A Virtual Tour of a Backgammon Tournament

Welcome! Most of us first learned about Backgammon when we were young, but old enough not to try to eat the red and black pieces that came with our first Checkers game. We turned the Checkers side of the board over to see a colorful array of triangles, and when we mastered the basics of the game of Checkers, got venturesome and brought out the rules sheet to see about this game Backgammon—Hey, chessboard how difficult can this game be, since it uses the same pieces as that Checkers game does! Putting the pieces on the triangles just like the picture showed was about as far as most of us got, if we weren’t fortunate enough to have someone nearby who had already played the game (and if you’re one of the few who were able to figure out the basics of Backgammon merely by reading them, my hat’s off to you!).

Several years passed (for those of us who learn better by the show-and-tell method) between our first encounter with those curious triangles and the first time we actually played a game of Backgammon. But soon, backgammon boardwe were enjoying the game in the ski cabin, at the beach, on an airplane, on the patio—one of the reasons that Backgammon is so much fun is that it is such a social pastime.

By this time, you may have heard that there are even backgammon tournaments. Every so often, we “tournament” backgammon players meet fellow backgammon players at the beach, or in the ski lodge or in the office lunchroom, who say “Oh! I play backgammon all the time, but I’m not good enough to be a ‘tournament’ player.” Well, that oft-repeated comment is the reason we're including this page on the BackGammon By the Bay Web site—to dispel the notion that it takes a certain level of achievement to join a backgammon tournament. All it takes (really!) to have a good time at a backgammon tournament is the ability (and desire) to be social!

Yup, that’s right. Playing in a backgammon tournament doesn’t require an arsenal of special playing equipment, any special ability to arm-wrestle a truck driver and leap tall buildings, or the knack of memorization. Just being friendly is all that’s needed.

Even if you were deprived of a show-and-tell friend, you never learned the basics of backgammon, you learned one of the many variations of the game (there are twists and flairs as numerous as there are geographic areas of the world), or if you at some time wrastled through the written rules and have long since forgotten them, no worries. There are plenty of folks at your local backgammon tournament (we’re a friendly bunch, after all) who will spend a minute (or ten) to give you an overview of how those backgammon pieces get from one triangle to another.

That truck driver who challenged you to arm wrestling—Is s/he friendly? Bring her (or him) along with you to your next local backgammon tournament, and show her (or him) how much fun a tussle of backgammon wits can be. You’ll probably be leaping tall buildings after your first tournament win!

footprints graphicSo let’s take a "virtual tour" of a backgammon tournament, in the hopes that “I’m not good enough” or “I wouldn’t know what to expect” will not be an excuse for you to miss out on a fun time! Here are some quick tips, explanations and examples of some of the lingo, mores and etiquette to make you feel at home:

You can see examples and samples of some of the things you’ll encounter in a real life backgammon tournament by clicking the Sample link icon icons along your way on this virtual tour.

sample tournament directors link When you first arrive at a tournament, you’ll find lots of activity in the room—some folks will be playing backgammon, some socializing, and some seated at a registration table. The folks at the registration table are the tournament organizers, or tournament directors. Head on over to the directors and introduce yourself—Tell them it’s your first time at a tournament, but you’ve read this page so you really know all about what’s happening. They can give you the lowdown on the local variations and customized procedures of their particular tournament. The tournament directors will help you sign up to play, but before you make the leap, a few more things to consider:

There are usually several divisions at a tournament, to accommodate players’ experience and comfort levels.

Each of the divisions has a step progression in the amount of entry fees (the Beginners Division having a lower-, the Intermediation Division having a mid- and the Open Division having an upper-range entry fee amount).

All of the players’ entry fees for the various Divisions are collected together, to make the prize pool. The prize pool is divided amongst the winners in each Division, with the amount of the prizes and the number of winners dependent upon the number of entrants in the Division field.

So now you’ve decided which division is your cup of tea, and you’re ready to register for the tournament: Give your name to the tournament staff and pay the entry fee appropriate to the division you select. You can now join in with other players for a warm-up game, enjoy a cup of coffee and be social, while waiting for the “draw” to be posted.

sample drawsheet linkYour name and the names of all the other folks who have registered for your Division are thrown into a hat and put onto a draw sheet in random order. The location of your name on the drawsheet determines who your first opponent will be. The tournament directors then announce the “pairings.”

sample scoresheet link When you play backgammon at home, you probably play one game and then score it, and then play another game, and so on. That’s how tournament bg works also, but we play matches. A match is a series of games, with each game in a match worth a minimum of one point. The object in tournament play is to accumulate enough points to win a match.

sample game link A match is scored by keeping track of each of the individual games in the match. For example, in a 5-point match, the first player to obtain 5 or more points wins the match. A 5-point match might take only one game to reach a conclusion; or, the match may take as many as nine games to determine the winner. The sample game illustrates this concept.

When your match is over, both players should report the results to a tournament director so that the players’ names can be recorded on the drawsheet. BackGammon By the Bay's tournament format is “double elimination,” which means that there are two flights. The Main Flight continues with the winning player from each of the pairings. When you lose a match, you’re not out of the tournament—rather, your name is entered onto a second drawsheet for the Consolation Flight. Pairings are made from the other names on the Consolation drawsheet, and players progress to determine the ultimate winner of the Consolation Flight. It is the winners (and almost always the second place finishers, and frequently the third and fourth place winners, too) in the Main and Consolation Flights who take home a portion of the prize pool.

BackGammon By the Bay Rules link Be sure to look over the tournament’s rules. All tournaments have their rules publicly posted. While you may think a whole page of rules will be a lot to remember, if you’ve ever played a single game of backgammon, you already know most of them! Tournaments run more smoothly when everyone is “on the same page,” and that’s what the rules are for.

Questions? Comments? Click here to send E-mail to Beth at BGBB So, there you have it! Everything you need to know about a backgammon tournament! You’ll probably have a question or twenty, and that’s what a tournament director is for; we are there to answer any questions you may have about anything at any time. Even in the middle of a match, if you want to understand even something little, just ask. No question is too silly, and it’s better to ask while it is still fresh in your mind. And if you’re looking to improve your backgammon skills, there’s no better way to learn than at a tournament. You’ll find many experienced and successful players at a tournament, and their store of knowledge can help you fine-tune your play (“What would you do with 6-4 here?”; “Should I have doubled?”; “Should I have taken?”). Since all the best players got there by asking questions of better players when they were learning, they’re pretty generous with learning players now. Tournaments provide the best learning tool of all: Watching the better players play, seeing what they do, and hearing from them why they did it.

What you’ll need to bring with you to a tournament: a sense of fun. That’s the reason we’re all here. The tournament staff will provide most of the equipment (bring a board if you’ve got one), the scoring sheets and pencils and whatnot. Add your fun spirit to theirs, and a tournament is made!

By reading this far, you are now acquainted enough with the backgammon tournament scene to waltz in and feel like an “old pro” right from the beginning. Pay a visit to your local tourney so that we may extend a personal Welcome!