Backgammon For Dummies


by Chris Bray





About the Author

Chris Bray has been playing backgammon for over thirty years. He is a multiple tournament winner and plays regularly on the European circuit. Chris writes the only backgammon column published in a national newspaper, The Independent, where his words have graced many a breakfast table on a Saturday morning for the last fifteen years.

Chris is also a prolific author and Backgammon For Dummies is his fifth book. His other works include What Colour is the Wind? and Second Wind.

Chris lives in south-west London with his wife Gill and daughter Kate.


Author’s Acknowledgements

Firstly I would like to thank all at Wiley who have been involved with this book and given me help and guidance along the way. The backgammon community has complained for years that having no For Dummies book was a serious omission. I am pleased to say that oversight has now been corrected.

I would like to thank my technical reviewer, Ray Kershaw, for the accuracy of his work and his helpful insights.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife and daughter for their patience while this book was being written. Authors tend to write at strange times of day and I am no exception – I have often seen the dawn break as I wrote!



For Gill and Kate.


Publisher’s Acknowledgements

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Rachael Chilvers

Development Editor: Kathleen Dobie

Copy Editor: Kate O’Leary

Proofreader: Kim Vernon

Commissioning Editor: Wejdan Ismail

Technical Reviewer: Ray Kershaw

Publisher: Jason Dunne

Executive Project Editor: Daniel Mersey

Cover Photos: © John Lamb/Getty Images

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Lynsey Stanford

Layout and Graphics: Joni Burns, Carl Byers, Reuben W. Davis

Proofreaders: Caitie Kelly

Indexer: Cheryl Duksta

Special Help

Brand Reviewer: Jennifer Bingham



T hirty years ago I was an avid chess player. My girlfriend (now wife) taught me to play backgammon but I didn’t take it seriously. Then one night I was working through the small hours testing some software (computers weren’t quite as fast in the late 1970s as they are today) and a colleague challenged me to a game of backgammon while we waited for the electronic abacus to perform.

In 45 minutes I lost £10 and discovered that I knew absolutely nothing about the game. That really annoyed me and the next day I bought two books on backgammon. I read the books (more than once), practised with a friend, and a month later challenged my work colleague again. I recovered my £10 and won some more besides. Justice!

I’ve loved the game for 30 years now and play nearly every day, either live or on the Internet. Backgammon continues to fascinate and astound me and some of my closest friends have come from the world of backgammon. I hope the game gives you as much pleasure as it has given me.

About This Book

The ideal way to discover backgammon is to combine tuition and study with playing the game. I can’t be your playing partner but I can pass on my knowledge to you for you to study and that’s why I’ve taken so much pleasure in writing Backgammon For Dummies.

Over the years I’ve introduced a lot of people to backgammon by approaching the game in a relatively logical fashion but at the same time (hopefully) I’ve made it fun for my students. I hope this book comes across in the same way.

I cover every aspect of backgammon in this book, so if you’re a novice you’ll find sufficient information to get you acquainted with the game and able to play at a reasonable level. If you already know how to play, you’ll find plenty of information to help you improve your game and gain a greater understanding of it.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced player, I hope you’ll find this book really useful in improving and enjoying your game.

Conventions Used in This Book

No, not backgammon conventions yet! (Although you can find where to play tournament backgammon in Chapter 16.) The conventions I use enable you to navigate this book as easily as possible.

I designate the two players Black and White and whenever I ask you to assess a position or calculate a play, you’ll be playing as Black.

I alternate between male and female pronouns in odd and even chapters to be fair to both genders. So White swaps between being male and female!

The action parts of numbered steps are in bold and web addresses are in monofont. When I introduce a new term, it appears in italics.

I include many illustrations of backgammon boards. You’ll find explanations of these along the way.

Foolish Assumptions

I assume, perhaps wrongly, that you:

bullet Have never played a game of backgammon in your life.

bullet Are keen to discover a game that’s fascinated humankind for 5,000 years and continues to baffle people despite help from computers.

bullet Aren’t that accustomed to using dice.

bullet Aren’t a maths genius when it comes to the arithmetic that’s part of the game.

I hope that this book answers all your backgammon questions.

How This Book is Organised

The great thing about For Dummies books is that you don’t have to read them all the way through. You can simply turn to the bit you want – a chapter, a section, even just a paragraph. The table of contents and the index can help you out. Of course, the various elements of backgammon are all linked to each other and I sometimes make reference to one chapter from another (mainly as a reminder) but in the main how you navigate is up to you.

Here’s a taster of what lies ahead.

Part I: Starting and Playing the Game

This part covers all the basics that you need to start playing backgammon. I start with how to set up the checkers on the board, and look at the basic rules of the game including the different ways of playing. I describe some of the very basic tactics you need to understand to enjoy playing the game. Finally in this part, I look at how to play the opening moves. Like many games, the first few moves in backgammon are crucial to later success.

Part II: Handling the Middle Game

Part II is all about the complex area known as the middle game. The part starts with a couple of chapters on doubling, probably the most difficult area of the game and one that still causes arguments whenever players discuss the game. The rest of the part is devoted to handling all the possible types of middle game that can occur.

Part III: Bearing Off (The Last Lap)

After the opening and the middle game, the next logical step is the ending and Part III looks at how to bear the checkers off the board – the final stage in any game of backgammon. Apparently simple at first sight, I explore some hidden subtleties in this stage of the game.

Part IV: Varying the Play

Backgammon is a game that’s infinite in its variety. Chapter 11 looks at complex endings. After that I explore the multi-person version of backgammon known as chouette, which is great fun to play and also great to pick up tips from. Finally I look at tournament play – the most difficult form of the game. In the last chapter, I give advice and guidance about venturing onto the Internet to play online.

Part V: The Part of Tens

Here, in a concise and information-packed part, you’ll find my personal list of recommended books for further study, a list of useful backgammon resources, and my ten backgammon commandments. Perhaps not quite as strict as the original commandments, these help you to remember some of the key points from the book.

Icons Used in This Book

The icons in this book highlight particular points to remember, be cautious of, or take on board (no pun intended) to improve your game.


You’ll find the doubling cube next to interesting backgammon facts and history – the lore that makes the game so fascinating.


Whenever I use a word or phrase specific to backgammon, I let you know with this icon.


I help you to get to grips with backgammon by including heaps of examples of games in progress.


This icon draws your attention to an important point to bear in mind.


The target symbol highlights tips to help you become a better player – always assuming you can put the hint to good use!


As in all games you have pitfalls to steer clear of. This symbol indicates something you need to avoid or at least give considerable thought to.

Where to Go from Here

Enough of the preamble. The time has come for you to start to play the greatest game in the world. If you’re not sure where to begin, why not be logical and have a look at Chapter 1, which makes the necessary introductions, and starts you on the road to backgammon mastery?

Part I

Starting and Playing the Game

In this part . . .

I equip you to get started in playing backgammon, by knowing how to set up the board and the checkers, and the basic rules and tactics of the game, especially the opening moves.