enemy piece, you checkmate that piece and it is placed on the Bar that divides the board. Your opponent will have to place that piece back at the starting quadrant come turn to roll the dice. When all your pieces are at the lower left/rightmost or last quadrant, each roll will move them a number of times (depending again on the piece you choose) that eventually takes them off the board. The outcome would depend on who gets to do this first.

Winning the Race

Backgammon is not only a game of strategy and chance (perhaps luck) but a race as well. There are 3 basic strategies that a beginner can employ in order to get a firm grasp of playing the game. Eventually, through mastery and time, variations of these basic rules of thumb can be employed when playing at a higher level which would be both players as being very good with the game. As for the meantime, let’s stick with the basics.

1. The Break-Off and run as fast as you can Gammon

Also known as the Running Game, it is the easiest strategy of all. Perfect for those with opponents who have no idea whatsoever with what they are doing in the first place. Get your men out of the board as fast as you can. Forget hitting, blocking or misleading your opponent, focus instead on moving your pieces around without leaving any of them vulnerable (alone). Get them out of enemy territory (your opponent’s side) as soon as possible and finish the game as fast as possible. In other words, run like a monkey whose arse is on fire!

2. Block-Gammon

Also known as the Blocking Game which unfortunately requires you to think. When your opponent happens to be as skillful as or even better than you when it comes to playing the game, running may not always be such a good idea. Try to block your opponent by preventing the enemy pieces that are in your territory from moving around. The idea is to have 2 or more of your pieces on 6 consecutive points so that the trapped pieces will not be able to land on them therefore, won’t be able to move. This is known as a Prime, however you may not be able to hold this forever as you do have to move your pieces to get off the board. A Prime is not always achievable so in essence, blocking your opponent in any way strategically possible while getting your pieces out is the name of the game.

3. Back-Gammon (Not “backgammon”)

Known as the Back Game (of which the game was aptly named), is said to be the most difficult strategy to master. This tactic is usually used when you’re going up against a superior opponent like someone who looks and acts like Mr. Spock or already an expert with the game. The idea is to sacrifice or open your pieces to hits which would place them on the bar bringing them back to your opponent's side of the starting point. With the roll of the dice, you try to position them into blocking whatever is left thereof your opponent's pieces in order to hold the enemy back from completing his goal while moving your pieces across at the same time. In short, go back, hold them back, and watch your back.

By keeping these 3 in mind, and playing the game as often as you can, the old adage “Practice Makes Perfect” will have you playing like a pro in no time. And again just like Chess with the addition of the dice, you’ll always need to think before you move while playing backgammon, and well if the risk is worth it, go ahead and double your bet!