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Frequently Asked Questions

In this Backgammon FAQ I am going to give answers to frequently asked questions. You'll also find answers to questions who never came to your mind yet . If you are missing important questions please send me an eMail. I'll be trying to provide an answer as soon as possible.

General terms and abbreviations will be explained in the Backgammon Glossary.


General Questions

Is the backgammon as played in the Mediterranean region identical with the backgammon played elsewhere?
There are a lot of backgammon variants played in the Mediterranean region, that differ to different extent from the backgammon played in nothern America or Northern/Central Europe. The variant most similar to "our" backgammon is called Portes. The only difference is that no cube is used and only single wins and gammons count, no backgammons (three points).

Tom Keith's Backgammon Galore has a great overview of the countless variants of backgammon.
How can I record a backgammon match?
I have desribed how to record a match in my article about Backgammon Notation (so far only available in German).

As backgammon is a very fast game it is not possible for the players to record the moves themselves. Actually it is forbidden to do so, as only writing down the scores is permitted by the tournament rules.

So if you want your live match to be recorded you required someone to do it for you. Recording the moves requires a lot of concentration and practice. Another alternative is to have a camcorder record the match.

History of Backgammon

Where does the word backgammon come from?
Unfortunately there is no undisputed answer to this question. There are different attempts for explanation:

1. Joseph Strutt1)  and Bishop Kennet state that the word backgammon is derived from the old-Anglo-Saxon words bac (nowadays back) and gamen (nowadays game), indicating that at least one of the players is likely to be hit during the match and the checkers to be sent back.

2. Others2)  speculate that the word backgammon has a Welsh origin: back (Welsh for "little") and cammon (Welsh for "battle, war"). According to that backgammon is a "little war", which is not too wrong indeed

3. A third attempt tries to derive the expression backgammon from the words back and game, as backgammon boards are very often placed on the back side of chess boards or checkers boards. Backgammon is therefore a game placed on the back side of the board of another game.
Where can I read about the history of backgammon?
The best and most complete history of backgammon can be found in Oswald Jacoby's and John Crawford's The Backgammon Book. The book is out of print for many years now, but you can find it on ebay and in second-hand bookshops3)  very frequently.

The chapter "The History of Backgammon" of this book is also available online.

Last, but not least, have a look at my Tabular History of Backgammon.
When was the first international backgammon tournament played?
The backgammon tournament organized by Prince Alexis Obolensky in autumn 1964 was probably the first international backgammon tournament. It took place on the Bahamas islands. 32 players participated. Winner of the tournament was Charles Wacker from Chicago/USA. This tournament was the hour of birth of the modern backgammon tournament scene.
Since when are there backgammon world championships and where do they take place?
The first world championship of backgammon was held in Las Vegas in 1967. Since then they are held yearly (with exception of the years 1969 and 1970). Las Vegas remained venue of the championships until 1974. The next four years the championships took place at the Bahamas islands. A curiosity: From 1976 to 78 two events claimed to be the world championships, the one on the Bahamas and in Monte Carlo. Generally recognized are the world championships on the Bahamas. Since 1979 the world championships take place in Monte Carlo yearly.

Here you'll find an overview of all backgammon world champions.
Did any player ever won the World Championships more than once?
Yes, Tim Holland from the USA was World Champion three times in a row (1967, 1968 and 1971).

Three players managed to become World Champion two times: Bill Robertie, USA (1983 and 1987), Michael Meyburg, GER (1991 and 1998) und Jørgen Granstedt, SWE (1999 and 2001).
Has a woman ever become World Champion?
Sure, Carol Crawford (1973), Lee Genud (1981) and Katie Scalamandre (2000), all three from the USA.

Backgammon Rules

Are there official rules of backgammon?
Yes and no. The rules how to play backgammon are indisputed. But for the conduct of tournaments there are different rules from different organisations. The World Backgammon Association (WBA) and the Worldwide Backgammon Federation (WBF) have own rules, which differ a bit. For the US Backgammon Tour the US Backgammon Tournament Rules and Procedures apply. Excellent rules are produced by the Danish Backgammon Federation. Additionally any tournament may add modifications to the rules. The backgammon world is very diverse. So you should carefully study the rules for each tournament you participate in. A good example is the way premature rolls are handled. Read more about that further below.
How is decided which player moves first?
When starting a game each player rolls one die in their respective half of the board (to the right of each player). The player with the higher die moves first. The roll to move is the die of the opponent and the own die.

