Backgammon Rules

Rules to the game of backgammon

This document is a formatted html version of the rules to the game of backgammon, as found in the backgammon-faq, which is posted monthly to the newsgroup

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What are the basic rules of the game?

Backgammon Equipment

  • A Backgammon board or layout.
  • Thirty round stones, or checkers, 15 each of two different colors,
  • A Backgammon board or layout.
  • Thirty round stones, pr checkers, 15 each of two different colors, generally referred to as `men'.
  • A pair of regular dice, numbered from 1 to 6. (For convenience, two pairs of dice, one for each player, are generally used.)
  • A dice cup, used to shake and cast the dice. (Again, it is more convenient to have two dice cups.)
  • A doubling cube---A six-faced die, marked with the numerals 2,4,8,16,32 & 64. This is used to keep track of the number of units at stake in each game, as well as to mark the player who last doubled.

The backgammon board

Backgammon is an obstacle race between two armies of 15 men each, moving around a track divided into 24 dagger-like divisions known as ``points''.

The Backgammon layout is divided down the center by a partition, known as the ``bar'' (See Diagram 1), into an outer and inner (or home) board or table. The side nearest you is your outer and home tables; the side farther away is your opponents outer and home boards. The arrows indicate the direction of play.

For purposes of convenience we have numbered the points in the diagram. Though the points are not numbered on the actual board, they are frequently referred to during play to describe a move or a position. Your (X's) 4-point or 8-point will always be on your side of the board; your opponent's (O's) will always be on his side of the board.

A move from your 9-point to your 5-point is four spaces (the bar does not count as a space). A move from White's 12-point to your 12-point, though it crosses from his board to yours, is but one space, for these two points are really next to each other.

Diagram 2 shows the board set up ready for play. Each side has five men on his 6-point, three men on his 8-point, five men on his opponent's 12-point, and two men, known as ``runners'', on his opponents' 1-point. The runners will have to travel the full length of the track, the other men have shorter distances to go. Note that play proceeds in opposite directions, so that the men can be set up in two ways. Turn the diagram upside down to see the layout if play were proceeding in the other direction.



      |   +-----------------------------< X moves this direction

      |   |

      |   |

      |   |    13 14 15 16 17 18       19 20 21 22 23 24

      |   |   +------------------------------------------+

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   |                  |   |                   |  +----+

      ^   v   |   Outer Board    |BAR|     Home Board    |  | 64 |

      |   |   |                  |   |                   |  +----+

      |   |   | P  O  I  N  T  S |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . | Doubling

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |   Cube

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   | .  .  .  .  .  . |   |  .  .  .  .  .  . |

      |   |   +------------------------------------------+

      |   |    12 11 10  9  8  7        6  5  4  3  2  1

      |   |

      |   +---------------------------------------------->


      +---------------------------------< Y moves this direction

                  Diagram 1  (Numbered from X's point of view)

       13 14 15 16 17 18       19 20 21 22 23 24


      | X  .  .  .  O  . |   |  O  .  .  .  .  X |

      | X           O    |   |  O              X |

      | X           O    |   |  O                |

      | X                |   |  O                |

      | X                |   |  O                |  +----+

      |                  |BAR|                   |  | 64 |

      | O                |   |  X                |  +----+

      | O                |   |  X                |

      | O           X    |   |  X                |

      | O           X    |   |  X              O |

      | O  .  .  .  X  . |   |  X  .  .  .  .  O |


       12 11 10  9  8  7        6  5  4  3  2  1

      Diagram #2  (Numbered from X's point of view)

Object of the game

The object of Backgammon is for each player to bring all his men into his home board, and then to bear them off the board. The first player to get all his men off the board is the winner.

Starting the game

Each player casts one die. The player with the higher number makes the first move, using the two numbers cast by his die and his opponent's. In the event that both players roll the same number, it is a standoff and each rolls another die to determine the first move. In the event of subsequent ties, this process is repeated until the dice turn up different numbers. (In some games, players double the unit stake automatically every time they cast the same number; others limit the automatic doubles to one. In tournament play, there is no such thing as an automatic double.)

