Learn the secrets of the 5,000-year-old game of backgammon and play online for free or for real money with this easy-to-follow beginner's guide
The roots of backgammon can be traced back over 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest board games in existence. It's a two-player game which requires both a skillful strategy and an element of luck. The strategy involves moving your checker pieces around the board and blocking your opponent's potential moves and the luck depends on the roll of the dice.
There are a couple of variants that have made their way to the casino down the years. O'Sheas in Las Vegas introduced a player(s) vs dealer variation of the game. Our research suggests this variant was mainly based on betting on the roll of the dice. It involved a jump bet which would win if the player could move his pieces over the bar in one roll and an out bet which meant removing his pieces from the board within two or three rolls.
You also have a computerised version of online backgammon. This is simply a software programme allowing players from all over the world to play against each other just like the original format of the game intended.
Below, we'll take you through how to play casino backgammon online and highlight the main rules you need to be aware of.
Basic rules of Backgammon
Backgammon only allows two players to play at a time, where moves are determined by rolling the dice.
A Backgammon set consists of a board, 2 sets of 15 checkers (15 red and 15 white), 2 pairs of dice, a doubling cube numbered 2, 4, 6, 16, 32, and 64 (used to keep track of the stakes), and 2 dice cups.
The goal is to first move all your checkers to your own home board, and then remove, or "bear off" your checkers from your home board before your opponent does the same. The first one to accomplish this is the winner.
Players must make choices for where to move their checkers, in addition to anticipating their opponent's moves, with each roll of the dice.
Players with no experience of the game who are looking to sample online backgammon for the first time need to familiarise themselves with the board.
Understanding the Board:
The board consists of 24 thin triangles with alternating colors called points. The points are grouped into 4 quadrants of 6; 2 quadrants side by side are Player One's home and outer boards, and the other 2 quadrants are Player Two's home and outer boards.
The middle of the board serving as the intersection of the 4 quadrants is separated by a ridge known as the bar.
Player One (White Checkers) and Player Two (Red Checkers) sit facing one another across the board, and each player's home board is situated on the lower right quadrant closest to them, and each player's outer board is situated on the lower left quadrant closest to them.
The points are numbered 1 through 24:
- Player One's Home Board: 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (L to R).
- Player One's Outer Board: 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 (L to R).
- Player Two's Home Board: 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19 (L to R).
- Player Two's Outer Board: 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13 (L to R).
Because each player moves their pieces from opposite sides of the board, so Player One's 1st point is Player Two's 24th point, Player One's 2nd point is Player Two's 23rd point, and so on.
Setting Up the Board:
Players must place their 15 checkers before the game can commence. Player One's checkers are white in color, and Player Two's checkers are red in color. These are the traditional Backgammon colors of the checkers:
Checker Positions for Player One:
- 2 White Checkers on Point 24.
- 5 White Checkers on Point 13.
- 3 White Checkers on Point 8.
- Player Two's Outer Board: 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13 (L to R).
Checker Positions for Player Two:
- 2 White Checkers on Point 1.
- 5 White Checkers on Point 12.
- 3 White Checkers on Point 17.
- 5 White Checkers on Point 19.
Important Note: To prevent checkers from overlapping, both players have their own numbering system.
Each Player Rolls a Die:
To determine whether Player One or Player Two goes first, each must roll a die. The player who rolls the highest number goes first. In the event that both players roll the same number, they roll again. The sum of the rolled dice count as the first moves for the player who goes first.
For example, if Player One rolls a 5, and Player Two rolls a 2, Player One will go first, using the 5 and 2 for their moves, instead of rolling the dice again.
The Stakes Can be Doubled Anytime:
The winner in Backgammon does not get or gain points, however the loser in Backgammon loses points.
For example, if Player One wins, Player Two will lose based on the face, double, or triple value of the doubling cube stakes. The doubling cube is not a die, it is a marker. It starts at 1, however each player can raise the stakes anytime, at the beginning of their turn to roll the dice. This must be done before rolling the dice.
So, if a player wants to double the stakes and their opponent accepts, the doubling cube is turned to the new number and then placed in the opponent's court. The opponent has ownership of the doubling cube, with the ability to propose doubling the stakes at the beginning of their turn to roll the dice.
