Aberdeen Backgammon Club were featured in Your Life Magazine recently…
Backgammon has a history which can be traced back thousands of years. Ellie House found out how a board game can combat stress and bring people together.
It is difficult not to be charmed by Mutlu Ustun, with his warm brown eyes and enthusiasm for conversation. He talks with his hands, and earnestly apologises for not knowing the right words with which to get is point across. Mutlu is in fact perfectly easy to understand, and he visibly relaxes as the task at hand unfolds.
After working long hours as a taxi driver, Mutlu would be forgiven for dashing home to his wife and two sons. But every Wednesday without fail, he heads to the Carmelite Hotel on Stirling Street in Aberdeen, and indulges in a game of backgammon. The board game reminds him of his childhood spent in Istanbul, where it would be played in cafes by the young and old. The sound of checkers slamming down on wooden boards echoed in the streets, and Mutlu learned first by watching, and then playing.
He is now a proud member of Aberdeen Backgammon Club, and hopes to entice more people by introducing Scotland’s first backgammon tournament. The group was founded by Brenda Rafferty two years ago, and has roughly 15 regular members who vary in age, from their 20’s to those who are retired. It is one of only three official clubs in Scotland, and members are now on the look-out for new enthusiasts.
“I’m 50 years old, but I have been playing backgammon since I was a little boy,” said Mutlu. “It is very popular in Turkey, everybody plays it, and I think backgammon originates from Iran”. “I grew up watching people slap their checkers down on the board, and I’m so glad I found this lovely group. My wife saw an advert for the group on the council website, I’ve been coming for about a year and a half”.
But what is backgammon and how do you become good at it? It is believed to be one of the oldest known board games, and its history can be traced back 5,000 years. It is a two-player game where each player has 15 pieces known as checkers, which move between 24 triangles, according to the roll of two dice. The objective of the game is to be first to bear off, which means removing all 15 checkers from the board. It might sound straightforward, but backgammon involves strategy, good memory and a sprinkling of luck. “I play backgammon with my two boys, and I believe it can help keep your brain sharp,” said Mutlu.
“It is also a brilliant way of socialising, and that element could be particularly useful for young people. I see it with my own children, I am told an iPad is the latest thing so off I go and buy them one. But the amount of children spending hours online, it is a global disease. In backgammon you are sat face to face with somebody, and our club is like a gathering of people.” It certainly sounds exciting, and to watch a game play out is a fascinating insight into the human psyche.
Club founder Brenda believes that the game mirrors the obstacles we may come across in life, and equips people with coping mechanisms. “I think backgammon helps you to learn how to lose gracefully or win triumphantly. We have such an eclectic mix of people, and this is a game for nine year olds or 99 year olds. Our members come from France, Finland, Turkey, Glasgow, it is so varied and people come from all walks of life. You can be doing really well at a game only to lose everything, all at one throw of a dice. Just like in life, things can be going OK and then everything tumbles down.”
“In backgammon, you learn life skills, it’s a game of strategy but also luck.” Studies have shown that playing games such as chess can stimulate the mind and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Brenda believes the same argument can be made for backgammon. “Backgammon is brilliant for your pincer grip and spacial awareness” she said. “It also requires the right and left hemisphere of the brain, focusing on concentration, memory and problem solving. It can increase the player’s ability to combat stress and even strengthen the immune system.”
“Our players are friendly, competitive and completely nuts. We know backgammon must be played in pubs in Aberdeenshire, and we would love to meet new players. We welcome anyone and everyone, and we’re always happy to teach this wonderful game to new people.” The group is preparing for a backgammon tournament, which will take place in York in August. We have just had Glasgow up for a rematch! We first met up with them in November 2018. Sessions at Carmelite Hotel take place every Wednesday from 7pm to 9.30pm and every third Sunday of the month from 2pm until 5.30pm.
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We’re delighted to be welcoming not one but three Scottish teams to the UK Clubs Championship in a few weeks time – as Aberdeen are joined by Glasgow and South Ayrshire. Will the Tutchings Trophy go north of the border at the first attempt?