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History of Backgammon


Herr Goeli, from the 14th century Codex Manesse

Backgammon is one of the oldest board games for two players. The playing pieces are moved according to the roll of dice, and a player wins by removing all of his pieces from the board before his opponent. There are many variants of backgammon, most of which share common traits. Backgammon is a member of the tables family, one of the oldest classes of board games in the world.

Although luck is involved and factors into the outcome, strategy plays a more important role in the long run. With each roll of the dice, players must choose from numerous options for moving their checkers and anticipate possible counter-moves by the opponent. Players may raise the stakes during the game. There is an established repertoire of common tactics and occurrences.

Like chess, backgammon has been studied with great interest by computer scientists. Owing to this research, backgammon software has been developed capable of beating world-class human players.


Persia (Iran)
Excavations at Shahr-e Sukhteh (Persian شهر سوخته, literally "The Burnt City") in Iran have shown that the game existed there around 3000 BC. The artifacts include two dice and 60 checkers, and the set is believed to be 100 to 200 years older than the sets found in Ur. On the board found at Shahr-e Sukhteh the fields are fashioned by the coils of a snake.

Touraj Daryaee (2006)—on the subject of the first written mention of early precursors of backgammon—writes:


The game of backgammon is first mentioned in Bhartrhari’s Vairagyasataka (p. 39), composed around the late sixth or early seventh century AD. The use of dice for the game is another indication of its Indic origin, since dice and gambling were a favorite pastime in ancient India. The rules of the game, however, first appeared in the Middle Persian text Wızarisnı Catrang ud Nihisnı New Ardaxsır (Explanation of Chess and Invention of Backgammon), composed in the sixth century during the rule of the Sasanian king Khosrow I (530–571). The text assigns its invention to the Persian sage Wuzurgmihr (Persian) Buzarjumihr/Bozorgmehr, who was the minister of King Khosrow I, as a challenge for the Indian sages.

In the 11th century Shahnameh, the Persian poet Ferdowsi credits Burzoe with the invention of the tables game nard in the 6th century. He describes an encounter between Burzoe and a Raja visiting from India. The Raja introduces the game of chess, and Burzoe demonstrates nard, played with dice made from ivory and teak. Today, Nard is the name for the Persian version of backgammon, which has different initial positions and objectives. H.J.R. Murray details many versions of backgammon; modern Nard is noted there as being the same as backgammon and maybe dating back to 300–500 AD in the Babylonian Talmud.


Egypt and Iraq
Board games have existed for millennia in Ancient Egypt and Southwest Asia. The ancient Egyptian game senet was excavated, along with illustrations, from ancient Egyptian royal tombs. The Royal Game of Ur, played in ancient Mesopotamia, may also be an ancestor of modern-day table games.



Roman board from the 2nd century, Aphrodisias

The ancient Romans played a number of games remarkably similar to backgammon. Ludus duodecim scriptorum ("Game of twelve lines") used a board with three rows of 12 points each, and the checkers were moved across all three rows according to the roll of dice. Little specific text about the gameplay has survived. Tabula, meaning "table" or "board", was a game mentioned in an epigram of Byzantine Emperor Zeno (AD 476–481). It was similar to modern backgammon in that the object of the game was to be the first to bear off all of one's checkers. Players threw three dice and moved their checkers in opposing directions on a board of 24 points.


East Asia
Backgammon was popular in China for a time (Known as "shuanglu 双陆"), with the book 譜雙 written during the Southern Song (1127–1279) period recording over ten variants - but over time it was replaced by other games such as xiangqi (Chinese chess).

In Japan ban-sugoroku is thought to have been introduced from China in the sixth century. As a gambling game it was made illegal several times. In the early Edo-era, a new and quick gambling game called Chō-han appeared and sugoroku quickly dwindled. By the 13th century the board game Go, originally played only by the aristocracy, had become popular among the general public.


The jeux de tables (Games of Tables), predecessors of modern backgammon, first appeared in France during the 11th Century and became a favorite pastime of gamblers. In 1254, Louis IX issued a decree prohibiting his court officials and subjects from playing. Tables games were played in Germany in the 12th century, and had reached Iceland by the 13th century. In Spain, the Alfonso X manuscript Libro de los juegos, completed in 1283, describes rules for a number of dice and table games in addition to its extensive discussion of chess. By the 17th Century, tables games had spread to Sweden. A wooden board and checkers were recovered from the wreck of the Vasa among the belongings of the ship's officers. Backgammon appears widely in paintings of this period, mainly those of Dutch and German painters (Van Ostade, Jan Steen, Hieronymus Bosch, Bruegel and others). Some surviving artworks are "Cardsharps" by Caravaggio and "The Triumph of Death" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (the backgammon board is in the lower right). Others are the Hell of Bosch and interior of an Inn by Jan Steen.


In the sixteenth century, Elizabethan laws and church regulations prohibited playing tables, but by the eighteenth century backgammon was popular among the English clergy. Edmund Hoyle published A Short Treatise on the Game of Back-Gammon in 1743; this described rules and strategy for the game and was bound together with a similar text on whist.

In English, the word "backgammon" is most likely derived from "back" and Middle English "gamen", meaning "game" or "play". The earliest use documented by the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1650.


Backgammon is popular among Greeks. It is a game in which Greeks usually tease their opponent and they create a lively atmosphere. The game is called "Tavli", derived in Byzantine times from the Latin word "tabula". There are three games of Tavli commonly played:

Portes: Set-up and rules the same as backgammon, except that backgammons count as gammons (2 points) and there is no doubling cube.
Plakoto: A game where one checker can trap another checker on the same point.
Fevga: A game where one checker by itself can block a point.
These games are played one after another, in matches of three, five, or seven points. Before starting a match, each player rolls 1 die, and the player with the highest roll picks up both dice and re-rolls (i.e. it is possible to roll doubles for the opening move). Players use the same pair of dice in turns. After the first game, the winner of the previous game starts first. Each game counts as 1 point, if the opponent has borne off at least 1 stone, otherwise 2 points (gammon/backgammon). There is no doubling cube.


Backgammon, which is known as "tavla", is still a very popular game in Turkey, and it is customary to name the dice rolls with their Persian number names: yek (1), dü (2), se (3), cehar (4), penc (5), şeş (6).


United States
The most recent major development in backgammon was the addition of the doubling cube. It was first introduced in the 1920s in New York City among members of gaming clubs in the Lower East Side. The cube required players not only to select the best move in a given position, but also to estimate the probability of winning from that position, transforming backgammon into the expected value-driven game played in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The popularity of backgammon surged in the mid-1960s, in part due to the charisma of Prince Alexis Obolensky who became known as "The Father of Modern Backgammon""Obe", as he was called by friends, co-founded the International Backgammon Association which published a set of official rules. He also established the World Backgammon Club of Manhattan, devised a backgammon tournament system in 1963, then organized the first major international backgammon tournament in March, 1964 which attracted royalty, celebrities and the press. The game became a huge fad and was played on college campuses, in discothèques and at country clubs; stockbrokers and bankers began playing at conservative men's clubs. People young and old all across the country dusted off their boards and checkers. Cigarette, liquor and car companies began to sponsor tournaments and Hugh Hefner held backgammon parties at the Playboy MansionBackgammon clubs were formed and tournaments were held, resulting in a World Championship promoted in Las Vegas in 1967.




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