Backgammon rules: short, long, oriental, European

Rules of backgammon

In the article “Backgammon Rules” we will tell you the rules of playing long and short backgammon. You will learn the features and differences of the two most popular varieties of the game.


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Backgammon is one of the most popular games in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It has a rich history and is a deep strategic game that requires the ability to plan, analyze and make decisions.

The goal of backgammon is quite simple: you need to move all your game pieces to the home zone (house) and remove them from the board faster than your opponent. The game board consists of 24 triangular points or holes numbered from 1 to 24. Players play on opposite sides of the board and move their chips according to the results of rolling two dice (zar).

Backgammon usually begins with a draw for the first move: players roll the dice, and the one with the higher value moves first. To prevent cheating, a cup may be used to stir the dice (zar).

Backgammon has several variations, which have their own features and rules. In our article we will talk about the rules of playing long (oriental) and short (European) backgammon.

Long Backgammon Rules

At the beginning of the game, the players’ chips are placed in the so-called “head” in a stack. Both players move their chips counterclockwise. Black’s house is on the bottom right and White’s house is on the top left (see photo below).

Starting a game in Long Backgammon
Starting a game in Long Backgammon

The player who wins the toss is the first to move. To do this, he rolls the dice on the board and the values show how many holes he can move his chip to. Chips in long backgammon can be moved only on empty wells or wells where chips of this player are already located. Only one chip can be removed from the head per move. For example, on the first move 4/3 we move a chip from the 24th field to the 17th field (see the photo below).

First move in long backgammon
First move in long backgammon

If during throwing on dice the same figures have fallen out, for example 2/2 (double), then fallen out values are doubled, i.e. we have the right to go 4 times on 2. But for the very first move doubles 3/3, 4/4 and 6/6 have the opportunity and need to remove two chips from the head, as the first chip will bump into a natural obstacle (12 field), where the opponent’s chips are placed. The photo below shows the variants of these moves.

Double 3-3Double 4-4Double 6-6

There is also a special situation, when the opponent’s first move fell a double 5/5, he moved his chip across the board, and when we have already fallen a double 4/4, there will be a situation in which the first chip will bump into an unnatural obstacle, and the obstacle created by the opponent. In this case we do not remove the second chip from the head.

A special case of first take
A special case of first take

Long Backgammon Rules (Part 1)

When in the course of play we have situations where we can place more than 5 chips in a row, we are not allowed to move in this way until one opponent’s chip has entered its home. This also applies to the situation when moving on the so-called turn when our chip is placed on 1, on 24, 23, 22, 21 and on the 20th hole. Learn more in the video below.

Long Backgammon Rules (Part 2)

The game also has a full stroke rule. If it is technically possible to play two stones (zara), even if the move is disadvantageous to us, we must play this move. The photo below shows such a move.

Full stroke rule in backgammon
Full stroke rule in backgammon

We may also have a situation where we can only play one of two stones. In the example below we can play either 2 or 3. According to the rules, we are obliged to play the larger stone, i.e. remove a chip from point 24 and move it to point 21.

Majority rule in backgammon
Majority rule in backgammon

When all our chips have hit home, we can start removing them from the board into a special hole or onto the table according to the values we have dropped. If we got the values 6/3, we take one chip off the sixth hole, and the other one off the third hole.

Removing chips from the board
Removing chips from the board

If there are no chips in the hole, we can move a chip closer to the 1st hole. In cases where the values of the stone exceed the values on which our chips stand, then we remove a chip from the nearest large value. For example, at 6/3 we shoot a 5 and a 3. More details in the video below.

Long Backgammon Rules (Part 3)

In a situation where the opponent has not had time to discard all the chips and we have already discarded all of them, we are awarded a 1-point win. This is a simple win.

If we have removed all our chips from the board, and the opponent has not removed any, then we get a win with 2 points. This is a double win or mars.

There are long backgammon games in which a draw is used. In this case, the player who started the game first gives the right of the last throw to the second player. If during this last throw all the chips are removed from the board, then the players get 0.5 points or 1 point each, depending on the tournament rules.

Doubling cube
Doubling cube

In international matches the “Doubling Cube” may be used, i.e. a special dice with numbers on it: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64. What is its essence? Before his throw the player can take the doubling cube lying in the middle and increase the stake in the game by 2, thus the opponent can refuse to double the stake and immediately lose 1 point or accept the doubling cube, keep it and continue to play on the doubled stake.

At any moment before his roll our opponent can increase the bet by 4, i.e. raise the bet twice more. This right will be his alone, as he is the temporary owner of the cube. When turning the cube by 4, we will also have a choice: accept the bet and leave the doubling cube now in our possession, or refuse and lose 2 points.

In matches, the Crawford rule always applies: when one player has only one point left in the match, the doubling cube is removed from the board for the whole game, i.e. no one can use the doubling cube during one game or game. In the next game or game the Crawford rule will not apply and the underdog will be able to double up.

The doubling cube works on mars as well. If the doubling cube was turned to 4 and our opponent lost with mars, we get 4 * 2 = 8 points.

European Backgammon Rules

European backgammon rules are a simplified version of long backgammon, but with some peculiarities. The basic backgammon rules are written above, so we will only list their differences:

  • Initial placement of chips on the board: 2 chips on the 24th hole, 5 on the 13th hole, 3 chips on the 8th hole and 5 chips on the 6th hole.

Initial position in short backgammon

  • The houses of white and black players are placed opposite each other.

Home in short backgammon

  • Black chips move clockwise and white chips move counterclockwise, i.e. they move towards each other.
  • In European backgammon the values on the stones can be added up, i.e. if we can’t make a move 3/5, we make a move 3+5=8 holes.
  • In European Backgammon, the chips can be moved to the opponent’s lone standing chips. A point that is occupied by a single chip is called a “Blot”. If an opponent’s chip lands on this point, the Blot is moved to the center of the board, which is called the “Bar”.

    Lonely chips
    Lonely chips

    Bar in European backgammon
    Bar in European backgammon

    Any of the players whose chips are on the bar are first required to put them into play through the opponent’s house. A chip is put into play on the hole that corresponds to the value at dawn. If all holes in the opponent’s house are occupied, a player may take a turn with other chips.

  • If a lone chip is moved to the bar during the removal of chips from the board, the player must stop the removal, enter the chip from the bar and bring it home across the entire playing field.
  • In European backgammon, besides win and mars, there is the concept of cox (triple win). It occurs when we have removed all our chips from the board and the opponent has not removed any, while still having chips located on the bar or in our house.

European Backgammon Rules (video)

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