Backgammon

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Those seeking to study the history of backgammon are confronted with a difficult problem. There is no definitive history of the game, which can trace its antecedents back some 5,000 years. The very first backgammon book of the modern era, appropriately entitled The Backgammon Book by Jacoby & Crawford (ISBN 0 14046260 0) does have a brief but excellent history of the game as its first section. The other useful reference book is H J R Murray's A History of Board Games other than Chess which notes that the first recorded use of the word backgammon was in 1645.

The Backgammon Book traces the game from its murky origins in Mesopotamia, through the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Greeks - the tedium of the siege of Troy was lightened by playing an early form of the game - and the Romans. The Emperor Claudius is said to have written a book on the game!

The game's route into Europe is obscured by time although the Roman Empire obviously played some part. It is mentioned in old English glossaries of the eighth and ninth centuries but its great popularity apparently dates from the Crusades whereafter it became known as Tables. A backgammon board was found on the wreck of the Mary Rose.

Different versions of the game can still be found around the world varying from the US Navy's Acey-Deucey to Greece's Tavli. The modern version of the game gained new life and immense popularity in the 1920s when some enterprising gamesman in one of the New York clubs came up with the idea of the doubling cube. The first laws of the game were drafted in 1931 at the New York Racquet & Tennis Club.

The Backgammon Book also contains some excellent photographs and prints of early artefacts and boards and more recent paintings from European archives. Like many backgammon books of the early 1970s the book is currently out of print but it is well worth checking your local second-hand bookshop for a copy, and you can occasionally find a copy in a public library.

On a more modern note, Malcolm Pein of Chess & Bridge Ltd. informs me that they now stock all versions of Jellyfish and are willing to give demonstrations or to send a demo disk free of charge to anyone who requests it. They can be contacted at 369 Euston Road, London NW1 3AR. Tel: 0171-388-2404.

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