What is Backgammon 101?

Learning backgammon basics and having fun while doing it!
The U.S. Backgammon Federation Official Website Image of a green backgammon board with red checkers.

By Jeff Spencer

I’ve been teaching this introductory backgammon class for the USBGF once a month for a little over a year now. What a rewarding experience it has been. On the second Sunday of the month at 6:00 pm, Eastern, I login and offer backgammon basics to three to five people who are new to the game. After we get to know each other a bit and gauge their experience levels, I start up eXtreme Gammon (XG), share my screen and we discuss the 15 opening rolls.

It’s fun to watch their understanding progress as we walk through the concepts of diversification, splitting the back men, and the dangers of “playing it safe.” I always grin when I hear the inevitable revelation, “Well, usually I just play 13/8, but I know that can’t be right.” The opening roll discussion usually takes about an hour because it includes a lot of Q & A. After that, the real fun begins.

We play a 3-point match with the class vs. the instructor. They discuss each move and doubling decision as a team and come to a consensus. Since I put XG in Tutor mode, they get to reconsider whenever they make a mistake. Last Sunday, they had a 6-2 to play and after they slotted the 18-point, they couldn’t figure out how to play the 2. 13/11 – blunder. Maybe slot the 7-point? Nope – blunder. Could it be slotting the 5-point? That’s the best point, right? Sorry – blunder. When I pointed out that they could continue on to the 16-point, and if they get away with it, they might soon have a double, I could almost hear their eyes pop open at the revelation.

6-2 to Play

They really appreciate the little mnemonic phrases that are second nature to us. Two on the bar is better by far. When you’re racing, race. Put the checkers where they go. Fight for a good point.

By the end of the class, I hope to provide them with three things: A basic foundation of backgammon fundamentals, an appreciation for backgammon’s complexities, and most importantly, excitement for playing an elegant game that is easy to learn, but impossible to master.

I’ve gotten to meet some of my students at ABT events, and one of them, Jean Williams, won the novice division at her first tournament. And that’s the biggest reward of all.

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We hope that you can join us for our next class.  Check the USBGF calendar for our full schedule.

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