Backgammon Rules Everyone Breaks

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Do you know someone who is always breaking backgammon rules? Perhaps they’re new to backgammon and don’t even know the rules. Maybe you’re breaking them yourself and don’t even know it! Backgammon rules themselves can be pretty specific, and we like to follow them as best as possible when playing with other opponents!

The basic rules of backgammon are pretty simple, in order to win, you have to move all of your backgammon pieces into your own home board and then bear them off before your opponent. What happens in between the starting and end game though, are nothing short of glorious. Backgammon battles, especially back game recovery victories, can be a great feeling of accomplishment.

One of our favorite books on backgammon: Conquering Backgammon – 2nd Edition


Here are the most common backgammon rules that everyone breaks and ignore.

Now, as we speak of the rules, we don’t all follow the rules for backgammon. Some players tend not follow the rules for some reasons. There are some sort of illegal moves, obviously the rules of backgammon are clear you can’t do this.

1. Crawford Rule

You’ll encounter the Crawford rule when you play in tournaments. Most people ignore the Crawford Rule. It is a standard rule for Backgammon match play. It states that once a player is within 1 point of winning a match, the next game is played without the doubling cube.  After this “Crawford Game”, use of the doubling cube resumes for the duration of the match. In general, if your opponent is leading and is one point away from winning the match, you have absolutely nothing to lose, but certainly something to gain, by offering a double, regardless of the actual position of the board.

2. Beavers

Not the furry friends that plug up rivers, a beaver in backgammon refers to cube action done in the game when your opponent offers a double, you accept the double and immediately re-double the value of the game while keeping the doubling cube. The re-double after the accepting the double and then keeping the cube is called a beaver. It’s a great rule to use if you opponent doubles you when they are behind, or if you can predict the future.

3. Automatic Doubles

Some people allow automatic doubles and some won’t, so you should also come to terms with this with your opponent and the rules where you are playing. Here’s how they work in backgammon. The value of the game doubles automatically during the opening roll. You can get an automatic double if both players get the same dice outcome in the opening roll. If you happen to get tied twice, then you double the value of the game twice. So you can win more than one point even before you offer a double during the game.

Doubles have been rolled at the beginning of the game triggering an automatic double in the cube.

We have played games where automatic doubles was triggered four times and the game was worth 16 points right out of the gate, with the cube still neutral at that point (very scary and nerve wrecking if you ask me!).

4. Double Rolls

When you roll doubles in backgammon you have a total of four moves to make. In other words, if you roll double 5-5, you get four moves of 5 spaces using any combination of checkers. A lot of people may mistakenly only make two moves because they think it’s like a normal roll (where you get two moves), or only make three moves because of a more desirable outcome, but with backgammon if you can move a number, you must do so.

Once you have completed your turn it is the opponents turn to roll and the game continues like normal.

5. Jacoby Rule

This rule is more common among games in money play. This rule promotes by Oswald Jacoby and was named after him. The idea behind this rule is to avoid a long backgammon game by waiting for one player to get a gammon rather than doubling for a single point. The Jacoby rule states that gammons and backgammons will not give the extra points if a double has not been accepted by your opponent.

Black doubles white to end the game early because gammons and backgammons do not count as extra points with Jacoby Rule

6. It’s not your turn!

One of the most common rules that we seen broken is when a player rolls their dice before their opponent has picked up their dice (which is what symbolizes their turn is completed). Some players may not even know, or consider it bad etiquette if it happens, while others may completely void your roll if their dice are still on the board. A player’s turn is only complete once they pick up their dice.

Black rolls prematurely before white has picked up their dice, and white can force black to null the roll and roll again.

7. Play your entire roll, if possible

Sometimes we see players that will try finishing their move without completing their roll. Maybe they only move one of the two numbers because they don’t want to leave one open, but in backgammon if you can use the numbers from your roll then you must. You cannot choose to only use one of the numbers because the second number may leave your checker open, that’s why its important you are always planning and strategizing.

