A Distinction Without A Difference

“Father,” said Mary one morning, “what made you put up your cards last evening when the minister came in? Why didn’t you ask him to take a hand with you?”

“Oh! ministers never play cards, my child, and it is thought very improper to play in their presence.”

“But, father, I saw you playing backgammon with the minister the other evening. Is backgammon less sinful than cards?”

“Oh! Backgammon is a clerical game, my dear, all ministers play at chess and backgammon. Cards are very disreputable, because there is so much gambling with them among bad people.”

Priestsnuns

“But, father, I have heard that there is more gambling carried on with dice than by any other means. Why does that not make dice disreputable? And if it is wicked for the minister to play cards, why isn’t it wicked for the church members to do so?”

“Poo, poo! You ask too many questions. My dear, you are not old enough to understand these things.”

“Well, father, perhaps I can understand about dancing. The other evening at Susan’s birthday party, Mr. X, the divinity student, danced as much as any of us, and enjoyed it too, and no one seemed to think he was doing anything improper. So why doesn’t our minister dance, father? Isn’t it as proper for him as for his student? And how long must Mr. X study before it becomes as wicked and sinful for him to dance as for the minister?”

No Dancing

“Dear me! How you do pour in the questions! It is very disagreeable to parents to have their children always asking questions. There is a great difference between ministers and other people. And what would be very proper in me, might be very wrong in our minister. But you shouldn’t be so curious my dear. Now go out and play.”

(Father talking to himself after Mary exits.) “How the little jade has puzzled me with her questions! I do believe she understands the matter better than I do!”

(Mary talking to herself after she exits.) “Oh dear! I wish I was older, then perhaps father would answer me. But I can’t see for the life of me why a minister cannot play at cards as well as backgammon. And I don’t see how being a minister can make right wrong; or being a church member make wrong right. Either one must be MORE than a Christian or the other LESS. Perhaps a minister isn’t exactly a man! I’ll go back and ask father just that one question more!”

PPS

The Liberator – September 6, 1839

More Funny Papers!

On October 11, 1821, the Times of London gives us an account of two people who loved the game a little too much.

It appears that one fine day, a certain Mrs. Kahl of London went out visiting in the morning around 11:00 am and returned about 7:00 pm the same evening.

But Mrs. Kahl returned home to a bit of a shock. She was:

Struck with astonishment at seeing a light appearing and disappearing at the windows of her house.

And as she knew no one was home, Mrs. Kahl leapt to the only logical conclusion. Burglars! But she did NOT panic.

Instead of making a noise that might alert the thieves as most other females would have done, she quietly went to some of her neighbors and communicated her suspicions…

The troupe of neighborly Good Samaritans reconnoitered the house, procured a ladder, and entered quietly as mice through a second floor window. They crept down the stairs and tiptoed to the parlor door where:

They saw to their great surprise the two thieves playing a game of backgammon. They were sitting on a sofa and had the backgammon table between them. One of them instantly started up and said, “We’ll make no resistance.” On examination it was found that the house had been ransacked from top to bottom!

If only one of them hadn’t steered for a backgame and successfully executed the coup classique they would have gotten clean away! The moral of the story is, that if you MUST play backgammon while burgling a home, try for racing games!

Charles_Peace_penny_dreadful_1Burglar Bill


In November of 1822, The Hagerstown, Maryland Torch and Light Public Advertiser gives us a punny backgammon tale.

Apparently, it was the fashion of the era to make backgammon boards in the form of books like so:

bg book set

One day, a gentleman named Adam purchased one of these sets that was housed in the shell of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Upon taking the set home to his fair Eve, it was found that the dice cups and checkers were all present and accounted for, but:

The magical cubes (proverbially the device of the Old Serpent) which give life to the whole system were missing!

Whereupon Eve remarked:

In truth, my dear, this is Milton’s pair o’dice lost!

waldorf


In June 1840 the New York Evening Post reported an unfortunate occurrence in the life of a player who was loving but not much loved in return:

On Saturday evening last, Major John Loving, proprietor of the Commercial Hotel in this place, was dangerously wounded with a dirk, in a personal affray with Dr. E.E. Slade.  The misunderstanding arose respecting a game of backgammon they had been playing together.

bdh-13887-(pk)_large


Backgammon in the News

One of the first mentions of backgammon I could find was in the gossip column of the Pennsylvania Gazette of August 23, 1739.

Apparently, the Players Gone Wild phenomenon is not exclusively a product of the modern era:

We hear, that here are private letters from Rome which advise that the Pope and the Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie Stewart, Pretender to the British throne), had an unlucky quarrel over a game of backgammon, so that the boxes, dice and tables were thrown about the room, and the Pretender left the city next morning in high disgust.

