The Backgammon history (the advent of doubling)
As we saw in the previous article, backgammon was losing its appeal in the fast-paced society of the 1920’s because the games took too long and it was difficult to wager large amounts of money.
Whether the game would have survived we can only surmise but some time around 1925 or 1926 two things that would change the game forever happened at almost the same time.
The first and most important event occurred when some genius (or it may have been a group of them) in either New York or Boston came up with the idea of being able to double the stakes. We must assume that redoubling was invented at the same time and there is no contrary evidence to suggest otherwise. Sadly, despite extensive research, we do not know exactly who invented the concept so all we can do is give a heartfelt thank you to whoever it was!
The doubling cube did not arrive for some years and initially matchsticks were used to record the stakes. The first type of doubling device was a dial. An example – which I was lucky enough to buy on eBay – is shown here:
This device lasted for some time as evidenced by this photo of Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. and Joan Crawford (they were married from 1929 to 1933):
Exactly when the doubling cube arrived is not recorded.
The second event was the arrival of the multi-player version of the game that has always been known, even in the 1920’s, as a chouette. Chouette is the French for screech owl, a bird that is set upon by many of its own kind so we can see how apt the name is! It was originally used in the card game Picquet.
Now not only could the stakes be doubled but with more players in the game winnings and losses rose exponentially! Backgammon became the perfect game for the 1920’s.
It is safe to say that doubling, whilst it solved the backgammon problems of the day and introduced a whole new level of skill, was initially very poorly understood. If you read any of the books from that era you will find some very dubious advice indeed. The basic concept of the 25% take-point was not explained in any book until Crawford and Jacoby published “The Backgammon Book” in 1970!
Georges Mabardi, author of Vanity Fair’s “Backgammon to Win” (1930) had this view of Doubling: “If two absolutely perfect players engaged in a match, there would never be an accepted double.” Close, but no cigar!
This didn’t stop people cashing in on teaching the game. Here is Leila Hattersley, author of “How to play the New Backgammon” (1930) teaching at a New York Club (Leila is standing back right).