Forum Archive : Tournaments

Avoiding disputes

From:   Kit Woolsey
Date:   7 October 2007
Subject:   Avoiding Disputes
Forum:   GammOnLine

There has been much discussion about various irregularities and how the
laws might be modified. Regardless of how well the laws are written, things
will happen. Any regular tournament player should strive to develop good
workmanship habits which will minimize the chances of an irregularity. Even
if both players are completely honest, bad things can happen if a player is
careless. And if your opponent isn't 100% honest, there is more danger of
getting involved in a dispute if you are not careful.

Here are a set of guidelines which will decrease the chances of an
irregularity or dispute. They have served me well. I have been playing
tournament backgammon for several years, and I don't ever remember being
involved in a serious dispute during a match.

Before the match:

*  Make sure you have decent equipment. Dice should be precision dice, of
   course. The dice cups should not be the smooth cheap kind where the dice
   can slide. They should have lips so as to prevent this. If the dice cups
   are thin, use small dice so the dice can be shaken in the cup. The board
   should have a flat surface so as to avoid ambiguity about whether or not
   a die is cocked. If the board is not flat, agree in advance with your
   opponent what constitutes a cocked die if the die doesn't land flat but
   is not leaning against a checker or the side of the board.

*  Find out for sure what the length of the match is. Then verbally agree
   on the match length with your opponent. Write down the match length on
   your scoresheet, see that your opponent does also, and make sure they
   are the same. I have often seen problems occur when the players thought
   they were playing different match lengths, or even when they both
   thought they were playing a certain match length but in fact the length
   of the match was different. A mixup on the match length can be one of
   the most difficult irregularities to resolve fairly.

At the start of each game:

*  After setting up your board, take a quick check to make sure that both
   you and your opponent have properly set up the starting position.
   Failure to do so can lead to some pretty strange rulings considering the
   rules in this area.

*  Make sure that the cube is in the center. This is very important.
   Failure to do so can lead to a big dispute later in the game when
   somebody is considering doubling and the cube has already been turned.
   Keep in mind that the director will have to accept the evidence of where
   the cube actually is, so be sure it is in the center.

At the end of each game:

*  Write down the score of the match.

*  Verify the score with your opponent before starting to set up the
   checkers or moving the cube. It is very important to do this after every
   game. It is vital to catch a score discrepancy before starting the next
   game. Honest mistakes can happen, and not so honest mistakes can also
   happen in this area. In particular, if the cube was at 2 or higher make
   sure that the score represents the proper cube value. Also, make sure
   the score represents the proper result of the game. One common problem
   area occurs if there is a race to get off the gammon. A player may think
   that his final roll got him off, when in fact it got him in but not off.
   Do not touch the checkers until the result of the game has been

*  Once the score has been established, put the cube in the center before
   you do anything else, so you won't forget.

*  If you take a break after the game, put your scoresheet on the
   backgammon board. Then before the next game starts, once again verify
   the score. You can't be too careful in this area.

On the opening roll:

*  If you win the opening roll, make your move before you pick up your die.
   This will help avoid any disputes about what you actually rolled.

*  If your opponent wins the opening roll, leave your die on the board
   until he has completed his move and picked up his die. Once again, this
   will help avoid any disputes.

*  If you both roll the same number, be sure to pick up your die before
   re-rolling. If you fail to do so, there may be a dispute as to which die
   you had rolled on the re-roll. If you opponent doesn't do this you
   should watch very carefully which die he rolls for the re-roll.

Before you roll:

*  Make sure you don't tailgate -- roll the dice before your opponent has
   picked up his dice. This leads to plenty of disputes. The best way to do
   this is simply to not even start to shake your dice until you have seen
   him pick up his dice. If you follow this procedure, you will never have
   the problem of tailgating. Even if his move is forced or if you are in a
   straight race when his move is obvious, this is still a good policy to
   follow. Keep in mind that if you do roll before he has picked up his
   dice it gives him the opportunity to take a double shot -- he sees what
   you roll, and if he likes it he picks up his dice while if he doesn't
   like it he leaves his dice on the table and your roll will be void.
   Avoid any such situation by never tailgating.

*  Think for a second about the cube. Even if you obviously don't have a
   double, this is a good habit to get into. By training yourself not to
   roll the dice immediately, you will not make the mistake of
   inadvertantly missing a good double. It will also help avoiding
   fastrolling or rushing yourself.

*  If you are seriously considering doubling, do not reach for the cube
   prematurely. If you do, this may be considered a cube. Simply sit there
   and think about it. When you have made your decision, either turn the
   cube or roll.

