Backgammon is a simple game with deep strategic elements. It does not take long to learn to play, although obscure situations do arise which require careful interpretation of the rules. The playing time for each individual game is short, so it is often played in matches, for example the first to five points.
In short, players are trying to get all of their pieces past their opponent's pieces. This is difficult because the pieces are scattered at first, and may be blocked or captured by the opponent's pieces.
Each side of the board has a track of twelve adjacent spaces, called points and usually represented by long triangles of alternating (but meaningless) color. The points are numbered from 1 to 24, with checkers always moving from higher-numbered points to lower-numbered points. The two players move their checkers in opposite directions, so the 1-point for one player is the 24-point for the other. Note that the board as shown can be flipped horizontally, with starting positions and direction of play likewise flipped but with no changes to the mechanics of game play. The two orientations are equally common and game boards are all designed to be played both ways.
Points one to six, where the player wants to get his pieces to, are called the base. A player may not bear off any checkers unless all of his checkers are in his base. Points seven to twelve are called the outer board, points thirteen to eighteen are the opponent's outer board, and points nineteen to twenty-four are the opponent's base.
At the start of the game, each player rolls one dice. Whoever rolls higher starts his first turn using the numbers on the already-rolled dice. In case of a tie, the players roll again. The players alternate turns and roll two dice at the beginning of each turn after the first.
After rolling the dice a player must, if possible, move checkers the number of points showing on each die. The dice may be played in either order.
If a player has no legal moves after rolling the dice, because all of the points to which he might move are occupied by two or more opponent's checkers, he forfeits his turn. However, a player must play both dice if it is possible. If he has a legal move for one dice only, he must make that move and then forfeit the use of the other dice. (If he has a legal move for either dice, but not both, he must play the higher number.)
If a player rolls two of the same number (doubles) he must play each dice twice. For example, upon rolling a 5 and a 5, he must play four checkers forward five spaces each. As before, a checker may be moved multiple times as long as the moves are distinct.
A checker may land on any point occupied by no checkers or by friendly checkers. Also it may land on a point occupied by exactly one opponent's checker (a lone piece is called a blot). In the latter case the blot has been hit, and is temporarily placed in the middle of the board (on the bar), i.e., the divider between the home boards and the outfields. A checker may never land on a point occupied by two or more opponent's checkers. Thus no point is ever occupied by checkers from both players at the same time.
Checkers on the bar re-enter the game through the opponent's home field. A roll of 1 allows the checker to enter on the 24-point, a roll of 2 on the 23-point, etc. A player with one or more checkers on the bar may not move any other checkers until all of the checkers on the bar have re-entered the opponent's home field.
When all of a player's checkers are in his home board, he may remove them from the board, or bear them off. A roll of 1 may be used to bear off a checker from the 1-point, a 2 from the 2-point, etc. A number may not be used to bear off checkers from a lower point unless there are no checkers on any higher points. For example, a 4 may be used to bear off a checker from the 3-point only if there are no checkers on the 4-, 5-, and 6-points.
A checker borne off from a lower point than indicated on the dice still counts as the full dice. For instance, suppose a player has only one checker on his 2-point and two checkers on his 1-point. Then on rolling 1-2, he may move the checker from the 2-point to the 1-point (using the 1 rolled), and then bear off from the 1-point (using the 2 rolled). He is not required to maximize the use of his rolled 2 by bearing off from the 2-point.
If one player has not borne off any checkers by the time his opponent has borne off all fifteen, he has lost a gammon, which counts for twice a normal loss. If a player has not borne off any checkers, and still has checkers on the bar and/or in his opponent's home board by the time his opponent has borne off all fifteen, he has lost a backgammon, which counts for triple a normal loss. Sometimes a distinction is made between pieces in the opponent's home board (triple loss) and pieces on the bar (quadruple loss).
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