Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Game of the Week: Backgammon

About 25 years ago I remember backgammon had a surge in popularity. It seemed like everybody had a leather-bound travel case with them. The gambling aspect appealed to a lot of folks, I think, although poker seems to have captured the fancy of most young gamblers these days. While its possible to make a living a professional backgammon player, it's money earned bit by bit, without the huge windfalls that make the World Poker Championships on TV so exciting.
Among friends and acquaintances, though backgammon still has its place as a nice past time, with some low-level gambling possibility. The advantage backgammon has over poker is that it's a two-player game, so you don';t need to get a group together like you do for poker.
Backgammon evolved from the ancient "tables" games, examples of which were played by the Romans. The game took its present shape a few hundred years ago, although the doubling cube only came into use in the 1920s. Playing with the doubling cube adds an additional level of strategy while also bringing hopeless games to a close earlier.
Unlike most other classic games, backgammon does include a significant luck factor, which turns off some people. Understanding probabilities is necessary for decent play and I think it's a good mechanism for teaching probability to kids.
Games seem to go through cycles of popularity so I wonder if backgammon will regain some of its popularity anytime soon. It is one of the more popular games online.
One place where there isn't a lot of action is at the casinos. Unlike most other gambling games there's no house advantage, so the game is too fair for casino use.

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