Celebrating 15 years in backgammon games

PAUL MAGRIEL'S RULES OF BACKGAMMON


Paul Magriel and Renée Magriel Roberts, circa 1976

Introduction


We would like to welcome Mr. Paul Magriel to GammonVillage as the author of our "Rules of Backgammon" page. These rules are from his famous book, "Backgammon", also known as 'The Bible of Backgammon'. Mr. Magriel was the World Champion in 1978 and for more than 25 years his name has been synonymous with Backgammon across the globe. He is a fixture at almost every major international tournament where he competes, gives seminars and provides live commentary on the Finals at these events.

Magriel's book is always recommended as the first that any player should read. It is available in our book section for purchase.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE
The text of this article is
Copyright 1976 by Paul Magriel
and Renée Magriel Roberts, Ph.D

The images are Copyright by Dean Kezan, 2000.
The material on this page may not be reprinted or reproduced without permission.





Object of the Game

Backgammon is a dice-and-board game for two players. Each player begins the game with fifteen checkers of a different color from his opponent, a pair of dice, a dice cup, and a doubling cube. Players move their checkers around the board according to the roll of the dice. The first player to get all of his checkers, or men, around and finally off the board is the winner.

In this book (rules section), you will be referred to as "X" and you are playing the Red checkers, and your opponent as "O" and has the White checkers. (Note: Some of the boards below are animated.)



The Board

As Positions 1 and 2 indicate, the playing board has twenty-four triangles called points, divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant contains six points. The quadrants are referred to as your (X's) home or inner board, your (X's) outer board, your opponent's (O's) home or inner board, and your opponent's (O's) outer board. The home and outer boards are separated by the bar.

Starting the Game

The checkers are initially placed as shown in Position 1. (Alternately, the mirror image of this starting position can also be used, as shown in Position 2.) In this rules section, the starting position for each game will always be Position 1. A new player, however, should be familiar with both positions.

Play begins with each player rolling one die. The player having the higher number moves first. For his first move, he must use the two numbers already cast by him and his opponent. Ties are re-rolled but may affect the scoring (see automatic doubles at the end of this chapter). After the first throw, each player uses two dice on each turn. Players alternate after each throw.

Position 3. Movement of X's Checkers

Board Made By Kezan Design Movement of X's (Red) Checkers Board Made By Kezan Design

Position 4. Movement of O's Checkers

Board Made By Kezan Design Movement of O's (White) Checkers



Imagine the board as a U-shaped playing track. Any checker at any point on the board can be advanced around the U, but only by moving it "forward".

The movement of X's checkers is shown in Position 3. For X, "forward" is the line of movement from O's home board, over the bar to O's outer board, around the closed end of the U into X's outer board, and finally back over the bar into X's inner board. In other words, X's checkers move from the twenty-four point to the one point. The bar does not count as a point.

The movement of O's checkers is shown in Position 4. Your opponent moves his checkers around the same U-shaped track, but in exactly the opposite direction as you. In other words, O moves his checkers from the one point to the twenty-four point. No checker can ever move backward.

The throw of the dice determines the number of points or pips that checkers may be advanced. The two numbers thrown are considered as two separate moves (though both moves may be made by the same checker) rather than a total. Thus, a throw of 3-5 does not represent one move of 8, but rather two moves; one of 3 and one of 5. A player who rolls 3-5 may advance one checker 3 pips and then advance that same checker another 5 pips (he may play the 5 first and the 3 second); or he may move one checker 3 pips and a different checker 5 pips.

As an example, let us return to the opening position. If X rolls 3-5, three possible moves from the starting position are:

1. X advances a checker 3 pips from the twenty-four point to the twenty-one point, and then advances the same checker 5 pips from the twenty-one point to the sixteen point (as shown in Position 5).

Position 5.

Board Made By Kezan Design Opening Roll 3-5



2. X moves one checker down from the thirteen point to the ten point, and moves a second checker down from the thirteen point to the eight point (Position 6).

Position 6.

Board Made By Kezan Design Opening Roll 3-5



3. X moves one checker from the eight point to the three point, and moves another checker from the six point to the three point (Position 7).

Position 7.

Board Made By Kezan Design Opening Roll 3-5



Throwing Doubles

Whenever doubles (1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6) are thrown, a player moves twicethe number shown on the face of the dice. A throw of 5-5, for example, means that the player has four 5's to move. These moves may be made in any of the following combinations:

  1. Move one checker four 5's.
  2. Move on checker three 5's and another checker one 5.
  3. Move two checkers two 5's each.
  4. Move one checker two 5's and two other checkers one 5 each.
  5. Move four checkers one 5 each.


Where Checkers May Land

A checker may land on any vacant point. It may also land on any point occupied by a player's own checkers (there is no limit to the number of any one player's checkers that may occupy a single point); or on any point occupied by only one of his opponent's checkers. All the points on which a checker may land are called open points.

A checker may not land on a point that is occupied by two or more opposing checkers. You may not even stop at such a point "in passing" when moving a single checker (remember that the two numbers on the dice are considered separate moves). You can, however, pass over the points occupied by your opponent.

