Rulings Column
Candace Nyles Mayeron, 1980
Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine, October 1980
Candace Nyles Mayeron
Candace Nyles Mayeron is a practicing Los Angeles attorney. She is an experienced tournament player, and was Tournament Director for the 1979 World Amateur Championships in Las Vegas. "While I am solely responsible for this column," says Mayeron, "not one single answer appears unless it has been agreed to by not less than three other rules and procedures experts."
For a long time we have been aware of the need for a forum where difficult ruling questions can be answered and explained. Too many players enter high stakes tournaments unsophisticated in the basic rules of backgammon. The regular appearance of a Rulings Column will help draw attention to this area of backgammon, and begin the process of educating the playing public.

Q   "My opponent and I were using a baffle box instead of cups. On the opening roll I dropped my die first and it landed as a 3. His landed as a 1, but in landing, his die knocked mine over so that it became a 2. I said my opening roll should be a 3-1, he insisted I must play 2-1. Who was right?"   —B.G., Chicago, Ill.

He was, but with a qualification. Individual clubs may have different rulings on your situation. In absence of club policy, we think the proper rule is that the dice must be played as they land finally, not intermittently. Such a rule prevents arguments concerning where the die first lay.

We must admit to mixed emotions about baffle boxes. While they do prevent arguments as the proper method for shaking and rolling dice, they can create problem of whether or not the dice went through, as well as this type of opening roll problem. We suggest when using a baffle box on the opening roll, both players simultaneously drop dies of different colors.

Q   "Can you please settle for us, once and for all, what the procedure is where a discrepancy occurs, and there are kibitzers present?"   —E.H., Mexico City

We doubt we can settle this "once and for all," because players are everlastingly coming up with abnormal situations! However, we assume you are talking about the very common occurrence wherein Player A rolls a 4-1 and, thinking it is a 3-1, plays it as such very quickly and lifts his dice before the actual roll can be visually ascertained. An argument ensues.

A kibitzer should not volunteer his opinion until — and this is the crucial part — both player have appealed to him. If you are the kibitzer and one player asks your opinion, you first inquire of the other player if he wishes you to respond. If you are a player, you first inquire of your opponent if he, the opponent, wishes you both to consult one or more of the kibitzers present. Only then may a kibitzer respond. Prior to this any remark by a kibitzer is gratuitous and therefore void.

Notice however, that this rule does not apply to a tournament official. An official, called to the table to determine the roll, may unilaterally ask any kibitzer for his opinion. The official need not obtain prior permission from the players; however he should first give both players a chance to disqualify that kibitzer for cause.

In the event there are not kibitzers present, or several who disagree, then the correct ruling is that the roll stands as played. The rationale, is that the nonrolling player should have pointed out the error while the rolling player's dice were still down and the roll ascertainable. A player always has the right to demand his opponent not "quick-lift" the dice.

Lastly, we wish to point out that once a kibitzer with permission to speak and who asserts that he did in fact see the roll states what the roll was, both players become bound by his statement. Obviously, the disagreeing player cannot interrogate other kibitzers until he finds one who agrees with him. This is not true, however, where the dispute is over a proper rule — but only where the dispute is factual, i.e., what was the roll? Where the dispute is over a rule, the players are not bound by the opinion of a kibitzer. The disagreeing player may call for a ruling from a tournament official. The distinction is that as to a matter of fact, the kibitzer is an expert — he actually witnessed the roll. In a rulings dispute the tournament official is (hopefully) the expert.

Q   "I am constantly frustrated by opponents who merely wiggle their dice cups and plop the dice out. They argue that so long as the dice have rotated a few times on the board before coming to rest, I shouldn't complain."   —K.L., Honolulu, Hawaii

We are constantly frustrated by this too, for even when players are not trying to cheat with an illegal mix, the differences in style of mix invariably cause rulings headaches!

The entire process of rolling the dice consists of a shake and a cast. The dice must be mixed in the cup and on the board.

The shake must immediately precede the throw. It should be vigorous and somewhat lengthy — at least three times up and down. (Place the fingers of your shaking hand, or place your other hand, over the top of the cup.) That is, the shake should be reasonably calculated to cause the dice to mix within the cup. A sideways wiggle will not accomplish this.

The cast (or throw) is an additional mix. Preferably, the dice should rotate over themselves at least once before settling. The cast may not be made with the fingers extended inside the cup. David Leibowitz is one example of a player with a picture book shake and cast.

One way to alleviate the problem of "plopped" dice is to play with ball-cornered dice ("rounded" or "barbout") instead of square-edged; and with trip cups instead of those with no lip or rim.

Go to:  Next Column

More articles by Candace Nyles Mayeron

More articles on tournament rules

Backgammon Galore