Zaza & Sacci Luxury Leather Backgammon Sets
Backgammon is one of the oldest board games and is a game of skill, much like Chess, played head-on by two opponents.
Backgammon requires some special equipment— a game board, dice, 30 round game pieces in two colours, and a uniquely numbered cube used for doubling. Backgammon is a gambling activity that has been taken quite seriously for many centuries.
Luxury Leather Backgammon Sets by Zaza & Sacci
Zaza & Sacci has been making fine Italian leather consumer goods since 1987. Their specialty is leather bags and classic board games.
You will find Zaza & Sacci luxury leather backgammon boards in many of the fine stores in Rome, Paris, London, and New York. Zaza & Sacci backgammon sets are hand crafted by skilled artisans in their workshop in Italy.
Back in the Middle Ages, Backgammon was the world’s preeminent table game. Its roots trace back more than 5,000 years to Mesopotamia, where game boards and four-sided pyramid dice have been discovered in the tombs of Ur.
It was enjoyed by ancient Egyptians and the boards were adopted by Roman legions with two six-sided dice used in a game they called “Duodecim Scriptorum” (or “twelve writer”).
Between 300 B.C. and 500 C.E., the game evolved in Italy into “Tabula” (or “tables”), which eventually spread to Arabia as “Nard” and to Iceland as “Ad Elta Stelpur.” By 1025 C.E., England had come to know the game as “Taefle and Fayles.”
In 13th century Spain, it was called “Sixe-Ace.” In France, it became known as “Tourne-case.” And in many parts of the world it went by the name “Tric-Trac.” When the American colonies were formed in the 17th century, Backgammon was played in taverns from Portsmouth to New Haven.
High stakes Backgammon remained a mainstay of gambling houses in England until the early 19th century, even though it was sanctioned for hundreds of years by the English Church, whose clergy had taken to the game with overzealous enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, the ancient game continued to thrive throughout the 20th century in the parks of Moscow and tavernas of Athens, as a popular side game at American Contract Bridge tournaments and a favoured pastime of German workers on lunch breaks.
Today, Backgammon is experiencing a resurgence of popularity, thanks to the Internet. Through web sites, opponents of all levels of skill can be located for play one on one. Organised backgammon tournaments are now held online.
Free software is available to teach newcomers how to play, new electronic trade magazines report on Backgammon events, and the possibility of winning big in high stakes games is once again widely available. In short, Backgammon is back!
Backgammon Rules – Backgammon Setup
Backgammon belongs to the family of games known as “race games.” The object is to move your pieces around the board and off faster than your opponent can remove his or hers. It requires a considerable degree of skill and experience to master and thus provides enjoyment for players of all levels of ability.
Backgammon is played on a flat board, which is divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant displays six elongated triangles of alternating colours called “points.” The tip of each point faces the center of the board.
A narrow strip called the “Bar” runs through the middle of the board between the two players. It is used as a holding area for pieces that are “bumped” from the board during play.
Folding boards are quite common, with the seam serving as the bar. Those which are recessed and opened like a briefcase have the added advantages of saving space and being able to hold all of the game components inside.
Each of the four quadrants has a name. They are referred to as the Player’s Home Board and Outer Board, and the Opponent’s Home Board and Outer Board. The two home boards are sometimes called the “inner boards,” too. They face each other, as do the two outer boards.
Each point on the board is further designated by a number. The first point located on the far right of the Player’s Home Board is the 1-point.
The point next to it is the 2-point, etc., continuing clockwise around the board to the 24-point, which is identical to the opponent’s 1-point at the far left of his/her home board. The opponent counts the points counterclockwise from 1 to 24.
Thirty round game pieces of two colours are used to play Backgammon, fifteen for each player. Because these pieces are similar to those used for the game called “Checkers,” they are often referred to by that name. Other names used to describe the pieces are “counters,” “men” or “stones.”
Also needed for play are dice. When playing Backgammon seriously, for ratings or money, each player should have his/her own pair of dice and a dice cup to shake them in.
One other piece of equipment required for play is the “doubling cube.” On its faces are the numerals 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64, which are used to keep track of game’s stakes.