And they weren’t even playing with the cube!

BG Match

On November 14, 1760, King George II appears to have settled the question, “Backgammon – Skill or Luck?”  (I always thought Georgie II was smart, George III must have been a regression to the mean.)

George II enacts that the game of Passage, and all and every other game or games invented or to be invented with one or more die or dice, or with any other instrument, engine or device in the nature of dice having one of more numbers thereon, (Backgammon or other games played with a Backgammon table excepted), are and shall be deemed to be games or lotteries by dice, within the intent and meaning of the foregoing Act and persons keeping any house of place for such purpose and persons playing at any of the said games shall be liable to the several penalties inflicted by the Act.

London Public Advertiser, November 14, 1760

These penalties included transportation to America – oh the horror!

George ii

The July 13, 1786 edition of the Belfast Evening Post tells us that O’Carolan, the celebrated Irish bard:

…though blind, was eminently skilled in the game of backgammon.

All I can say  is that O’Carolan must’ve REALLY trusted the guys in the local chouette.

Backgammon has certainly had some distinguished players.  As Napoleon was en route to exile on St. Helena, the British ambassador asked General Bertrand (he was to be Napoleon’s companion on the island) if there was anything Bonaparte wanted to take with him.  The reply was:

…20 packs of cards, a backgammon and a domino table and some articles of furniture.

The Times of London, August 11, 1815

Napoleon

And sometimes, you just REALLY, REALLY want a new backgammon board – and flowers.

A SWINDLER – On Saturday afternoon a man of gentlemanly appearance went into Mrs. Morton’s filagree shop and ordered a backgammon board to be sent to 39 Tavistock Street and said it would be paid for on delivery.  (25 pounds sterling or $2,358.58 in today’s dollars)  He stated his name was Kenny.

A lad was accordingly sent with it.  On his arrival near the house, the “Kenny” accosted him and inquired if he was going to #39.  The lad answered in the affirmative and recognized him to be the person who had ordered the board.  He delivered the board to him and walked with the swindler to #39.  On their arrival, the “Kenny” knocked and while waiting for the door to be opened, directed the boy to go back to the shop and return with another board of smaller size that he would purchase as well.  The door was opened and the boy saw the swindler enter the home after which he returned to the shop to fetch the second board.

On his arriving the 2nd time at #39, the boy knocked and the door was answered by a female servant who said no person of the name of Kenny lived there.  An altercation ensued between the boy and the female which brought the master of the house into the hall.  He stated that a man had been there a short time before carrying a backgammon board.  The man had inquired if anyone named Kenny lived in the home, and being told “No” went away again.

The man further reported that a flower woman had been also been swindled the week before in the same way.

The Times of London, November 12, 1816

Handmade backgammon board made of walnut tree with mother-of-pearl and filigree

Handmade backgammon board made of walnut tree with mother-of-pearl and filigree

Maverick Solitaire

An early form of Poker solitaire is actually a puzzle of sorts, one which has been called Maverick solitaire (after its appearance on the 1950’s/1960’s Western T.V. show Maverick, in the first season episode Rope of Cards).

Maverick

Twenty five cards are dealt from a shuffled 52-card deck. The object is to divide the 25 cards into five groups of five cards so that each is a pat hand in draw poker (a hand which does not need to be drawn to).

The pat hands we need to consider are four of a kind, full house, flush, and straight. The best place to start in solving a problem in Maverick solitaire is to divide the cards into suits, checking to see which suits have five or more cards, enough to make a flush. When each suit has five or more cards (which should happen in slightly over 50 percent of deals), it is often possible to make four flushes, and then a fifth hand using the excess cards over five in each suit. For example, if the suit distribution is 7-6-6-6, any two cards from the long suit and one card from each other suit can be selected in an attempt to make a full house or straight. A card can be matched in six ways: as part of a flush, as part of a straight, in a pair combined with another three-of-a-kind, in three-of-a-kind combined with another pair, in four-of-a-kind, or as the fifth card added to another four-of-a-kind. Martin Gardner discussed the game and showed an example of an unmatchable card, but such cards are rare. The most common type of unsolvable deal seems to be a hand with one or two four-card suits, with cards widely spread to make straights difficult.

Maverick Solitaire is well-known as a sucker bet, as the probability of success with a random group of 25 cards would seem low, but is actually quite high: the eponymous author of Maverick’s Guide to Poker estimates the odds to be at least 98% (he disallows four of a kind). This is remarkably accurate: Mark Masten’s computer solver, allowing four of a kind, solved about 98.1 percent of a random set of 1,000 deals. Deals with unique solutions are even less common than impossible ones: the sample above had 19 impossible deals and only 8 with unique solutions.

cartoon_dogs_playing_poker_by_bendoodlin-d7o8quw