Towards a Better Method of Recording Backgammon Games
by Jay Bidal - March 2007
There are several good systems used by those who manually record live backgammon play for post-analysis. In this article, Jay Bidal offers the system he uses to those who want to learn a quick and easy way of recording a match.

Few people who play backgammon with a modicum of seriousness would disagree about the value of recording matches and games.  Not only do such records allow us to go over decisions made in the heat of the moment and perhaps put them through a computer program to identify cube and checker errors, but publishing them, usually over the Internet, gives opportunities for pleasure and learning to our fellow backgammon lovers. There are other benefits of recording matches. If there is an argument over an illegal move or a cube situation, then reference to the match record should solve it fairly easily.  Recording a move or series of moves from an interesting position is also done by spectators and players for later analysis.

However, recording games and moves is currently a difficult proposition. Some opt for video recordings, but you need the equipment, facilities (an electric outlet nearby for longer matches, if your battery is not to run out), and patience afterwards for viewing the match, distinguishing the dice rolls and the moves, and inputting them into a computer program.  Others pay people to sit and record the match, but that can be expensive, assuming you can actually find someone who is willing and skilled enough to do the job, and it’s a lot of work for the recorder to keep up.  There has also been a report of an electronic board that records the moves automatically (when hooked up to a laptop), but even there the players have to input their rolls, and such a board would not come cheaply.

You could, of course, record the match yourself as you are playing, but then the recording system is in the way.  It is unwieldy and takes lots of space to write down simple moves. It is also confusing, in that the number for any particular point changes according to whose move it is. Is that point 1 or 24? 10 or, what is that number anyway? Having the numbers go up to 24 is clearly a lot of counting.        

One of the biggest problems with the current method of recording matches is the inclusion of the departure point of a checker, for example 24-13. If someone is a beginner in backgammon, then writing the departure point can help make things clearer, but for experienced players, it’s stating the obvious and a waste of time and effort.

The system that I use tries to simplify and streamline the process of recording a match to the point where I believe it is possible for both players to record moves without a big difference in the total time required for a match. Of course it takes a little practice to get used to, and improvements will be needed in the future, but I hope that it is an important step forward in making more and more backgammon games and matches available for replay and study.

In the proposed recording system, the backgammon board is split into two parts, one designated “r” and the other “w”.  These letters, which stand for “Red” and “White” respectively, are somewhat arbitrary, but are meant to differentiate between the side that has darker checkers and the side that has lighter checkers. Each point for each half of the board is then assigned the numbers 1-12. Thus, Red’s homeboard is designated as r1, r2, r3 and so on to r12. White’s homeboard is designated as w1, w2 and so on to w12:


Take a first move by White on the roll 6-3. Traditionally we would write it as 24/18 13/10 if we are splitting. In the proposed system, we would write r7 w10.  Faster and simpler, and with practice even faster again:

If White chose to play 6-3 to run, it would normally be written 24-15. In the proposed system, we would simply write r10:

Another way that this method saves time and effort is in the recording of moves that make new points. Instead of recording each individual checker move, the method simply uses a “+” to designate “new point made”.  For example, if White rolls a 3-1, we can record his usual move as w5+, whereas in the old method we would have to write 8/5, 6/5:

In bearing off, most moves are automatic, so the method simply uses a √ to indicate a checker borne off. Thus, during the bearoff, if White rolls a 6-5 and takes off 2 checkers, it is recorded simply as √√.  If Red rolls a 6-5, bears off one checker and moves one checker to the 1 point (due to a 5-point gap), then it is recorded as r1√  or √ r1.

When there is no choice as to how to enter from the bar, the simple mark > is used. If a player cannot enter from the bar (flunking or dancing), then the mark X is used.

In some cases, it might be necessary to indicate the departure point to avoid confusion, but I have found so far that this is rare. It is also unusual to have to indicate whether a checker has been hit (as it is usually obvious), but in situations where a pick and pass is possible, a hit is recorded with an asterix *. For example, if Red has a checker on his 8 point and can hit White’s blot on his three point and then continue on to his two point with a roll of 5-1, it would be written as r2* to show that Red did indeed put White on the bar before landing on the two point.

It is also not necessary to write how many checkers moved to a particular point in this new system.  In the old way, you could write, for example, after a roll of 5-5, 13/3 (2). In the new system, you would write simply r3+:

 If there is already a point made on the 3 point, then you don’t even have to write “+”—just r3, since it is therefore obvious that the entire roll was used to move 3 checkers there:

Below is an example game using this recording system? As you can see, the system is economical and easy to pick up.  Suggestions for improvement are welcome, but in any case I hope this is a first step towards making backgammon matches easier to record and follow.

and White won a gammon.



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