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Henry Forwood talks Backgammon

Backgammon board

I have been playing Backgammon since I was a kid. I’m not sure who taught me but I remember playing at school on one of those magnetic travel boards. As I grew up, I realised it was a game I could take with me almost anywhere, as long as I had a pair of dice. The board and counters you can normally pick up from your surroundings. On the beach, sand with pebbles as counters works well. Outside I made boards with a piece of chalk and some bottle tops and when I was travelling by train, with a pen and bits of paper. – says Henry Forwood

Discover how to set up a backgammon board

A BRIEF HISTORY OF BACKGAMMON

Board games have been around for thousands of years. The remains of a game dating back to 3000BC were discovered at Shahr-e Sukhteh in Iran and the Royal Game of Ur was invented not long after. Another board was found at Jiroft dating back to 2000BC, and this board represents a game much closer to what we now know as Backgammon.

From its start, in Mesopotamia, the game spread with various regional variations to neighbouring countries and beyond. It is now commonly played in Iraq, Iran, Egypt Turkey and Greece. It even reached China during the 1100s where it was known as ‘Shuanglu’. From China, the game spread to Japan in the 6th century, but as a gambling game, so it was made illegal a number of times. Eventually by the 13th century, the game ‘Go’ took over as the dominant game.

Learn more about Backgammon Sets

“The Backgammon game had reached Europe by the 11th century. By 1254 Louis IX issued a decree banning court officials and subjects from playing the game. The word Backgammon first appeared in the Oxford English dictionary in 1650. It is probably derived from the Middle English “baec” meaning back and the word “gamen” meaning “game” or “play.”

In the 16th century, Elizabethan law and church regulations banned games tables. However, by the 18th century, Backgammon was back in popularity, especially amongst the clergy. In 1753 Edmond Hoyle published ‘A Short Treatise on the Game of Back-Gammon’, which set out the rules and strategy of the game.

The most recent advancement in the development of the game came when it became popular in New York in the 1920s. The game was taken up by gambling clubs in the Lower East Side that introduced the doubling cube or doubling dice. This really changed the game as it meant that players not only had to select the best moves but also had to estimate the probability of winning from that position. 

The charismatic Prince Alexis Obolensky became the ‘Father of Modern Backgammon” when he founded the International Backgammon Association which published a set of official rules. He then went on to establish the first major international backgammon tournament in March 1964.

To conclude, Backgammon is a game that came from the Middle East and is still played there with enthusiasm today. This is especially true of Turkey where backgammon is almost a national sport and is played in coffee houses and cafes!