For example, if X rolls 3-5 when the nineteen and twenty-one points are each occupied by two or more of O's checkers, X cannot move either of his back checkers from the twenty-four point, even though the sixteen point is empty (Position 8).

Position 8.

Board Made By Kezan Design Illegal Move



If, in Position 8, X were to roll 6-3, he could play his 6 first and then his 3, passing over the blocked twenty-one and nineteen points to land on the empty fifteen point.

A player is not permitted to pass his turn. Both numbers on the dice must be played, if legally possible. Since the entire roll is considered an entity, it is not legal to play one number in such a way as to make the other number impossible to play. If only one number can be played, than the higher number must be played, if possible. Numbers than cannot be played are forfeited.

Hitting and Re-entering

Two or more checkers of the same color on a point are said to own that point. A lone checker is called a blot. Should a player's checker land on an opponent's blot, that blot has then been hit and is placed on the bar, where it is temporarily out of play. (Note that players are not obliged to hit a blot every time they are presented with the opportunity to do so.)

If a player has one or more checkers on the bar, he cannot move any other checker until all of his checkers on the bar have been re-entered. A checker on the bar must re-enter the game in the opposing player's home board. This can be done only when the player rolls a number corresponding to an open point in his opponent's home board.

Position 8a. Where X lands from the bar

Board Made By Kezan Design Re-entering



Position 8b. Where O lands from the bar

Board Made By Kezan Design Re-entering



If X rolls a 1 on either die, he may land on the first point (the twenty-four point) in O's home board if that point does not contain two or more of O's checkers.

Similarly, if X rolls a 2 he may land on the twenty-three point; a 3, the twenty-two point; 4, twenty-one point; 5, twenty point; 6, nineteen point.

If O has a checker on the bar, a 1 on a die corresponds to the one point in X's inner board. Similarly, if O rolls a 2 he can land on the two point; 3, three point; 4, four point; 5, five point; 6, six point.

The specific number needed to re-enter must come up on at least one die. The sum of the two dice is not used to re-enter.

Position 8c. O Rolls 2-1

Board Made By Kezan Design O (white) can not re-enter in X 's (Red's) Home Board



For example, in Position 8C the one, two, and six points are owned by X. O is on the bar. If O rolls 2-1 he cannot land on the open three point; he must roll a specific 3 on one die to land on that point.

Points occupied by two or more opposing checkers are called closed points, and the opponent's checkers cannot land on them. If both numbers on a player's dice correspond to closed points, the player cannot re-enter his checker on that roll. He must wait and try again on his next turn. In the meantime, since he cannot move any of his other checkers either, his opponent continues to move.

In Position 9, O has closed the nineteen, twenty, and twenty-three points. X has one checker on the bar. If X rolls 5-3, he must, before doing anything else, use the 3 to bring his checker on the bar back into play in his opponent's home board. The 5 cannot be used to re-enter because the fifth point in O's inner board, the twenty point, is closed. X must re-enter on the twenty-two point, the third point in O's inner board. After X has re-entered his checker, he must play any legal 5.

Position 9. X rolls 5-3 - 3 must enter on 22

Board Made By Kezan Design Entering first with roll 3



If X rolls 5-2 in Position 9, he would have to give up is turn. Neither the 5 nor the 2 re-enter because both the fifth point (the twenty point) and the second point (the twenty-three point) are closed in O's inner board. The checker on the bar cannot move directly to the eighteen point because the sum of the dice may not be used.

Position 10.

Board Made By Kezan Design This is Closed Board



O has all his home-board points closed and X has a checker on the bar in Position 10. X must wait until one of O's home-board points is opened before he can re-enter his checker from the bar and then continue moving his other checkers.

When you or your opponent closes all six home-board points, this is known as a closed board. In Position 10, O would continue to roll until he opened one of his home-board points. Then it would be X's turn to roll.

Bearing Off

Once you have brought all your checkers into your home-board, you can begin to remove them. This is called bearing off. A checker that has been borne off the board is not re-entered for the rest of the game. If a checker is hit by your opponent during the bearing-off process, no more checkers can be borne off until that checker has re-entered your opponent's inner board and has been brought back to your inner board. The first player to bear off all of his checkers wins the game.

Procedure in Bearing Off: In bearing off, you are, in effect, bringing your checkers just past the first point in your home board.

Position 11. X Rolls 6-4

Board Made By Kezan Design Bear Off



If X rolls 6-4 in Position 11, where he has two or more checkers covering each point in his home board, the 6 must be used to bear one checker off the board from the six point. The 4 may be used to bear off a checker from the four point (as seen in Position 11A).

Position 11a.

Board Made By Kezan Design Bear Off with Both Checker



The 4 in 6-4 also may be used to advance a checker from the six point to the two point (Position 11B),

Position 11b.

Board Made By Kezan Design Bear Off with One Checker



or to advance a checker from the five point to the one point (Position11C).

Position 11c.

Board Made By Kezan Design Bear Off with One Checker



A 2-1 could be used to bear two checkers off; one from the one point and one from the two point; or to bear one checker off the three point by first moving it to the one or two point and then using the remaining number to bear it off.

