Backgammon Rules

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To beginners, Backgammon rules may seem a little confusing. One easy way to think of them is in three stages: moving runners, bumping off blots and bearing off. There are also rules related to wagering and doubling, which are taken up separately (see “Backgammon Doubling”).

Moving Runners

Any playing piece still on the game board can be referred to as a runner, attempting to make its way from point to point en route to the Player’s Home Board. Some of the rules governing the movement of runners include the following:

  • Pieces must be moved in one direction only, toward the Home Board, not away.
  • Pieces move the number of points indicated on the faces of the dice.
  • Pieces may be moved separately or in pairs. A roll of 2-3, for example can be used to move one piece two points and another piece three points or else a single piece can move five points in total, taken as a move of two points then three or three points then two.
  • Moves can be made onto “open” points only—those that are not “held” by two or more opposing pieces. When moving a single piece more than one move, each point on which it pauses or comes to rest must be open.
  • When the numbers on the faces of the two dice are identical—referred to as “doubles”—the number of moves allowed is doubled. A roll of 3-3, for example, results in four separate moves of three points, not just two. The moves may be made in any combination of one to four pieces to complete all four moves.
  • Moves must include all of the numbers shown on the dice whenever possible, otherwise move the larger number if possible and the smaller one if not.
  • When neither number can be used, the Player’s turn is lost. For doubles, when all four numbers cannot be played, as many numbers as possible must be played.

Bumping Off Blots

Any isolated piece alone on a point is called a “blot.” If an opposing piece lands on a blot, the blot is “hit” or “bumped” out of play. The following rules apply to bumping off blots and returning them to play.

  • Upon hitting an opponent’s blot, immediately place it on the Bar before completing any remaining move(s).
  • Whenever a Player has one or more pieces on the Bar, the first obligation is to re-enter the piece(s) into the Opponent’s Home Board. No other moves may be made until all of the Player’s pieces on the Bar have returned to active play.
  • Pieces re-enter the Opponent’s Home Board by moving onto an open point corresponding to one of the numbers on the rolled dice.
  • If it is not possible for the Player to return a piece from the Bar to active play, the rest of that Player’s turn is lost. If the Player is able to enter some but not all of his pieces, as many as possible must be moved into play and the remainder of the turn is lost.

Bearing Off

The final stage of each game of Backgammon is the race to see which player can remove his/her pieces from the game board first. This is accomplished in a process called “bearing off.”

  • Bearing off is possible only when all fifteen of a Player’s pieces have reached the Player’s Home Board.
  • Each piece is borne off by rolling the number that corresponds to the point on which the piece resides, 1~6, and then removing that piece from the game board.
  • If no piece occupies the point indicated by the roll, a piece on a higher numbered point must be moved forward the number of points indicated. If there are no pieces on higher-numbered points, the player must remove a piece from the highest point on which one or more pieces reside.
  • There is no obligation to bear off a piece as long as a legal move can be made.
  • If a piece is bumped during the bearing off process, that piece goes immediately to the Bar; it must re-enter the game (as above) and move all the way back to the Player’s Home Board before bearing off can continue.
  • The first player to bear off all fifteen pieces wins the game.
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