A Fast Way to Record Backgammon Positions
Jeff Ward, 1981
Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine, March 1981

Jeff Ward
Sooner or later, you will probably want to write down a backgammon position. It may be an unusual situation or a difficult play that you would like to show someone, or perhaps study at a later time. Play may be interrupted, and you would like to save the position so that the game can be resumed later.

Whatever the reason, most people record a position by drawing a picture of the board and the men. To save time, some players used preprinted diagrams of an empty board. Even so, it is still time-consuming and tedious to draw thirty men each time a position is recorded.

To get around this problem, the author has developed a notation system that is fast, easy to use, and does not rely on preprinted diagrams. The notation system uses numbers, capital letters, small letters, slashes, and a check mark.

Letters represent the number of men on individual points. Each letter stands for the number of men equal to the letter's rank in the alphabet. The rule has one exception to be described later, but otherwise A equals 1, B equals 2, E equals 5, J equals 10, et cetera.

Capital letters are used for the dark-colored men, and small letters for the light-colored men. For example, B represents a point containing two dark men while d indicates a point with four light men.

Numbers represent groups of consecutive empty points within one of the four quadrants of the board. For example, Black's home board at the start of the illustrated game contain five black men on the six point and two white men on the one point. This would be written "E4b" with the 4 representing the four empty points. If Black made his four point on the first roll, his home board became "D1B2b".

E4b D1B2b

Slashes (/) separate quadrants of the board. The two quadrants on the far side of the board are written on the same line and separated by a /. The two quadrants on the near side are written on a line beneath the other one

The space between the lines is reserved for two symbols. In the center, a letter (or letters) indicates men on the bar; and at one side a check mark shows which pair of quadrants are the home boards.

Since there are fifteen men per player in backgammon, only the first fifteen letters of the alphabet are needed for the notation system. Within this group of letters, most corresponding capital and small letters are quite different from each other in appearance. For example, G does not look at all like g. This is a distinct advantage, for, with positions recorded in a hurry, capital and small letters often turn out to be about the same size.

There are two exceptions, however. The capital and small letters of both C (three men) and O (fifteen men) have the same shape. Although we can safely ignore the possibility of fifteen men of the same point; three men on a point is, of course, extremely common.

In practice, using C to represent three men on a point will often result in confusion as to which letters are capitals and which ones are not.

To avoid this problem, R is used for three men on a point. Capital and small R look totally different; and as the eighteenth letter of the alphabet, R's meaning cannot be misinterpreted since it has no other use in the notation system.

This completes the description of the notation system. An example of how it works is the illustrated position which is written as follows:

R4r / ebB3
a   ✓
dA2R1 / D1B3

This notation system should prove to be faster and just as accurate as drawing a picture. A temporary stumbling block for some people might be translating numbers into letters. But most backgammon positions require only the letters A, B, R, D, and E; letters beyond G are rarely, if ever, needed. Since the same few letters are used over and over again, with a little practice it should become easy to quickly substitute a letter for the appropriate number of men.