Backgammon: Mastering Superfun Chaos of Board Game War [20-year Tale of Lessons on Strategy and Luck]

Home » Backgammon: Mastering Superfun Chaos of Board Game War [20-year Tale of Lessons on Strategy and Luck]

Consider for a moment betting party free from any conventional limit. The host can invite anyone, from any period in time; property is no relevent, the gathering can happen anywhere while the food, amenities, and music is according to your selection. Indeed, everything is open except for guests.

They include Amenhotep I, Tutankhamun, Darius the Great, King of Kings Anushirvan, Homer, Plato, Cleopatra, Marc Antony, Caligula, Claudius, then Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, Caravaggio, Brueghel the Elder, Hieronymus Bosch, Jan Steen, and Thomas Jefferson, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Lewis Carroll, Cary Grant, J. Edgar Hoover, Aretha Franklin, Hugh Heffner, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Liberace, Muhammad Ali, Chris Everet, Jimmy Connors, Ted Turner, Peter Pocklington, Nelson Skalbania, Danish Queen Margrethe II, Yul Brynner, Paul Newman, John Huston, Omar Sharif, Diana Ross, Madonna, Simon Le Bon, Glenn Close, George and Barbara Bush, Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kylie Minogue, Pamela Anderson, Taylor Swift, Nicole Kidman, Vladimir Putin.

Let’s anticipate that, at some stage, our host proposes these guests to gamble. Do you know what would be the only game in their minds? And, it’s not like they haven’t had chances to visit brick-and-mortar casinos.


Aficionados to the bone, most guests were or still are very fine or supreme players that indulged backgammon for fun or money, or to promote it by raising funds to charity; others explored the game’s phenomena throughout their lives. A few artistic outliers have either wrote about backgammon in their literary explorations or put the game into their painting masterpieces, while several rulers, being frantic players, went to great lengths to establish the game throughout history.

The variety of backgammon players is surprising just as the game itself — a simple dice-based board game between two opponents that is easy to learn, difficult to master, and graciously seductive.

The closest comparison to other board games would be something in-between Parcheesi and Chess.

The Game Settings

Backgammon is played on the board with 24 numbered fields called points shaped in long triangles which interchange in two colors. Points are clustered in four areas named home board (starting point) and three outer boards. Each player uses 15 checkers, also known as chips, and moves them across the board in the opposite direction of its opponent.

At the beginning of a game, all checkers are positioned at predetermined positions that mirror each other. Players alternately roll two dice from a leather cup and play either one or two checkers based on the outcome of two dies.

The objective of the game is to be the first one to remove (bear off) all chips from the board.

The fun and strategic part come through stepping towards the goal while at the same time blocking the challenger from doing the same, which also adds hitting — removing his or her checkers from the play and forcing re-entry into the game at the home board.

When re-entry points are blocked, one cannot move, has to remain idle, and leaves the board to the impunity of another player.
There are three different variants of backgammon.

The most popular one is Western Backgammon with fairly simple rules which require no more than a couple of games to get a baseline grip.
That’s the variant professionals use in championships or tournaments, while amateurs play at homes, backgammon clubs, online, or at any place for that matter — and that’s the one you may find in iGaming hubs.

Backgammon is an excessively fast game

The match played for fun or dinner or money or whatever you may think of — lovers use it to bet in things to explore in bed later that evening — usually consists of several games until a certain amount of points is accumulated.

The most often match lengths are 3, 5, 7, 11, and 21 points, although some players also prefer one-pointers (quickies are fun, indeed).

The Gambling and Betting Aspect

When a player wins and the challenger has not commenced bear off, the single point counts as a double stake win called gammon, worth two points.

If the player wins while one or more opponent’s checkers remain at the winner’s home board.

On each side, doubling cube is inscribed with numbers in geometric progression — 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 — which denotes the current stake.
When a player feels that it has a leverage position during the game, it may double the stake. If the opponent accepts the doubling cube — known as take — the game continues; if the opponent declines the cube, it concedes the game on the spot with points at stake before the double.

So, if you take the statr double, you bolster bet on two points; if you refuse, you lose one.

At any time, the player who took the doubling cube can redouble. Again, if the opponent decline, it loses the game at the value of the current bet. Thus, when a player declines the cube at 8, it loses 4 points momentarily.

The limit of the doubling cube is 64, although if the player loses the 64-point game with gammon, the winner takes 128 points; in the case of backgammon, the winner takes 192 points.

The sad part of doubling cube is timing — one should double when the opponent cannot quite comprehend the potential consequences.

The Strategic Disposition

In backgammon, just like in any other gambling game — luck has the major say in what possibilities might be, but a player has the final call in what the best move is.

