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Backgammon is a two-player board game played with counters and dice on tables boards. It is the most widespread Western member of the large family of tables games, whose ancestors date back nearly 5,000 years to the regions of Mesopotamia and Persia. The earliest record of backgammon itself dates to 17th-century England, being descended from the 16th-century game of Irish.
Backgammon is a two-player game of contrary movement in which each player has fifteen pieces, known traditionally as 'men' (short for 'tablemen') but increasingly known as 'checkers' in the US in recent decades. These pieces move along twenty-four 'points' according to the roll of two dice. The objective of the game is to move the fifteen pieces around the board and be first to bear off, i.e., remove them from the board. The achievement of this while the opponent is still a long way behind results in a triple win known as a backgammon, hence the name of the game.
Backgammon involves a combination of strategy and luck (from rolling dice). While the dice may determine the outcome of a single game, the better player will accumulate the better record over a series of many games. With each roll of the dice, players must choose from numerous options for moving their pieces and anticipate possible counter-moves by the opponent. The optional use of a doubling cube allows players to raise the stakes during the game.
Contrary to popular belief, backgammon is not the oldest board game in the world, nor are all tables games variants of backgammon. In fact, the earliest known mention of backgammon was in a letter dated 1635, when it was emerging as a variant of the popular mediaeval Anglo-Scottish game of Irish; the latter was described as a better game. By the 19th century, however, backgammon had spread to Europe, where it rapidly superseded other tables games like Trictrac in popularity, and also to America, where the doubling cube was introduced. In other parts of the world, different tables games such as Nard or Nardy are better known.
Backgammon is a recent member of the large family of tables games that date back to ancient times. The following is an overview of their development up to the time when backgammon appeared on the scene.
The history of board games can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to archaeological discoveries of the Jiroft culture, located in present-day Iran, the world's oldest game set having been discovered in the region with equipment comprising a dumbbell-shaped board, counters and dice. Although its precise rules are unknown, it has been termed the Game of 20 Squares and Irving Finkel has suggested a possible reconstruction. The Royal Game of Ur from 2600 BC may also be an ancestor or intermediate of modern-day table games like backgammon and is the oldest game for which rules have been handed down. It used tetrahedral dice. Various other board games spanning the 10th to 7th centuries BC have been found throughout modern day Iraq, Syria, Israel, Egypt and western Iran.
Backgammon's immediate predecessor was the 16th century tables game of Irish. Irish was the Anglo-Scottish equivalent of the French Toutes Tables and Spanish Todas Tablas, the latter name first being used in the 1283 El Libro de los Juegos, a translation of Arabic manuscripts by the Toledo School of Translators. Irish had been popular at the Scottish court of James IV and considered to be \"the more serious and solid game\" when the variant which became known as Backgammon began to emerge in the first half of the 17th century. In medieval Italy, Barail was played on a backgammon board, with the important difference that both players moved their pieces counter-clockwise and starting from the same side of the board. The game rules for Barail are recorded in a 13th century manuscript held in the Italian National Library in Florence.
The earliest mention of backgammon, under the name Baggammon, was by James Howell in a letter dated 1635.[a] In English, the word \"backgammon\" is most likely derived from \"back\" and Middle English: gamen, meaning \"game\" or \"play\". Meanwhile, the first use documented by the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1650. In 1666, it is reported that the \"old name for backgammon used by Shakespeare and others\" was Tables. However, it is clear from Willughby that \"tables\" was a generic name and that the phrase \"playing at tables\" was used in a similar way to \"playing at cards\". The first known rules of \"Back Gammon\" were produced by Francis Willughby around 1672; they were quickly followed by Charles Cotton in 1674.
In the 16th century, Elizabethan laws and church regulations had prohibited \"playing at tables\" in England, but by the 18th century, Backgammon had superseded Irish and become popular among the English clergy. Edmond Hoyle published A Short Treatise on the Game of Back-Gammon in 1753; this described rules and strategy for the game and was bound together with a similar text on whist.
