Welcome to the wonderful world of Tournaments! Maybe you’ve been enjoying club events and now you’re thinking of taking the plunge and playing in a large tournament.
It isn’t that different to club night, just more people, slightly different formats and a whole lot more backgammon, over a longer period!
This guide is a brief introduction to help you find your way around and make the most of your first major tournament. There are more in-depth explanations of the key points covered in the UKBGF Tournament Rules, which you are strongly advised to read before you go to the tournament. You may also find it useful to read the article ‘Sportsmanlike Conduct’ by the American player Phil Simborg, as well as the blogpost ‘Breaking the Enigma’ by Ian Hedges on this website.
Firstly, the Tournament Director (TD) is there to ensure fair play. They want everyone to have a good experience and come back for the next tournament. If you have a problem, politely tell your opponent that you wish to seek the TD’s advice; leave the board and dice exactly as they are (a quick photo is always useful) and fetch the TD. When the TD arrives, calmly state what you think the problem is – your opponent might have misunderstood the rules or a point of etiquette and be grateful to have it clarified, or you might have made a mistake. There’s no blame, everyone wants to win fairly, but occasionally mistakes get made and the TD is there to help resolve them as fairly as possible.
So, the tournament draw has been announced and you find your first opponent. Here are a few of the more common points of etiquette to know, in order of when you are most likely to encounter them:
It is good manners to smile, shake hands and wish your opponent “Good match” when you are ready to begin play.
Choices: direction of play / board / checker colour
Most players have no preference regarding board, direction, or checker colour and will let you choose if you express a preference. However, in the case of you both wanting the same thing or things, both of you roll two (or all four) dice and the higher roll gets their choice of everything. Health warning: the TD will give a very exasperated sigh if you call them to settle any of these particular issues!
“Clock Preference” and “Clock / Baffle box Option”
In a tournament, “Clock Preference” means that if your opponent asks you to use a clock, then you must comply. “Clock / Baffle Box Option” means you can refuse. Check the tournament website before you go.
Dice – choosing
It is common practice to roll all four dice onto the board and each player picks one die in turn, starting with the player who didn’t roll them. When a clock is being used for the match, the same two dice are used by both players, in which case the players pick one die each and the remaining two are put to one side.
Dice – precision
Most regular tournament players have precision dice. Don’t be offended if your opponent asks if you have some, and then uses theirs if you don’t. They are expensive (approx. £30 for a set of four in 2019) so don’t think you have to buy them for your first tournament. There may be some for sale at the TD’s desk and you can buy them at the end of your first day if you think you’ll use them frequently.
Dice – rolling
Make sure that you give the dice cup a few vigorous up-and-down shakes before rolling on the right-hand side of the bar. Shaking the dice vigorously removes any doubt that the numbers rolled might not be random or, embarrassingly, that you might be trying to manipulate them in some way. Wait until both dice have finished moving before deciding if they’re cocked. If either or both of your dice leave the right-hand side of the board, you must re-roll both dice. It is best not to ask your opponent if you can roll to the left of the bar as this can lead to mistakes and disputes. If it bothers you to roll on the bear-off side, then ask at the beginning of the match if you can play in the opposite direction.
Dice – cocked
Both dice must come to rest completely flat on the surface of the board, and not on top of a checker or to the left of the bar. Dice often land in-between checkers (in the interstices) and this is perfectly acceptable providing they are completely flat.
Dice – touching or moving
Sliding your dice (without lifting them) carefully out of the way of the checkers to make room for you to move the checkers easily is acceptable. Picking up one or both of your dice means that your turn has ended (unless your move is incomplete or illegal).
Unless you are going to offer your opponent a double, don’t say that you’re going to, don’t touch the cube, don’t nod towards it, don’t point at it, don’t reach for it. If you do any of those things, you are likely to be deemed to have offered it and your opponent is justified to act accordingly (take or drop depending on how they think they game is going).
Doubling Cube resetting
If you forget to re-centre and reset the doubling cube to 64 at the start of a game, and you cannot agree with your opponent where and at what value it should be, then its present value and location will stand.
Moves – illegal
Both players are under an obligation to point out illegal actions, whether these relate to checker play, doubling cube, clock, or anything else. If an illegal move is not noticed by either player before the next roll of the dice (or cube action) by whoever’s turn is next, then it is too late to correct. If the illegal move is spotted in time by either player, then it must be corrected. Spectators are not allowed to point out illegal moves.
Most players have a scoreboard, but you are advised to maintain a written record of the score at the end of each game. In the event of a dispute, the TD will concur with an unambiguous written record in preference to a flip-number scoreboard.
The only thing you are allowed to write down during a match is the score. You cannot refer to notes made previously. You may forfeit the game and possibly the match if your opponent calls the TD to adjudicate on this matter.
Backgammon is a social game, but there is a spectrum of sociability from taciturn to chatty, so talk to your opponent between games, not during.
Be courteous and kind to your opponent. Don’t check your phone, leave the table except during an agreed break, comment on rolls, or keep them waiting. If they make a mistake, point it out gently.
When watching a match, you must not: comment on anything you see during play; video or take photographs (unless prior permission has been given); interrupt play; ask what the score is within audible range of the players; speak to either player; touch the board, checkers or dice. If a situation arises which necessitates intervention from the TD, then you may only comment if asked to do so by the TD.
At the end
It is good manners to smile, shake hands and say “Thanks for the match” or “Good match” at the end of a match. “Well played” is also acceptable, particularly if your opponent won the match (even if you secretly think that they didn’t play very well and were extremely lucky!).
Finally, if you are unsure of anything, ask. No-one will think that you should already know the answer!