Quiet Desperation

Battling at backgammon — that’s just how we roll


It is one man against one woman, without handicap or charity or concession.

There is strategy and there is luck. There is grit and there is determination.

Words are said in the heat of competition that alarm the dachshund.

It is backgammon.

It is one of the oldest board games in the world, going back 5,000 years.

It is face-to-face fun with a friend, a stranger, or a loved one. Or even a computer. Like chess, backgammon has been researched by computer scientists. You can play backgammon against a robot.

Our set-up is a neat leather case that opens to reveal 24 triangles (points).

Each player has 15 pieces (checkers) that resemble after-dinner candies, in two colors. Ours are chocolate and caramel.

The pieces are moved according to the roll of two dice.

We got the board out in October, and have played 133 games since. The lead has gone back and forth. Jennifer is currently up by three, 68-65.

Many of the games have come down to the final roll.

I play more recklessly than she does. I like to put myself in harm’s way, just to see if I can recover. Why not?

If doubles are rolled, very good things happen. (There are exceptions.) What is the probability of rolling doubles?

I looked it up: “There are six ways we can roll doubles, or a probability of 6/36, or 1/6 on any roll of fair dice. So you have a 16.7% probability of rolling doubles with two fair, six-sided dice” (stayorswitch.com).

We have our backgammon chairs and drinks and music.

I try to distract her with ornate stories, but it rarely works. She is, after all, the product of fine German engineering, and remains focused (unfortunately).

I do not want to lose and neither does she. While it is fun to play, it is much more fun to win.

I have had the game since the late 1970s, and played a lot of backgammon through the 1980s. But the case has been in the basement for decades, until mid-October when I asked, “Do you know how to play?”

She said, “Yes.”

However, she had a few phony Ohio rules that had to go, but only after I obtained notarized exclusions from the International Association.

Jennifer is a stickler.

We both have had winning streaks, and I always attribute mine to karma, and specifically to a life of kindness and generosity.

I attribute hers to luck. Nothing more.

When the weather is better, we play bocce on a high school lawn, with Harry staked nearby and watching intently.

I am better at bocce than she is. Trounces are not unusual. Winning is fun, but it’s expected.

When I got out the backgammon case, I thought there would be more of the same.

I soon found out otherwise. Having a very worthy opponent makes a win even more satisfying.

Having a very worthy opponent whom I love to be around makes it even better.

If this kindles or rekindles an interest, and you haven’t an opponent, you can find one online at cardgames.io.

His name is Bill, and he plays by the book. He isn’t very pretty, and I can’t distract him.

I prefer a flesh and blood opponent, and hearing her pathetic bleats of exasperation when I roll boxcars.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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