To set the game up for play, the coloured playing pieces must be placed on their starting points. Each player must put exactly five pieces on the 6-point, three on the 8-point, five on the 13-point, and two on the 24-point. The latter two pieces are sometimes referred to as the “back runners.” At the start, the board should look like this:
Backgammon – The Basics
The object of Backgammon is to move your fifteen playing pieces, point by point, to your Home Board and remove them from play in a process called “bearing off” before your opponent can do the same.
How many points a piece may move is determined by the roll of the dice. Which pieces are moved is determined by your playing strategy and the rules governing the game.
Once the board has been set up properly, the opponents each roll one die at the same time. The dots on the faces of the dice are called “pips.” The player rolling the highest number of pips goes first. In case of a tie, both players roll again until one has a higher number than the other.
The opening player will next move one or more of his/her pieces in the direction of the Home Board according the pips showing on the faces of the two dice. There are several rules, however, that govern the movement of pieces.
First, pieces must be moved in one direction only, toward the Home Board, not away. Second, no piece may be moved to a point that is occupied by two or more of the opponent’s pieces. Such points are said to be “made,” “owned” or “held” by the opponent and must be jumped over in order to move forward.
Runners may not “pause” or “rest,” even briefly, on made points. There is, however, no limit to the number of a player’s own pieces that may occupy a single point.
After the opening player moves his/her pieces, the opponent throws two dice using the dice cup and moves pieces around the board based on whatever pips come up.
On a roll of 4-3, for example, the player may move one piece four points and another piece three, or else move a single runner seven points forward, as long as the piece does not pause on a point held by the opponent.
Pieces must be moved exactly according to the pips shown on each throw of the dice. The full roll must be taken, meaning it is not possible to elect not to move as long as a move is available.
If using one number of pips would preclude using the other, the higher of the two must be used first, if possible. The turn is lost if neither number of pips can be used.
As in Chess, there are no do-overs in Backgammon. Typically, a player’s move is said to be made when his/her fingers are removed from the piece that has been positioned on the board.
If an unpermitted move is made in error, either player may correct it before the next roll of the dice. But if it is discovered after the subsequent roll, the errant move must remain as played.
When the pips showing on the faces of the dice are identical (aka “doubles”), the number of moves is doubled. In other words, a roll of 2-2 results in four separate moves of two points, not just two.
One piece could be moved a total of eight points, or four pieces could move two points each, or two could move four points each, etc. Again, however, pausing on a held point is not allowed.
As the game progresses, the player’s pieces will be passing each other en route to their respective home boards, sometimes holding points and blocking their opponent’s passage. This is part of the strategy of Backgammon, keeping your opponent’s pieces from moving freely by owning points.
Blots, the Bar and Bearing Off in Backgammon
When a point is occupied by a single piece, it is called a “blot.” This position is vulnerable to attack and the lone piece can be “hit” or “bumped” from the board. This occurs when the opposing player’s piece lands on the blot’s point exactly.
When a blot is bumped, it is removed from its point and placed on the Bar in the middle of the game board. It must remain there until it is “rolled back” onto the board. What’s more, no other moves may be made until the player’s piece on the Bar is returned to the game.
To re-position a bumped piece on the board, it must enter on the point within the Opponent’s Home Board that corresponds to the pips rolled on the dice. A roll of 6-4, for example, would allow the piece to re-enter on the opponent’s 6-point or 4-point, assuming they are not held by the opponent.
The unused number of pips may then be used to move a piece around the board. If both of the points rolled are owned, however, the player with the piece on the Bar loses a turn.
Bumping blots to the Bar and blocking an opponent from re-entering or moving forward is an essential part of Backgammon strategy. There is no limit on the number of pieces that may be bumped.
If two or more pieces are on the Bar, they must all be rolled back onto the board before the player can move any other pieces. In a loose or aggressive game, it is possible for both players to have several pieces on the Bar at the same time.
Hitting an opposing player’s blot and continuing to move a piece to the safety of an owned point is called “hit and pass,” “bump and run,” or “pick and pass.” It is a very effective way of slowing an opponent down while securing your own pieces. Similarly, “hit and split” can be a useful tactic, splitting runners to take out two or more blots on a single turn.
The opponent cannot retaliate until the pieces on the Bar have all been rolled back onto the board. Moving a piece to protect a blot and own a point is called “covering up.”
