Backgammon

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The Independent Online
How did you learn to play backgammon? On a holiday in Greece or Turkey to pass those idle hours on the beach? On a night shift as a bored computer operator with not enough to do? Taught by your spouse/partner to wean you away from chess or bridge? In a pub in the late Seventies as the backgammon craze took hold of the nation, and you didn't want to feel left out?

I was taught by my girlfriend, now wife, Gill in her desperate attempt to stop me playing chess. Little did she know! What all the above have in common is that very few of us were taught as children. Yet childhood is precisely when when we should learn to play, and if we cannot change our own education, then we can at least pass on our knowledge to our children.

Backgammon, like chess, bridge and other games, is something children can grasp quite easily at an early age. As an adult I learnt the game by studying whatever literature was available - minimal, in the Seventies - and playing for countless hours with like-minded individuals. You could call it trial and error. The learning curve was long and arduous as I had to sift the good from the bad and then remember the good - no mean feat for an adult, even one of only 25 summers.

Children, however, don't learn the same way and if well taught at an early age the learning curve is much steeper. They also have the huge benefit of not learning too many bad habits, if well taught initially. I have recently started to teach my daughter Katherine, 9, to play. We started with non-contact racing positions to give her the feel for moving the men, and then moved on to the normal game, played without the doubling cube. She will make a move and then ask my advice. I will try to point her in the right direction if she has made a bad mistake, and explain the basic concepts behind my reasoning. I have been amazed at the speed of her learning and her ability to retain knowledge. Once she has mastered more of the basics I will gradually introduce the concept of doubling. When I have not been around she has been practising against the computer program Jellyfish on its most basic level.

I have recently noticed that a number of friends' children have started to play. This must be good for the game and I wouldn't be surprised to see a resurgence of the game over the next few years. All we need is tournament organisers to include a children's section and we could have a British World Champion in the not too distant future. So please - let the children play.

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