Among the excellent ways to pass time during a blizzard— or just inclement weather—is the unpredictable, ages-old game of backgammon. It also affords the luxury of a smoke. Just ask cigar-loving backgammon players like Winston Churchill, George Burns and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The rules are simple enough. Each of two players begins with 15 checkers, moving them around and off the board by rolling two dice, the numbers on each constitute separate moves. The game is essentially a race, but one with roadblocks. If your opponent has two or more checkers on one of 24 points on the board, you cannot land there. If your opponent has only one checker on a point (it’s called a “blot”), you can land there, capturing that checker and placing it in “jail,” on the middle bar of the board. To get out, a player must roll the precise number (on one die) that it takes to land on an open point in the opponent’s home field. You can’t move any other checkers until you liberate all your captured ones.
The objective is to get all your checkers into your home field, then get them off the board. If you “bear off” all your checkers before your opponent has removed any, you’ve won a gammon, which counts for double.
Strategy? There’s the Dirty Harry approach: You’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Roll the dice and play on. But how long does luck last?
“Backgammon is a game of skill,” Phil Simborg, an expert known as the “Professor of Backgammon,” has explained. “The more skill you have, the more likely you are to win. But it is proven only in the long run.” Play more, get better and the luck of the roll plays a smaller part.
Games are relatively short, but you play many to an agreed-upon point total. You can use the “doubling cube,” technically with no limit, to increase the value of each game. Turn down an offer to double and you forfeit the game. This is important, especially when playing for money. Backgammon is a popular gambling pursuit. Don’t wager until you’ve played many, many games and no longer need to feel lucky.