If both players roll the same number both have to re-roll. Thats why no opening will be played with doubles.
Is a roll valid even though the opponent has not yet completed his turn?
There are different rules by different organizations how premature rolls are delt with:

Either the premature is generally considered not valid and has to be rerolled. More strict (and more common) is the rule, stating that roll is valid and the player who has not yet completed his turn may reconsider his move aware of his opponents roll. (This is quite an advantage!!!) Even stricter is the rule, that the player who didn't complete his turn yet may decide, whether the roll remains valid or has to be rerolled. (Even more advantage!!!)


1. Be sure you know which rule applies for the tournament you are playing.

2. In case you tend to roll prematurely break with this habit very soon!
Can I pass when it's my turn to roll?
No. You have to roll when it's your turn and you have to move all numbers if possible.
If I can only move one of the two numbers of a roll, can I choose which to move?
Sometimes it can happen, that you can either move the higher or the lower number of the roll, but not both. In that case you must move the higher number.
Am I allowed to play one number in such a way as to avoid playing the other?
If there is a legal way to play both numbers of your roll, you have to do so. So you can't "kill" a number by moving one checker in such a way that moving the second roll becomoes impossible.

In the following example BLACK has to move 36. By playing 6/0 the 3 would have been blocked and he would only have to leave one blot. But as there is the possibility to move both the 3 and the 6 (6/3 4/0) he has to do so, even if he is forced to leave 3 blots this way.

|1X ' '2X2X2X|   |2X2X2X ' ' '|
|                   |   |                   |
|                 | 1 |       3 6       |
| ' ' ' ' ' '|   |1O '2O '1O2X|

Pip counts: WEISS 138, SCHWARZ 16

Is there a touch-move rule (like for chess) in backgammon?
No, you can try a move, set the checkers back, and try another move. Until you found the move you like the best. But be shure you don't get confused and are unable to re-set the original position. Also you shouldn't try to confuse your opponent. Whenever you tried a move be sure to re-set the original position fully before you try another move.
When is a move completed?
You conclude your move by lifting the dice from the board. If your playing with clocks, the move is concluded by hitting the clock. After completing the move, no adjustments of the checkers are allowed any more.

If you have to reposition the dice because they hinder to move the checkers you are only allowed to shift the dice over the boards surface, so they don't get lifted off the surface.

The WBF also requires that after completing your move by lifting the dice, you keep holding the dice between your fingers and don't place them back in the dice cup until the opponent has rolled his dice. This is to allow to reconstruct the dice in case of disagreement.
Is it allowed to put more than five checkers on one point?
Sure it is. There is no rule forbidding it.

In this position from the 1997 backgammon world championship's final, Jerry Grandell (BLACK) has stacked nine checkers on his 6-point in his desperate (but successful) attempt to escape a gammon. If a world champion is allowed to stack more than five checkers on one point, you may do so as well.

|1X1X ' ' ' '|   | ' ' ' ' ' '|
|                   |   |                   |
|                 |   |                 |
| '1O '2O2O9O| 2 |1O ' ' ' ' '|

Pip counts: Banjout 3, Grandell 81

But there are variants of the standard backgammon, which restrict the maximum checkers on one point to five, like the Mexican Backgammon or the Old English Backgammon.

Backgammon Literature

Which book is often called the "bible of backgammon"?
Paul Magriels Backgammon wird oft als Bibel des Backgammon bezeichnet. Und das sicher zurecht. Er schrieb sein Buch 1976, 18 Jahre bevor uns die ersten wirklich spielstarke Backgammon-Software zur Verfügung stand. Und noch heute ist das Studium seines Werks ein Muß für jeden Backgammon-Spieler.
What should I read as a beginner in order to become a better backgammon player?
The already above mentioned book Backgammon from Paul Magriel is still a great book to start with. It covers nearly all aspects of backgammon. As Magriel had no opportunity to validate his recommendations with modern backgammon software, the book contains some small errors.