Consequently, a well-learned and properly executed strategy, in conjunction with the right mindset, will suppress the luck in the majority of backgammon matches. The point in case: the Top-5 backgammon players in the world are always the same people.

“backgammon requires a proper mindset diligently enforced in the manner of a true Stoic”

The player can have crazy dices and win 1- or 3-pointer, but anything above 5-pointer he or she simply does not stand a chance against a well-educated opponent.

There are two reasons for this.
First, backgammon is one of the oldest board games in the world, hand in hand with chess and Go, played in many variations and under different names for almost five thousand years.

It originated in Mesopotamia, then moved into Egypt and came to the Roman Empire as Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum.
Romans brought it to England; from there it spread across the world and came to the United States.

One of the first books ever to elaborate on the strategic approach to backgammon was written in 1930 by Georges Mabardi: Vanity Fair’s Backgammon to Win.

During the Roaring Twenties, Mabardi came to New York and worked as backgammon columnist for Vanity Fair in time when Clare Boothe Luce — future Congresswoman from Connecticut — was the Managing Editor. So much about the popularity of the game and the testimony of the era: can you imagine the baccarat column in mainstream media today?

Mabardi has “played, taught, and studied backgammon all his life.” To this day, his book is one of the most authoritative sources on the game, to be successful, all you need is to master it.

To cover all strategic approaches to this game would take another article as well, so let’s just say that if you look online for running game, blitz, backgame, holding game, or priming you’ll find myriad sources to learn from.

The Mindset

The second reason why strategy will beat luck in the majority of matches is intrinsic one — to be victorious in the long run, backgammon requires a proper mindset diligently enforced in the manner of a true Stoic.

What does this mean?

Arthur Schopenhauer, in his quote from the Roman playwright Terence — another backgammon explorer — put it best: “Life is a game of dice. Even if you don’t throw the number you like, you still have to play it and play it well.”

Another thing is controlled emotions. You have to pick up the opponent’s checkers to hit carefully, with the right measure — not recklessly or greedy. Too much of opponent’s chips in your home board is never a good idea.

Never forget the bigger picture. Your goal is to win the match, not every game. Sometimes it’s better to yield a single game, cut your losses and live to fight another day, that is the very next game.

Don’t fight for fancy moves — not every soccer player is from Brazil.
Always protect yourself. Backgammon is a great game but can be very, very cruel. Have the alternative whenever possible because if you don’t, the costs of losses might be much more than you can bear, particularly in the money game.

Backgammon is all about anticipation. It’s not about what you’ll do with options at hand but how you’ll position yourself for the unknown that comes next. If you can cover the worst possible scenario then make a move. Otherwise, don’t believe in luck — in backgammon, luck comes as a reward for skills, not the other way around.

Never lose hope or despair but be rational. It ain’t over till the fat dices sing: you can trail four checkers during bear off — including being locked down in closed home board of your opponent — and still win.

Good positioning is worth sacrificing a few checkers. Certain points on the backgammon board have strategic value. When you have a chance to take them, do it: checkers have another life, the right chances don’t.

If it ain’t broken don’t fix it. Some moves are always played the same way so don’t go outside the envelope. That said, every rule has its exception, just do it intelligently.

There is no middle ground in this game: you’re either in or out, you either play it full bore, to win, or you don’t play it at all. You always play against another person, there’s no dealer, no house edge, which is to say — backgammon is very personal.
Have balance. Be audacious, brave, ambitious, dare for more, have drive and tenacity, be self-confident, psychologically open, have the appetite for learning, but be wise and use those traits in a calculated and responsible manner. Simply put, in the war on woods, which backgammon is, be a true General.

Be patient and listen to yourself, this game offers a definitive connection with your intuition, just don’t ignore it. The first option you thought of is probably the best.

Eight out of ten losses are on you. Yes, it’s harsh but it’s true. Therefore, replay your matches and you’ll see all errors.
The Outcome of Backgammon Lessons

Such a mindset — and these are just a few thoughts — might not only help you become better in the game but might improve your life as well. It’s a rare occasion in gambling, but it happens.

By using all backgammon learnings, one can indeed self-improve in the way of behavioral thinking and approach to real-life situations.
Because you will notice…

The single greatest lesson backgammon teaches is — how to lose and win gracefully.

Yes, you’ll be a better player at the table and your opponent will win; after all, there’s luck involved here. And yes, you’ll play lousy and you’ll get a victory.

disregarding outcome, both the wins and losses are fundamentals of life — a handshake, humble recognition, and smile after the match is the only appropriate ending of interaction with another human being.

In backgammon, though, it also comes loaded with intense fun, which is yet another reason to give it a shot.


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