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How Backgammon Works

By: William Harris  | 

Backgammon Skills

People love playing backgammon because they can learn the basics quickly. But mastering the game can take years -- and the right mental skills. Two of those abilities involve the part of your brain that crunches numbers. For example, the better you are at some basic arithmetic and probability, the better you'll be at backgammon. Why? Because backgammon relies on the roll of dice, so a good grasp of numbers and probability is enormously helpful. Here's just one example: Rolling two dice produces 36 possible outcomes. The odds of rolling a specific number are 11 in 36. The odds that a roll contains one of two specific numbers are 20 in 36.

Another useful talent is recognizing patterns on the backgammon board. This comes after playing many, many games and seeing how checkers often fall into certain positions that can be exploited by specific moves. After a while, you begin to recognize those positions and memorize the best corresponding moves. Ace players have a mental library containing hundreds of such moves, enabling them to make quick decisions during a game.

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Finally, don't underestimate the psychology of playing backgammon. Everyone has a certain personality and tendencies when they make moves and evaluate doubling opportunities. As you get to know these tendencies, you can use them to your advantage. For example, you might double early in a match with an unknown opponent just to gauge her reaction. If she doesn't take the wager, double early again in the next game. You might find that she is reluctant to accept a double -- a habit that could be her undoing.

It's this unique combination of luck, skill and strategy that has made backgammon such a popular game for thousands of years. It offers ample opportunities to have some fun and meet interesting people, and, if you like to gamble, it can satisfy that need, as well. Just keep in mind Dutchman Jan Steen's painting of a good backgammon game turned sour -- and leave all of the hitting on the board.

Keep reading for links to games galore next.

Backgammon FAQ

How do you win backgammon?
Backgammon is typically played in matches — or a series of games during which you and your opponent accumulate points. The first person to reach a certain point value, or to score the highest number of points, wins.
Is backgammon hard to learn?
People love playing backgammon because they can learn the basics quickly. But mastering the game can take years — and the right mental skills.
How long has backgammon been around?
Historians estimate that it's one of the oldest games in existence, with origins dating back some 5,000 years ago.
What does standard backgammon board look like?
The biggest investment is the board. The boards typically fold up into little briefcases. The first thing you'll notice about the board is that it's separated into quadrants. A ridge down the center, where the hinges are located, divides the board in half.
How do I play backgammon online?
One of the most popular backgammon software programs is Snowie, which you can buy online for $380. Sites like Play65 allow you to play backgammon instantly without having to download software or pay anything.

Originally Published: Jul 21, 2011

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Sources

  • Bray, Chris. "Backgammon for Dummies." Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2009.
  • Bray, Chris. "Backgammon History." Backgammon Galore! September 2007. (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Simborg, Phil. "Backgammon Equipment -- Checkers, Dice and Cups." Backgammon.org. May 2007. (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Simborg, Phil. "Backgammon Equipment -- The Basics." Backgammon.org. April 2007. (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Simborg, Phil. "The Phil Simborg Interviews." Backgammon Galore! 2010. (Aug. 2, 2011)