Walter Trice's Backgammon Boot Camp is another great book. But it presumes that you already know the very basics of how to move, etc. Beeing 30 years younger than Magriel's book, it was validateb by modern backgammon software and does not contain big errors.

More book recommendations are given here, but not all of them are suited for beginners.
How do I read backgammon book correctly?
If you intend to increase your strength of play you should consider the following:

1. Don't just read the book, work it through! For any position given, search for the solution yourself before reading the answer. Set up the position on a backgammon board or in your backgammon software. Perhaps play the position a couple of times, like a mini rollout, to get a feeling how the position is likely to develop.

2. Older books can be instructive, but even the best are likely to contain errors, as they were written before good backgammon software was avaiable. So when reading older books you should analyze the positions with your backgammon software to ensure that identify the misjudgements. Even classic books as Magriel's Backgammon or Robertie's Advanced Backgammon contains a few errors. (Neverless they are worth studying!)

3. List the positionen you got wrong and re-visit them later. Re-visit them until you are sure to know the correct solution.


How did Snowie ™ get its name?
The developer of Snowie ™, the Swiss Olivier Egger, must have had a soft spot for "Snow White", the nice lady with the 7 dwarfs. "Snow White" was later converted Snowie ™ to avoid copyright issues with the Walt Disney productions.
Can I become a good backgammon player without utilizing modern backgammon software?
Maybe you can become a good player without utilizing backgammon software, but you are very unlikely to become a very good player! By helping you to analyze positions and identifying errors in your play, modern backgammon software will improve your strenght of play significantly! I also recommend to play against modern backgammon software regularly. Make up statistics how often you win and what your error rates are. Identify your errors and try to avoid them in future. If you really wanna become strong you have to use modern backgammon software!

My recommendation is GNU Backgammon. It's both freeware and extremely strong! It plays at the same level as Snowie ™, which is available for about 380 US$. A bit out of date is JellyFish ™. More about backgammon software at the section software of my website.
I am sure GNU Backgammon cheats. It always rolls perfectly. Or am I wrong?
You are wrong. GNU Backgammon does not cheat. It's Open Source Software, so the source code is avaiable for everyone. Cheating would be detectable in the source code. Believe me - thousands of people have been testing it and found no evidence of cheating at all.

The reason why GNU Backgammon seems to have more "luck" is just, that is plays so excellently, maximizing the number of its own good rolls and minimizing the number of the opponent's good rolls. This is how good players play. Newbies just don't recognize these subleties and think, the programme must be cheating.

Neil Kazaross, acting number 2 of the "Giants of Backgammon", once said: I have no doubt that GNU Backgammon 2-ply would show a positive result if given enough time vs. any human player in match play. And if a world class players says so, you don't have to wonder why you lose so often against GNU Backgammon. Just take it as a motivation to improve your play!

Also Snowie ™ and JellyFish ™ definitively don't cheat!

Records, Extremes, Absurditys

How much equity (cubeless) can one gain in one roll at maximum?
This answer was produced by Kit Woolsey4) : WHITE on roll has an equity of -1,4825, after rolling double 6 his equity rises to +2,0225. That's a swing of +3,505 (cubeless) in one roll5) .

| ' ' ' ' ' '|   |2X2X2X2X2X2X|
|                   | 3X|                   |
|                 | 1 |                 |
|1O1O1O1O1O '|   | '2O2O2O2O2O|

Pip counts: WEISS 117, SCHWARZ 80
Position ID: 2zaqAgDbtgEAcA Match ID: MAEAAAAAAAAA

How much equity (cubeless) can one lose in one roll at maximum?
This solution was developed by Michael J. Zehr6) . Before rolling BLACK has an equity of +1,479, after rolling the disastrous 44 it's going down to -1,399. That's a swing of -2,878.

|2X2X1X1X1O1O|   |2X2X2X2X1O '|
|                   |   |                   |
|                 | 1 |                 |
|1X ' ' ' ' '|   |2O2O2O2O2O2O|

