backgammon

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The Independent Culture
Today, we travel back 2,500 years to find the worst roll in backgammon history. The origins of the game are obscure but the oldest possible ancestor dates back some five thousand years to the ancient civilisation of Sumer which flourished in southern Mesopotomia in what is now Iraq. Boards dating from 1500 BC were found in King Tutankhamen's tomb and it is rumoured that the long siege of Troy was only made bearable by whiling away the hours playing the game. Contemporary and modern art has many examples of players excitedly crouching round a board.

In the time that it has taken the modern game to evolve, many different variations can be found. The common themes in all these games are the shape of the board and the use of some form of dice. From the game of "tabulae", played by the emperor Claudius, to the American Navy game of "acey-deucy", people have been fascinated by the games played on the twenty- four point board.

In the game of tabulae, both players started with all 15 men on their respective 24-points, and then proceeded to move them around the board. Doubles didn't count and the players used three dice rather than the modern two. Presumably, this was to speed up play, as with no doubling cube and 15 men back, each game would take rather a long time! The diagram above is taken from a game played by the Roman emperor Zeno during his reign (475-481 AD) and is the first known record of a specific position.

In this position, Zeno (as Black) threw his worst possible number, 6- 5-2, and had to make the forced play 15/9, 6/1, 5/3, leaving 7(!) blots. History does not record Zeno's reaction but it certainly makes most modern hard luck stories pale in comparison!

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