Is Backgammon Harder Than Chess?

Two of the oldest games known to mankind are chess and backgammon. Nearly everyone has seen these games being played and a large percentage of the world has probably played both games at some point or another. But which game is easier? Is chess a walk in the park when compared to playing backgammon or vice-versa?

Is backgammon harder than chess? Chess is harder than Backgammon because Backgammon has fewer moves and fewer rules. Since Backgammon involves dice rolls, it also has an element of luck so it is easier for a weaker player to beat a stronger one on any given day. Luck does not play a role in Chess so it is harder than Backgammon.

Let’s take a look at the two games and check out the differences.

Is backgammon harder than chess? - ChessPulse.com
Is backgammon harder than chess? – ChessPulse.com

The Variations Of Games: Backgammon And Chess

Backgammon is one of the oldest games of any kind that has ever been played by man. Its roots can be found in Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago! Unlike chess, there is no ruling body for backgammon and you might expect this to lead to a huge number of variations (it certainly does with say Mahjong and we looked at whether Mahjong was harder than chess here).

Fortunately, this is not the case. In general, backgammon is played in a very standard manner throughout the world and while individual tournaments are, of course, free to impose their own rules, by and large they don’t. The international backgammon community is mature enough to agree on a standard and hold to it without any huge organizational effort.

Chess Isn’t As Old

Chess is also an old game though it has nothing on backgammon. Chess is about 1,500 years old and the earliest games of chess appear to have been played in the Islamic world and, in particular, in Persia (modern day Iran) during the 6th century AD.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that modern chess is a substantially different game than the one played in the 6th century but not so different that they are unrecognizable to each other. Chess, unlike backgammon, does have a ruling body, FIDE (this is the Internal Chess Federation based in Geneva, hence it is always known by its French initials).

The rules that nearly every game of chess in the world is played by are the FIDE rules. There are variations of chess, but these are rarely played competitively, players tend to pick them up for fun. We’ve written about some of these variations here.

No Advantages

This is good news as it means that both backgammon and chess can be learned anywhere and played anywhere. There is no advantage to either system.


The Rules And Pieces: Backgammon And Chess

Backgammon’s rules are much simpler than chess’s and so are its pieces. You have 15 pieces (which depending on where you play may be called “men” or may be called “checkers”) and 2 dice. The objective is simply to get all of your checkers removed from the board. The first player to do so wins.

There are, as you might expect, a very limited number of moves in backgammon. When all the pieces are the same, they can be moved in exactly the same way. They simply travel across the board based on the roll of the dice.

A player may move a piece for the total number of pips shown on the dice, or they may move two pieces (one for each set of pips visible on one of the dice). If the throw is a double – the player is given four moves (which can be split between as many men or as few as they like) each move is equivalent to the number on one die.

Some Minor Additional Stuff

There are then some rules about where men can land and how they are removed from the board and some penalties in certain circumstances and that’s it.

Anyone can learn to play backgammon in an hour. This is great news because it makes backgammon a super accessible game.

Chess Is More Complicated

Chess, on the other hand, has 32 pieces on the board, of which there are 6 different pieces each with their own set of moves, the objective is not to take all the opponent’s pieces or to lose all their pieces but to put the opponent in checkmate.

There isn’t a huge amount of moves and rules in chess but there are definitely more than there are in backgammon. A chess player can learn to play chess in a day or two. That’s not a huge time commitment but it is more than backgammon. So, chess is harder to learn than backgammon is.


The Tactics And Strategy: Backgammon And Chess

Just like with chess, backgammon has become a fascinating topic for computer scientists and just like in chess – they’ve built computers that can play backgammon much better than any human being.

However, unlike in chess, because of the element of chance, a computer cannot steamroller an opponent when playing backgammon because it can be impossible for a computer to win if the dice are bad.

Just like chess there are backgammon tactics for the opening, the midgame and the endgame but there are far fewer than there are for chess.

You could read a single book on backgammon tactics to learn the best of what the backgammon masters have to learn. You would need to read a library of chess books just to get a basic grip on the knowledge of chess masters.

Tactics and strategy in chess are much harder to learn than in backgammon.


Backgammon Vs Chess: The Complications

Backgammon also has two additional problems when compared to chess. The first is the element of luck. When you rely on dice rolls, card picks, etc. in a game there is an element of luck.

This doesn’t negate the fact that backgammon does mainly rely on skill (which is why computers can beat the best humans fairly consistently) but it does mean that a player can gain a huge advantage with no skill brought to bear in any game.

There is also the potential for cheating. Dice can be loaded and manipulated in face-to-face games and it’s very difficult to detect. With no such element in chess, your notes protect you from cheating.

Thus, backgammon can sometimes be harder than chess but only because of either random chance or because your opponent cheats.


Mastery Of Backgammon Vs Mastery Of Chess

As you might expect, neither of these games is fast to master. If you think you’re going to take up backgammon or chess this week and be competing against the best in the world any time soon, you’re going to be sadly disillusioned.

They both take years of practice to master. However, there is no doubt at all that it takes less time to master backgammon than it does to master chess. A chess grandmaster will study for years more than a backgammon master does. This is a reflection of the complexity of chess vs backgammon.


Conclusion

Though backgammon is a highly tactical game with a huge amount of strategic play, it is easier to learn to play backgammon than it is to learn to play chess. Like chess, you won’t master backgammon in an afternoon but there are fewer elements to tactics and strategy in backgammon than there in chess too, so mastery should be somewhat easier.

Finally, the element of luck in backgammon is a big differentiator from chess. If the dice treat you right, then even an inept backgammon player has a good chance of beating a top player, this is simply not the case in chess. No beginner in chess is going to sit down with Magnus Carlsen and do anything other than get thrashed over and over again, there’s no luck involved in chess. Overall backgammon is an easier game than chess.

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