Pip counts: WHITE 114, BLACK 100
Position ID: bBu1BQDbtgFQEA Match ID: cAkAAAAAAAAA

In how many moves can a match be finished earliest (without use of the cube)?
To bear off all checkers you have to do 34 crossover from the starting position: 19 crossovers to get all checkers in your homeboard and 15 crossovers to bear them off. For any crossover you require at least the number of one die. If every roll of your dice is a double you can manage up to 4 crossovers with every roll. 34 crossovers required diveded by 4 equals 8.5 rolls. So the finishing player requires 9 rolls (8.5 rounded up to 9), the losing player therfore makes 8 moves. So the match is over after 17 (9+8) rolls earliest.

That's the theoretical consideration. More difficult it is to create an example that contains both legal and the optimum moves. Again I have to use an example produced by Kit Woolsey7) :

     Game 1
     WHITE : 0                      BLACK : 0
      1) 43: 13/9 13/10              55: 13/8 13/8 8/3 8/3
      2) 55: 13/8 10/5 8/3 8/3       55: 13/8 13/8 13/8 8/3
      3) 66: 24/18 24/18 13/7 13/7   33: 24/21 24/21 8/5 8/5
      4) 66: 18/12 18/12 12/6 9/3    66: 21/15 21/15 15/9 15/9
      5) 66: 12/6 8/2 8/2 7/1        66: 9/3 9/3 8/2 8/2
      6) 66: 7/1 6/0 6/0 6/0         66: 8/2 6/0 6/0 6/0
      7) 66: 6/0 6/0 6/0 6/0         66: 6/0 6/0 5/0 5/0
      8) 66: 5/0 3/0 3/0 3/0         66: 3/0 3/0 3/0 3/0
      9) 22: 2/0 2/0 1/0 1/0         
          Wins 1 point


I'd like to play a live tournament. Am I required to bring my own board with me?
That depends. Some tournaments provide boards, but in most cases you are requested to BYOB, Bring Your Own Board. So have a look at the tournament flyer. Even if it's BYOB, in theory it should be sufficient if about 50% of the players have an own board available. In the long run its more fun with an own board.
What's the standard size for a tournament backgammon board?
There is no real standard size. Most tournaments do not have rules for the board size. Typically tournament boards are made for for a checker size8)  of 1.75 inch radius (=44mm). But also 1.5 or 2.0 inch radius (38mm / 51mm) are okay.

The Danish Backgammon Federation has obligatory board sizes for it's tournaments: (width x length):
      Minimum: 44 cm x 55 cm 
      Maximum: 66 cm x 88 cm 

Money Game und Chouettes

Where does the expression chouette come from?
The french word chouette means 'owl'. The expression chouette is used for the method, to play games originally designed for two players with three or more and is used for some card games.

But what does this have to do with an owl? "Faire la Chouette" - to do the owl - is used for the player, playing alone against more players. And as in nature owls are frequently attacked and harrassed by other birds, the single player in a chouette is attacked by his multiple opponents.

Playing Online

Which places are recommended for online play?
There is a boom of backgammon servers in the internet presently. Therefore I am unable to give a complete overview about all backgammon sites to play at. In the section backgammon online I am giving recommendations for four good places to play backgammon online.
Since when can one play backgammon in the intenet?
The first backgammon server was (and is) FIBS, the First Internet Backgammon Server. FIBS is online since July 19, 1992. It may be a bit out of date as far as ease of use and optical appearance is concerned, but it's still my favourite backgammon server, having a great community and beeing absolutly free of charge. If you want to play for the big money however it's definetively not your choice.
My opponnet always says "nr" or "vnr". What does he mean?
"nr" stands for nice roll, "vnr" for very nice roll. What your opponent wants to express is, that you are being very lucky (and he himself being unlucky).

As he usually doesn't say "nr" to his own lucky rolls, it is not kind to comment on lucky dice of the opponent. Luck is a part of the game. If he can't stand that he'd better play Chess or Go. The best answer to "nr" simply is: "I always make luck part of my game plan".
What do I have to know about etiquette?
Starting a game you should greet your oppoent (i.e. Hi, gl!) and to thank for the match at the end (i.e. Thx for the match, cu).

