A Beginner’s Guide to the Doubling Cube

Finally, you’ve gotten past all your opponents checkers and it’s a race to the end.

You’re winning that race – and then the opponent rolls double sixes twice and wins the game.

Don’t you hate that?

That’s why some 1930s unsung hero invented the doubling cube.

Now when you’re ahead you can double, which means to turn the cube to 2 and offer it to your opponent: Whatever you’re playing for – beers, money, points or pride – you’re doubling the stakes.

Your opponent has a choice:

1) She can drop the double, in which case you won the game and 1 point (or whatever). The game ends. Or,

2) She can take the double, in which you’re now playing for 2 points (or whatever). The game goes on, and the winner wins 2.

You might have these questions:

Q: I doubled and she took. Can I keep doubling?

A: No. In the beginning, the cube is in the middle and either player may double first. But once the cube has been doubled (or “turned”), the taker “owns” the cube and only that player may double again. So if you take the initial cube, you own a 2-cube, and if the game turns around, you (and only you) may double to 4 and your opponent now has the choice to drop (and lose 2) or take (and own the cube at 4).

Q: May I double after I roll a great number?

A: You may only double before you roll the dice – and of course only if you own the cube or it’s in the middle. If you roll a great number, you have to wait until your opponent rolls before you may double.

Q: Is there any limit to how many times the cube may be redoubled?

A: No, unless you made a previous agreement to limit the cube to 8, 16 or whatever. But it’s a rare game that has an 8-cube, even among experts.

Q: What if I win a gammon (I bear off all my checkers before my opponent bears off any) or a backgammon (I win a gammon plus the opponent has checkers on the bar or my home board)?

A: A gammon is worth 2 times the stakes and a backgammon is worth 3 times the stakes. So if the cube is on, say 4, and it’s a gammon, the winner gets 8 (4 x 2). If the cube is on, say 2, and it’s a backgammon, the winner gets 6 (2 x 3). If it’s just a regular game, the winner gets the cube value.

Q: So when is it right to double?

A: If you can answer that, you’ll be the #1 player in the world! That said, in future posts, you’ll learn valuable rules of thumb to help you make good double/take/drop decisions.

Q: The doubling cube has 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. Why is the 64 not a 1?

A: It could be. Backgammon convention starts the cube at 64, which means 1, until, in the unlikely event it’s been turned 6 times in one game, it really means 64.

Q: What happens to the current game when I or my opponent drops a cube?

A: The game ends, and a new game begins with the cube reset at 64 (meaning 1).

Q: My opponent dropped my cube but still wants to play the game out. What should I do?

A: You can play it out if you like but be clear that regardless of the outcome you still won the real game.

Q: Is the doubling cube common?

A: It is! It’s a key part of the game and is used whenever good backgammon players play, whatever they’re playing for. Even at local clubs, beginners learn to use the cube from day one. The doubling cube is one of many reasons backgammon is so much fun to play.

So the next time you’re far ahead in the race and don’t want to lose because your opponent got lucky, use the cube!

2 Replies to “A Beginner’s Guide to the Doubling Cube”

  1. I know it’s rhetorical device, but I don’t like the “That’s why they invented the doubling cube” line. It’s not accurate, and may lead to spurious folklore. I think if you want to answer the question you pose, you need to talk about the added dynamics / interest / fun involved in using the cube. Several of the questions you ask/answer aren’t answering *that* question — they’re just explaining the fundamental rules, which is maybe useful but not fulfilling the promise of the headline.

    1. Actually, your headline doesn’t promise what I had thought it did — still, I think I would pitch this kind of topic with a broader explanation about what the cube does for backgammon, followed up with the technical rules.

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