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Backgammon Tournaments

Tournament play has undoubtedly helped increase the popularity of Backgammon everywhere it’s played. With prizes and cash incentives and head-to-head competition in the spotlight, the game has transformed from its position in the elite private clubs of gentlemen, and led to a worldwide craze of competition. Both the player and the spectator are drawn to these tournaments for the drama, intrigue, and spectacle that they produce.

Due to the relatively quick pace and short duration of most matches, backgammon is well adapted for tournament play. The versatility of the game makes it very easy to orchestrate large tournaments with dozens, if not hundreds, of entrants.

This section is designed with the aim of helping you not only improve your competitive game, but also to illustrate what it takes to organize and run a successful tournament.

Elimination Tournaments

Similar to individual sports such as tennis, squash, and golf, elimination tournaments are best suited for brackets of 16, 32, 64, 96, 128, 192, or 256 players. Remember though that it is much better to have a few less rather than a few more players in these situations.

Top-seeded or highly-regarded players can be, and normally are, given “byes” in the opening rounds. The placement of players can be done randomly, or by some predetermined ranking system. If a player wins his match, he goes on to the next round, and so on and so forth until the winner from the left side of the draw meets the winner from the right side of the draw in the finals.

Depending on time constraints, matches must a have a fixed number of games, which determine the winner. As you progress to the later rounds, the number of games in a match usually goes up. For example, the 1st round may feature a 5-point match, in which the 1st player to win three or more points wins the round. The final round may be a 7- or 9-point affair. You must keep in mind the doubling cube is almost always employed in tournament play, so reaching these point totals usually doesn’t require much time.

A distinction must also be made between single-elimination and double-elimination tournaments. These are also often referred to respectively as single-knockout and double-knockout; meaning, basically, that if you lose once you are out of the tournament, or if you lose twice you are out of the tournament.

As the name implies, in a single-elimination tournament, only the winner advances and continues on playing while the loser is ‘out’ and must wait for another tournament or day to play. In a double-elimination tournament, however, the competition is notably less cutthroat, since you can still win the tourney even if you lose a game. The draw is set-up so that the winners of the first round go on to face other winners, while the loser of the round gets placed in the “losers’ bracket” where they may stay alive in the tournament until they lose their second match, and are thus eliminated from the competition. This continues until the final, when the winner of the winners’ bracket (who is undefeated at this point) faces the winner of the losers’ bracket (who has lost once). Often, the winner of the losers’ bracket must even defeat the winner of the winners’ bracket twice, in order to win the tournament.

To illustrate a typical tournament – one in which one evening or weekend afternoon is set aside, and is comprised of, say, 64 entrants – remember the following points:

  • An average game of backgammon takes 6-8 minutes, so depending on time constraints, a well-run tournament should take somewhere between three and four hours.
  • A time limit for each match should be imposed at, for example, 45 minutes. If, after time has expired, the match is still in progress, the winner will be determined by a roll of the dice. Most people will be keen to avoid this and will therefore play quickly.
  • It is recommended that in a tournament of this size, the 1st and 2nd rounds should be played to five points, and the semi-finals and finals played to seven or nine points.
Round-Robin Tournaments

This type of tournament can be played by any number of players, but is best suited for smaller competitions with an uneven number of contestants. Typically, a player competes in a short match (to 3 points, for example) with each entrant. The player’s name and point total is then recorded on a board for all to see, and the player with the highest number of points is declared the winner. In this type of tournament, the doubling cube is rarely used.

Tournament play is usually taken more seriously. Participating players must keep in mind that backgammon is a social game and good sportsmanship must be maintained at all times. A general list of tournament rules and regulations should be made available for all players and distributed at the time of registration and set-up.

While any such list would most likely be far more extensive, here are a few of the key points that should certainly be posted and emphasized:

  • All entrants are subject to approval by the tournament committee.
  • Players are expected to display good sportsmanship at all times. Any swearing, aggressive behavior, taunting, or other acts deemed to be against the spirit of friendly competition will not be tolerated and may lead to a player’s disqualification, ruled by the tournament committee.
  • Judges may be assigned to any round, and the semi-finals and finals have a mandatory judicial presence. Any player may request a judge or tournament official to clarify or make a ruling at any point in a match.
  • If dispute arises, all checkers will be left as they are until a judge can be called forth to make a decision.
  • The dice must come to rest flat on the section of the board to the player’s right. If either of the dice is not flat, they are said to be cocked and must be re-rolled. The dice must come to a complete stop before they may be touched by the player. Also, they may not be rolled until an opponent has completed his play. In both cases, the dice rolled must be rolled again if not in accordance with these rules.
  • Scoring: Both players should keep score. This rule however is not enforced if both players verbally agree that only one shall keep score.
  • In any dispute, the ruling made by the judge or tournament committee is final and uncontestable.

These are just examples and most tournaments and committees will probably come up with different rules and regulations and provide a much longer list.