*  When you do double, make it very clear. Pick up the cube, turn it so the
   appropriate number is face up, and put it in the center of the board.

*  If your opponent does take, make sure that when he puts the cube on his
   side of the board the proper number is showing on top. If you fail to do
   this, there may be a later dispute about the level of the cube.

*  If your opponent passes the double, make sure that he has actually
   passed -- either by his writing down the score or by his setting up the
   board. Do not touch your checkers -- let him do that first. This way you
   avoid a dispute when your opponent claims that he hasn't decided and you
   have messed up your position.

When you roll:

*  Always roll on the right side of the board. Do not ask permission to
   roll on the left side even when the right side is cluttered with
   checkers. The rules specifically say that you must roll on the right-
   hand side. Deviating from this is just asking for trouble in the future
   when your opponent may say that your good roll doesn't count.

*  Shake the dice well of course. When you roll the dice, lift your fingers
   away from the lip of the cup so the dice will be free to drop out. What
   you want to avoid is having one die get stuck.

*  Should a die stick, you have a problem. If you feel it is about to come
   out, it is best to just let it come out even if the dice don't come out
   exactly simultaneously -- as long as the first die hasn't landed there
   should be no problems. If it feels like it will stick, it is best to
   move the cup away from the board so it is clear that the second die
   won't land. If possible you might even grab the first die before it
   lands, although this is difficult to do. But simply not letting the
   second die land on the board will void the roll, which is the best thing
   to do when one die sticks.

*  Even if it appears that the roll won't be legal, such as one of the die
   landing on a checker, don't touch either die until both have landed.
   Then if the roll is clearly not going to count, you can pick up your
   dice. If there might be some question about whether a die is cocked,
   definitely don't touch the dice until you and your opponent come to an
   agreement about whether or not the die is cocked.

When you move:

*  After the dice land, always pause for a second before moving even if
   your move is obvious. There are two reasons for this. One is that you
   might have misread the dice, and by pausing for a second you give
   yourself a chance to see the dice properly. The second reason is that
   sometimes that obvious move might not be so obvious on a closer look.

*  Try to decide on your play before touching the checkers. There are
   several reasons for this. When you start shuffling checkers around you
   may fail to set the position up properly when you move them back. Or
   there may be a dispute about what the original position was. Also, from
   a backgammon point of view you are better off not shuffling the
   checkers. Once you have played part of your roll, in your mind that will
   be a forced play and you will fail to consider alternatives which might
   not involve that partial play. In addition, once you have played the
   full roll you will be looking only at the resulting position from that
   roll, and you may overlook a better candidate.

*  If you feel it necessary to see how a play looks before making your
   final decision, be sure you have the original position locked in your
   mind before you touch the checkers. Make the play carefully. Let your
   opponent know that you are just taking a look, so he will not think you
   are finished with the play and fast-roll you. After you see how a play
   looks, when you go back to setting up the original position do so slowly
   and carefully, one checker at a time. Be sure to replace any checkers
   you have sent to the bar with your tentative move when re-setting the
   original position. If you are careful, you should be able to avoid
   disputes about what the original position was.

*  Once you have decided on your move and made it, don't scoop up the dice
   instantly. Pause for a second. This will give both you and your opponent
   a chance to notice if you have played illegally, either because you
   misread the dice or because you accidentally made an illegal move, thus
   cutting down the likelihood of a dispute about an illegal move or what
   the dice roll was. In addition, maybe you will see something you hadn't
   seen before and find a better move. When you are ready to make it
   official, do not drag the dice. Pick them up directly. This will avoid
   disputes about whether or not you have picked up your dice. The idea is
   to have your second thoughts before reaching for your dice, not as you
   are picking them up.

*  Make your move definitively. Put a checker you are moving squarely on
   its destination point, not carelessly in between two points. If you hit
   an enemy checker, make sure you put the checker on the bar. If you bear
   a checker off, make sure you actually take the checker off the board --
   don't carelessly place it somewhere else on the board. If your play
   involves moving one checker in an unusual order, the small die first or
   avoiding a hit, make it clear what you are doing. For example, if you
   roll 6-1 and have one checker on the six point to bear off, you can
   legally play 6/5, 5/off. If you are dong so, make the move in that order
   so it is clear what you have done.

*  If your opponent rolls before you have picked up your dice, leave your
   dice on the table. I suggest grabbing his dice before they land. This
   will make it clear that you aren't trying to take a double shot. If you
   are unable to do this in time, just leave your dice alone. His roll is
   invalid. The one thing you must avoid doing is rush to pick up your dice
   as your opponent is rolling. Not only will this encourage him to
   continue to fastroll you, but if you haven't fully decided on your move
   you don't want to be forced into your decision prematurely. Even if you
   are reaching for you dice, if he rolls pull your hand away and leave
   your dice where they are. This will discourage him from fastrolling.