If the player's opponent chooses not to accept the doubling the stakes offer, the opponent forfeits the game and loses by the original stakes.
Players can continue doubling the stakes back and forth, however it is not traditionally done more than 3 or 4 times in any one game.
Moving the Checkers
Rolling the Dice:
Using the dice cup, each player rolls the dice at the when it is their turn to play. The numbers rolled represent 2 separate moves.
For example, if a player rolls a 3 and a 5, that players can move one of their checkers 3 spaces, and another one of their checkers 5 spaces. Alternatively, the player can move one of their checkers 3 spaces and then 5 more spaces.
So the dice will bounce and roll a bit, players need to make sure they roll the dice to the right of their side of the board, from a reasonable height.
Should either of the rolling dice land on a checker, land outside of the boundaries of the board, or land leaning against the edge of the board, the roll is not considered valid, and the player must roll both dice again.
Move Checkers to an Open Point:
Any point on the board that is not occupied by 2 or more of the opponent's checkers is an open point. Players can move their checkers to any point with no checkers on it, to a point with 1 or more of their own checkers on it, or to a point with 1 of their opponent's checkers on it.
Players will always move their checkers counter-clockwise, away from their opponent's home court to their own home court.
Players can start with any of their checkers they want, however best practice is to get their checkers out of the opponent's home board as quickly as they can.
Players only need to have 2 checkers on a point to block it from their opponent, however they can have as many of their checkers as they want on any one point.
Another important thing for players to remember, is that they can move 1 of their checkers twice, or move 2 checkers once. So if a player rolls a 3 and a 2, they can move 1 checker 3 points over, and then the same checker 2 points over, as long as it lands on an open point both times.
Alternatively, they can move 1 checker 2 points over to an open point, and then move another checker 3 points over to an open point.
Rolling Doubles Earns Two Extra Moves:
If a player rolls doubles, they earn 2 extra moves.
For example, if a player rolls double 3s, they can make 4 moves of 3 points each, by moving 1 checker 3 points over 4 times. They can also mix it up and move 2 checkers 6 points over, or maybe 1 checker 3 points over, and another checker 9 points over. As long as the total number of points adds up to 12 points, and each of the moves lands in an open point, any moves chosen are okay.
Losing a Turn:
If a player cannot move a checker to play the numbers rolled, then they will lose their turn.
For example, if a player rolls a 5 and a 6, and cannot find an open point when moving any of their checkers using any of their moving options, their turn is lost. If the player can only play one of the numbers rolled, they have to play the highest number rolled, and lose their turn for the other number.
This is also true if doubles are rolled. If the player is unable to play the doubled number they rolled, they will lose their turn.
Keeping Checkers Safe:
Players should try not to have just one of their checkers on a point, which is known as a blot in that event, because it becomes vulnerable to being 'hit' by their opponent's checkers.
If a player's checker gets hit, it is forced to go to the bar, where the player must use their next turn to roll and try to re-enter the board in their opponent's home board. So players should do their best to keep 2 checkers on a point at all times, especially early in the game.
Dominating the Board:
Before moving their pieces into their own home court, players should try to have as many points occupied by 2 or more of their checkers, as opposed to a few points occupied by 4, 5, or 6 checkers. Not only does this give them more options to move to open points, it makes it harder for their opponent to move to an open point.
Hitting and Entering
Moving Opponent's Checkers to the Bar
Hitting a blot, which is a point occupied by just 1 of the opponent's checkers, is something a player should try to do as often as possible, as long as it moves the player's checkers closer to their own home court.
This is a great way to slow down an opponent, because they cannot move any of their other checkers anywhere until the checker on the bar gets moved back on their opponent's home board.
Entering Pieces Taken Out:
When a player's checker is moved to the bar, the task at hand is to move that piece back onto the opponent's home board. This can only be done if the player rolls an open number. If an open number is not rolled, the player loses their turn, and must try again on their next turn.
When moving a checker off the bar onto the opposing home board, a player cannot use the sum of the dice to move the checker.
For example, if a 6 and 2 are rolled, the player cannot move the checker 8 points over by adding the number of the rolled dice together. The checker can only be moved 6 points over to the opposing home court, or 2 points over to the opposing home court.