Gradually, both players will guide their pieces across the points to their own home boards. When all fifteen pieces have entered the final quadrant, it is possible to begin removing them by “bearing off.”
Each time the dice are rolled, the player may remove pieces according the pips thrown on the dice. For example, if you roll a 4-2, you may take one piece off the 4-point and another off the 2-point.
If you have no pieces on these points, you can use the roll to move pieces forward. If you cannot move any pieces forward, you can bear off pieces from the highest point that is occupied.
For example, with pieces only on the 2-point and 4-point and rolling a 6-1, you can take one piece off the 4-point (because no piece can move forward six points), but you are obliged to move a piece forward one point.
Under the same circumstances, if you rolled a 3-1, you could move the 4-point piece forward to the 1-point and then bear it off. Again, you must use your entire roll.
At this final stage of the game, rolling doubles can assist in bearing off pieces quickly. Also, how you have entered the pieces to the Home Board can make a huge difference.
If they are all piled up on the 6-point and 5-point, low rolls will force you move rather than bear off. But if they have accumulated on the 1-point and 2-point, you can bear off on each throw.
If your opponent hits a blot while you are bearing off, you must re-enter the piece and bring it all the way back around to your Home Board before you can continue bearing off.
No pieces may bear off unless all remaining pieces are within the Home Board. The first player to bear off all fifteen pieces takes the game and scores a win accordingly…or perhaps much more if wagering is involved.
Betting on Backgammon
When wagering on Backgammon, the two opponents usually agree to play for a specific amount per game—the basic bet. Bets are usually settled at the conclusion of each game.
But winning games and claiming bets at Backgammon is not limited to bearing off pieces first. It involves a number of additional game rules that need to be taken into account. Two of these relate to the very name of the game itself.
A “Gammon” (meaning “game”) is scored whenever a player manages to bear off all of his/her pieces before the opponent is able to bear off a single one. Scoring a Gammon results in the bet for the game being automatically doubled.
A “Backgammon” is scored when a player is able to bear off all of his/her pieces while the opponent still has a piece on the Bar or in the winner’s Home Board. Scoring a Backgammon automatically triples the value of the bet for the game.
Another aspect of the game that can affect payouts is the roll of the dice that starts the game. If identical numbers are thrown by each player on the opening roll, the value of the bet for the game is automatically doubled.
The “doubling cube,” which is used to keep track of the betting, is placed on the Bar with the numeral 2 face up, indicating the stakes are now double.
If doubles come up again, the bet value may be doubled once more, and the doubling cube’s numeral 4 is turned face up.
This process of doubling the stakes on initial doubles continues until one player rolls a higher number than the other, or else both players agree that no additional automatic doubles will be allowed. In friendly games, the number of automatic doubles is typically just one.
What is truly unique about wagering on Backgammon, however, is the use of the “doubling cube” after the game has begun. At the beginning of the game, before any dice are rolled, the cube is placed on the Bar with the numeral 64 face up.
As the game progresses, if either player believes his/her position has an advantage, he/she may propose that the value of the bet be doubled. This proposal must be made at the start of the player’s turn, before throwing the dice.
The opponent then has the opportunity to accept or reject the double. If accepted, the doubling cube’s face is turned up to numeral 2 and the opponent now “owns” the cube. Or, the opponent may choose to re-double and turn the face to the numeral 4, meaning the game is now worth four times value of the original bet.
However, if the opponent refuses to take up the double, he/she automatically forfeits the game. Play ends and whatever the value of the bet was worth prior to the offer is claimed by the player who doubled.
Similarly, a refusal to accept a re-double results in forfeiture and the win is awarded to the re-doubler at whatever value the double was made.
Although either player may offer the initial double at any time during the game, only the person who “owns” the cube has the right to offer a double thereafter. The owner is always the player who accepted the last double.
Although the faces of the cube go no higher than 64, there is technically no limit to the number of doubles or redoubles possible in a game. That makes bluffing, bravado, luck, skill and experience more important in Backgammon wagering than in any other form of gambling, and perhaps explains why it has endured for 50 centuries.
From a strategic point of view, the game of Backgammon can be divided into three phases: the opening, the middle game, and the end game or bearing off.
