Rulings Column 3
Candace Nyles Mayeron, 1981
Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine, March 1981
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."
Q   "What is the proper method of changing dice?"

First, for the uninitiated, a dice change occurs when the four dice cubes are mixed in a single cup and redistributed to the players. Although players request dice changes for many different reasons, usually due to one player's feeling he has been getting "bad dice," i.e., bad rolls (or the opponent has been getting "good dice," i.e., good rolls), and that a dice change might change his luck. This is but one of several reasons experienced players play with dice of different colors. If Black plays with the two red dice (the color of his checkers), and Y with the two white, there is no way to vary the distribution.

The rules on dice changes are very explicit. (See The Backgammon Book, Jacoby and Crawford, Chapter 14.) But they can use some amplification.

Rule:  The rule of dice changes is: Either player has the right to change the dice prior to the start of any game.

Now let's examine each element of the rule.

  1. Has the right — The nonrequesting player may not refuse to permit a properly requested dice change.
  2. prior to the start of any game — Where the request is made during a game, the nonrequesting player has the right to refuse permission to change or redistribute the dice.

Please note, this is not a suggestion that you should refuse such requests. Use your own standards of etiquette or psychology. Some clubs have expressly deviated from this rule, and permit dice changes during a game — either once or an unlimited number of times. But we think this is an unnecessary concession to superstition, and in tournament backgammon can slow play down.

Violation of this rule presently carries no penalty per se — that is, there are players who, without warning, grab the dice during the game and dump them into their cup. Obviously the damage is already done and the dice cannot be unmixed. This conduct does not carry its own penalty the first time it occurs — every dog is entitled to one bite. But if it happens, and you as a player do not wish it repeated, you should call for a ruling; at which point the tournament director will explain to your opponent that such conduct is against the rules, and may not occur again. When it occurs thereafter, it then falls into the category of "unsportsmanlike conduct" and may be penalized as such by the tournament director.

  1. Either player — Either player, but only one player, may make the request. There may not be two dice changes prior to any one game, one at the request of X and one at the request of Y.

Procedure:  The requesting player mixes the four cubes in a cup and rolls them out. The nonrequesting player selects the first die. The requesting player selects the second (his first), then the nonrequesting player, then the requesting player takes the last.

The point is, the requesting player makes the mix, and the nonrequesting player gets the first (and third) picks.

Q   I know that plays must be made for both dice where possible. But what happens where only one or the other number can be played?

The higher of the two numbers must be played, where it is impossible to create a play (however ugly) utilizing the entire roll.

Illustration: Suppose you have a single man on your opponent's 1-point, behind a six-point prime. You have seven men on your 1-point, six men on your 4-point, and a single man on your 8-point. Your opponent has one on the bar. You roll 6-4.

White to play 6-4.
If you play it as a 4, you have no 6. If you play it as a 6, you have no 4. You wish to play it as a 4, as that is the safer play. Sorry, you must play the higher number rolled, the 6.

Q   "What comes after raccoon?"

Commitment to an insane asylum. (Tom Gilbert suggests "baboon".)

Q   "On the opening roll, I rolled a 2, my opponent rolled a 6. He slotted my bar with the 6, then brought a man from the midpoint to his own ten-point (thereby playing it as a 3). After he lifted his dice, I pointed out the illegal move. (Four kibitzers substantiated my roll as a 2.) He then attempted to put back the slotted checker, and then play the 6-2 with one man from his midpoint to his five-point. I said he only could replay the illegal checker. Wasn't I right?"

No. Where there has been an illegal play, the offended player has the right to insist either: (1) the play remain as illegally played, or (2) the play be made legally. He may not dictate how the move be replayed. The offending player may replay the entire move.

Please note that the original choice belongs only to the offended player. The offending player may not "correct" his mistake after lifting his dice, unless the offended player permits the correction. Permission is then tantamount to direction that the play be made legally.

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