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The pleasure of playing backgammon and more..

10 March 2009 / 11:03:53  GRReporter
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Marina Nikolova


Except for archeological sights, the notion of Greece is connected with the party side of life, because Greeks are loud and fun to be with. They cannot focus on anything else for hours, when the backgammon board is in front of them and they have a cold frappe in hand.


It is a very common view to see people spending their free time playing backgammon and talking lively, while drinking their favorite frappe. The backgammon is from those type of board games, which is played in all coffee shops but we can hear rolling dice also from people’s balconies and yards.


Backgammon is tightly connected to Greeks everyday living – it is a favorite game for generations and texts are written about it from ancient times until today. The board game is part of the Greek culture in all of its aspects.


We play backgammon at home, in coffee shops, mostly where students go, on the beach…everywhere! With every opportunity we get in an afternoon, when we are visiting friends or we are on vacation, we can “hit” the backgammon board. It is a fast game and you need experience, knowledge and quick reactions.


Game of luck and strategy


The game starts with the typical sound of the dice. Together with the initial wish “Let’s go masters” the game starts accompanied with the inevitable pecking, jokes, arguments, in which to whole group of friends is involved. Backgammon is usually played on a point system and winner is whoever gets 3, 5, 7, or 11 points first. The most widely spread point system is 7. For the first point, the players play the three sets of the main games – backgammon, gul bara, and plakoto, one after the other and the winner of the last game throws the dice and says “Let’s go masters!”


When the game is played, the players makes towers—in other words two or more checkers one over the other—stable places, which can help checkers either move forward or “threaten” the checkers of the opponent. Backgammon is a strategic game – you play defense and attack at the same time, the moves are always forward and the goal is to move all checkers as quickly as possible to the opposite side of the board and to collect them out of the game.


Backgammon is not only a strategic game but also a game of luck and risk. This factor is vital for the game and increases the interest. A good player can show his/her value during the game. But when fewer games are played, then the luck is determinant and the dice can win the game for a weaker player.


Backgammon around the world


Most likely backgammon is the most ancient game, which is still played today. The full history of it is not completely researched but we know that playing backgammon in Greece is mentioned in Homer’s epic poetry, which proves that this tradition exists for thousands of years. Palamidis, the tragic Homer hero is mentioned as an inventor of many board games. But the most important thing is that Palamidis invented the dice and backgammon without dice cannot be played!


Despite this, the official history of the game does not mention Greece or Turkey as cradles of the game. The first piece of information we have is that backgammon was played in ancient Mesopotamia between 2900 and 1800 B.C. During excavations at Ur, the English archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley finds decorated with ornaments board game, which is probably the oldest backgammon board.


Similar game probably existed also in Egypt, which was called “Senet” or the 40 squares game. Both games had a different board than the one of the contemporary backgammon: it had three rows with ten squares next to each other but the philosophy of the game was the same. Each one of the players had five checkers and they were starting from the opposite sides of the board and the goal was take all checkers to the opponent’s side and collect them faster than the other. Instead of dice, the Egyptians used four sticks with two sides and they were moving the checkers depending on the combination of the sides of the sticks.


Another interesting ancient game is the Persian “tekte nard,” which was very similar to today’s backgammon. The board had 24 positions and 30 checkers – 15 white and 15 black, and a set of dice. The name meant “Sticks fight” and was brought to Europe by the Arabs. Later on, the game appears in Greece with the name “pessi” and in the Roman Empire with the name името Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum – the 12 lines game. Those two games have the same board as the oldest one in Mesopotamia, meaning 3 rows and 12 square positions.


During 50 A.D. the game got simpler: the middle row was removed and the board was left with the two end rows; the game allowed for more checkers to be put over each other and this is how the game started looking like the one we know today. We know that the backgammon was taken to England by the Romans or by Richard the Lionheart, who were coming back from crusades. Another similar type of game exists in India and China but they are not influenced by the Western world. The first touch point between the East and West culture is the Arabs and the first game, which introduces the two worlds to each other, is the chess – the perfect strategic game.


Backgammon during the middle ages


During the middle ages the backgammon game is very much known in Europe. It had won itself glory in many European countries. Some of it names are: “Tables” in England, “Tavola Reale” in Italy, “Tablas Reales” in Spain. Despite its popularity in history the game was forbidden by the church in some countries, because it was considered to be a game of luck. During 1254, King Louis IX forbids to all his courtiers to play backgammon and later on he forbids it to all citizens.


The most famous example for banning the game comes during 1526 by cardinal Wolsy from King Henry VIII’s court. He said that all backgammon boards should be burnt. The English could not give up their favorite entertainment and this is how they decided to transform the board in such a way, that it would not seem as a game – they folded it in two so it can look like a book and no one will confiscate it from them and burn it. This type of backgammon remains till this day.


“Backgammon Essay” by Edmund Hoyl


During the 18th century the backgammon has gained enough respect in the eyes of the church and now playing the game was considered to be time well spent. This way, during 1743 Edmund Hoyl, famous English board game expert publishes the book “Backgammon Essay” and formulates the rules of the game by disclosing tactics for improving the game, which are acknowledged as useful until today.


People were playing backgammon in Europe and in America. Proof of that are the wins and losses on backgammon, which are shown on Thomas Jefferson’s expenses list during 1776 – almost when he was writing the Declaration of Independence.


Virtual backgammon tournaments in the 21st century


In this technological era, backgammon tournaments are organized in many websites and in many languages. You can play backgammon for fun but also for money. The game even has its own portal in Facebook and its fans there are more than 50 000 people.

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