Moving your men

Each player's turn consists of the roll of two dice. He then moves one or more men in accordance with the numbers cast. Assume he rolls 4-2. He may move one man six spaces, or one man four spaces and another man two spaces. Bear in mind that, when moving a single man for the total shown by the two dice, you are actually making two moves with the one man---each move according to the number shown on one of the dice.


If the same number appears on both dice, for example, 2-2 or 3-3 (known as doublets), the caster is entitled to four moves instead of two. Thus, if he rolls 3-3, he can move up to four men, but each move must consist of three spaces.

The players throw and play alternately throughout the game, except in the case where a player cannot make a legal move and therefore forfeits his turn.

Making points

A player makes a point by positioning two or more of his men on it. He then ``owns'' that point, and his opponent can neither come to rest on that point nor touch down on it when taking the combined total of his dice with one man.


A player who has made six consecutive points has completed a prime. An opposing man trapped behind a prime cannot move past, for it cannot be moved more than six spaces at a time---the largest number on a die.


A single man on a point is called a blot. If you move a man onto an opponent's blot, or touch down on it in the process of moving the combined total of your cast, the blot is hit, removed from the board and placed on the bar.

A man that has been hit must re-enter in the opposing home table. A player may not make any move until such time as he has brought the man on the bar back into play. Re-entry is made on a point equivalent to the number of one of the dice cast, providing that point is not owned by the opponent.

Closed board

A Player who has made all six points in his home board is said to have a closed board. If the opponent has any men on the bar, he will not be able to re-enter it since there is no vacant point in his adversary;s home board. Therefore, he forfeits his rolls, and continues to do so until such time as the player has to open up a point in his home board, thus providing a point of rentry. It should be noted, the he doesn't loses his turn, as he still retains the ability to double his opponent before any of his opponents rolls, assuming the cube is centered or on his side.

Compulsory move

A player is compelled to take his complete move if there is any way for him to do so. If he can take either of the numbers but not both, he must take the higher number if possable, the lower if not.

[Another way of saying this...]

  1. If both parts of the roll can be played legally, then this must be done. Note that you may play the roll in such a way as to move fewer pips than the larger die indicates by playing the smaller die first --- this is common in bearoff situations, and legal as long as each part of the roll is played legally at the moment you play it.
  2. If only one part of the roll can be played legally, then you must play the higher die if possible; if not, play the lower die.


Bearing off

Once a player has brought all his men into his home board, he can commence bearing off. Men borne off the board are not re-entered into play. The player who bears off all his men first is the winner. A player may not bear off men while he has a man on the bar, or outside his home board. Thus if, in the process of bearing off, a player leaves a blot and it is hit by his opponent, he must first re-enter the man in his opponents home board, and bring it round the board into his own home board before he can continue the bearing off process.

In bearing off, you remove men from the points corresponding to the numbers on the dice cast. However, you are not compelled to remove a man. You may, if you can, move a man inside your home board a number of spaces equivalent to the number of a die.

If you roll a number higher than the highest point on which you have a man, you may apply that number to your highest occupied point. Thus, if you roll 6-3 and your 6-point has already been cleared but you have men on your 5-point, you may use your 6 to remove a man from your 5-point.

In some cases it may be advantagous to play the smaller die first before applying the higher die to your highest point (See Compulsory Move). For example, suppose you have one checker on your 5 point, and two checkers on your 2 point. Your opponent has a checker on the ace (one point) and on the bar. You roll 6-3. You may play the 3 to the 2 point then the 6 to bear a checker off the 2 point leaving your opponent no shots (no blots for the opponent to hit). The alternative, using the 6-3 to bear checkers off both the 5 and 2 points, would leave your opponent 20 out of 36 ways to hit your remaining blot.

Gammon and Backgammon

If you bear off all 15 of your men before your opponent has borne off a single man, you win a gammon, or double game.

If you bear off all 15 of your men before your opponent has borne off a single man, and he still has one or more men in your home board or on the bar, you win a backgammon, or a triple game.

Cocked dice

It is customary to cast your dice in your right-hand board. Both dice must come to rest completely flat in that board. If one die crosses the bar into the other table, or jumps off the board, or does not come to rest flat, or ends up resting on one of the men, the dice are ``cocked'' and the whole throw, using both dice, must be retaken.