When your opponent is on roll:

*  If your opponent makes a move toward doubling without actually taking
   the cube and putting it on the board, do nothing. Just sit there. Do not
   give any hit of whether you are going to take or pass. If you act
   prematurely, he may claim that he wasn't actually doubling and you get
   into a dispute. Don't act until he has actually turned the cube.

*  If your opponent does turn the cube, don't make any physical indications
   of whether you are going to take or pass until you have made your
   decision. If you decide to take, take the cube and put it on your side
   of the board with the apporpriate number fact up. If you decide to pass,
   I suggest writing down the score and starting to set up your checkers
   without touching the cube. If you pick up the cube even to put it in the
   center, your opponent may construe this as a take and a dispute could

*  If your opponent asks permission to roll on the left side of the board,
   do not give it to him. Doing so is only asking for trouble later on
   about what is or is not a legal roll. The rules say the dice must land
   on the right side of the board for the roll to be legal, and you should
   stick rigorously with that. If your opponent does roll on the wrong side
   of the board I suggest you grab his dice before they land to make it
   clear that you aren't taking a double shot, but in any event the roll is
   not a legal roll and under no circumstances should you permit it to

*  If there is some chance that one of the dice is cocked, stop your
   opponent from moving or touching the dice. Make sure things are left
   untouched until you and your opponent resolve whether or not the die is

When your opponent moves:

*  Pay attention! Note what the dice roll is carefully. Have the position
   mentally locked in your mind. If you can, decide what move you would
   make if you were on the other side of the board or at least what
   candidates you would consider. This will be very helpful in the case
   that your opponent makes an illegal move, or if he shuffles his checkers
   and then sets up the board improperly. It is also better for your
   backgammon game, since you will see the position from his point of view
   and possibly have a deeper understanding of the position. Even if you
   don't see the illegal move immediately, you may notice that the
   resulting position is different from anything you had expected and you
   can then reconstruct what happened and discover the illegal move.

*  If your opponent is shuffling checkers, watch very carefully. Honest
   players can make a mistake re-setting the position, and we all know what
   dishonest players might do. If he is in the middle of a move and has
   played part of it, you might clarify what is left. For example, if he
   rolls 3-3 and plays two of the threes and then stops and thinks, you
   could clarify that he has two more threes to play. Always make sure he
   gets back to the proper original position if there is any doubt.

*  If you see that your opponent is in the middle of making an illegal
   move, stop him immediately. Don't wait for him to pick up his dice. The
   sooner an illegal move is corrected, the less chance there is for a

Of course you cannot expect your opponent to follow these guidelines. But
if you follow them carefully, you will avoid disputes which might otherwise
have occurred.


Gregg Cattanach  writes:

Kit wrote:
> If your opponent rolls before you have picked up your dice, leave your
> dice on the table. I suggest grabbing his dice before they land.

I disagree, as there is nothing in the rules that indicates I ought to be
interfering with my opponent's rolls, premature or not. Just let them fall,
then deal with his premature roll according to the rules.

Kit's article here is excellent.

Chuck Bower  writes:

Very nice report on proper table etiquette and the reasons behind it.

I think something that needs to emphasized: Don't let your opponent
intimidate you. Most of the time this isn't really intentional, but
sometimes it is. Regardless, hold your ground, politely but firmly.

The most common form of intimidation is an attempt to rush you. Besides
fast rolling, some opponents shake the dice impatiently while you're
trying to play. Others "help" you make your plays by moving checkers in
from the bar (when it's your turn) and picking up their own checkers
when they think you are going to hit them. None of this is proper and
when it succeeds it can throw you off or your concentration. You can
still be polite in telling opp you don't need their help. If that doesn't
work, say you'd like to get a director's opinion.

This is another issue. At BG (unlike bridge, for example) it is customary
to attempt to settle improprieties at the table just among the two
combatants. But at the first sign of resistance, politely indicate your
intent to get a director involved and then do it. Usually the two players
agree (e.g. illegal move) and everything procedes smoothly. But my
experience is that once there is disagreement, the process slows to a
crawl (standstill) without a third party (not kibitzer, BTW) expert
opinion. Don't be intimidated here, either. If opp considers it an insult
to have a director called (very seldom the case in my experience), too
bad -- that's his/her problem, not yours.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     



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