Good etiquette makes for good backgammon and good fun. Poor etiquette leads to arguments, bad backgammon, and no fun at all.
Unlike other games where practically all arguments can be settled easily, there are many occasions in backgammon in which each player will be certain that he’s right.
As an example, suppose that midgame you roll 5-4; you move a man, correctly, from the black eleven point to your five point, and then pick up your dice. You have done everything properly and correctly, but your opponent doesn’t think so.
He may have misread your dice and thought that you rolled 5-3. Or he may have thought that your man came from his ten point, not his eleven point. In either of those instances your correct play would have been to bring that man to your six point, not to your five point. If you have several men on the point you moved to and also on the adjacent points, then it may be confusing to him just exactly where the man you moved should have gone.
In this case you followed the rules carefully, and you are certain that you did not make a mistake. Therefore you should insist that he man you moved must stay where he is, and your opponent should accede gracefully.
But suppose that you roll your dice, then reach for your man with one hand while scooping up the dice with the other, and then drop your man carelessly somewhere in your board. Your opponent should be excused for questioning what your dice showed, where your man came from, where you placed him, or all three, and if he insists that you were wrong, you should give in to him.
You actually had broken no rule, but you had violated proper etiquette, since you had given your opponent no real chance to check the correctness of your play.
We urge you to make all plays very carefully, with full observance of such proprieties as using just one hand to move the men and leaving your dice strictly alone until all moved men have been quitted. “Smart-alecky” play, such as moving two men at the same time, one with each hand, deserves any penalty that it may cause you. The fact that your play is accurate doesn’t make you right. If your opponent raises some objection, you are obliged to accede to him, and you have only yourself to blame.
The rules provide that your play ends when you start to pick up your dice, so that if you do this before completing your move, your opponent can either compel or forbid the completion of the move.
You should enforce this rule, with one exception. That exception occurs when your opponent rolls something like 4-1, moves the 4, picks up that die and leaves the die showing the ace untouched while he studies how to play it. We deplore this kind of confusing play — even though it falls within the rules because your play is not technically finished until both your dice are back in the cup.
The rules also provide that if a player rolls before his opponent has completed his play by starting to pick up his dice, the opponent may accept the roll or compel the offender to roll over again.
This rule should not be abused, however. Let’s say white starts with 3-1. He is going to make his five point, and everyone knows it; if black rolls too soon, his roll should stand. Or let’s say white is bearing off and rolls 6-5. His six point is empty so he must bear two men from his five point. If black rolls too early, his roll should stand. One should abide by the rules, but no one should use the rules to gain an unfair advantage.
In some complicated positions you may actually move your men with the intention of studying the position this tentative move leaves, in order to decide between that play and some other. In such cases your opponent should not roll until you start to pick up your dice; but good etiquette also demands that when you make any tentative move you announce that you are thinking it over.
There is a further reason why you should make such an announcement. Many times, even in the most expert games, we have seen a player move tentatively and then replace the men he has moved incorrectly — or else his opponent thinks that they have been put back wrong. If you announce in advance that you are only moving tentatively, your opponent will concentrate on the original position and there will be far less risk of argument.
When you move any man, you should always be careful to place him squarely on the point he goes to, in order to avoid later argument as to where he is. Also, in making your moves, make sure that your opponent is able to check that you are moving correctly. When you roll a double, if you want to move two men at once, be careful to make sure that your opponent knows where they started from; and always be sure to make each of your four plays in such manner that your opponent will be certain that you’ve made exactly four moves and not three, five, or six.
There is even an etiquette to rolling your dice. You should shake them well and, while it is all right to hold your hand over the mouth of the dice cup while shaking, make sure to remove it before the actual roll.
As we remarked before, in chouette it is your privilege to consult with the captain, but don’t be obstreperous about it and don’t feel called upon to advise on each and every roll. Let the captain make most of the decisions. And as captain, don’t feel obligated to ask advice on each and every roll, but when there may be a problem take time out and ask your partners. Remember, it will make the game unnecessarily and unpleasantly slow if everyone goes into a huddle over each play.
The captain, of course, has full right to make all decisions except that he can’t accept a double for his partners. On the other hand, the captain should not insist on doubling the game when a majority of his partners don’t want to do so.
Handling Bad Luck
Backgammon can be a most annoying game. Your opponent can roll a couple of key doubles and transform a sure loss into a win, or you can get a man on the bar and fail to come in for several rolls as your opponent improves his position with each free play he gets. We don’t know off anyone who doesn’t show his annoyance at times, but you should try not to show it too vigorously. It doesn’t do the least bit of good to bang down your dice cup or throw the dice out the window. You are entitled to get a trifle made, but do so reasonably and pleasantly.
The best you can do about your own bad dice is to shake them hard and extra long. It doesn’t really do any good, but it isn’t bad manners and it does give you a chance to blot off steam and cool down. As for your opponent’s good dice, the rules provide that you can change dice at the start of any game.
In some games you are allowed to change the dice in the same manner at any time. We don’t like this, since such changes in the middle of the game slow up the play and achieve no real good. It is very unlikely that you will ever play with loaded dice, or with a man who can roll dice out of a cup and control them. In fact, it is very unlikely that you will ever play with a man who can roll dice out of his hand and control them, so just bear in mind that just as footballs take funny bounces, dice can take funny rolls — and that bad luck doesn’t last forever.
As a final point, if you must put a drink on the table (hard or soft is all the same) be careful not to confuse it with the dice cup. Dice don’t quench your thirst in the slightest, and if you roll the drink it’s even more frustrating!