Unpredictable rolls of the dice can have a big effect on the outcome of a game, but players who know how to move their pieces and take advantage of certain pip combinations are best positioned to win consistently.
Because doubles cannot be used to open the Backgammon game, there are just fifteen combinations of pips possible to open the game. From highest to lowest they are 6-5, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, 5-4, 5-3, 5-2, 5-1, 4-3, 4-2, 4-1, 3-2, 3-1, and 2-1.
Although there are many ways to use these rolls, some moves are considered to be superior, as proven over centuries of Backgammon play.
The best opening moves are predicated on a strategy of blocking your opponent’s runners while getting pieces to your own home as quickly as possible. Toward this end, four pip combinations are called “naturals,” and their play should be automatic.
6-1 : Making the Bar – A roll of 6-1 allows you to move one piece each from your 8-point and 13-point to “make” the 7-point, which (owing to its proximity to the Bar) is also known as the “bar point.” This position creates a “wall” or “block” that helps prevent the opponent’s back runners from escaping your Home Board.
3-1 : Making the 5-Point – On a roll of 3-1, move a piece each from your 6-point and 8-point to own the 5-point. This makes it very difficult for your opponent’s back runners to escape.
4-2 : Making the 4-Point – On a roll of 4-2, move a piece each from your 6-point and 8-point to own the 4-point. Again, this position helps trap the opponent’s back runners.
6-5 : Lover’s Leap – A roll of 6-5 allows you to move one runner from your 24-point to the safety of the 13-point, which is also known as the “comfort station.” Although this leaves a vulnerable blot behind, it immediately puts your opponent on the defensive and is preferable to other moves that would leave a blot or two elsewhere.
There are different schools of thought regarding the other eleven combinations of pips. Beginners may find it useful, however, to adopt the following three opening strategies until more familiar with how early moves affect the middle game.
Big Rolls – When rolling the 6-3, 6-4, or 5-4, move a single runner from the 24-point to the 15-point or 14-point. This strategy is similar to Lover’s Leap, although it temporarily exposes an additional blot.
Small Rolls – When rolling the 2-1, 4-1 or 5-1, move one piece from the 6-point to the 5-point and one piece forward from the 13-point. Your intention will be to cover the blot on the 5-point on your next roll.
Builders – Pieces from the heavily loaded comfort station (your 13-point) can be positioned on the first roll as “builders” to assist later in owning points. When you roll 3-2, 4-3, 5-2, or 5-3, you should move two pieces forward from the comfort station.
With a 6-2, the classic move is bring a single piece down from the comfort station to the 5-point, although some players prefer a more risky tactic and move two builders down.
The Backgammon Middle Game
After both players have made their opening moves and before either one of them begins to bear off, the middle game of Backgammon takes place.
This is when strategy is most important and more experienced players can use the skills they have developed to strengthen their positions and set up for the end of the game. It is also when doubles, both as rolls and as wagers, become very important.
Early in the middle game, beginners are best advised to leave their back runners alone unless they can safely be brought forward on good rolls. Such rolls would include the natural 6-5, as well as high doubles, the 6-6 or 4-4.
The back runners become useful later to hit the opponent’s exposed blots, so moving them too soon may prove to be a disadvantage later.
Similarly, owning points deep in your Home Board is not a good early strategy, since the opponent’s back runners may easily leap over them. Concentrate, instead, on holding the 5-point and 7-point early on, and then try to make other points later.
Following are five common approaches used in the middle game of Backgammon. Which one you choose, if any, and how you play against them will depend upon the opening moves and what pip combinations you roll subsequently.
The Racer’s Strategy – A “racer” will move the back runners early and attempt to hurry them along and bear off with little interest in playing defense. A racer may even ignore opportunities to hit blots in an effort to get all fifteen pieces home quickly.
This strategy can be very effective when big rolls are made, especially lots of doubles. The danger, of course, is that blots are frequent and easily bumped. Without high combinations of pips, this strategy often fails.
The Interference Strategy – This modification of the Race Strategy leaves two pieces holding a point on the Opponent’s Outer Board as long as possible, while racing all of the other pieces home.
