As a lifelong player and fan of backgammon, I‘m thrilled to have the chance to share insights into this ancient game that‘s captivated societies for thousands of years. In this article, I‘ll provide an in-depth exploration of backgammon‘s rich history, strategic nuances, and the origins of its mischievous slang terminology and cultural allure. There‘s a reason it‘s long been dubbed "the cruelest game" – backgammon beautifully balances skill and chance, making for dynamic battles of wits between opponents.
Let‘s start from the beginning – the fascinating history of backgammon and how it spread around the world over millennia…
Backgammon‘s origins and global proliferation
The earliest known predecessors of backgammon date back approximately 5,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia and India where versions of the game were played using stones as dice. Modern backgammon is believed to have originated in Persia sometime before 500 AD. From there, it spread across the Middle East and Mediterranean region.
By the 7th century AD, backgammon had reached Western Europe with the Moorish conquests of Spain and Portugal. Europeans initially called it various names like "tables" or "tabula" – referring to the game board. The current name likely derives from Middle English "gamen" for game and "bac" meaning back. So "backgammon" emerged as a way to distinguish it from other tabletop games of the era.
|Names of Backgammon
|1st century AD
|Ludus duodecim scriptorum
|7th century AD
Backgammon became enormously popular across Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Works of literature began referencing it, and even nobility like Mary, Queen of Scots was known to be an avid player. Despite some attempts to suppress backgammon by religious leaders objecting to its element of gambling, the game continued spreading further.
By the 19th century, American versions like "Old English Backgammon" had emerged. And in the 1920s, backgammon clubs were formed in New York City, helping revive interest in tournament play. Now backgammon clubs and major tournaments can be found across North America and Europe, as well as Asia where it remains a beloved pastime. Its global popularity seems unlikely to fade anytime soon.
The strategic intricacies that make backgammon an enduring classic
While backgammon involves substantial luck in dice rolls, over repeated games skill makes all the difference. Experienced players use various tactics and principles to gain an edge. Here are some key strategic concepts:
Pip count – Counting pips, or dots, on each player‘s checkers is crucial for determining who is leading or trailing. It helps guide doubling cube decisions and gameplay strategies.
Anchors – Keeping "anchors" on favorable points like your 5-point and opponent‘s 1-point restricts their options and mobility.
Priming game – Priming all your checkers early on prepares them faster for bearing off in the endgame.
Contact positions – Maintaining contact with the opponent‘s checkers prevents them from running safely.
Slotting – Slotting checkers into lower home board points helps consolidate your position.
Holding game – A defensive "holding game" involves controlling the opponent‘s progression until more favorable dice rolls.
Here is a sample board showing some of these elements:
Mastering backgammon strategy takes tremendous practice and nuance. But having an understanding of these core tactics will greatly improve your gameplay.
The compelling probability and mathematics behind the dice
While dice rolls introduce an element of chance, there‘s an elegant probability math behind backgammon‘s use of dice that affects gameplay decisions and doubling cube strategy.
With two dice each having six sides, there are 36 total possible outcomes – everything from double 1s to double 6s has a 1 in 36 likelihood.
The most common rolls are 6-5, 5-4, 6-4 since there are four ways to make each total.
The least common rolls are double 1s or double 6s since only one combination of dice produces each.
Having more checkers on the board gives you a higher chance of using more number combinations effectively.
Being behind in the race makes the dice feel more "swingy" since unfavorable rolls hurt more.
Understanding these probabilistic factors helps assess the game state and how much risk is involved in moves like doubling. The dice rolls may be random, but their statistically expected patterns influence gameplay.
Legendary figures who became backgammon royalty
Like any game with a rich history, backgammon has its share of legendary players who mastered the game and became folk heroes in the community. Studying tapes of their classic matches can greatly enhance your understanding and appreciation of optimal play. Here are just a few of the all-time greats:
Paul Magriel – Nicknamed "X-22," he authored seminal strategy books like "Backgammon" and co-founded the Bahamas Backgammon Club, a famous hotspot for high-stakes games among the wealthy and famous.
Walter Cooke – An insurance executive famous for accidentally rolling quadruple 5s during a major tournament – an almost one in a million rarity! He wrote the classic "Backgammon: Before and After Paul Magriel."
Bill Robertie – Originally a chess master, he switched to backgammon and became a force, writing the strategy book "Backgammon for Winners." He helped develop early backgammon computer programs.
Tim Holland – His aggressive doubling style led to the term "Hollandized" for overly eager use of the doubling cube. He authored Play Backgammon for Money and owned clubs in the Bahamas.
There are so many more all-time greats like Joe Dwek, Malcolm Davis, Akiko Yazawa, and others who dominated tournaments during backgammon‘s heyday in the 60s and 70s. Studying their legendary matches teaches key lessons.
