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Backgammon can be played in many ways. The most obvious are tournaments and head-to-head play for money, but the third common form is the most exciting of all. This is the chouette, played by any number from three upwards (although more than six is unusual). Here is how it works:

One player, known as "the box", plays against the remainder, known as "the team", one of whom is designated "the captain". The team may consult about their moves but the captain has the final decision. The players rotate in strict order. Let's say that Player A is the box playing against B, C and D where B is the captain. If A wins the game he keeps the box, C becomes the captain and B goes to the back of the queue. If B wins the game as captain he becomes the new box and A goes to the back.

What makes a chouette really fun is that each of the team has his own doubling cube. This significantly increases the money involved as, for example, in a four-person chouette the box is playing against the other three players, in effect for three times the nominal stake. If he wins, he wins a point from each player (assuming the cube has not been turned), but if he loses, he loses three points. Or take a five-handed chouette and assume that the box has accepted a double from all the other four players. Losing a gammon will cost him 16 points rather than the four- point loss if he was playing head-to-head. Losses in the box can be very expensive - one of America's top players recently claimed a record by losing 300 points in one game in a 10-handed chouette!

It is not unusual in a chouette for doubling cubes to be found on both sides of the board! For example, let's say two of the team, B and C, decide to double the box whilst D decides to wait. The box takes the cubes, turns the game round and then decides to double D, who accepts. Thus the box has two of the cubes and one of the team members, D, has the other. Doubling in chouettes can get very complex. I've been in five-handed chouettes where all four cubes have been at a different value at the same time.

Chouettes are the most social form of backgammon and a room with a big money chouette at its centre is never going to be quiet. It is thus a good way to meet new players. Provided a new player can afford the stakes, he will always be welcome. Secondly, for someone who is intent on improving, playing in a chouette with better players is ideal.

Unlike many games where experts are loathe to explain their play, in a chouette they have no option as they have to convince their captain of the soundness of their play. If you can't take the financial risk of playing in a chouette, then listening and watching one for a few hours can be nearly as effective. But until you have actually played and learnt to cope with the peculiar pressures that chouettes can bring, you won't have learnt all the lessons.