What is backgammon? Though backgammon is one of the most commonly played dice games, many people are still mystified by it. Have you ever wondered about the origins of backgammon or why it is so popular? If so, you’re not alone. Let’s get to know backgammon together.
Backgammon, a board game for two players, involves moving the playing pieces according to the roll of dice. A player wins when all of his checkers are removed from the board. Backgammon has a multitude of variants and most of them share common traits. Backgammon is considered a member of the tables family, one of the oldest classes of board and dice games in the world.
Although luck plays a role, there is a lot of strategy involved. With each roll of the dice a player must choose from numerous movement options for his checkers and, at the same time, anticipate possible counter-moves by the opponent. Players may also raise the stakes during the game, as there is an established repertoire of common tactics. Like its counterpart, chess, backgammon has been studied with great interest by computer scientists. Owing to this research, backgammon software has been developed that is capable of beating world-class human players.
Backgammon has a long and distinguished history. According to historians, the ancient Egyptian game, Senat, resembled backgammon, with moves controlled by the roll of dice. Excavations at the “Burnt City” in Iran, formerly Mesopotamia, have indicated that a similar game existed there around 3000 BC. The artifacts that were unearthed included two dice and 60 checkers. The ancient Romans also played a number of games which were remarkably similar to backgammon. The jeux de tables, or Game of Tables, which is considered to be the predecessor of modern backgammon, first appeared in France during the 11th century and became a favorite pastime of gamblers. In the 16th century, Elizabethan laws and church regulations prohibited playing tables, but by the 18th century backgammon was again popular among the English clergy. Edmund Hoyle published A Short Treatise on the Game of Back-Gammon in 1743. This small pamphlet described rules and strategy for the game and was bound together with a similar text on whist. With few additions the rules for modern backgammon are similar today.
The objective of the game is to move all of one’s own checkers past those of one’s opponent and then remove them from the board. The checkers are scattered across the board at first and may be blocked or hit by the opponent. As the playing time for each individual game is short, it is often played in matches. The first player to reach a certain number of points can claim victory.
Each side of the board has a track of 12 long triangles, called points. The points are considered to be connected across one edge of the board, forming a continuous track in the shape of a horseshoe, and are numbered from 1 to 24. Each player rolls one die, and the player with the higher number moves first using both the numbers shown. Both dice must land completely flat on the right hand side of the game board. The players then alternate turns, rolling two dice at the beginning of each turn.
After rolling the dice a player must, if he can, move his checkers according to the number shown on each die. For example, if the player rolls a 5 and a 2 (noted as “5-2”), that player must move one checker five points forward, and another checker two points forward. The same checker may be moved twice as long the two moves are distinct; for example, five and then two, but not all seven at once. If a player rolls two of the same number, or doubles, that player must play each die twice. For example, upon rolling a 5-5 that player must move four checkers forward five spaces each. It can sometimes happen that a player cannot play his entire roll, in which case he must use as much of his roll as possible.
As a checker may never land on a point occupied by two or more opposing checkers, no point is ever occupied by checkers from both players simultaneously. When learning backgammon, novice players should consult a learning guide as the possible moves and counter moves in backgammon are extensive and detailed. Study guides are available at your local bookstore or game seller, or through any one of the many online backgammon sites, some of which also offer online practice games.