If a player rolls a number higher than any point on which a checker rests, the checker on the next highest point is taken off instead.

Position 12.

Board Made By Kezan Design Bear Off



In Position 12, X has two checkers on the five point and two checkers on the three point. If he rolls 6-4, the 6 must be played by bearing off one checker from the five point. X cannot now use a 4 to bear off a checker off the three point because he still has a checker on the five point and the full number must be used whenever possible. Therefore, the 4 must be used to move a checker from the five point to the one point.

Similarly, when O is bearing off checkers, a 6 on the dice can be used to bear a man off the nineteen point; a 5 off the twenty point; a 4 off the twenty-one point; a three off the twenty-two point; a 2 off the twenty-three point; a 1 off the twenty-four point.

Scoring

The game begins with a value of one point, or unit. This is won by the first player to bear off all his checkers. The doubling cube, with the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 on its faces, is used for keeping track of the increase in units or points, for which the game is being played.

At the beginning of the game, the doubling cube is placed halfway between the two players with 64 facing up. This indicates that the game is being played for one point. If one player feels he has gained an advantage in the course of play, he may double the stakes by turning the cube to 2 and offering it to his opponent. This is done before he rolls the dice for his turn. Note that when a player is closed out, he does not forfeit his right to double.

His opponent then has a choice: He can refuse the double (or pass), thus conceding the game and losing one point; or he can accept the double (take), take possession of the doubling cube, and continue playing the game for two points. A player who accepts a double owns the cube and is then the only person in a position to re-double the stakes.

The game can be doubled and re-doubled any number of times subject to the following conditions:

1. Initially, the cube is in the middle and either player may double. Subsequently, only the player who owns the cube may re-double. The same player cannot double twice consecutively.

2. A player can only double prior to his roll. If the double is accepted by his opponent, the player then proceeds to roll the dice and take his move.

Gammons, Backgammons, and Variations

The player who wins the game scores the number of points indicated on the doubling cube, unless there is a gammon or backgammon. A gammon (or double game) occurs when the winner bears off all of his checkers before his opponent bears off any checkers at all. In this case, the winner receives double the amount on the doubling cube.

A backgammon occurs when the winner bears off all of his checkers before his opponent bears off any, and while his opponent has one or more checkers in the winner's home board. In this event, the winner receives triple the points shown on the doubling cube. (Outside the United States, a backgammon is only scored as a double game.)

Here are two variations that players may adopt by agreement prior to beginning play:

1. Automatic Doubles: If each player rolls the same number on the first roll of the game, the doubling cube remains in the middle, but is turned to 2. Players usually agree to limit the number of automatic doubles to one per game. The players then throw the dice again to see who goes first.

2. The Jacoby Rule: If neither player has doubled during the course of a game, gammons and backgammons do not count. They are scored as single games.

Chouette

Chouettes provide an opportunity for three or more people to play in the same backgammon game. To begin a chouette, each person rolls one die. The individual with the highest number becomes the man in the box and plays against the remaining people, who act as a team.

The second-highest roller becomes the team captain. He actually moves the checkers against the man in the box while his teammates advise. Should disagreements arise among the team players, the captain's decisions are final. The first throw of the dice also establishes the order in which each team member assumes the position of captain in subsequent games.

If the team loses the first game, the captain is replaced by the next player, and becomes last in the team's order of rotation. The man in the box remains in the box. If the team wins, the captain becomes the man in the box, the next team member assumes the captain's position, and the former man in the box becomes the last in the team's order.

The team acts in concert when doubling the player in the box. Should the box double, however, each individual team member has the option of accepting or declining. Those declining each lose to the player in the box and drop out of that particular game.

Those accepting the cube continue to play as a team for the increased number of points. If they win, they each gain the number of points indicated on the doubling cube from the player in the box. If they lose, they each give up the number on the cube to the man in the box.

Procedure and Courtesy of Play

1. A player must roll his dice in the board to his right.

2. A roll is invalid and must be re-rolled if a die lands out of the right-hand board, if it lands cocked, or if it lands on a checker.

3. A player's move is not final until he has picked up his dice.

4. A player may not roll his dice until his opponent has completed his move and picked up his dice. This rule, however, is not strictly adhered to in bear-off situations where no further contact is possible, or when a player's move is forced.

5. Illegal moves may be corrected by either player, but the correction must be made before the next player rolls. Any errors not corrected in time remain as played.

Copyright 1976 by Paul Magriel and Renée Magriel Roberts, Ph.D


Board Images copyright by Dean Kezan, 2000.





In the Backgammon newsgroup in August of 1997, Backgammon guru David Montgomery mentioned Magriel's book:

"By far the best introductory backgammon book is Magriel's Backgammon. When I first read Magriel, about 15 years ago, I was very weak, and it transformed my game. I always recommend reading Magriel to anyone trying to improve. For players who don't understand the fundamentals of the game, studying this book and trying to apply its concepts over the board invariably leads to tremendous improvement."

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Celebrating 15 years in backgammon games