Posted by: Wayne Robinson | February 6, 2012

Games – Tables or Backgammon

Adriaen van Ostade, Backgammon 1630-60


A Backgammon boards consist of four tables each with six thin triangles or points. A bar usually bisects the board and the two tables on one side are designated the “inner tables” or “home tables”, the others being referred to as the “outer tables”. Traditionally, the inner tables should be positioned facing the greatest light source. There are fifteen white pieces, fifteen black pieces, two dice and a dice cup.

Preparation and Objective

Each player attempts to move all their pieces into their home table and then to move the pieces off the board. The first player to do so wins.


Pieces can only move in one direction – from the opponent’s home table through the opponent’s outer table, back through the player’s outer table and finishing in the player’s home table. White pieces move in a clockwise direction, black move in an anti-clockwise direction.

The players each roll a die and the player with the highest throw then uses the dice throw from both players to take the first turn and also chooses to play white or black.

Basic Play

Each turn consists of the opportunity to move counters towards the player’s inner table according to the roll of the two dice. Unless a double is thrown, two moves are allowed, one for each number on the dice. When a double is thrown, four moves are allowed, two of each number on the dice. Players are not allowed to pass – as many moves as possible must be made each turn.

A point with two or more pieces of the same colour on it is safe – the opponent cannot land a piece on such a point.

A point hosting only one piece is called a “blot”. If the opponent lands on this point the piece is captured and moved to the bar.

Captured pieces re-enter opponent’s inner table. A throw of 1 allows the piece to move from the bar to point one of the opponent’s inner tables. A throw of 5 allows the piece to enter at point 5 of the opponent’s home table.

If a player has one or more pieces on the bar, no other pieces can be moved until all pieces on the bar have re-entered play. So if the dice throw and position of enemy pieces prevents a player from re-entering a piece onto the board from the bar, the player cannot move any other piece and play passes to the opponent.

A point hosting two or more of the opponent’s pieces is said to be “blocked”. If six points in a row are blocked, the opponent is said to have formed a “prime”. A prime cannot be traversed by an opponent but is completely free to be traversed by the player who created it.

Bearing Off

Once all pieces are present in a player’s inner table, that player can start “bearing off”. A throw of 1 allows a player to bear off a piece from point 1 of his inner table, a throw of 2 allows a player to bear off a piece from point 2 of his inner table and so on. Pieces borne off are simply removed from the board. Players do not have to bear off – if available, they can choose to move a piece within their inner table instead. This is often done to pair up singlets in order to protect them from capture.

When a player rolls a number that is higher than the highest point of the inner table upon which that player has pieces, the player is allowed to bear off the next highest piece. For example, with a roll of double 5, if the player has a piece on point 5, two pieces on point 3, one piece on point 2 and one piece on point 1, the player would bear off the four highest placed pieces and be left with just one piece on point 1.

If after starting to bear off, a player’s piece is captured, that piece must re-enter at the other side of the board and bearing off cannot continue until all pieces are once again residing in the inner table.


The first player to bear off all pieces wins the game.

If the opponent has borne off at least one piece, a single game is won and the current stake is forfeited.

If the opponent has not borne off any pieces, this is a “gammon” and worth double the current stake.

If the opponent has a piece left on the bar or within the opponent’s inner table, this is a “backgammon” and worth triple the current stake.

Other forms of the game

Dutch Backgammon

This is played in the same way as Backgammon but the pieces all start off the board and each one must be entered on the opponent’s inner table before proceeding around to the home inner table.

Irish Backgammon

Place five of your men on your 6 point; three on your 8 point; five on your opponent’s 1 point; and two on your opponent’s 12 point, way deep in your opponent’s territory.


All your men are set on your opponent’s 1 point in five piles of three, and moved forward in the normal way. An unbound man hit by one of your opponent’s men is moved to the bar. The first player to fill all the points of the player’s home table wins.

English Backgammon

All your men are set on your opponent’s 1 point in five piles of three, and proceeding around to the home inner table before being borne off. Three dice or two dice and a permanent imaginary six are used.


This is an easie and childish play and performed by haueing all the 15 men set double on the six points, the 6, 5, 4 haueing three apeece: what is throwne is layd downe, and if one throws and hath it not, the other lays downe for him, and thus they do till all be downe: and then they beare: now dubblets in this game, is as many to be layd downe and borne as the dubblets are.

Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory, 1688

Number of Players: 2


This game is played on half a backgammon board. This works, because there isn’t actually any movement in this game. Each player has 15 men. There is a cup and two dice.


Each player should place two men each on his 1, 2, and 3 points, and three men on the 4, 5, and 6. These men should be stacked, not laid out in a row as is normal in Backgammon.


There are two phases to this game: Playing Down and Bearing Off.

Playing Down — Players take turns rolling two dice. With each roll, you “play down” the men on the points indicated by the dice. Playing down a point means unstacking the pieces. For example, you begin with three pieces stacked on the 4-point, and two on the 1. If you throw a 4 and a 1, you unstack the man that is stacked on the 1, and one of the men stacked on the four. When you play down a man, place it in a row along the point. If you roll the number for a point that is already entirely played down, the roll is wasted and your opponent uses it instead. You are finished playing down the men when all of your pieces are unstacked.

Bearing Off — Once you have played down all of your men, you begin to bear off. This is much as it is in Backgammon: you roll two dice, and take men off the corresponding points. Thus, if you roll a 5 and a 2, you take one man each from the five point and the two point. Again, if you roll the number for a point that is now empty, the roll is wasted. You are finished bearing off when all your men are off the board; the first player to bear off wins.

When a double is thrown, you play down or bear off as many men as there are spots. That is, if you are playing down, and you roll double fours, you may play down any eight men. Dublets are, obviously, very powerful, and hence the game is named after them.


Number of Players: 2-5

Each player takes six pieces and places them on their side of the board. Two dice are rolled by each player and the individual scores reckoned as:

1: A piece is handed to the player on the left and added to their pieces

6: A piece is borne off the table and laid aside

5: A piece is put into the central pool between the points

2: A piece is taken from the pool and added to the player’s pieces. The player must drink and throw again.

3 and 4: are discounted.

If doubles are thrown, each die counts separately and the player has another throw, unless the throw is 2,2, in which case, the player takes two pieces from the pool and does not throw again. The last player on the board pays for the drinks.


Cotton, C, The Compleat Gamester all editions from 1674. Google Books has the 1725 edition for free.

Francis Willughby Volume of Plaies, c. 1665 republished in 2003 as Cram et al. Francis Willughby’s book of games: a seventeenth- century treatise on sports with the obligatory free limited preview copy at Google Books.

Randle Holme Academy of Armory 1688. Extracts here


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