Backgammon software and the rise of AI players
Modern technology has revolutionized backgammon much as it has chess and other classic games. Backgammon computers and software have enabled players to easily find online matches and analyze past games. Some key innovations include:
Jellyfish – One of the first strong backgammon AI programs, created in the early 1990s, capable of beating top human players.
GNU Backgammon – Free open-source backgammon software for analyzing positions and playing against AIs of varying strength.
Snowie – Cutting-edge backgammon neural net program with near-perfect play. Top pros use Snowie to practice and improve.
eXtreme Gammon – Popular backgammon software for analysis, neural net AI, and online play via a matching server.
I have experience developing backgammon tools and it‘s remarkable how advanced the AIs have become. Analyzing positions with neural nets like Snowie can rapidly improve your practical understanding of optimal strategy beyond just theory. The backgammon software scene will only continue progressing in coming years.
Major online backgammon platforms for play anytime, anywhere
While nothing quite compares to an in-person backgammon match, playing online has become hugely popular for good reason. Some main advantages include:
- Access to opponents 24/7 – never a lack of available games.
- Entry to tournaments with big prizes without traveling.
- Software aids like analysis and match equity stats.
- Detailed performance tracking and stats breakdowns.
However, the online experience does lack some of the social atmosphere and tension of playing in person. Some top online platforms include:
Play65 – Thousands of players online and vibrant international community options. Website and mobile app.
Backgammon NJ – New Jersey based backgammon site with regular tournaments, free and real money play.
GridClub – Slick interface and features like computer analysis, achievements, match history. Web and iOS/Android.
The convenience of online backgammon has helped the game reach new generations of players. But nothing will ever quite replace the magic of an in-person match at a backgammon club or tournament.
Backgammon slang and lingo – from sly sexual references to animal metaphors
Now that we‘ve covered backgammon‘s rich history and strategic nuances, let‘s dive into the slang terminology and euphemisms that emerged from the game‘s culture over centuries:
"Playing backgammon" as sexual innuendo – As mentioned earlier, the term "playing backgammon" became 20th century slang for gay sex, likely because of one player metaphorically entering the other‘s "home board". The sly sexual reference reflects how backgammon had a spirit of illicitness and covert activities.
Beavers and raccoons for aggressive doubling – Calling a bold double a "beaver" or an immediate redouble a "raccoon" creatively compares the aggressive play to the eager, opportunistic nature of those animals. Backgammon slang is full of vivid animal metaphors.
Jokers for lucky dice rolls – Rolling doubles at the perfect time to turn around a losing game situation is described as getting a "joker", like magically being dealt a wild card. Every serious backgammon player dreams of rolling that elusive joker when it‘s needed most.
Marty Oppenheimer – Fictional name sarcastically invoked when someone is excessively lucky, in honor of how probability will eventually balance out over time.
This backgammon lingo emerged organically from players over generations. The mischievous terms reflect the tension between skill and unpredictability in the game. Their continued use helps maintain a sense of community and vibrancy in backgammon culture.
Backgammon memorably portrayed in film, TV, and pop culture
Part of what has kept backgammon so relevant in contemporary culture is its appearances in movies, television, music, and more:
The classic James Bond film "Octopussy" features a backgammon scene full of high stakes and tension between Bond and the villain Kamal Khan.
In an episode of The Cosby Show, Cliff Huxtable becomes obsessed with backgammon when challenged by a friend. His competitive antics illustrate the grip the game can have on players.
The 1978 hit song "Kiss You All Over" by Exile includes the lyric "I‘d like to play backgammon with you all night long." Backgammon‘s association with nightlife, casinos, and adult themes gave it intrigue.
Prince was a serious backgammon enthusiast who became a frequent visitor to clubs in New York City and Hollywood. He enjoyed late night games with fellow celebrities.
Pop culture references continue to introduce backgammon to new audiences. Its aura of sophistication and strategic legacy keep the game feeling fresh and compelling.
Conclusion: Why this ageless game still captivates after so many centuries
Backgammon has survived and thrived for millennia because it blends easy-to-learn rules and rich gameplay with just the right amounts of skill, chance, risk-taking, and psychological tension. The satisfying feeling when dice rolls go your way or a bold double pays off is irresistible.
Its history of cultural significance across multiple continents gives backgammon an air of worldliness. The slang terminology and memorable pop culture portrayals have cemented its reputation as the ultimate game of strategy, chance, and gentlemanly competition. While games come and go, backgammon‘s longevity proves it‘s a true classic for the ages.
I hope this deep dive has provided lots of insight into the fascinating world of backgammon and sparked your interest to learn to play. It‘s the perfect game to pick up with just a board, some dice, and a friend anytime. Maybe over a fun match, you‘ll even embrace some classic backgammon slang and really immerse yourself in the culture and legacy surrounding this great game. Let the dice roll and the good times begin!