By Robert Wachtel
Modern backgammon, as developed – and, nowadays studied – in Europe, the Americas and Japan, is just a small tweak removed from the traditional board game that has been played in the Middle East for millennia by millions and millions of people of every age and economic class. Most everyone, in countries like Iran, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Iraq, learns backgammon as a kid, plays with friends and family growing up, and, leisure permitting, continues to compete and sharpen his or her skills as an adult.
The Middle Eastern boards, of course, are not felt-padded, as are our backgammon sets, nor are dice cups the norm. The dice are tiny, and thrown by hand onto a wooden board with inlaid pips (often without the even-odd color variation that we use), where they make a sharp clacking sound as they roll. The pieces, to complete the percussive composition, are thwacked down with an impressive but measured amount of force: just a little less than required for the escape velocity that would send the rest of the checkers hurtling into orbit. The game is played fast, with constant banter – but no doubling cube.