If you want to chat during the match is your own choice. Some players prefer silence, others are very communicative. That's up to you and your opponent.
Which shortcuts should I know when playing in the internet?
Here are a few shortcuts that you will find used in chats very frequently:

brb be right back
btw by the way
cu see you
gl good luck
gn good night
lol laughing out loud
np no problem
nr nice roll
rofl rolling on the floor laughing
thx thanks
ty thank you
vnr very nice roll


How do I get to know everything about FIBS as fast as possible?
Go and read the english FIBS FAQ - and of course the rest of this FAQ.
Is FIBS, despite its age, a good place to play backgammon in the internet?
Sure it is!

There are a lot of backgammon servers getting online recently. But all of them just want the best of the customer: his money. Sure, they have to make profit. Although most of them offer guest accounts, the final aim is to get you as a paying customer. As you are only able to make money by playing backgammon if you are really good, FIBS is a good place to start. You'll find players of any strentgh there and it's all for free. FIBS has a great community, they offer leagues and tournaments. You can play very serious backgammon there, but there's also place for chatting and having fun. FIBS is online since 1992 and will still be online when all the other commercial servers have already shut down.

The functionality my seem a bit old-fashioned, but it offers all you require to enjoy playing backgammon.
What is required to start playing on FIBS?
You require some software to access FIBS and have to create an "account".

FIBS does not come with its own access software, it only offers a telnet interface. Telnet is very archaic and can not really satisfy the todays users needs. Therefore special access software has been developed to access FIBS. There is big choice of software to connect to FIBS.

My recommendation is JavaFIBS 2001 (don't confuse it with the JavaFIBS Applet!). JavaFIBS2001 is based on Java. If Java is not installed on your computer you require the Java Runtime Environment.

After istalling the access software of your choice, you have to create an "account". The account consists of a nickname and a password. Caution: Forgotten passwords can't be recovered on FIBS! If you forgot your password you have to create another account (with another nickname). So better don't forget your password!!!
How can I save my played matches for analyzing them later?
FIBS does not save matches, only positions are saved in order to enable to resume interrupted matches. Saving matches is work that has to be done by the access software you are using. I am unable to give advice for every FIBS access software.

For JavaFIBS2001, my favourit, I am giving a short tutorial how to save matches for later analysis.
How can I ensure that I see all players that are presently logged in in the players list?
Due to a software error of FIBS the list of players presently logged in often is incomplete. Why this is so and what to do about it (especially for the access software JavaFIBS2001) is described in my article FIBS-Problem: I Can't See All Players.


Which forums can be recommended to discuss about backgammon?
Probably the best forum is the one on Kit Woolsey's online magazine GammOnU (previously GammOnLine). You have to be a member to enter this Forum. A lifelong (!) membership costs only 36,- US$ once - a very worthwhile disbursement, even if the interface may be a bit old fashioned. It's the contents that matter. You'll find many world class players there to discuss with.

Of the same quality is Stick Rice's BG Online Forum, which is using the same forum software as GammOnU.

In the usenet you can discuss backgammon on rec.games.backgammon (r.g.b). It's mostly noise and only from time to time a real gem is posted there. The best threads of r.g.b are archived in the Forum Archive of the Backgammon Galore. You can't discuss there, but will find many very valuable information that had been discussed already.

Questions about FIBS are discussed at the FIBS Board.

Single positions can be discussed at the Blog BlotBlog (available in English and German). However you are only able to discuss positions there, that are posted by the webmaster and can't post your own positions.

If you speak German a great place to discuss backgammon is Hardy's Backgammon Forum.
How can I produce backgammon positions for display on rec.games.backgammon (r.g.b)?
On r.g.b only pure text can be displayed. To display a backgammon position for discussion you have to produce it in a text format. Modern backgammon software has the feature to produce position diagrams as text. If you use GNU Backgammon you can copy a position into the clipboard this way: Select Edit → Copy as → Position as ASCII in the menu. How to paste that position from the clipboard to the text depends on your operating system. Windows users have to press the keys Strg + V.

