Backgammon - Combining Luck and Strategy in a Board Game

Of all the board games in existence, Backgammon is probably the game that hasn't yet gained the worldwide following that had been attained by the likes of chess and checkers. Some consider it to be a game for the bored members of the socially upper class and the financially well-off. Backgammon is the favorite past time of Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh M. Hefner; that is other than partying with Playmates, and celebrities, of course. Another factor that prevents the game from attaining global popularity is the perceived difficulty of playing it. It isn't that hard, really. There are just some points that need to be learned and anyone would be ready to play this game that combines mental preparedness, sound strategy, and the luck of the roll.

Backgammon-type games have been found to have existed around 3000 B.C. in Iran and in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia. Through the ages, the game had evolved significantly through variations done in the Middle East and Europe. The earliest use of the word "backgammon" ("back" combined with the Middle English word "gammon" meaning "game") was documented by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1650. In the 1920's, the element of the Doubling Cube had been added some spice to it and turned backgammon into an "expected value" driven game.

As per its definition, Backgammon is a game played by moving your playing pieces, or more appropriately referred to as the "checkers" backwards until every little piece has been retrieved. The board features twenty four triangular points arranged in the form of two tracks with 12 points each. Tracks 1 through 6 represent your or home board, and tracks 7 through 12 would be the outer board and the same would be true for your opponent. Competitors are to arrange their checkers in the following fashion: 2 checkers on their 24th point, 3 checkers on their 8th point, 5 checkers each on their 13th and 6th point. The objective is for the competitors to move all the checkers, in opposing "horseshoe" fashion, toward the home board; using the roll of a pair of dice as the basis of the number of points to be hurdled.

To start the game, players would each roll one die and the one who gets the higher number would be entitled to go first; using the numbers shown. Players would take alternate turns afterwards.

Key reminders:

Checkers must be moved according to the number of pips stated on the dice. A roll of 4 and 3 means that one checker may be moved 4 points and another 3, or, one checker may be moved 4 points and then another 3 or vice versa but never the whole 7 points in one leap. If a checker would land on a point occupied by 2 or more opposing checkers on the 4th point (using the example above) then that move cannot be done. The point is that opposing checkers cannot occupy the same space at one time. However, should a lone checker occupy a point, an opposing checker can occupy that point and the lone checker, known as blot, is said to have been hit. Hit checkers are relegated to the middle of the board. To get them back into play, the player must roll the dice and get the number that would let them re-enter starting from the opponent' home board. Players with hit checkers cannot move the checkers in play until all the checkers in the middle of the board have been reintroduced. When all the checkers are placed within the home board, the player may start removing them, using the roll of the dice as the basis. The player who removes all the checkers from the board wins the game.

To elevate the game to command higher values, a doubling cube is introduced. At any time, players may demand, especially on games involving bets, to double the value of the game. If the opposing player does not accept the double, then he must resign. The player who accepts the double has the right to ask for a re-double. Therefore, a regular game valued at 1, can reach up to 64 times of its original value.

Getting good at playing backgammon is similar to the old adage about getting into Carnagie Hall: practice, practice, practice. It is a game of chance, that when combined with a sound hitting and blocking strategy, makes for one highly-enjoyable board game.