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A Brief History of Backgammon

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The oldest game?

The ancient game of Backgammon has been played throughout the world for centuries. While the exact origins of the game remain unknown, evidence has been found that it was played as long as 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia (Iran, Iraq, and Syria).

Fast paced and challenging, backgammon slowly evolved into the game we know today. It is a perfect example of a game that is easy to learn, but takes a lifetime to master.

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Skill… or chance?

While essentially a dice game, backgammon is considered to be a game of skill rather than luck, despite the inherent chance that goes with the roll of the dice. This fact has seen it survive constant battles with authorities and the church who disapproved of the game because of the gambling element.

One such attempt to outlaw backgammon in 16th century Britain saw the invention of the now-standard folding board, which could be easily hidden on a bookshelf. However, by the 18th century backgammon had become popular among the British clergy, and remains so to this day!

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What’s in a name?

There are two sources for the word “backgammon”, which found its way into the English language in the 1600’s, either from the Welsh words meaning “little battle” or an evolution of the phrase “back game” which could be a description of the game, or a reference to the fact that many chessboards were marked for backgammon on the back.

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A journey across continents

Excavations have shown that board games similar to backgammon have existed for millennia in Ancient Egypt and Southwest Asia, and were likely introduced to the ancient Romans via Greece. A wall painting was found on Pompeii portraying backgammon being played in two markedly different settings, suggesting that it was enjoyed by ordinary Romans as well as the aristocracy.

Pompeii_Dice_Players

The game continued to be played in Rome after the establishment of Christianity, and is thought to have spread from the upper classes throughout medieval society in Europe, appearing widely in paintings of this period.

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Backgammon comes to Britain

Although similar games were known in Anglo-Saxon times, the more modern version was probably brought to England by knights in Richard the Lion-Heart’s army returning from the Crusades, becoming extremely popular in English taverns at that time.

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The roaring 20’s…

The most recent significant change to the game was the addition of the doubling cube, which came about in 1920s New York to make the game more appealing to gamblers by effectively raising the stakes and enhancing the element of skill in the game.
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The swinging 60’s…

The popularity of backgammon surged in the mid-1960s, which saw the founding of the International Backgammon Association, which published a set of official rules. The first major international backgammon tournament took place in March 1964, attracting socialites and high society from around the world.

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Backgammon today

Backgammon is now as popular and widely played as ever, having survived the inevitable decline in popularity as TV, video and computer games have become the dominant force in home entertainment. Today the Internet allows players from all over the world to play each other, and global tournaments continue to attract the finest players from around the globe.

The World Backgammon Association was founded in 2001 in California and operates from headquarters in Malta. It has become the leading authority of the game and promotes the game internationally and worldwide.

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