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An Introduction to Backgammon Notation

Backgammon notation is a way of describing dice rolls and moves on a backgammon board. Prior to 1976, notation wasn’t standardized; backgammon writers would invent their own notation systems, and readers would have to learn a new notation system when they picked up a new book. In 1976, Paul Magriel published his classic book Backgammon, using a notation system that was simple and appealing. Almost overnight, this system became a de facto standard, and almost every book published since then has used it. Let’s see how it works.

We’ll start by setting up a backgammon board with Black on move, and numbering the points from 1 to 24.

 

White – Pips 167

Black – Pips 167
Black to Play 4-3
Black is moving counter-clockwise around the board, from higher-numbered points (in the upper-right quadrant) to lower-numbered points (in the lower-right quadrant). To describe a black move, we give the move number, the dice roll, and the starting and ending points of the checker play. Suppose Black starts the game by throwing 4-3, and elects to play the three with one of his back men, while using the four to move a man off his midpoint. We would notate this play as follows:

1) 43: 24/21 13/9

The notation shows that on his first move, Black’s roll was 4-3, and he played a checker from the 24-point to the 21-point, and another checker from the 13-point to the 9-point. The resulting position would look like this:

 

White – Pips 167

Black – Pips 160
Black has played 4-3
Congratulations! You’ve now mastered the basic idea of backgammon notation.

Now let’s look at a few of the finer points of the notation system. When we hit a checker, we use an ‘*’ to represent a hit. And if a checker has been hit and is now entering from the bar, we say ‘Bar/’ and then the number of the point where the checker entered.

 

White – Pips 162

Black – Pips 167
Black to Play 4-2
In this position, White started the game and rolled a 3-2, splitting his back men with the three and bringing down a checker with the two. If Black now rolls a 4-2, he might decide to make his 4-point, hitting White’s checker. In that case, we would write

2) 42: 8/4* 6/4

If you begin your turn with a checker on the bar and roll an entering number, use ‘Bar’ as the starting point.

 

White – Pips 164

Black – Pips 165
Black to Play 4-1
If Black rolls a 4-1 in this position and decides to enter and hit, we would write

2) 41: Bar/21/20*

 

There are just a couple of more rules to learn. When you bear off a checker, write ‘off’ as the destination point. If you roll a double and want to move multiple checkers to the same point, use parentheses to show how many checkers are moving.

Congratulations! You’ve now mastered standard backgammon notation.

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