Moving Other Checkers When Checker(s) are Barred:
Once a checker or checkers (if more than one checker is barred) are moved from the bar and back onto the opposing home court, a player can then move their other checkers. If there is only one checker to re-enter, and can be accomplished on a roll, the player can move any of their other checkers on the board using the other number rolled.
If there are two checkers on the bar, both checkers must be re-entered onto the opposing home board before they can move any of their other checkers. If only one checker can be re-entered in a roll, the player will have to try to move the other barred checker on their next turn.
This is also true if there are more than 2 checkers on the bar.
Bearing Off Checkers
Understand How To Win Backgammon:
The player who is the first one to bear off, or remove, all their checkers from the board and into their tray is the winner.
Bearing off checkers requires players to roll the dice and use the numbers rolled to their best advantage to move the checkers into the tray. The numbers rolled must be either exact, or higher than the number of spaces needed to remove the checkers from the board. For example, if a player rolls a 6 and a 2, they can bear off 2 pieces that are on those points. However, if the player does not have a checker on the number 6 point, they can bear it off from the next highest point on their board instead, such as from the number 5 point or the number 4 point.
Players need to move all 15 of their checkers into their home court, bearing off cannot start until then. The checkers can be anywhere on the points in each player's home court, however it is important to remember that the checkers can still be barred, even while in the player's home court.
If the opposing player has a checker on the bar, it can still be entered into a blot on their opponents home court, if there are any. This forces the player to take one of their pieces and move it all the way back to the start, and once that occurs, the player cannot start bearing off pieces until that piece is back in its own home court.
Starting to Bear Off Checkers:
Players can only bear off checkers occupying the point numbered the same as the rolled dice.
For example, if they roll a 4 and a 1, and they have checkers in the 4th and 1st points, they can bear off those checkers. If the player rolls 2 x 6 (double sixes), and they have 4 checkers on the 6th point, they can bear off all 4 checkers at once.
If a player still has a die to play a number from, and they have no checker they can bear off, they must move a checker according the number of the die.
For example, if there are only 2 checkers remaining on the 6th and 5th points, and the player rolls a 2 and a 1, they can move the checker on the 6th point over to the 4th point, and the checker on the 5th point over to the 4th point as well, which keeps their checkers protected, preventing the point from becoming a blot.
Players can use a higher roll to bear off a checker on a lower numbered point.
For example, if a player rolls a 5 and a 4, and there are only a few of their checkers remaining on the 2nd and 3rd points, the player can bear off 2 of those checkers.
Players must move a lower die roll before a higher one, even if it means thay cannot use the full value of a die. For example, if a player has a checker in point number 5, and rolls a 5 and a 1, they must first move the checker over to the number 4 point, and then bear it off using the 5.
Bearing Off All 15 Checkers:
If a player bears off all 15 of their checkers before the opposing player, that player wins the game of Backgammon. However, all wins are not created equal, and there are 1 of 3 different ways a player can lose.
This is when a players wins while their opponent was actively bearing off their checkers. The losing player only loses the value on the doubling cube.
The Gammon Loss:
If a player bears off all their checkers before their opponent bears off any checkers, the player is "gammoned" when you win, and loses double the value on the doubling cube.
The Backgammon Loss:
If a player bears off all their checkers while their opponent still has checkers on the bar, or in the winning player's home court, the losing player is 'backgammoned' and loses 3xs the value on the doubling cube.
Playing the Game Again:
Backgammon is a game that is meant to be played multiple times, since the game is worth a certain number of points. Set a goal to play until a player loses a specific number of times.
If participants want to continue playing, but don't have the time, it is okay to keep a running tally of the points lost by each player, and return to play the game again another time. Schedule an appointed evening every week for both players to play Backgammon one more time.
The basics of backgammon are delightfully simple which means you can start playing instantly. However, as with all strategy-based games, the more you learn and practice, the better you will become. You will win a few games purely by luck but this won't last forever and ultimately better players, those with a sound strategy, will triumph.
With that in mind, it's highly recommended that you make use of the free online backgammon games at our reviewed casinos. This way you can learn the ropes without risking any of your own money. Another option is to check out the available bonuses and promotions. Using these will allow you to play real money games with the casino's money; however, you will probably need to make a deposit to claim these offers.