The object of keeping two pieces back is to hold up or slow the opponent on his/her way home. This strategy often fails, however, when the opponent gets big rolls.
The Back Strategy – You allow your opponent to hit two or more blots so that you can roll back onto his/her Home Board and own points there, called “anchors.”
With two or more anchors, you can block your opponent’s runners from bearing off and attack his/her blots once you have arranged your other pieces on your Home Board. This “defensive” approach usually takes some doubles late in the game in order to succeed.
The Jailer’s Strategy – This requires trapping the opponent’s back runners within your Home Board. You start by building a “blockade” on your 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-points, and then hit the back runners when they eventually split, repeatedly sending them to the Bar while filling your Home Board.
This strategy is sometimes called “blitz,” “wipeout” or “attack.” It can backfire, however, if your opponent successfully employs the Back Strategy (above).
The Primes Strategy – Two or more points held in a row is called a “prime.” Six consecutive points held by a player is called a “full prime,” which is impossible for an opponent’s piece to leap over.
In this strategy, the player attempts to build primes that trap the opponent’s pieces by making moves impossible. This strategy is difficult to execute, but extremely effective is creating Gammons and Backgammons when successful.
The Backgammon End Game
The Backgammon middle game concludes when the final phase begins, as soon as one of the players is in position to bear off. In other words, all fifteen of his/her pieces have reached the Home Board. In most cases, the player who begins bearing off first will win the game.
If you are the first to reach this position, you will want to remove your pieces as quickly as possible, while taking care not to leave blots open to attack.
The last thing you want is for your bearing off to be interrupted by a bump, which necessitates rolling back onto the board from the Bar and racing all the way round to your Home Board before continuing.
If your opponent is ready to bear off first, you still have a few options. Assuming you have established at least one anchor within the Opponent’s Home Board, you can play a waiting game, using rolls to position all of your other pieces as a blockade in your Home Board, exercising patience until a blot is exposed for your back runners to bump off.
Another ploy is to split your back runners, inviting a hit in the hopes that you can roll back onto the Opponent’s Home Board and bump the blot that hit you.
This is a risky tactic, but it could put you ahead if you have set up your Home Board to block re-entry. And even if your opponent wants to avoid bumping your blot, he/she may be forced to hit it if the rolls go your way.
Alternatively, you can make a run for it, sending your back runners homeward with the hope of rolling big numbers and doubles to catch up. Although this approach relies heavily on the luck of the dice, it may be the wiser course if you fear falling prey to a Gammon or Backgammon while waiting for an opportunity to hit.
When the end game is close and both players begin bearing off at about the same time, you can accurately predict your odds of winning by knowing the “pip count.”
This is the minimum number of pips required to bear off all of a player’s pieces. To calculate it, multiply the number of pieces on each point by the number associated with that point and then add all of the totals together.
At the start of the game, the pip count for both players is (2×24) + (5×13) + (3×8) + (5×6) = 167. At any time during the game, the pip count can be calculated in this way.
The player with the lower pip count at any given time is more likely to win. In fact, this is the way experienced players know when to use the doubling cube during games where wagers are involved. By the same token, being unaware of the pip count is one of the most common mistakes novices usually make.
Backgammon Doubling Strategy
The practice of doubling in Backgammon is actually a rather new innovation. It first came into vogue in the 1920s, and it has remained an integral part of wagering on the game ever since. If you are going to play Backgammon for money, knowing when to double and redouble, and when to take doubles or pass, is essential.
In most cases, you will want to double anytime your position has a significant advantage over your opponent’s. If your opponent refuses to take the double, you will win the game by default.
If your opponent accepts, you will win twice the amount of your bet when you prevail. And if you can prevail more than 50% of the time when you double, you will come out ahead financially.
On the other hand, if your opponent offers you a double, you should accept it whenever you can expect to win 25% of the time. On the surface, this “25% rule” might seem like a fast road to ruin, but there is a good reason to accept such doubles.
Suppose you are doubled by your opponent during four separate games. Each time you refuse the double you automatically lose the wager, X. In total, you will have lost 4X.
But if you had won just one of those games by accepting the double each time, you would have lost 3x2X=6X and won 1x2X=2X, so your total loss is still the same 4X. In other words, you have nothing to lose by accepting a double whenever your odds of winning are 25% or better.
