A device through which dice are dropped to randomize a roll. The dice are deflected and jostled about as they fall through the box. (from the glossary at Backgammon Galore)
I am not sure when Baffle Boxes first appeared on the scene. They certainly weren’t around when I was on the international circuit in the 90s and I don’t recall seeing them at any UK tournaments in the noughties. I think the now-retired Tom Duggan might have been the first person I met to bring one over from the States perhaps 3 or 4 years ago.
It is safe to say that they haven’t caught on as much as they might. Take a trip to the Nordic or Monte Carlo and you might see half a dozen. Clocks and video equipment are far more prevalent.
I have a Baffle Box, one of Phil Simborg’s models that I procured from Colin Owen from St Albans and it is a recent email from Colin that has prompted me to write this article.
In that email Colin drew a line in the sand and said that he “will not play in a competition where a player has the intrinsic right to not use a baffle box”. (Reproduced with permission.)
Whether or not you think this action rather draconian or think that he is cutting off his nose to spite his face, you must admire such a principled stance whether you agree with it or not. So what are the arguments for and against BBs and can we find a middle ground to suit both parties?
The current UKBGF rules state the following with regard to Baffle Boxes:
3.4 Baffle box
(i) SITUATIONS – The use of a baffle box may occur as an option, preference, obligation, or imposition:
(a) Option: In any Tournament the players may choose to play the match using a baffle box if they are in agreement;
(b) Preference: A player may insist that the match is played using baffle box, if it is announced in the Tournament invitation that the Tournament, or part thereof, is to be held with a preference for baffle boxes;
(c) Obligation: Players shall be obliged to play the match using a baffle box, if it is announced in the Tournament invitation that the Tournament, or part thereof, is to be held with an obligation to use baffle boxes; and
(d) Imposition: In any Tournament the players are obliged to play the remainder of a match in progress using a baffle box, if a baffle box is available and the Tournament Director makes [a ruling to impose one]
This is pretty standard fare. From my experience the UK Open and the London Open Championship flights were BB Preference. I have never heard of a tournament where BBs are mandatory (Obligation), and the only occurrence I can recollect of a TD imposing a BB on a player because of some grumblings about his throwing action was at this year’s World Champs.
There are some TDs around the country that make no secret of the fact that they are dead against BBs, John Wright (Liverpool Open, Blackpool Open) being one, but if two players agree, John would not be churlish enough to prevent them from playing with one.
Note that if one player wants to use a BB for his rolls then the opposing player cannot have any serious objection, so you might see one player using a BB and the other rolling normally. Indeed this was the case in a couple of my matches in Monte Carlo.
I always use a BB for my rolls. I do this for two reasons.
- Practicalities– it is far quicker to use a BB than to roll properly, which makes the game more enjoyable as well as giving me more time to think while the clock is ticking. It is also far easier, there is no need to shake the dice – you just drop them in, and you very rarely get cocked dice (don’t you hate having to roll again after a super joker?) and you never get dice on the floor.
- Education – the more people seeing BBs in use and learning about the above, the more they will be accepted and in turn be more commonplace (I am not on commission from Phil Simborg by the way!), so consequently the more chance that my opponent will use one too.
I’ll come back to reasons pro BBs later, but I now want to list the arguments I have heard from various quarters over the years against BBs. I do not claim that these are exhaustive and perhaps the comments at the end of this article will list some more.
- They are noisy/ugly
- Never used one before/they are not very common
- They disrupt the flow of the game
- “Rolling well is part of the skill of the game”
- They get rid of a fun part of the game – the rolling, the tension-building shaking of dice etc
- They imply that my rolling is not legal
- They imply that I am a cheat
Now let’s take these in turn..
- BBs come in all shapes and sizes and admittedly my BB sounds a little harsh when the dice go through them –but it looks quite nice, in my humble opinion. Wooden BBs have a lovely sound as they fall through. Wooden boards have (thankfully) been replaced by felt surfaces and we all agree that aesthetically most boards hit the spot. BBs will get better as the years go by but if (1) is one of your reasons, have a look at the general BG playing fraternity – there’s quite a few loudmouths and not many oil paintings, agreed?
- A fallacious argument that I am only mentioning because, like (1) I have actually heard this a few times. These people would never have started playing BG (or indeed do anything!) with this logic.
