Backgammon has always been a popular companion game, since it is easy to carry and set up anywhere, but provides plenty of entertainment and a healthy dose of competition. The aim is to get your fifteen checkers safely around the board, and home, before your opponent does likewise: there might be a metaphor there, but let us not dwell on that.

Understanding the Backgammon Board

Backgammon boards are divided into four quadrants, and marked with 24 narrow points, on which the checkers are arranged: each player has an outer board and a home board, each with six points, and numbered so that the home point is number 1. The checkers are placed: 2 on the 24-point (in other words, these must travel the furthest to reach home), 5 on the number 13 point, 3 on the 8-point, and 5 on the 6-point. Finally, dice are needed, to indicate the number of spaces each checker can move per player’s turn. An initial roll of one die determines the order of play.

Two dice are rolled, giving the option of two movements: for instance, if a 2 and a 4 are rolled a checker can move to an open point 2 away, another 4 away, or a single checker can be moved six points, provided it is able to land on an open point at the 2 or 4 mark. Two of the same number gives double those moves: thus double 2 gives the option of four moves of two places, or other combinations where possible. If any move is not possible, the player simply misses that turn.

If the opponent lands on a point occupied by a single of the player’s checkers, known as a blot, this checker is removed and placed on the bar between quadrants. On the next roll of the dice, this checker must be re-entered on the opponent’s home side on one of the points corresponding in number to one of the dice.

Once all of the checkers are in a player’s home board, bearing off can begin. Using the numbers rolled on the dice, checkers can be removed from the points corresponding to those numbers. The first player to bear off all of his checkers is the winner.

Game Stakes

Backgammon uses a third die, which shows the stake of the game. Initially, the game is worth one point, but either player may decide to double this at some point. Refusal of the double forfeits the point, but once accepted, only this player may call a redouble: there is no limit to the number of redoubles that can be called during a game.

If a player has not yet borne off any of his checkers at the point of losing the game, he is gammoned, and loses double the agreed stake. If he still has checkers in his opponent’s home board, he is back gammoned, and loses three times the stake.

While it takes some practice and observation, backgammon is a great way to pass the time, perhaps on that next Outback road trip, and the batteries on the board never go flat! And depending on what form the agreed stake takes, it can definitely be a very engaging game.