Backgammon for the Literary Set

by Jana Bohrer

And now our new feature – the St. Louis Backgammon Club Book Review.

Obe Book

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (1969); in a kingdom far, far away; there lived a handsome prince.


Prince Alexis Obolensky




And in this kingdom, all the people played backgammon.  Especially the cool people.

Tina Turner, Lucille Ball, John Huston, Mick Jagger, Mohammed Ali

Tina Turner, Lucille Ball, John Huston, Mick Jagger, Mohammed Ali

And so the prince declared he would write a book for the people.  He set forth modest goals as befits a humble monarch:

“With this book, you will learn all that can be taught about backgammon.”

And he told the populous:

“Backgammon has always been a pastime of the aristocratic and the rich.  It has always been not only respectable, but highly desirable.”

(Which goes to show that this kingdom is either imaginary, or the Prince is delusional.  Because in the real world…)

no bg

And the Prince assured the peasants that:

“…after you have learned to play, undoubtedly you will never again be the same person.  For after all, you will have become a backgammon player.  And that is a very special breed of humanity indeed.”hulk

The Prince first expounded on the opening rolls.

He noted that not making the 3 point with an opening 5-3, and instead coming down with 2,”Is considered by aggressive players to be a better move”.

The Prince also decried the fact that, alas,

“No modern computer can figure the percentage of luck against skill in most gambling games.”

We've Come a Long Way Baby!

We’ve Come a Long Way Baby!


Then the Prince peppered the plebian players with pithy wisdom such as:

Always make a prime “when your opponent has thrown better dice than you.”
(If you throw better dice and make a prime anyway, is it wrong?)

And “the running game is the offensive strategy”.
(Blitzing hadn’t been invented yet.)

And my personal favorite.  A back game is a “masochistic machination”.

Then Prince then closed this excellent backgammon tome with chapters on matters closest to his heart – doubling, and gambling.


“The doubling block is a square die larger than the dice rolled in the game.”

(So THAT’S what that is!  I’ll have to write an apology letter to Parker Brothers.  I thought it was supposed to be a spare pair of dice but they forgot to include one. So I wrote them a nasty letter.)

“On each face of the block are numbers: two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two and sixty-four.”

(A big shout out here to Walter Trice.  After long and careful observation, Walter deduced that:

1. The numbers on the block were “doubling” in size starting with the number 2.
2. He was also intrigued by the shape of the block which struck him as “cubic” in nature.

Experiments proved he was correct on both counts, and in 1972, Walter won the Nobel Prize in Mathematics for his discovery of the “Doubling Cube”.  The cube quickly overtook the block in popularity and is used to this day.)

“Doubling blocks are made of different materials such as opaque plastic, ivory, wood, precious metals or clear plastic.”

(…or origami paper, nano robots,  bicycle spokes, twigs, lead, duct tape, Shredded Wheat squares and glue…..)


“There are now doubling blocks that start with the number 1.” 

(And for those players who are either frugal or are on a tight gambling budget, blocks are now available starting with 1/32!)


Let’s just pause here and think about all the blockhead jokes we can make…you know you want to.

Playing for Money

“One of the best ways to improve your game is to play for money.  Nobody likes to lose money…”


“You should always play for the maximum stakes you can afford to lose.  This subconsciously makes you ‘care’ and concentrate on what you are doing.”

(I don’t know about you, but it makes me care.  A LOT.  Consciously.)Bank-Foreclosures-Listings

And then the Prince gave the public one final piece of advice before living happily ever after:

“Perhaps the most important factor in determining a good player is his knowing exactly when to play and exactly when to quit.”

Good advice that has resonated through the ages.

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