8. Wrong checker movement

Sometimes we see people that make the mistake of wrong checker movement (maybe they move 5 or 7, instead of 6) – but we like to think these are just innocent mistakes and try to correct them any time we seen them happen.

Black rolls double 6-6 and mistakenly moves two of his checkers 7 spaces instead of 6

Pro tip: You can easily master counting checker movement once you learn that each quadrant is made up of 6 points, and 6 is the highest number you can roll. So if you roll double 6-6 for example, it’s often corner to corner movement. You can also remember odd numbers will result in a different colored point, and even numbers will result in the same colored point.

Note that not all rules apply to all games, some rules only apply to tournament matches or match play, while single money games may have far less rules applied. It really all depends on where you are playing, what kind of game you are playing, and who you are playing (sometimes both opponents can agree to veto a rule if they wish).


The basics of backgammon

Now that we’ve gone over some common backgammon rules that are broken, let’s freshen up on some of the basics!

If you want to improve your game, we suggest you read: The Ultimate Backgammon Strategy Guide

You may also like: Top 5 Recommended Backgammon Books

Backgammon pieces

Known variously as checkers, draughts, stones, men, counters, pawns, discs, pips, chips, or nips. These are the pieces that you need to move and bear them off before one’s opponent can do the same.

Game board

Backgammon board setup is comprised of two distinct colors, typically white and red, or white and black. To set up the board, each player must place two checkers on his 24 point, three checkers on his 8 point, five checkers on his 13 point, and five more checkers on his 6 point.

Starting the game

The arrangement of checkers at the start of a game is called the backgammon starting position. Each player has 2 checkers on the opponent’s one-point, 5 checkers on the mid-point, 3 checkers on the eight-point, and 5 checkers on the six-point.

Both players roll 1 dice to start the game, and the highest numbers uses both numbers as their first roll.

Each player casts one die. The player with the higher number makes the first move, using the two numbers cast by his die and his opponent’s. In the event that both players roll the same number, it is a standoff and each rolls another die to determine the first move. In the event of subsequent ties, this process is repeated until the dice turn up different numbers.

In some games, players double the unit stake automatically every time they cast the same number; others limit the automatic doubles to one. In tournament play, there is no such thing as an automatic double.

Moving you backgammon pieces

Each player’s turn consists of the roll of two dice. A player then moves one or more pieces in accordance with the numbers cast. Assume he rolls 4-2. The player may move one piece six spaces, or one piece four spaces and another piece two spaces. Bear in mind that, when moving a single piece for the total shown by the two dice, you are actually making two moves with the one piece —each move according to the number shown on one of the dice.

Rolling doubles

If the same number appears on both dice, for example, 2-2 or 3-3, then the caster has rolled doubles and is to four moves instead of two. Thus, if he rolls 3-3, he can move up to four pieces, but each move must consist of three spaces, and must be used if possible.

The players throw and play alternately throughout the game, except in the case where a player cannot make a legal move and therefore forfeits his turn.

One of our favorite backgammon books: The Backgammon Book

Owning a point

A player makes a point by positioning two or more of his pieces on it. He then owns that point, and his opponent can neither come to rest on that point nor touch down on it when taking the combined total of his dice with one piece.

Priming

A player who has made six consecutive points has completed a prime. An opposing piece trapped behind a prime cannot move past, for it cannot be moved more than six spaces at a time – the largest number on a die.

Bear off – Winning the game

When all of a player’s checkers are on his last 6 points, he can bear off. To bear off, you have to reach an imaginary point located just outside of the board. To bear off one piece, you need the exact dice to just remove it. This means that to bear off a piece on the 3 points, you need to roll a 3.

The farthest checker can always bear-off, even if the dice is greater than the checker position. In the position below, if white rolls a 6, it can bear off the checker from the 5 points.

You may also like: Top 5 Recommended Backgammon Books