What is the doubling cube for?

The introduction of the doubling cube into the game is largely responsible for the leap in popularity of modern backgammon.

Each face of the doubling cube bears a number to record progressive doubles and redoubles, starting with 2 and going on to 4, 8, 16, 32 &; 64. At the commencement of play, the doubling cube rests on the bar, between the two players, or at the side of the board. At any point during the game, a player who thinks he is sufficiently ahead may, when it is his turn to play and before he casts his dice, propose to double the stake by turning the cube to 2. His opponent may decline to accept the double, in which case he forfeits the game and loses 1 unit, or accept the double, in which case the game continues with the stake at 2 units. The player who accepts the double now ``owns'' the cube---which means that he has the option t redouble at any point during the rest of the game, but his opponent (the original doubler) may not. If, at a later stage he exercises this option, his opponent is now faced with a similar choice. He may either decline the redouble and so lose 2 units, or accept and play for 4, and he now ``owns'' the cube. A player may double when he is on the bar even if his opponent has a closed board and he cannot enter. Though he does not roll the dice, for he cannot make a move, he still has the right to double. Note that gammon doubles or backgammon triples the stake of the cube.

What is the Crawford rule? (Why won't FIBS let me double?)

From the FIBS help screens:

  If you are playing an n-point match and your opponent is ahead

  of you and he gets to n-1 points you are not allowed to use

  the doubling cube in the next game to come


             5 point match


     game #   You      opponent

        1      0          3

        2      0          4

        3      1          4   (you were not allowed to double in this game)

        4      3          4   (you were allowed to double again)

       ...    ...        ...

The Crawford rule is universally used in backgammon match play.

What is the Jacoby rule?

The Jacoby rule is used in money games. It states, that a gammon or backgammon may not be scored as such unless the cube has been passed and accepted. The purpose is to speed up play by eliminating long undoubled games.

The Jacoby rule is never used in match play.

What is the Holland rule?

This rule applies to match games and states that in post-Crawford games the trailer can only double after both sides have played two rolls. It makes the free drop more valuable to the leader but generally just confuses the issue.

Unlike the Crawford rule, the Holland rule has not proved popular, and is rarely used today.

What are those critters --- Beavers, raccoons?

In money play, if player A doubles, and player B believes that he is a favorite holding the cube, he may turn the cube an extra notch as he takes, and keep the cube on his own side. For example, if A makes an initial double to 2, B may, instead of taking the double and holding a 2 cube, say ``beaver'', turn the cube an extra notch to 4, and continue the game holding a 4 cube.

If A believes that B's beaver was in error, some play that he may then ``raccoon'', turning the cube yet another notch (to 8 in the example). Cube ownership remains with B. B may then if he wishes turn the cube yet another notch, saying ``aardvark'', or ``otter'' or whatever silly animal name he prefers (the correct animal is a matter of controversy), and so forth.

Beavers and the rest of the animals may be played or not in money play, as the players wish.

Beavers and other animals are never used in match play.

-- Andy Latto

It should be noted that the original cube turner can drop a beaver. For example, suppose I miscount a bearoff and double, you accept and say you want to beaver. I realize something is wrong and recount. If I am horribly behind, I can drop the beaver, paying you the value on the cube before you beavered.

-michael j zehr

What is a Chouette?

A Chouette is a social backgammon variant for more than 2 players. One player is ``the box'', and plays against all other players on a single board. One other player is the captain, and rolls the dice and makes the plays for the team that opposes the box. If the box wins, the captain goes to the back of the line, and the next player becomes captain. If the captain wins, the box goes to the back of the line, and the captain becomes the new box.

Customs vary as to the rights of the captain's partners: In some Chouettes, they may consult freely as to the way rolls should be played. In others, consultation is prohibited. A compromise, where consultation is allowed only after the cube has been turned, is popular.

Originally, Chouettes were played with a single cube. The only decisions that players other than the captain were allowed to make independently concerned takes: If the box doubled, each player on the team could take or drop independently. Today, multiple-cube Chouettes are more popular; each player on the team has his own cube, and all doubling, dropping, and taking decisions are made independently by all players.

-- Andy Latto