At nine or ten years old, Melanie Boggs’ father taught her about playing backgammon and chess. She retained the rules of chess, but her true passion lay on the backgammon board. Over the intervening years, she honed her skills and learned strategy within those elongated triangles.
When she was in high school, Melanie Boggs’ father took a business trip to Lebanon. Upon his return, he gave her a backgammon board he’d purchased there. Inlaid with mother of pearl, this handmade board became a prized possession and traveled with her across nations.
The History of Backgammon
The world’s love of backgammon goes back thousands of years. Ancestors of backgammon have been discovered in the ruins of the ancient civilization of Sumer, dating to over 5000 years ago. While other games that make up the DNA of backgammon have been discovered in Egypt, the modern version is suspected to have evolved in India or China. However, it definitely traveled into the west through the Mediterranean with evidence of gameplay in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.
In Europe during medieval times, the game spread from the aristocracy through to the working classes. Innkeepers installed tables with boards, men, and dice to attract customers. While people moralized over the associated gambling, it seemed none could stay away.
The modern name is reputed to have roots in Middle English or Welsh, which is understandable given the popularity of the game throughout the British Empire. The name “backgammon” was not evidenced in writing until 1645. Until that time, the most widely used name in the west was “Tables.” Backgammon goes by different names across the world including “Nardi” in Iraq and “Tric Trac” in France.
Eighteen and Cocky
In 1981, Melanie flew to Cyprus with her boyfriend to visit his family for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. During the long flights and layovers, they played game after game of backgammon on one of those magnetic boards with a zipper that keeps it closed. As she explored the island with her sweetheart. She noticed cafe tables painted with boards and front porches peopled with old men, sipping brandy and playing with each other. Feeling cocky after many successful games during her trip, she asked her boyfriend to translate her challenge for one of these fellows – the best of two out of three. The winner would take the loser’s backgammon board. She still remembers the patina of that man’s backgammon board, handmade and polished from thousands of games.
As she walked away, handily defeated by decades of practice, she lamented the loss of that traveling backgammon set. But the lesson she learned only deepened her passion for the game.
Due to the chaos of the dice roll, the strategy of backgammon depends upon nuance. A slight edge in play can determine a winner. Because of that same unruly dice, anyone can win on any given day – a quality that attracts many players to this classic game.
Spending an hour (or two) playing backgammon enlivens the mind as it relaxes the body. The laughter and camaraderie of playing a board game keep your immune system strong while the intellectual exercise strengthens your mind and memory.
Middle Eastern Memories
When visiting Dubai in the fall of 2019, Melanie was struck by the familiar qualities of the designs around her. Each turn down a new street evoked a memory, a nostalgia for something she couldn’t define. On a date after the long trip home, she suddenly found a new design for a backgammon board in her mind. Infused with her impressions of those Middle Eastern motifs, this board has come to life through the expertise of Brian and the craftsmen of our shop.
Backgammon’s seduction increases its strength when you play upon a handcrafted board. Silky smooth finishes and intricate inlay bring an aesthetic pleasure to your gameplay.
Enjoy your game!
P.S. If all of this has left you with a yen for backgammon, you can find a comprehensive set of rules here: Rules of Backgammon Board
Resources and Citations