- BBs actually improve the flow of the game – quicker, no need to (vigorously) shake forever – I had to squeeze it in somewhere didn’t i? No cocked dice, no looking for perfectly camouflaged dice on the carpet etc. This argument typically comes from people who have never used a BB. Once they have they will never use this excuse again.
- If you honestly believe that rolling is a skill then I recommend you start honing your talent – you will make a fortune playing Craps, where the only skill is rolling.
- I have some sympathy with this argument. I have been witness to someone at a big tournament playing to the crowd at a crucial moment at DMP; shaking his dice for eternity (a la Peter Chan) and taking a run-up to the table before releasing his dice. Agreed – a little of this is lost with a BB
- and 7. Now we get to what I believe is the crux of the issue. Please note that (6) and (7) are not the same thing. Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen experienced players that do not roll legally for a variety of reasons. Not one of these do I consider a cheat.
I see my opponent rolling illegally? What do I do? I politely point out that there is a problem and clearly explain. I state that the move is invalid and ask that he rolls again. What if the dice showed an anti-joker, what if the roll was borderline? What if the roll was a super-joker and my opponent thinks it should stand?
These are situations I do not want to have to deal with over the BG board. If I do not point out every roll that is illegal I can be accused of cherry-picking . If I do, the game can be very long and frustrating. When do I call the TD? Is each player allowed to ask kibitzers what they think? Do I ask that the game has an observer from now on? Imagine the ill-feeling that might arise.
The use of a BB avoids all these potential. Issues. When my opponent rolls incorrectly I do get wound up, regardless of whether their roll was good for them or not. In the past (being such a nice guy) I would have just shrugged and resigned myself to their inability to roll. I won’t do this anymore and I hope that you, readers, will follow my lead. You shouldn’t suffer because of your opponent’s inadequacies. It is bad enough them being rewarded for making a poor play but that is part and parcel of the game and something you cannot do anything about!
Obviously rumours abound and dice – mechanics do exist in the world, and it might well be that an opponent of yours is asking to use a BB because he thinks you are a cheat. Are you giving credence to his belief by agreeing to use a BB? Not at all, consider yourself as rising above such distrust and show him that you will win by skilful checker play and astute cube action. I state here that I have seen no evidence of malpractice by anyone in the BG community.
So the next time we face each other over the board and I politely ask you if you mind if we use a BB, please bear in mind that I will ask this of every opponent I meet, and it is nothing personal. You may be one of the players I know who cannot roll properly unless constantly reminded, or you may not – I certainly won’t tell you unless you want me to.
And if you decline the offer of a BB, please be prepared to be picked up on any rolling indiscretions and again – nothing personal.
There is one argument for BBs that I haven’t mentioned yet and this is from individuals that believe that even with correct rolling, the dice aren’t random enough or that in cups it is possible subconsciously or consciously to influence the dice (we are not talking about dice mechanics here). I have no truck with this. If someone rolls correctly I would be perfectly happy with the randomness of the roll. Any influence on dice from the human psyche is IMHO a load of crap. You can visualise or have some special routine for rolling, but there is no such thing as lucky or unlucky rollers, just good and bad players.
So how can these opposing factions come together? Can I envisage BBs being played on every board at tournaments in the future? No. Unlike clocks that big tournaments nowadays make mandatory, I cannot see BBs following the same route. I can foresee them getting more popular – St Albans has four members who own BBs and I wager that number will double within a couple of years.
But is it fair for players to insist on BBs and is there any way that we can avoid principled people like Colin missing out on the game he loves?
I propose that as a default in tournaments the two opinions be weighted equally. As mentioned earlier I do sympathise with argument (5) so someone who likes the feel of rolling and in particular rolling jokers should not automatically be denied that thrill. On the other side of the coin, someone who does not want to be put in the situation of having to vet each and every roll of their opponent and to deal with the possibly very awkward consequences when they apply the rules should also be respected.
A fifth option “Neutral” should be the default option applied in all tournaments across the country. As is the case, if need be, with choice of direction of play and colour of checkers, players should roll for the use of BBs if one player insists. This would placate me (and Colin) and would not make BB-haters feel that the device has been forced upon them.
Let the comments begin.