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Backgammon: Is it luck or skill ?

Greg tells great stories! In this one he describes  his experiences with the game of backgammon!

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My first experience of backgammon was in London, in the 60’s, a very long time ago. We had a friend that had an art gallery, specializing in Byzantine Icons. He was a mix of Scot and Lebanese, impossible to imagine a better mix for a backgammon player. I enjoyed the game and felt it was part of my culture, in my DNA. It may have been in my DNA, but that does not mean I was any good at it, at least not then.

The game, he told me, originally started in Persia; the servants played chess and The Royals played backgammon. If you are a better chess player than your opponent, you will probably beat him consistently. In tavli (backgammon in Greek) it is not the case that the better player wins always. The game is a combination of luck and skill, just like life. A mediocre player can sometimes beat a great player.

My next experience with Tavli was in Spain. I worked with an Armenian art director, a friend from London. He was raised in Lebanon, be careful Greg, danger ahead.

He taught me some more and had a very bizarre characteristic when we played. If he lost he would be happy for me and congratulate me on some move I made, but God he was the worst winner I ever saw, leaping about and buying Raki for everyone in sight. We usually played in an Armenian restaurant in Madrid, surprisingly called Mount Ararat, like every other Armenian restaurant in the world.

I continued playing with him when we both found ourselves working together in Mexico. Another restaurant called Mount Ararat, where the same winning activity took place, but this time with Tequila for all.

Fast forward, twenty years later and my backgammon adventure restarts again, this time in Greece.

My Sensei is a wonderful man, retired here in Porto Heli. He is older than me, and spent many years in Africa working in Ghana. He learned from and played with many Lebanese there. Here we go again, doomed.

Besides telling fascinating stories about his life, he is a passionate backgammon player.

We play often and have played for years. Nevertheless, if I win it is called luck by my Sensei, when he wins it is naturally skill, no matter what dice he throws.

I am from Brooklyn, so my language at times is a little rough. I believe in “chatter” hoping to detract my opponent. I am cursing up a storm “F” ing everything in sight. It never seems to work. My Sensei is calm and telling me that the only way I can win is by throwing doubles. Luck again, never skill. He occasionally will tell me to think before I make a move, never has and never will be one of my strong points.

It must be a characteristic of backgammon players, they are nutty winners, and they really enjoy winning.
I suppose as I play some lousy players, I will learn to be a nutty winner, but not yet. I am just a nutty loser. I hope to be as unique as the people I have played with up to now when I win.

Maybe I just have to go to Lebanon for some lessons.

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