The early form of backgammon was very similar to its predecessor, Irish. The aim, board, number of pieces or \"men\", direction of play and starting layout were the same as in the modern game.[b] However, there was no doubling die, there was no bar on the board or the bar was not used (men simply being moved off the table when hit) and the scoring was different. The game was won double if either the winning throw was a doublet or the opponent still had men outside the home board. It was won triple if a player bore all men off before any of the opponent's men reached the home board; this was a back-gammon. Some terminology, such as \"point\", \"hitting a blot\", \"home\", \"doublet\", \"bear off\" and \"men\" are recognisably the same as in the modern game; others, such as \"binding a man\" (adding a second man to a point) \"binding up the tables\" (taking all one's first 6 points), \"fore game\", \"latter game\", \"nipping a man\" (hitting a blot and playing it on forwards) \"playing at length\" (using both dice to move one man) are no longer in vogue.
The most recent major development in backgammon was the addition of the doubling cube. Doubles had originally been recorded by placing \"common parlour matches\" on the bar in the centre of the board. A doubling cube was first introduced in the 1920s in New York City among members of gaming clubs in the Lower East Side. The cube required players not only to select the best move in a given position, but also to estimate the probability of winning from that position, transforming backgammon into the expected value-driven game played in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The popularity of backgammon surged in the mid-1960s, in part due to the charisma of Prince Alexis Obolensky who became known as \"The Father of Modern Backgammon\". \"Obe\", as he was called by friends, co-founded the International Backgammon Association, which published a set of official rules. He also established the World Backgammon Club of Manhattan, devised a backgammon tournament system in 1963, then organized the first major international backgammon tournament in March 1964, which attracted royalty, celebrities and the press. The game became a huge fad and was played on college campuses, in discothèques and at country clubs; stockbrokers and bankers began playing at conservative men's clubs. People young and old all across the country dusted off their boards and checkers. Cigarette, liquor and car companies began to sponsor tournaments, and Hugh Hefner held backgammon parties at the Playboy Mansion. Backgammon clubs were formed and tournaments were held, resulting in a World Championship promoted in Las Vegas in 1967.
In the second half of the 20th century, new terms were introduced in America, such as 'beaver' and 'checkers' (for men, although American backgammon experts Jacoby and Crawford continued to use both).
Most recently, the United States Backgammon Federation (USBGF) was organized in 2009 to repopularize the game in the United States. Board and committee members include many of the top players, tournament directors and writers in the worldwide backgammon community. The USBGF has recently created Standards of Ethical Practice to address issues on which tournament rules fail to touch.
Backgammon playing pieces may be termed checkers, draughts, stones, men, counters, pawns, discs, pips, chips, or nips. Checkers is American English and is derived from the game of draughts which in the US is called checkers.
The first player to bear off all fifteen of their own checkers wins the game. When keeping score in backgammon, the points awarded depend on the scale of the victory. When each player is in the process of bearing off pieces and a winner emerges, that is called a \"game\" and is worth 1 point. If one player has not yet removed any pieces from the board OR has any pieces NOT in their home area, that is called a \"gammon\" and is worth 2 points. If the losing player has any pieces in their opponent's home area OR up on the bar, that is called a \"backgammon\" and is worth 3 points.
Some players may opt to invoke the \"Murphy rule\" or the \"automatic double rule\". If both opponents roll the same opening number, the doubling cube is incremented on each occasion yet remains in the middle of the board, available to either player. The Murphy rule may be invoked with a maximum number of automatic doubles allowed and that limit is agreed to prior to a game or match commencing. When a player decides to double the opponent, the value is then a double of whatever face value is shown (e.g. if two automatic doubles have occurred putting the cube up to 4, the first in-game double will be for 8 points). The Murphy rule is not an official rule in backgammon and is