B is for Backgammon

When I was a kid, there was this weird board on the backside of my checkerboard; I had NO idea what it was there for. As it turned out, it was almost perfect for a game called backgammon. I never learned it, though, until I was in the latter stages of college in the mid-1970s. I went to a bar in New Paltz, NY, appropriately named Bacchus, and saw a bunch of people playing this game. I eventually befriended one of the players, a townie named Anne, and ended up playing a lot of the game.

I discovered that backgammon is an ancient game, certainly invented in some form in southwest Asia, perhaps Persia, before A.D. 800. A version from the game spread from India to China and Japan. It was introduced to Europe by the Arabs. From BOARD and TABLE Games from Many Civilizations by R.C. Bell: “Early in the seventeenth century, a new variant appeared…the old game enjoyed a tremendous revival and swept through Europe, being played in England as backgammon, in France as tric-trac…in Germany as puff, in Spain as tablas reales…”

It is a simple game, at least in concept, where one rolls a pair of dice to move the checker pieces around the board. In the board above, the white pieces move around the board to get all its pieces into its inner board (the lower right quadrant) while the black pieces move around the board to get all its pieces into ITS inner board (the upper right quadrant) before bearing off. The clash occurs when an opposing piece wants to land on your space. A space with two or more checkers is safe, but one with only one checker is vulnerable to be hit and have that piece to start all over again.

All of this is laid out quite well in this rule book.

A lot of the calculation in backgammon involves probability. The odds of getting hit, specifically. Above are all the combinations of two dice. Say you have a piece that’s six unrestricted squares away; it’s quite vulnerable to a throw of 1/5, 2/4, 3/3, 4/2, 5/1, but also 6/1, 6/2, 6/3, 6/4, 6/5, or 6/6, or even 2/2, since throwing doubles means you get four of the number. In other words, there’s an 12 out of 36 chance of getting hit. Whereas being 11 away, there is only a 2 in 36 chance (5/6, 6/5) of being hit.

There is a doubling cube, whereby one raises the stakes of the game, but it can be played without using it; probably sacrilege, I know. I play at least once a month, and I enjoy it greatly.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

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0 thoughts on “B is for Backgammon”

  1. I remember my late husband trying to teach me backgammon, but I was hopeless at it. Probably my lack of math skills and lack of ability to “see” ahead. Ah well, enjoy!

    Leslie
    abcw team

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  2. Boy, I never learned that game. My Brain just doesn’t seem to calculate and anticipate well enough to play.
    I think you gave a great explanation but it’s not going to help me much… (:0)

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  3. Your post makes me want to dig out my old backgammon game and see if I remember how to play! Between your reminders and the old rule book, I should be able to figure it out…:)

    I knew the librarian in you would appreciate books as my choice for today’s letter!

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  4. I like learning the history of games…how they evolved into what we have today…I think this would be a great game for me to learn on my travels. I sometimes wander around on all your other blogsites until I realize, oh he is over there!!!

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  5. I have a backgammon board on the inside of a chess board box but never played it, however I have spent relaxing times in Greece in beach side tavernas watching the locals play. Very popular game there.

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  6. I played backgammon incessantly in high school and, every once in a while, rediscover it. You’ve reminded me that I have a family vacation coming up, so maybe it’s time to pack it again. Oh, and Begonia Pope thanks you for your visit.

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  7. Since I’m hopeless at chess, I don’t think I’d be good at this either. I do remember seeing it on the back of my checkers board.
    Ann

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  8. My grandparents gave me a beautiful backgammon set as a college graduation gift, and I became absolutely addicted to the game. I still have the set, but haven’t played it in so long (20 years?) that I’ve completely forgotten the rules! I need to get refreshed and resume playing, because it’s a really wonderful game. Thanks for reminding me of it!

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  9. Wow, that’s like a blast from the past! I haven’t played backgammon in years. When I was younger, I had step-siblings who lived in Germany with their mom/step-dad. When one of my brothers moved back home with us, he brought a love of the game with him. We used to play for hours. Fun times. Thanks for the memory.

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  10. Roger, I learned to play backgammon on my Uncle Joe’s old board in the 60s. I still have that board, even though it is a bit musty and the paint has worn off the cork… Lex and I take it to coffee shops and, if one of us rolls the “Lover’s Leap” (6 and 5, thus taking one pip all the way from beginning to safe haven), we have to stand up and kiss! Ah, the romance of board games… Peace, Amy
    http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/07/27/bleed-warning-precedes-poem/

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