Saturday, 26 November 2011

Backgammon IRL

I've been playing backgammon for donkeys years. I started in my late teens, or possibly early twenties. A few friends together, with beer or pot or both.

We would experiment with variants, such as acey deucey, and tric trac, and with different starting positions, like starting with all the men off the board. We'd even play for small amounts of money. But we never used the doubling cube.

Dutch coffeeshops used to almost always contain backgammon sets. Why backgammon? I really don't know, but they did. Last time I was in Holland, this custom was rapidly disappearing, and they seemed more like cyber cafes. I hope it doesn't die out completely.

Anyway, when I discovered the internet, one of the first things I did was start playing backgammon online. I've done so ever since, and I've gradually improved as a player, and now I'm capable of holding my own against some good players.

Backgammon is a mixture of luck and skill. You use the dice rolls you're given to maximise your chances and limit the options for your opponent. It's called Backgammon, or "The back game" because if one person ends up far enough behind in a game, they often get the opportunity to turn things around. Using the doubling cube properly is another important thing to be able to do. The stakes are initially set to one. Either player can double the stakes by offering the cube to their opponent. The opponent can either forfeit the game, and lose the current stake, or can accept the cube, after which the stakes are 2. The player that doubled can not double again until their opponent has doubled. The doubling cube is a form of psychological warfare!

Anyway, tonight, I went to Liverpool, where the Liverpool backgammon club holds a monthly meeting. There were about 12 people there, and I got to play real matches against 6 of them.

Some of them take things very seriously! There are rules and etiquettes to follow that just don't occur in online play.

For example, a player's turn doesn't end until they pick up their dice. If you roll your own dice before then, it's considered very bad form, and the player who hasn't yet finished his turn has the option of forcing you to either re-roll, or use the roll you took.

You must roll your dice onto the right hand side of the board. this presumably avoids confusion, although given the previous rule, how the two sets of dice could mistakenly interact is hard to explain.

Most of the players there tonight were of quite a high standard. A few were less so.

I beat a good player in my first match, partly because of some outrageous good luck. I lost to a very good player in my second match. Then to a less good player in my third match. I lost by the shaving of a gnat's whisker in my fourth match, to a very good player, and again in my fifth match, before beating a poorer player in my final match.

It was good fun, and I shall try to go to more in the future.

driving lessons in Wallasey?

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