Backgammon Rules: What Do You Say?

This question concerns “bearing off”. I was taught you MUST bear off, if you can. If not, you MUST move a man (or, men) down. Each die is considered separately for purposes of bearing off. In other words, a roll of 4-2 does not make 6! However, my wife says all the electronic versions of the game she’s seen on smart phones permits you the option to bear off OR move men down. And, one set of rules I Googled up claims you CAN bear off one piece by adding the dice. For example, if the roll is 2-1, and you have a man on the 3 slot, you do not need an exact three on one die to bear off*. I would say it depends. First, you MUST consider each die separately, bearing off what you can. If you can bear off, you must. Then, with the balance of your move, if any, you can move a man down.

Also, were you taught you MUST move down the furthest men first? For example, you cannot selectively (and strategically) keep loading up men at the “one” slot using the roll of the dice in this advantageous way. Instead, I was taught you MUST move down in priority starting with the furthest (six) slot, and regressively on down to the “one” slot.

What finer points were you taught, if any?

*One caveat: Technically, the online rules I Googled explain you are not bearing off directly, but moving the number shown on each die separately. The point here is if your opponent occupies the “one” slot, you are blocked (unless you can remove your opponent) and cannot bear-off.

Without trying to address your question point by point:

  1. You must bear off a marker from the 6 point if you roll a 6.
  2. If you roll a 1 to 5, you can bear off from the corresponding number point OR move a marker to a lower-numbered point if the die number permits the move legally. (e.g. you can bear off a 5 marker or move a marker from 6 to 1; bear off a 3 or move a 6 marker to 3, etc.)
  3. You cannot “add” numbers rolled to bear off markers unless it represents a valid move followed by a bearing-off: if you roll 3-2, you can move a marker on the 5 point to 3 and bear it off. (I’m not sure there is any case where there would be a difference, but in any case it’s just a shorthand single move for two legal moves to do it this way.)
  4. If you roll any number for which there is no corresponding marker on the point or on any higher-numbered point, you can bear off a marker from the next-highest occupied point.

You should be able to bear off or move a marker for every die number rolled once bearing-off has begun. It is entirely the player’s choice of a legal bearing-off or a legal move to a lower numbered point.

The way I’ve heard it is that you can’t waste any of the die roll, unless all your remaining pieces are closer than that number. Assuming you’re bearing off (all your pieces are within the home board), with a five you can bear off from the 5 point, move from the 6 point to the 1, or (if you have no pieces left on 5 or 6) bear off from the 4.[sup]*[/sup]

It can make a huge difference. Suppose I have two pieces on points 1 through 6, and the opponent has a piece on the bar. If I roll 6-5, I’m going to bear off one piece from 6, and move another from 6 to 1. If I have to bear off from 5, that would leave two singles wide open.

  • If you have no pieces on 4, 5, or 6, you can bear off from the 3, etc.

If you roll it, you have to use it, unless your opponent has blots situated where there’s no way you can make that move. If you’re bearing off and you roll a six and don’t have anything on the 6 point, you bear off the next highest stone. If you have two stones left on both the 6 and 1 and you roll a 6 and 1 and your opponent has a stone on the bar, you’d have to bear off one of the stones on the 6, but if you have the brains Goddess promised a door knob, you’d leave the ones on the 1 alone and move the remaining 6 to the 5. And take comfort in the knowledge there are only 15 out of 36 combinations he can roll to hit you on the 5 point.


I’m aware of no rule similar to what OP was taught. Robot Arm’s answer is correct, with the debatable exception shown as the third example below.

Here are three examples of “special” cases:

X rolls 5-1 here:

    X X
X   X X X O
X   X X X O
6 5 4 3 2 1 

X must remove a man from his 6-point because that’s the only way to play both 5 and 1.
X rolls 3-1 here:

  X     O
  X     O X
6 5 4 3 2 1

X must move a man from 5- to 1-point. Again, that’s the only way to play both his dice.
X rolls 6-1 here:

    X     O
X   X     O
6 5 4 3 2 1 

X would leave a blot if he played the full 6 and a 1. He is allowed to first play the 1 from 6- to 5-point and then bear off from the 5-point despite that this wastes one pip.

Agree with all of the above - you MUST use the entire roll if it’s possible to do so, but there’s no requirement to bear off if there are other legal moves.

It would make a difference if the opponent occupies a point in your home. If your opponent has two pieces on the 3 point for example, and you roll 3-3, you CANNOT bear off a piece from the 6 point, since you’d have to move it to the 3 point first.

Right, I didn’t get into the cases of blocked points.

As a casual student of gambling cheats and small cons, I am amused at how many people fail to realize backgammon is a dice game subject to every dice move in history, including many within the skill level of amateur cheats. The huge backgammon boom of the late 70s/early 80s was a windfall for hustlers, many of whom were never even suspected.

I played backgammon for a living in the 1970s.

OP wrong – everybody else right. On this one, you gotta listen to your wife.

The electronic version is how I learned about the rules of auctioning and no cash on Free Parking in Monopoly. It’s where I learned you have to take a jump in checkers if it exists (and not just if it’s the only valid move.) More often than not, the electronic versions go to the trouble of learning the official rules.

Agreed - except a crappy handheld gambling game I own (that probably contains a chip designed in the 80s). In Blackjack, it deems any non-bust hand of 5 cards to beat literally any other holding. So A, 2, 3, 2, 4 (normally a pretty useless hand of 12) beats a Blackjack. At least it works both ways, so you can modify your strategy if you are lucky enough to get, say, AA25 as your first 4 cards - normally you would stand with 19 against any dealer card, but you can instead draw another (knowing you can’t bust) for a guaranteed win! So I guess this is actually an advantage for the player overall (outweighing the times your Blackjack is ‘beaten’ by the dealer drawing 5 without busting).

That’s called the five-card Charlie rule. I’ve never seen it applied in a casino, but when I played frequently 30+ years ago, casinos in one Asian country (I don’t remember which) allowed the player, at his option, to make the “surrender” signal with five cards and get paid off in half – i.e. get your $10 bet back plus $5.

I dimly recall some casino paying in full for seven-card Charlie, but those are quite rare.

The five-card Charlie promo was in Korea. Many of the serious Vegas pros showed up for it; very lucrative while it lasted.