The question, then, is how do you know if your chances of winning are better than 25%? The answer is that experienced players base their doubling strategies on the pip count formula previously explained. When your pip count is lower than your opponent’s, you have an advantage.
Specifically, for pip counts greater than 50, when you are ahead by 8% or more, you can double. When you are behind by no more than 12%, you can accept a double. For redoubling, the threshold for acceptance is an advantage of 9% or more.
These percentages are not arbitrary. They have been borne out by countless games played over many decades. If you have a pip count of, say, 100, you can double with confidence if your opponent’s count is 108 or more and you can accept a double if his/her count is greater than 88.
The exception to this strategy is when a Gammon or Backgammon may be possible. If you are on the verge of winning a Gammon, which is automatically worth double the bet, you do not want to give your opponent the opportunity to get off for less by offering a double that he/she will surely refuse.
But be careful. Some games of Backgammon are played using the so-called “Jacoby Rule.” It states that Gammons and Backgammons count only as a single game if neither player has offered a double before one of them bears off.
This rule has one positive effect. It speeds up play by discouraging players from going for a Gammon instead of ending a game with an obvious outcome by offering a double.
How to Speak Backgammon
As might be expected of a game played for 50 centuries, Backgammon has evolved its own language, which can be rather confusing and somewhat daunting to the uninitiated.
From “Ace Point” (the player’s 1-point) to “Yankee Seven” (any roll of 6-1), each and every aspect of the game seems defined by a uniquely descriptive term.
When referring to the Backgammon board, “roof,” “rail” and “rim” are alternative names for the Bar. The Outer Boards are sometimes referred to as the “outfield.”
Your 13-point goes by the name “midpoint” as well as “comfort station.” Your opponent’s 5-point is also called the “golden point” and his/her 7-point is the “booby point.” Your 1-point and 2-points are known as your “deep points.”
Certain phrases also apply to the dice. As in Craps, the roll 6-6 is called “box cars” and 1-1 is “snake eyes.” The 2-2 combination is called “ducks” or “quacks,” 4-4 is “quads” and 5-5 is “the girls.”
A “mixed roll” is any combination of pips except doubles. A “joker” is a roll that dramatically shifts the odds of winning in favour of one player or the other.
Various movements of the pieces have names, too. “Crossing over” occurs when a piece moves from one quadrant to another. Your board is “crunched” when a roll forces you to break up a prime. Bumping two blots on a single roll is called a “double hit” or “two on the roof.” “Peeling” and “eating” are other words used for bearing off.
Certain arrangements of pieces on the board have their own vernacular equivalents. A “straggler” is the player’s unprotected last runner, while a “spare” is any extra piece on a point that is not needed to hold it. A point held by three or more pieces is said to be “heavy.”
A “gap” is an unoccupied point between two held points. In a “slow board,” the pieces within the Home Board are positioned on the higher points and will take longer to bear off. A “shutout” occurs when a player holds all of the points on the Home Board and keeps the opponent’s piece(s) from re-entering from the Bar.
Among common words regarding the players that you will meet at Backgammon, “trailer” refers to the player who is currently behind in the pip count and “leader” to the one who is ahead.
The player who is next to throw the dice is said to be “on roll,” and a “dropper” is someone who declines every double that is offered.
Lastly, there are many words to describe ways of playing the game. “Stacking” is a playing style that tries to avoid exposing blots. “Loose play” is the opposite, leaving many blots exposed.
“Tailgating” is when dice are rolled before a player picks up those used on the previous turn; it is frowned on, especially in money play or tournaments. And a “beaver” is a redouble made immediately in response to a double; when accepted, a beaver allows the re-doubler to own the cube.
Playing in actual Backgammon tournaments can also be a way to improve your skills and rating. Currently, the world’s most noteworthy one is the World Backgammon Championship held in Monte Carlo since 1976.
Others well-known venues are the World Series of Backgammon and the International Backgammon Tour. Several divisions are open to players according to skill levels, including a section for novices where entry fees are lower.
Some tournaments offer free entry through qualifying satellites online. A variety of tournament formats can be found, too, from round-robins to single elimination knockouts and rating-limited tournaments.