# B is for Backgammon

Backgammon is a simple game, at least in concept, where one rolls a pair of dice to move the checker pieces around the board.

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 of 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 a 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

## Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

## 33 thoughts on “B is for Backgammon”

1. Backgammon rocks! Great combination of skill and chance. I’m nutty for it.

Good post!

2. Interesting post. I’ve never played backgammon. Not sure why not. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

3. Leslie says:

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

4. I love playing Backgammon – although I also learned to play later in life. In Arabic and Hebrew it’s called “Sheshbesh”.

6. 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)

7. Like others, backgammon is not a game I could ever get my head round, simple or not!

8. This game used to be played on an embroidered and stiffened cotton cloth in India.

9. I think that I’d like to learn how to play this game!

10. I tend to make embarassing mistakes when playing backgammon because I tend to count wrong, but I really enjoy it. Like you, I was mystified by the board, mine was on the back of my Mensch aergere dich nicht game and I came up with games of my own to play with it.

11. Never played it….but have seen it on the back of checker boards. Will have to ask my teenage grandsons if they play.

12. I used to play, but really don’t remember how anymore. I was with you until you started talking probabilities. Then my eyes glazed over. It’s that darn short attention span, again.

13. Dear Roger,
Heard of the game but never played. I am sure you are a MASTER at it. Thanks for sharing sir.

14. I’ve never learn how to play backgammon, even though I can find one board at home.

15. My husband and I used to play backgammon a lot. Now we are too busy! it is something we take with us on a road trip though. He usually wins-better strategist and better at working probability in his favor.

16. 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!

17. 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!!!

18. i learned how to play when i was a kid, but totally forgot the game 🙁

19. Always thought the game originated in Europe. Now I know something new about it.

20. we have these games at home.

Set of B’s
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team.

21. Most informative and creative post ~ thanks, namaste, (A Creative Harbor)

23. I never did get the hang of this game. Give me chess any day of the week!

24. I have kids who play backgammon, but bridge was always my passion.

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. 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

28. 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!

29. 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.

30. 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/

31. Now that’s a game I enjoyed playing as a kid. Haven’t played for a long long time. Maybe time to bring the board out again.

32. Excellent article! We are linking to this great content on our site.

Keep up the great writing.