What is important to be able to see the positions correctly that a monospace font is selected tor display (i.e. Courier New). Monospace fonts display all letters at the same width. Only this way the position diagrams are readable:

  GNU Backgammon  Position ID: 5jk2MAA2t6ABAw
                  Match ID   : cAn3AkAAMAAA
  +24-23-22-21-20-19------18-17-16-15-14-13-+  O: Senkiewicz
  |    O     O  X  O |   |       O  O     X |  4 points
  |    O     O  X  O |   |       O  O     X |  
  |          O     O |   |                  |  
  |          O       |   |                  |  
  |                  |   |                  |  
  |                  |BAR|                  |v 23 point match (cube: 1)
  |                  |   |                  |  
  |                  |   |                  |  
  |             X    |   |                  |  
  |    X  X     X  X |   |       O          |  Roll 65
  |    X  X     X  X |   | X     O        X |  6 points
  +-1--2--3--4--5--6-------7--8--9-10-11-12-+  X: Ballard
And that's how the same position looks like if you don't use a monospace font for display:

       GNU Backgammon Position ID: 5jk2MAA2t6ABAw
              Match ID : cAn3AkAAMAAA
       +24-23-22-21-20-19------18-17-16-15-14-13-+ O: Senkiewicz
       | O O X O | | O O X | 4 points
       | O O X O | | O O X |
       | O O | | |
       | O | | |
       | | | |
       | |BAR| |v 23 point match (cube: 1)
       | | | |
       | | | |
       | X | | |
       | X X X X | | O | Wurf 65
       | X X X X | | X O X | 6 points
       +-1--2--3--4--5--6-------7--8--9-10-11-12-+ X: Ballard

Other forums than r.g.b have different possibilities to display backgammon positions, often based on graphics. Each of those forums will provide information, how to produce a board for display. If you don't find the required information, ask in that forum.


What should I consider when buying a backgammon board?
1. Beginners are often fascinated by the beauty of wooden boards. But wooden boards are not the first choice to play backgammon. Very soon the rattling of the dice will tick you off. Therfore you wont find wooden boards at tournaments. The surface of the boards should be covered with either felt or leather. Rolling of the dice is perfectly damped by those materials.

2. The points shall be inlaid into the playing surface. Points that are stitched onto the surface will hinder smooth movements of the checkers over the board.

3. Don't buy a small board. The size of a tournament board is best.

4. Just to be complete: Magnetic boards, boards made of glas or those, where you have to stick the pieces into the board are not suitable for playing backgammon.
How much do I have to spend for a good backgammon board?
I don't think you will find anything worth buying under 200 US$. If you want a real leather board you will have to spend 300 US$ or more. Have a look at Where to buy for a small selection of suppliers.
What do I have to consider about the dice?
Take precision dice. They are produced with minimum deviations. Most favoured are those made of transparent material, as you can see, that no manipulations have been done inside the dice.

For backgammon dice with rounded corners are used, different to those used in casinos.
I want to train playing backgammon with chess clocks. What features of the clock are important?
More and more backgammon tournaments are played with clocks. It's recommendable to train playing with a clock before entering such a tournament.

The standard for the use of clocks in backgammon is, to give a buffer for every move (i.e. 15 seconds), plus some additional time for difficult decisions. Different than in chess, one player may have more moves to do than the other (i.e. if one player is closed out). Therefore just an absolute amount of time per players if advantegeous for a player, who is dancing on the bar for a long time. So you need chess clocks who allow the Fischer or Bronstein mode, which is normally the case only with electronic clocks.

1) Joseph Strutt, Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, 1801 [2nd revised edition 1903 by J. Charles Cox]

2) A.o. Dr. Henry

3) Have a look at Where to buy.

4) In the newsgroup rec.games.backgammon, 20th December 1997

5) Please let me know if you have a better example to offer.

6) In the newsgroup rec.games.backgammon, 18th January 1998

7) In the newsgroup rec.games.backgammon, January 1996

8) Of course the size of the checkers directly affects the size of the playing field.
Last update: 29th August 2008