Dan Rovira writes…
My first backgammon game was in a small café in Brighton where they served Oolong in coloured teapots. Having lived a brief time in Greece, I’d seen the game before, but at a distance, tentatively. Didn’t you have to be over sixty and smoke to gain admission?
Now, the board was here in front of me, and I was playing against the owner. He showed me some moves and I muddled through. I enjoyed it and returned again another day for another game and more tea (Darjeeling). Soon, I even won a few games. I thought to myself, “hell, I’m pretty good at this backgammon game!” It took me another five years to realise I knew nothing.
Remember Socrates? Old guy with a beard. Hung around Plato a lot. There’s that line of his (that he never actually said) about the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing. Damn, never have I felt so Socratic in my life! Five years of playing – and for what? Now, I almost wish I’d never learnt about the stupid game.
Want to know a good way to kill a date: mention dice cups and match equity. But, anyway, here I am, seven-somewhat years later: committed – and that’s committed in a good way, not in the medical sense: bound, tied down, straitjacketed. Although, I’m sure there’s some overlap when you’ve played this game for long enough. Now that I’ve been playing for a while, I feel like I’m finally able to grasp some of the beauties of the game. Man, I even know what a well-timed backgame is (don’t mention on a date). Feels like I’ve been looking through a glass darkly, and now the glass is clearing.
I’ve been playing for long enough now that I lose count of how long I’ve been playing for. I hope I’ll hit that 10,000-hour rule thing soon and become an expert by default. Anyhow, below, I’ve listed some of the reasons below why I feel backgammon matters (to me, at least).
Think of Woody Allen. The archetypal Jewish neurotic. He worries. He worries about worrying. Bottom line: he thinks too much about thinking too much.
Backgammon is the same, right? We think about a move, and after that we think about the thoughts of why we made that move. You with me? There’s even a name for this: metacognition. By thinking about thinking we’re actually making ourselves into better thinkers. Less impulsive, less rash in our decisions, slow to anger, calmer.
Of course, backgammon cannot be reduced solely to the rational. How boring! We’ve all felt our blood jumping when we take a chance and it pays off, or when the cube turns to 16. We take risks, and sometimes the risks work.
Fortune not only favours the brave; it flavours the brave, in that it makes us more amenable to taking chances in the future. It draws us out of ourselves to something bigger than ourselves that was always who we were already.
Gosh, one day I might win enough money to actually be able to enter one of Jon Clark’s chouettes without having to sell a kidney. We can all hope for a better way of living – and backgammon provides that. Never would I have thought from my Lapsang-sipping days that I would actually one day win a tournament (Intermediate, but still). The boy done good, as no-one ever said from Birmingham. But it’s definitely good being good at things, and the cash doesn’t hurt after all.
The first backgammon tournament I went to, I saw two players having a full-blown row over some issue with dice handling. I thought, this is exciting! You don’t get this kind of action in tea shops. What was amazing was how many other players huddled around the table like a rugby scrum and tried to intervene with encouraging words such as “She’s right” or “Keep the bloody noise down”. Needless to say, the issue was resolved in the end and play resumed as normal.
The point being, the backgammon community comes together. I saw someone fall down in the street once, and it took twenty people to pass before anyone stopped and asked if they were ok.
If I had a pound for every time someone complained about luck, please see the previous comment about Jon Clark’s chouette. But seriously, in the nicest possible way, can we all just shut the fuck up please. Boo hoo, your opponent rolled boxes and jumped your prime. Get the bloody violins out. Now that would be a great idea, right? Guest violinist at backgammon tournaments to serenade players. You’re welcome.
Truth is, it happens to us all, mate. The best of us don’t keep going on about it. You know why? Because it’s boring – or maybe because you played the wrong move. Look, it took me five years, and I still don’t know what I’m doing half of the time. Read the above. You know what’s worse than moaning? Repeated moaning.
And on that positive note, thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Peace and love
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